Two Decades of Pent-Up Hallmark Wisdom From a Young Survivor

    November 13, 2008 marked my 20th birthday. I’m a little horrified that the time has come for me to enter a third decade of life. Already? I haven’t gotten any tattoos or done cocaine, and my youth has reached its end? If you spot someone vigorously spray-painting the campus with graffiti in a belly-baring shirt, that’s me living out my final hours of teenage glory.

    As my dad adequately put it in my birthday e-mail: “Time sure do flys, daughter.” (Cue Chinese classical music.) And how it has. Yet in 20 years, I’ve definitely learned my share of life lessons — some practical, some not — which I will generously impart to you now. If I could give my newborn self a laundry list of advice, this would be it, condensed into my 900-word column limit. Without further ado:

    Barbies and Transformers can coexist on the same rug. You do not need to battle over ownership of living room turf. When the boys start scalping your Barbies, however, it’s time to declare war.

    Do not run headfirst into a cabinet door. Stitches hurt, and one eye will be noticeably smaller than the other for the rest of your life. People will claim otherwise, but they’re just trying to be nice.

    When it says, “scratch one only,” you should not satiate your burning curiosity by scratching out both. The McDonald’s Monopoly policy will not allow for you to win both prizes or to choose which one you’d prefer.

    Should you have the bright idea to run away from home, go farther down the block. Your mom can still see you from the kitchen window when you’re two houses down. She will not feel guiltier about inflicting trauma on her child if you try to cry at higher decibels. Just shut up. The neighbors are looking at you funny.

    When you put your first-ever cell phone in your P.E. locker, you need to actually lock it. Dropping your second phone on the ground to demonstrate its durability is only entertaining until the phone ceases to be durable. Also, if you haven’t seen your phone for over seven days, don’t assume it’ll turn up sometime or other. Consider buying a large, brightly colored lanyard from which your phone should hang around your neck. Permanently.

    Ah, never mind. Just get phone insurance to begin with.

    The food pyramid is wrong. In 10 years, nobody will be encouraging you to eat 5-8 servings of bread, rice or pasta a day, and there’ll be this new-fangled rule about eating whole-wheat carbs only. However, there’s no use in obsessing over your body weight. After all, if you think you’re fat now, just wait until next year! It doesn’t get better.

    Detentions do not stay on your permanent record. Your GPA, class rank and SAT scores are worthless in the real world. Go to bed; save the under-eye bag development for when you have an actual career.

    Try everything once. Except hard drugs.

    You can lose your shoes in Mexico, but for the love of God, do your best to keep your dignity. And if you must be a recurring loser-of-shoes, at least buy some Old Navy flip-flops so you’re not constantly depleting your footwear collection.
    “But everyone else is” is the worst rationale for anything, ever. Everyone else will also date questionable guys and drive drunk. Be smarter.

    Buy an ergonomic keyboard. Your wrists will thank you profusely. Contrary to what your mother is screaming from her bedroom at three in the morning, the Internet is not a waste of time. Do not underestimate the ramifications of an angry AIM conversation; emoticons speak louder than words.

    Some of your friends will die too young. You will be heartbroken and the world will be a little emptier. But hearts heal, and life goes on.

    Stop fully at red lights. No need to smile for the camera, but ducking won’t do you any favors. They’ve still got your license plate. There’s no use in explaining that you’re “pretty sure” you stopped — they take video of that stuff. Technology sucks.

    Floss. And wear your retainer on the daily. Your parents didn’t splurge on the only socially acceptable form of cosmetic enhancement to allow your buckteeth to re-emerge five years later.

    Reading is still the best thing you can do for yourself. Read everything. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, books. Read voraciously, because you can, and that’s a luxury not everyone can afford.

    This also applies to eating, but it doesn’t mean you should eat voraciously. Nonetheless, it’s okay to eat a cupcake when you feel like eating a cupcake. (It’s not okay to eat four in one sitting.)

    Befriend the bartender.

    Your parents are your best friends. Appreciate them. As soon as they get over the initial disappointment that you obliterate Asian stereotypes right and left (read: you suck at math), they will learn to embrace your abilities, as long as these abilities are of the musical variety. Let them down gently when you decide you are not going to be a professional concert pianist — that’s 13 years of Thursday nights they will never get back.

    Most of all, be ridiculous. Allow yourself delusions of grandeur. Ideas mean nothing unless you make them reality. Love abundantly and live fearlessly. Don’t be cliche, but follow cliche advice — it’s cliche for a reason. Carpe diem.

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