How to stay when you want to go

Dear Daughter,

This past weekend, you went to a friend’s house for a sleepover. (Back in the day they were known as “slumber parties,” which sounds way more fun than “sleepover,” but somewhere along the line the terms have changed. Such a shame.) You were having a blast until it came time to go to bed, at which point you called me three times, begging me to come get you and bring you home. So finally, because I love you and can’t stand to hear you cry, I crawled out of bed at two in the morning to pick you up.

The other reason I caved is because I’ve been there. I remember being at a friend’s house and having fun, and then suddenly having an overwhelming desire to be in my own bed, near my own parents, in my own cozy home. I know what it’s like to be so homesick that nothing could change my mind about wanting to leave.

The thing is, though, sometimes you won’t be able to leave, or you shouldn’t, even if given the chance. Sometimes you’re going to be in uncomfortable situations that will make you feel lonely and miserable, and the best thing to do, the strongest thing to do, is just to stick it out and stay. The ability to do so will benefit you greatly in the long run.

It may seem silly, but this incidence—we’ll call it the Sleepover Conundrum—can be compared to what you’ll go through with exercise, work, friendship, marriage… anything that you might want to quit but shouldn’t. (Of course there are exceptions but we’ll deal with that another time.) Choosing not to quit, even when you’re scared, will make you a better person and will actually make life easier. It will help you practice commitment, discipline, perseverance and flexibility. And the more you stick through the tough times, the less scary they will appear over time.

Another tip: when you’re in the midst of a Sleepover Conundrum moment, try to focus on all of the good things about the situation. When you’re exercising and it hurts, imagine how great you’re going to look and feel afterwards. If you’re tempted to unfriend someone who’s upset you, remember all of the good things she’s done for you. When you’re at a sleepover and suddenly desire to go home, focus on the fact that you get to stay up late hanging out with your closest friends. There’s a positive spin to every circumstance, and honing in on those positives makes quitting seem less desirable.

Let’s say goodbye to conundrum and hello to commitment.

Love,
Mom

The Celebrity Obsession Problem

Dear Daughter,

Last week, a famous singer named Whitney Houston died unexpectedly. She was young, beautiful and insanely talented, so her death is considered a tragic one. Especially because it appears drugs might have been the cause.

It’s always kind of conflicting when famous people die. Even though we’ve never met the person, we’re still shocked and saddened when we hear of their death. We feel some sense of mourning, but might feel a little dramatic doing so because after all, this person is technically a stranger. We have no right to grieve in the way that their family and friends do, yet they were a part of our life in some way, so it’s somewhat legitimate to be sad. Maybe the death of a superstar makes us think of our own mortality, or that of our loved ones. Perhaps what we’re really mourning is the loss of such great talent.

What bothers me, though, is how the media has handled celebrity deaths in the past few years. I try not to be a “hate the media” type because I’ve worked in the media and never liked the label people put on us. But seriously, this past week, it seemed every TV station, at every hour of the day, was airing coverage of Whitney Houston. It started to feel a little overboard after awhile. My cynical self couldn’t help but wonder: a) if it was all for the goal of higher profits, and b) what other important news we were missing because of it.

One of my friends, Garry De Vries, had a similar sentiment and recently posted a profound statement about it on Facebook. I asked him if I could share part of it with you:

I respect the dead and I respect that Whitney Houston needed her moment but what about the others?… Why don’t we take the time to flash EVERY fallen soldier’s name and picture the day they pass at the end of newscasts as a sign of respect. They died so people like Whitney can be free and become famous yet we do not honor them like we should. How about we keep the flag at full staff for celebrities and keep the honor of half staff for people who dedicated their lives to our country or lost it in the line of duty. How about we talk more about the soldiers who lost limbs and are in wheelchairs and how we can help them instead of Lindsey Lohan’s next court date for being a drug-addicted idiot. How about instead of the Real Housewives and their egotistical lives we have a show about the widows of soldiers and single mothers and wives of soldiers overseas and help them.

Garry’s statement really hit me because it revealed just how much value our culture (myself included) places on The Celebrity. For some reason, we’ve become obsessed with the comings and goings of the rich and famous, and oftentimes those comings and goings are superfluous, having no real impact on our daily life. And the people who truly are making a difference—soldiers, teachers, scientists—usually go unnoticed and are sometimes even dismissed. This dichotomy sadly shows just how shallow our culture really is.

That’s not to say that Whitney Houston’s death did not deserve attention, because it did. Most people agree that she is one of the best singers—if not THE best—of our time. She has influenced many young musicians who have gone on to have their own successful careers. And I personally have several fond memories of lip synching via hairbrush to Whitney’s music during my childhood years. Her life does deserve a tribute, but so do the lives of many other influential people who will never receive the recognition they’re due, let alone 24/7 coverage on every TV station.

All this to say, Daughter… don’t get too caught up in the celebrity obsession that our society holds so dearly. It’s fun to know a little bit about what’s going on in celebrities’ lives, but not when they’re held on a pedestal that stamps out the efforts of those who truly deserve the credit. Let’s help shift the priorities of our culture and start paying attention to the real heroes.

Love,
Mom

How to help a friend

Dear Daughter,

You know, there are a lot of really good people in this world. We mostly hear about the bad ones—and there are a lot of them as well—but don’t let anyone tell you that there is more bad than good in this world. Because I truly believe that it’s just the opposite.

In the weeks following the birth of the baby, so many of my friends and family members stepped outside of their comfort zones to lend a helping hand. They made us dinners, cleaned the house, and offered to help me with anything I needed. We even had to tell people to stop making us food because we had too much! I was overwhelmed by their generosity, and even felt a little guilty for it. It’s not like I was sick. I’d had a baby, which is a tremendous gift in and of itself. I was blessed enough to have a new child, let alone people begging to feed and serve me!

For some reason, all of my life, loved ones have gone out of their way to help me with things. I’m not sure why; it’s not like I’ve been dealt a rough hand. I think there are just a lot of giving people in my life, people who delight in helping others. And during the times that I did need help, I humbly accepted it.

It’s recently dawned on me, however, that I haven’t returned the favor as often as I should have. I don’t help my family members as much as they help me, and I don’t reach out to my friends in the way that they reach out to me. All of this time I’ve been receiving, receiving, receiving (always gratefully, but still…) and I’ve done very little giving, giving, giving. I like helping people by listening to them and giving advice but I’m not so good at the real-life, practical, everyday stuff. Sadly, it usually doesn’t even occur to me to do such a thing.

Daughter, I encourage you to open your eyes to the needs of the people in your life. Pay close attention to what might be lacking in their current situation, and figure out a way in which you can fill that gap. Help them with their schoolwork. Give them your dessert at lunch. Teach them how to play a sport. When you’re older, offer to cook for them, or watch their kids for a few hours so they can get some rest. Be acutely keen to their needs and offer to help. Don’t wait to be asked for help, because they’ll never ask. Just stick your neck out there and do whatever it is they need. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

Love,
Mom

Starting with a clean slate

Dear Daughter,

I suppose I should make the above subject plural—Daughters—because there are two of you now… a fact that both thrills and frightens me all at the same time. Little girls are wonderful. They’re pretty, sweet, and have cute clothes. I understand girls. They make sense to me (as opposed to boys, whose affinity for dirt and destruction baffles me). But I think—and I’m just presuming here—that parenting a daughter is much more nerve-wracking than parenting a son. Because while girls are pretty, sweet, and have cute clothes, they are also emotional beings who wear their hearts on their sleeves. They’re prone to get hurt, both physically and emotionally, more easily than boys are, and that is sometimes too much for a parent to bear.

The whole reason I started writing this blog, these letters to Daughter, is to help my daughter (now daughters) and other young women make the right choices, to warn them of what obstacles might be ahead of them and to guide them in navigating those obstacles accordingly. I don’t have all the answers myself (far from it!) but I do have some expertise on the matter. Because I am a girl. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’ve gotten hurt, both physically and emotionally.

One of the most fascinating things about having a baby is that, once they enter the world, they are a clean slate. They haven’t yet been jaded by the reality of life. They haven’t yet learned what they can get away with or what influences might harm them.  So at that moment when the baby is pulled out of the womb, parents are given the opportunity to do things right, to discipline and guide their child in the best possible way. And while it will never go perfectly, because no parent is perfect, it is the hope and intention of most parents that the baby will grow into a caring, respectful child and later into a sensible, hard-working adult.

Similarly, every time I write a new letter/post here, I have the opportunity to help guide my daughters and others to a more fulfilling life. Every blank screen is a clean slate that, when filled, might help others—and myself!–see things in a new way and become better people for it.

So the fact that I haven’t written anything in the past couple of months has had a profound effect on me. I’ve been feeling a little bit empty, and incredibly guilty, because I wasn’t using this platform to help you or others. Granted, I’ve been busy! Taking care of a newborn is no easy task, and takes up much more of my time than I had anticipated. But there were times when I could have written but chose not to, because I wanted to take that time for myself rather than for others. And I think I needed that “me” time. I still do… everyone does! But what I also needed was to pursue my passion and my calling, which is writing these letters to you, Daughter.

So I’m going to do the best that I can with this tremendous opportunity I’ve been given. I acknowledge that there will be days when it truly is impossible to write. But I want to make this a priority again, because you are my priority. I look forward to returning to this fun, thought-provoking medium to communicate just how much you mean to me.

Love,
Mom