I am writing to children everywhere, though I am not sure if you even need it. You have access to so much knowledge that I no longer do, for example, how to hide in spots both so obscure and obvious that nobody can ever find you—most especially when it's time to go to school. Or, how to sleep while sitting straight up in the backseat of the car, strapped into a safety contraption that has immobilized even your nose. Or, how to bend the laws of nature and transform the voices of shouting adults into the pleasant, windy roar that lives inside seashells. And yet, there are a few things I feel you should know as you continue on in life, things perhaps the other adults will not tell you:
1. The Wrong-Looking Correct Answer
Whether you like it or not, a lot of your life will be determined by multiple choice. There is a secret strategy behind "a, b, c or none of the above." One of the choices is a dummy answer: one designed to look correct even though it is not. This will usually be the first answer you pick. If you immediately eliminate it instead, you will be left with three slightly wrong-looking but closer-to-right choices, significantly improving your chances of success. Once you have mastered this technique during testing, take it with you into the rest of your life. When choosing who you want to be friends with, for example, eliminate the obvious: (a) the one with the flippable hair, lip gloss and cadre of devotees. Go for (b) the girl with the imaginary friend or (c) the boy who professionally tap-dances. These are people waiting for a friend. They have been using that time waiting to think about how to best behave like one.
2. You Do Not Love Chocolate Milk
One of the biggest mistakes grown-ups make is that they think they love things that can't love them back. You may enjoy chocolate milk or an episode of Dora the Explorer. But you don't love it. You can't call Dora in the middle of the night and ask for her guidance on your math homework, and you can't help Dora either. You can't show up at her door with Kleenex when she is sick or listen to her heartaches regarding the captain of the baseball team. Dora will not be there for you—because she can't. She is not alive. She is 45 minutes of lovely, engrossing television animation. (I know this is confusing now that TV characters speak directly to you, but trust me, they can't hear what you are saying back to them.) The same goes for chocolate milk. It is rich and creamy. It is delicious, but its purpose on the planet is not to help you through a rough day. It's there to fill you up, provide calories and make you a little crazy and giggly due to a completely enjoyable and acceptable sugar high. After that, the relationship is over. Once you understand that love is an exchange between two things that are capable of the emotion—you and a parent, you and a friend, you and a dog or a cat or a gerbil—you can save it for that. As for the rest of the stuff, feel free to take delight in it, but not solace.
3. The Caramel Is the Square
Some rules in life are very simple. They have no nuance or bigger meaning. And yet you must know them to be happy. Here is one: In any box of chocolates, the caramel is the square. When picking out a candy, you do not need the map on top of the box. You do not need to bite into every piece and examine the center. This is what the other children will be doing—only to end up with the coconut or, worse, the maple cream, while you score the pure, perfect, salty, chewy nugget of goodness. Dive for the caramel.
4. The Asphalt Fall
The powers that be have somewhat recently layered the playgrounds of America with a thick, cushiony rubber so that when you fall off the climbing wall or the monkey bars or the roof of the playhouse (which, by the way, is clearly marked, NOT FOR CLIMBING) you will not crash to the ground and break your knees and teeth. While this is wonderful—nobody ever talks about the great time they had in the emergency room—it is misleading. The world is full of asphalt, packed dirt and rocky beaches. One day in the future, you will be running in three-inch heels for a bus, and you will slip. You will need to know how to fall without breaking your ankle or wrist. A bike ride on a gravel road can show you how to fall better—as well as how to get back on the bike and keep pedaling, despite the raspberry.
Next: Always, always read out loud—and four more rules you won't forget