To my brother, on his twelfth birthday:

I can't believe it's finally here; the first birthday I don't get to celebrate with you.

I'm so proud of the young man you've grown up to be. You've grown so much within the last year alone that it's almost heartbreaking. It seems like just yesterday I wore the pink "I'm the big sister!" shirt while holding you for the first time. Back then, of course, you were nothing but trouble to me. Now, however, that couldn't be farther from the truth.

Age really is just a number, as we are near seven years apart, and closer than two peas in a pod. You're my best friend - the one who makes me a better me.

It's been more than a gift to watch you grow. To watch the marks on the wall grow higher each year as you get taller, to watch the clothes you once wore as a five year old be tossed to Goodwill, to watch the pictures you create get more detailed and precise as the scribbly ones go into the cedar chest.

This year has been hard not seeing you each day. To hear you waltz in through the door after school, to hear your very loud music and video games while I'm trying to nap, to listening to you run down the stairs before bed to tell me you love me while hugging me goodnight.

My favorite thing about you is that you don't have a care in the world of who sees you love your older sisters. You have a heart of gold, little brother. You are truly the world's greatest.

You're a fantastic kid - with so much potential. I hope you never forget that you are only as good as you let yourself be. Life is tough, really tough sometimes, but nothing worth having is easy so never quit fighting for the best life.

We share so many passions from spending days out at the soccer pitch to googling pictures of kittens to make each other smile. My favorite soccer player in the whole wide world is you, which is saying something because you know how much I love Carli Lloyd. There's no one I'd rather watch kick ass on a Saturday afternoon than you.

Here are twelve pieces of brutal advice for you, on your twelfth birthday:

1. It's easy to take many parts of life for granted

However, try your hardest not to. Even though school isn't your favorite, you are blessed to be able to receive the education you do. You have a family who absolutely adores you and supports you in everything you do, even if we don't always agree. You have the ability to create amazing art, know everything there is to know about basketball, and the ability to play sports. You are blessed, and don't you forget it. Thank the ones who make this life possible and love them fiercely.

2. It's OK to not be OK

You've been through some tough situations in your short time here. It's OK to sit back once and awhile and feel sorry for yourself. It's OK to miss the old life we had and it's OK to be happy about the life we have now. It's OK to feel sad, but what's not OK is taking it out on others - learn to use words, kind words, and talk about what's bothering you. The sooner you learn to do this, the better off you'll be.

3. Work harder than those around you

Everything you'll ever receive in life comes from working hard. To have it better than those around you, you need to work twice as hard. I promise you you will never regret it. Get those A's, run that last sprint faster than the others, stand up to those who make you feel useless, because you are far from it. When the time comes, get a job you love. It makes working so much more inviting and easy.

4. Not everyone will like you, and that's OK

What's not OK is allowing them to make you feel miserable. You are better than the ones who don't try hard enough to like you, which is hardly trying very hard, because you're the greatest kid I know - and I promise I don't say that just because I'm your older sister. You don't need anyone who doesn't need you.

5. Respect yourself, always

Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything and anyone who doesn't make your life better. Do not settle. You deserve the best and don't stop until you get it. You're only twelve, but I promise that the way you treat yourself now will follow you throughout your whole life. Be kind to yourself because there is so much to love about you.

6. Everything changes, nothing is permanent

Friends come and go. Respect yourself enough to know when someone is a bad influence and when someone is good for you. Surround yourself with the ones who are sad for your sadness and happy for your happiness. Friendships are important but don't feel as if you need to hold on to the ones who aren't benefiting you. Middle school is hard enough without worrying about who to dedicate your time to, but I promise that finding the good ones now will mean everything later on.

7. Love with all you have

Everyone loves a guy who doesn't care what individuals think. Love your cats like it's all you have. Love our mom like she deserves. Love who you are and never look back. If you love something, chase after it. Never let it go. If you let it go, you'll spend the rest of time wishing you had loved harder. Love like there's no tomorrow and I promise you life will be grand.

8. Don't ever forget to have fun

In my eyes, you're still a kid. You'll always be my baby brother, the one I played Cars for hours and chased fireflies at night with. Never stop having fun. Life is all about fun. But with that, you need to make sure it is safe fun. That means knowing when to quit before trouble begins, knowing to say no to the activities you don't feel comfortable being part of, and watching what you say. Even when you're older and begin to go on dates, choose the most fun one like mini golf or a water balloon fight - don't settle for the boring, cliche dates.

9. Give back

Give Mom extra hugs. Give Dad more of your time. Pay attention to the ones you give you what you need and never stop thanking them. You are more than blessed to have the individuals in your life that you do, so never stop giving back. When someone gives you a gift, you give one back. When someone supports a decision you make, do the same with them. When someone is there for you, you need to return the favor.

10. Always be a gentleman

I'll tell you this right now - if I ever find out you're less than an absolute gentleman to your future partner, you will be in loads of trouble. Growing up with three females in the house, you should know what to say and what not to. Hold the door open, always speak kind words, always be easy to talk to, and make them feel comfortable. This society you've grown up in hasn't been a very good example so never forget that "old fashioned" is always in. Kind, faithful relationships. Date to marry - do not date for a 'good time'.

11. Do not give into peer pressure

No one can force you to do anything. I trust that you will grow up to be like your older sisters, who avoid trouble and hang on to the good ones in life. If you do not want to do something, call someone. Even in middle school, do not do things you know will get you into trouble. You're better than that and I know you will always do the right thing. And in the future, if you don't end up doing the right thing, never be afraid to call, even if you believe you'll be in trouble.

12. I will always be here

I don't need to even tell you this, but it's always good to have a reminder. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. I don't know a better, smarter, more reliable kid than you. The experiences you've had throughout these last 12 years have shaped you into the best young man and brother a girl could ask for. Please never forget that you are not 'too cool' for your older sister. I will always be here for you - don't ever doubt that.

You mean the world to me, little one.

Thank you for all the lessons you've taught me throughout these last twelve years. You'll never know how much I love you.

You are my sunshine.

Happy Birthday, Ty!