04/14/2015 03:31 pm ET Updated Jun 14, 2015

A Birthday Letter to My Tween Son

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Dear Son,

The truth is, I didn't need the calendar to remind me that you've grown another whole year. I see it each day in your broadening shoulders, hear it a bit too often in the edge of your words and feel it whenever I look down to talk to you and realize that, all too soon, we'll be eye to eye. Yes, tweendom has welcomed you with open arms.

You're reaching a really exciting stage of life, you know. While I still think of you as a kid -- because you are, I promise you! -- your understanding of the world around you is becoming so much more grown up. It's been a thrill to watch from the sidelines.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what one of your teachers says. He tells your class that it's up to you all to change the world. And, from what I can tell, that doesn't intimidate you, it excites you. As it should.

When I ask you what that means to you, you mention people like Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and past presidents. Men whose names permeate the history books. Strong characters. Admirable leaders. Household heroes. There's no doubt in my mind that you could earn your place in history right along side these great men.

But I want you to know that you don't have to be a school-wax-museum-worthy character to change the world. As you know, we've lost some beloved men in our life recently -- including your grandfather. And these men, their biographies won't live on library shelves. Instead their stories will live in the hearts of the people whose lives they touched. They were exceptionally kind men with big hearts and easy smiles. They were the type of men who were so confident of their own place in the world, that they'd lift everyone around them -- with no fear of falling down in the process. These men changed the world by listening to people and making them feel like they truly mattered. You have this talent, too.

The tween years, well, they don't always lend themselves to kindness. No, these are years where many kids will test limits to prove they're independent. Where more often than not, the crowd-pleasing jokes will come at someone else's expense. It's a time when the only people who will seem more clueless than little brothers and sisters are parents. But the tween years are also character-building years. And while kindness can be mistaken for weakness, you have a great opportunity to be a leader and prove its strength.

You've already seen that kindness is not necessarily the popular choice, but so far you've decided it's the right one. You act with compassion and surround yourself with people who do the same. I so admire you for knowing in your heart how much that really matters.

So, in the years ahead, I hope that you'll continue to be kind to your classmates and teammates, even when -- heck, especially when -- others are not. I hope that you'll continue to be kind to your brother and sister, remembering that in you, they don't just see a brother, they see a hero. I hope that you'll continue to be kind to your father and me, the people whose world you forever changed the day you were born. But mostly, I hope you'll continue to be kind to yourself. That you'll look in the mirror and see reflected back all the reasons you are a truly remarkable person.

I realize it's your birthday and you get to make the wish, but tonight, as you blow out your candles, I will be hoping with all my might that your tween years are filled with kindness. That it will radiate from you, to you and around you. And that you will always hold these words from our new favorite book, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, in your heart:

"...if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you...the face of God."



A version of this post originally appeared on Using Our Words.

Amy Heinz is a San Francisco Bay Area mom of three and the writer behind Using Our Words -- a parenting blog filled with lessons she's learned (usually the hard way), laughs she's enjoyed (mostly at her own expense), and tears she's shed (this mama's got heart). You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.