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A letter for your locker: Things I wish I had known when I was in middle school

STEFANO MORRI/The Globe and Mail

Dear A.,

You'll be starting middle school soon. This, and the fact that you are not yet a teenager but very nearly as tall as I am, has introduced me to the idea that you are growing up. This seems improbable, since I remember with total clarity meeting you as a newborn, when your mom (a.k.a. my big sister) picked me up at the airport; you had the longest eyelashes in a generation, swaddled and tucked and buckled into the backseat, quiet and calm. (Until the next day when your sudden projectile vomit etched a new understanding of "what babies are like" for me, forever. It's cool, though, I forgive you.) I hope, so much, that you love middle school, and being a teenager (I did), and what comes after (I do). I hope you'll always want to talk to me, even for five minutes before Snapchatting with your friends, or whatever new tech thing replaces it.

Anyway, you're probably bored already, so let's get down to it: Here are a few things I wish I'd known, back in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Do what you want with them. I love you.

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Try really, really hard in school. Even when you don't feel like it and when it feels like you don't have to. School might not feel particularly special right now, since you have to go, but it is, and it expires fast; get everything – everything! – you can out of it while you're there. I slept through classes and barely joined anything and I did fine, but I could have done great and will regret that forever. I'll never know what I might have accomplished then – including, say, basic mathematical competency – if I'd taken it seriously and really tried.

Your generation is documenting your lives in a way that mine, with our disposable cameras and half-empty diaries, never did. But, along with the pics of you and your friends, find a way to also keep a record of how you felt, what you thought, what you wanted. Having that will be really cool in 10, 20, 50 years.

Don't worry about whether or not a boy likes you, if you don't even know whether or not you like them. Also: "When in doubt, don't call" turned out to be the best advice for me, ever. The idea isn't to play it safe, or to play games, but to use your energy and your time to do stuff that you want to do, instead of worrying about what someone else is doing. (And, if something is meant to happen, it'll happen.) If you want to know what a boy is really like, watch him with his friends, teachers and little kids. Anyone who is nice to you but not nice to other people … you know where I'm going with this.

This goes for your friends, too: you're already kind to everyone (except M. and L. sometimes, but I guess little brothers can be extra annoying), so hang with people who care, too. When you're around someone who sucks, "nice them out" or, meet other people's meanness or aggression with your kindest, best stuff. (I got that one from your mom.) Your friends will become the most important people, if they aren't already, so choose wisely, love them hard, listen and take their feelings seriously, and expect all of that from them, too.

It's so great that you are a money saver. Keep this up, even when you hear a high whistle coming from the mall. There are two reasons for this – actually, there are more reasons to be financially responsible, but for them you'll have to talk to grandpa – but I can tell you that there isn't a more freeing and powerful feeling than having your own money, even when that just means slipping cab fare in your shoe before you go to a party. Having money means that you can decide things for yourself and that you don't have to rely on other people when you don't want to. And becoming comfortable with money and how it works – earning it, spending it, saving it, managing it – is something that a lot of women (a lot of people, really) are needlessly afraid of and bad at, even when they're cool with everything else in their lives. Don't be afraid of money; be in charge of it.

You are an amazing person, with a solid-gold heart and a huge brain and athletic talents that I cannot be related to and you're fun and beautiful and do a really good job when you paint my nails. I want you to have an incredible life, but more than that, I know you will.

Love, Aunt Kath

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