Things always have to change. It's an inevitability of life I've come to expect. Just looking around my bedroom, I can tell how much has changed. My dolls are stowed away in the closet somewhere, except for the rare few that I actually let the general public see. There are no more frilly little pink dresses and gigantic hair bows, just hoodies and khaki's now. The picture show of my life has changed; the photos are all different. I was once a small little girl with curly q's, then a middle school kid with absolutely no concept of style, a high school outcast with a close knit of really cool friends, to a college girl totally and completely lost in the thought of the horrible, frightening, and unknown future.

I'm caught in what has been termed the "peter pan syndrome". I want to believe that I can stay a child forever, even when reality tells me otherwise. I'm not sure why this is seeing as I've never quite acted my age. My mother would always say I was born a grown up, and sadly sometimes I do feel that way. But my heart, my poor childish heart, dies to just sit outside on a sunny day with a glass of lemonade and create my own masterpiece with 1000 crayons and a tub of sidewalk chalk. There's something so pure that you lose once you grow up, and it's something you spend the rest of your life dying to get it back.

I'm not sure when the moment is that you lose that innocence. I'm not sure if it's something as tragic as losing a loved one, or something as simple as taking on responsibility for your actions. The line is blurred and I can't quite remember when it was that I began this transition into growing up. Believe me if I could go back, I would have postponed it for as long as life could possibly allow me.

It's so funny when I think back to just becoming a teenager and being in such a hurry to grow up. I had my future planned out. My life was this fantasy that I was going to live out no matter what. I had the big house, the great job, the perfect husband, the cutest kids, and the soccer mom Volvo to match. Everything I believed, everything I desired was within my reach. There was no rejection, no heartbreak, no failure. The possibilities were endless, and my days stretched out farther than the road ahead. I couldn't wait to start that life, to find my way, and to define who I was.

Now I'm stuck with this mentality that everything I do won't be good enough, that I'll never get to live out my dreams, and that failure will become second nature. I don't know how it happened, or where the insecurity stems from. It seems as if I entered adolescence with the courage of a lion, prepared to take on the world. If somebody tried to stop me, I'd just tell them to kiss my ass. Now I'm meek, scared, and confused more than ever. Just the prospect of the future nauseates me to the point of exhaustion.

Even people seemed so much simpler when I was young. You could sit down beside anyone and become instant friends. You didn't worry about what they thought of you, what they were saying about you behind your back, or if someday they'd abuse your trust. It was such a beautiful place in the sandbox with all the little tots helping you build a sand castle. There was no concept of brand names, looks, race, religion, status, or social class. It just mattered whether or not they played blocks with you that day. Boys didn't break your heart, girls didn't cause drama, and life was just one big play date.

Now the friends I trusted the most have all gone. And making new ones isn't as easy as sitting down next to someone in the cafeteria and sharing half a PB&J sandwich and a fruit roll-up. If you aren't in the right crowd, you are pretty much screwed. So what happens to the wall flowers? Do we get judged because we don't "drink it up" every weekend and party with all the cool kids? It doesn't mean we aren't good people and that our lives are not worth knowing. It just means we took the road less traveled by, and we may have to sacrifice having a booming social life because of it. Deep in my heart I know that the right people are out there, it's just so much harder to find once you've grown out of hide and seek and hopscotch. You are no longer obsessed with 9th grade crushes or Friday night football games. Your whole list of priorities has changed, and so has your definition of what friends really are. As a friend put it so nicely once, "There will be a lot of people wanting to ride in the limo with you, but you want the friend who will ride the bus with you when the limo breaks down." And I guess I'm still looking for that support system, my "bus" girls.

Every day is becoming a learning experience, and the girl that I am changes about as often as my clothes. Sometimes I've got it all figured out, and other days tears are falling down my cheeks without reason. I keep waiting for my "Aha!" moment, that final clarity that makes the endless worrying worth it. The moment where I can look at my life and realize that it makes sense. I have a feeling that moment is a little far off now, but it's enough hope to keep me going on.

I guess this is what I'm trying to say to myself: things aren't always going to go smoothly, the road is going to be bumpy and there will be plenty of stops along the way. Some days I'll have the courage of a lion, and others I will be the scared child hiding in her mother's lap. Sometimes I'll want to face things on my own, and other times I'll wish that someone was holding my hand and telling me it'll be okay. I might need a shove in the right direction or I might be able to find it on my own. I'm going to lose faith, hope, strength, but I can't surrender to it. People are going to want to change me, and I might try to bend to fit their mold, but I hope I will have the sense to realize that being myself isn't such a bad thing, especially in a world full of phonies. My heart is going to break endlessly as life progresses, but I must understand that it will heal itself within time.

If I could go back and tell the little girl I used to be what she would expect in life, I'd tell her to enjoy what she has now. I'd tell her to love people with all her heart and not worry about being hurt. I'd tell her to dream big, so big that just the mere thought of the future brings sheer joy and excitement. I'd tell her to cherish her friends, herself, and the things life has given her. I'd tell her to keep her faith and her innocence and not try so hard to grow up. I'd tell her to take her time, relax, and just be a kid. Because in a flash of light, she'll be a woman and there will be no turning back then.

So to the little girl and the teenager, thanks for letting me dream, for always hoping, and for keeping the faith. You've taught me a lot, more than I ever expected to learn. You are the reason I smile, the reason I laugh at everything, the reason I take time to dance in the rain. You are simplicity. You are beauty. You are the essence of what life is really about. I love you for that.

To the young woman I am now, just take it one step at a time. Everything isn't going to go as planned, and it's okay to cry when it doesn't. Enjoy learning about who you are; this is the time to really give yourself a chance. It's okay to dream big, you just might get everything you ever hoped for. And if you don't, you will go on. You will learn from experience, you will grow, and you will find a way to make it work. Relax. Breathe. And above all else, please just follow your heart.

And finally, to the woman I will become: I don't know who you are and I can't say I'm terribly excited about finding out. What I can promise you is that I'll be true to myself, and that I will learn to accept things as they are. I hope you will be strong, wise, and level-headed. I hope through your experiences, you will be able to look back on life with a smile and not a tear. I hope you will be confident and take pride in where this road has led you. But please, don't stop believing in your childish heart. No matter how old, how jaded you are, I hope to God you will forever keep your inner child. She's a huge part of you, and she will get you through the curveballs life will throw you. She is your foundation. And if you don't get the big house, the great family, or the perfect job- I hope you will find joy in whatever it is you discover. Things that happen in life are unexpected, but that doesn't mean they aren't worthwhile.

Besides, who really needs a Volvo anyway?