What to do if you’re not funny

Dear Daughter,

Oftentimes I wonder whether or not you’ve inherited the gene to be funny. I think you’re pretty hilarious myself, but every parent thinks every slightly funny thing their kid says is pure comedic genius, so I’m the first to admit my biased opinion might not be valid. And in a way, all kids really are funny, probably because they have no filter and can say whatever comes to their mind without fear of reproach. Sometimes I’m jealous of children for that fact alone.

But I wonder if you’ll grow up to be funny. Because I’ve learned that when it comes to making people laugh, you’ve either got it or you don’t. And I don’t.

Not that I’m totally comedically worthless but compared to others, humor just doesn’t come very easily to me. I grew up in a family full of funny people. I spent most of my childhood laughing at my dad’s, brother’s and sister’s jokes. In fact, the only time they thought I was funny was when I laughed! I guess when I laugh really hard it sounds like a car revving its engine?

(Random side note: laugh is one of those words that becomes strange the more that you look at it. Like it should really be pronounced law, or should be spelled laff.)

I’ve always kind of resented that I wasn’t born with the gift to make people laff (never mind, I like laugh better), but after awhile I learned to embrace it. Because if you think about it, I play a more important role: if I didn’t laugh at people’s jokes, then they wouldn’t be considered funny. Every funny person needs someone to think they’re funny; otherwise they’re not funny. You following me? It’s a two-way street. So we non-funny people hold a lot of power. And that’s why I’ve always had friends. Funny people love to surround themselves with friends who will validate their humor.

Whether or not you’re going to fall in the funny or not-funny camp, I encourage you to always have a good sense of humor. Such a skill is not inherited but is a choice. It means not taking it so seriously when someone teases you for something silly. It means teasing yourself right along with them. (Self-deprecation goes a long way.) It means finding humor in the simplest of things—doing so makes life more fun. I’m sure there’s a study somewhere that says people with a good sense of humor live longer than those who don’t. Because laughter truly is the best medicine. So be sure to get a dose of it every day.

Love,
Mom

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Say goodbye to self-pity

Dear Daughter,

Last week I shared with you Benjamin Button’s letter to his daughter. There’s just one more part in that movie that I wanted to discuss. (And then no more BB references, I promise!) This particular part contains a valuable piece of wisdom for every girl—for every human being, really.

There’s a scene where Daisy (Brad Pitt’s love interest (lucky girl)) is swimming and she sees a younger woman walking around in her bathing suit. This is enough to make any woman cry, and Daisy does, lamenting that she’s getting older, which is ironic because Benjamin is getting  younger. Anyway, she’s crying because she knows she’ll never look like that young woman again and, in her mind, her looks will only decline as she ages.

In the next scene, she’s sitting outside watching the sunset when Benjamin comes to comfort her. And then she says some very powerful words that honestly changed my life: “I promise you I’ll never lose myself to self-pity again.”

As you go through life, you’ll find a million and one reasons to feel sorry for yourself: you don’t have enough money, your job stinks, you have a crappy car, you’re having a bad hair day, blah blah blah. But dwelling on such things will only make you miserable. Self-pity is one of the most destructive of all human behaviors. It eats you from the inside out. It multiplies at a rapid rate as it finds more and more reasons for you to hate yourself. And while it starts internally, the effects of prolonged self-pity begin to show on the outside. Soon enough, when others look at you they’ll see only bitterness and despair.

As Daisy said, you cannot lose yourself to such a beast. You will have times when you’ll be upset about your circumstances, of course. That’s unavoidable. But there will come a point in those times when you choose to either linger in your misery or brush it off and decide not to let self-pity get the best of you. Hopefully you’ll choose the latter, and then won’t look back.

When I first saw this film, I was a single mom with no boyfriend. At that time I was wallowing in the dark and greasy pit of self-despair. But Daisy’s wise words helped snapped me back to reality. I realized that in feeling sorry for myself I was being weak, and such weakness is both debilitating and unattractive. From then on, whenever I start to dive back into that dark and greasy pit, I think of Daisy’s words. And then I shift my focus to the many blessings in my life, all of which I don’t deserve.

I encourage you to do the same, Daughter. Self-pity gets you nowhere. But the strongest, most attractive women are those who avoid self-pity and instead embrace life’s many ups and downs with grace.

Love,
Mom

The best way to spend your money

Dear Daughter,

I don’t know right now whether or not you will be wealthy as an adult. If you’re going to be an artist, as you now proclaim, I do hope you’re not the starving kind. At best, I hope you will earn enough to live a life that is comfortable and free of financial burden. If not, then I hope you’ll find innovative ways to get to that point. And if you earn beyond the level of comfortability and into the level of luxury, I hope that you never lose yourself to materialism.

I like nice things. I love buying clothes, jewelry, shoes… pretty much anything that makes me look good. (Yes, your mother struggles a bit with vanity. We’ll talk about that another time.) But the older I get, the less I want to spend money on those things and the more I want to spend it on experiences. Financial experts might frown upon that because experiences, unlike tangible goods, do not have a resale value. But they do make life a whole lot richer in the relational sense.

Experiences include family vacations, going out to dinner, trips to the water park, etc.— anything that brings people together to do something fun or enjoyable. Or it could be an experience you need to rejuvenate yourself, like a massage or pedicure. If what comes from the experience is fun, laughter, rest, peace of mind, joy, or all of the above… then it’s money well spent.

Clothes don’t make lifelong memories; a family vacation does. Jewelry doesn’t bring one closer to their spouse; a romantic dinner does. Shoes don’t make a parent laugh with their kids; watching a funny movie does. While buying nice things might make you happy at first because they’re bright and shiny and new, that feeling quickly fades and the item becomes just another thing that you own. But memories last forever, and relationships are built and made stronger by time spent together. So the emotional profit gained by investing in experiences rather than things will always surpass that of the alternative.

Remember this when you’re fabulously wealthy and contemplating taking your mother on a tropical vacation. I promise you that doing so will only improve and elevate your relationship with her. *wink*

Love,
Mom

How siblings make life better

Dear Daughter,

In just a few hours, we will find out if this baby in my belly is your brother or sister. I know that you’re hoping for a brother, so you can fulfill your longtime dream of hitting him in the head with a pillow when he’s 5 years old. But either way, you’re winning the jackpot.

You’ve gone 8 years without a brother or sister, so suddenly having one may be a bit of a culture shock for you. But there is something incredibly special about having a sibling, and I cannot wait for you to experience that.

My childhood was very different from yours, in that I’ve never known what it’s like to have gone without a sibling. My brother is 2 years older than me and my sister is 17 months younger than me. So, until I went away to college, I had a sibling at my side ALL THE TIME, whether I liked it or not. But usually I liked it.

Your siblings are special because they’re the only people in the whole entire world that you’re permitted to love and hate at the same time. (And by “hate” I mean “bicker with,” not actually “hate.”) They will get on your nerves and you’ll get on theirs, but you’ll never want to leave them. One minute, you might be in an all-out brawl with them, and the next you’re laughing together while watching cartoons and sharing a bowl of cereal.

Come to think of it, I wonder if sibling relationships prepare us for marriage… unconditional love practiced in the midst of real life.

I never fought with my siblings much. My brother and I weren’t crazy close while growing up but he was always very respectful to me. He didn’t treat me the way a big brother typically treats his little sister. He didn’t tease me or make fun of me much. It’s like he knew I was too fragile for that. Plus, he’s just a good guy. I always knew that I could go to him to make me laugh or to help me see a different perspective on a situation. I still place a high value on my brother’s opinion.

My sister and I were so close that, growing up, people thought we were twins. We kind of looked alike, but we also did the things that twins do: we finished each other’s sentences and could know what the other was thinking just by glancing at them. We fought every once in a while because our personalities are so different, but for the most part we were BFFs, and still are. She’s younger than me but gives me the best advice because she knows me better than anyone does. Like my brother, she too makes me laugh and has this incredible ability of assuring me that everything’s going to be okay.

Your relationship with your sibling will be very different from the relationship I had with mine, not only because of the age gap but also because every person and family is different. But I guarantee that no one you have ever met or will ever meet will come close to the bond you’ll have with that little brother or sister. I guarantee your sibling will change your life for the better… because that’s what siblings do.

Love,
Mom

Benjamin Button’s letter to his daughter

Dear Daughter,

Last night, I watched the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It’s about a man who is born old and gets physically younger throughout his life. I love this movie because it’s a unique concept, it stars Brad Pitt, it takes you through a good chunk of 20th century American life, it stars Brad Pitt, it has a bunch of little nuggets of wisdom, and it stars Brad Pitt. (What? Every girl needs a movie star crush! Just wait, Daughter. I hope yours is Zac Efron.)

Toward the end of the film, Brad Pitt—I mean Benjamin Button—writes a letter to his daughter. It’s short but is simply beautiful, and I wholeheartedly agree with every word of it. So, today I’m using someone else’s letter to speak to you today:

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

Those are words to live by, right there. Basically, if your life is going down an undesirable path, you have the power to change it. And while you do, be eager to meet new people and try new things. That’s the very definition of living life to the fullest.

Thanks to Brad Pitt for the words of wisdom… and for reminding us of how good you looked like in the ’90s, when you finally get young in the movie.

Love,
Mom

Why everything will be better in the morning

Dear Daughter,

As much as I will try to keep you away from it, you will face pain and struggle at some point. At several points, actually. It’s just a part of life, to go through difficulties and to grow through those experiences. Going through trials actually makes you a better, more well-rounded person, which is difficult to believe at the time but in retrospect is always made clear.

There will be times when you’re devastated, heart-wrenched, and cannot imagine ever being happy again. A boy might break up with you, a friend might stab you in the back, or you might lose someone you love forever.

There will be other times when there’s just drama. You and a friend or group of friends are fighting, someone’s telling lies about you, work or school seems like an insurmountable obstacle.

When these things happen, it’s easy to dwell on them and think that your life is and always will be centered on that very problem. And I’ve learned that these problems are especially exaggerated at night.

The end of the day is when you’re most tired and when your emotions run highest. Add to that hours of painful analysis about whatever situation is plaguing you at the time, and you’re bound to magnify the drama of that situation. You imagine the worst-case scenarios and assume they’re going to happen to you. Or you just wallow in your grief and simply cannot get out of it.

When that happens to me, I always try to tell myself, “Everything will be better in the morning.”

I think it’s cool that we’re created to sleep at night, when it’s dark, so that when we awaken we rise up at the same time the sun does. There’s a psychological metaphor that goes with what’s physically happening outside. In the morning, your outlook, like the sun, is brighter. Your attitude, like the dew, rinses away the grime of the day before, making everything fresh and new.

The pain might still be there. But in the morning, it’ll be more bearable, and the possibility of moving on will seem more plausible. Because with the morning comes the opportunity to make this new day better than the last.

So, Daughter, whenever it’s late at night and you’re crying over a box of memories, or pacing your room in anger, know that you’re probably only making things worse. Go to bed, get some sleep, and remember…. everything will be better in the morning.

Love,
Mom

Why you shouldn’t wear PJs to the final exam

Dear Daughter,

We have reached the stage where you and I battle about clothing on a near daily basis. You would be okay with walking out the door wearing cropped red sweatpants, an orange t-shirt with some Disney celebrity’s mug on it, white socks and black tennis shoes. And unbrushed hair.

I, on the other hand, prefer a more polished look. The words you are tired of hearing me say are jeans, skirts and sandals. All three of those items, when worn correctly, make any girl, no matter what age, look both cute and cool. But it’s the “cute” part that makes you nervous. Heaven forbid you look too girly!

Clothing is a means of expressing yourself, yes, and I am all for letting you express your tomboy nature through your wardrobe. Honestly. But there’s a difference between that and wearing pajamas to the final exam. Let me explain…

When I was in college, during finals, lots of girls would come to the classroom wearing their pajamas. Some even wore their slippers. I never understood this. I’m sure they had stayed up all night studying. (Another phenomenon I’ll never grasp. If you get no sleep, chances are good you won’t be mentally focused for your test.) But even so, could they not take 5 minutes from their cramming to throw on some jeans and a t-shirt? Some girls said they wore their PJs because it was more comfortable. So the rest of the year they’d suffered through discomfort in their oh-so-constricting street clothes?

Here’s my philosophy on what to wear to the final exam, and to anyplace you go… you will feel far more comfortable and confident by looking put together than you will by looking like a slob. There, I said it. And “put together” doesn’t have to mean frilly dresses, high heels and lots of makeup. It just means anything that makes you look and feel presentable, polished, poised. (More alliteration… I’m a fan.)

I never wore my PJs to the final exam because when I wear pajamas I feel lazy and sleepy. I want to feel neither lazy nor sleepy while taking one of the most important tests of the year. Rather, I want to be on the ball. I don’t see how it’s possible to be on the ball while wearing loose flannel pants and bunny slippers. So I wore clothing that I felt comfortable in, both mentally and physically. And guess what? I did pretty well on my exams. I didn’t need pajamas to help me get an A.

The moral of the story? Clothing is more than an expression of who you are. It also has the means to inflate or deflate your confidence. When you can combine your inner expression with the ability to look and feel confident and respectable, you’ve succeeded in fashion, as far as I’m concerned. So when I tell you that, no, you cannot wear basketball shorts and a tank top to church, now you know where I’m coming from.

Love,
Mom

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