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I’ve spent my life playing other people. I’ve spent my life being other people. For the longest time I couldn’t really tell you the first thing about me. Ask me about any character, any character I have ever played or thought of playing in my life, and I can tell you anything and everything you want to know. However, if you asked me about me…I would just draw a blank, a complete blank, and I couldn’t tell you the first thing. I spent the last year of my twenties, and the first six months of my thirties, trying to bring myself down from that, back from that, and figure out just who I was.
I have realized that there is so much I know now that I really wish I knew ten, fifteen years ago. I know that everyone is like that, hindsight 20-20 and all that, but really, if I had the option, I would go back to high school, knowing what I know now, and do so much over again.
Turning thirty was a little scary. Not because it was “thirty” but because my oldest daughter turned ten. Now, I do not have custody of her – without going into too much (cause it’s a story in and of itself), I gave her up for adoption when she was born, but I still see her when I can. She is getting so close to those years that were so difficult for me for so many reasons. And watching her and seeing how much she is like me in so very many ways, I worry. I worry that she will continue to be like me, even if I’m not around, in the things about myself that I don’t like instead of just the ones I do.
And then I look at my youngest daughter, my amazingly smart and vivacious almost-four-year old, who I literally keep a “Reasons I Love My Daughter” list for because of those days she pushes my nerves. There are a lot of things about her that are different than me, but a lot that are so the same – more and more each day.
I don’t want either of them to have to go through some of the things I did.
I never want to hear them say some of the things I know I myself think every day. Or at least that I used to think. I’m working on getting that down below the “every day” mark. I never want to hear them say things about themselves that I know I’ve said about myself. I don’t want them to make my mistakes and I don’t want them to live my life.
I want them to live theirs better.
I’m jealous of where my daughters are, how much life they still have in front of them. I wish I could go back there.
I wish I could go back there and save myself the pain, the heartache. I wish I could save myself the mistakes and the tears. I wish I could tell myself the so many things I need to know before I have to learn them the hard way.
But I can’t do that. I can’t tell any younger version of me what to do. I made my decisions and, as much as they hurt, as much as they haunt, and as much as I wish I could escape the pain, they made me who I am and I can’t change them. I might as well learn to like them.
I can’t change my life. I can’t save my childhood self from the pain. I can’t go back and tell her all the things I wish someone would have told me, all the things it took me so many years to learn, that I really needed to know before I ever even got started. I can’t tell her about the heartache and pain and I can’t tell her about the good things that will make her laugh until she can’t breathe anymore. I can’t tell her anything. I can’t change my past.
But I can tell my daughters everything. And maybe change their future.
THINGS I WANT MY DAUGHTERS TO KNOW
My dear girls,
As I turned thirty earlier this year, I didn’t particularly feel old. Thirty isn’t that bad. Then, Big Girl, you turn ten in September. And Baby Girl, you will turn four in March. THAT makes me feel old.
Did you know that you make me feel old? I know you don’t mean to and it’s not anything either of you actively do, or anything you can change, but both of you, growing up so fast, doing so many things – you made me feel like a “grown up”.
I’m not used to that feeling and I apologize if you somehow pick up on the weirdness that must sometimes glaze my eyes for a moment or two. I apologize for anything either of you might ever pick up on that makes you think, in any way, that you are not the sweetest, most wonderfully adorable girls in the entire world or that in any way makes you think that I don’t love you. Yes, you both make me feel old some days, but I would have grown up whether you were born or not and just because you make me feel old does not mean that I don’t love you.
However, there are some things I want you to know, some things I wish I had known when I was growing up. Granted, this “when I was growing up” generally refers to time much later than four, or even ten, times like middle school and high school, but you might as well be told now. It’s never too early to learn and every time you read this for years to come, it will remind you of what you should already know.
First, foremost, forever and always, I love each of you very, very much. Neither of you will never ever disappoint me as long as you live your life as you want to. No matter what, I will always, always be proud of you. You will always have your family, all of us, and you will always be able to come home, to any of us. I will always have a place for you in my home and my heart.
You can’t control what other people do so don’t waste too much time and energy on those dead ends. Not everyone in the world is going to act how you would in any given situation and many people will do things you cannot understand or fathom. You cannot stop them, nor should you unless they are going to hurt themselves. Let other people make their own decisions like you want them to let you make your own choices. Don’t try to control people. It will only backfire and hurt someone.
You can’t control how you feel no matter how hard you try. You don’t have to tell everyone – or anyone – but you can’t control it. Never turn off your feelings or ignore them because feelings – especially the worst ones like hurt, sadness and pain – can be good. Feelings are how your body communicates to you. Listen to it. Don’t be afraid to admit that you hurt or to tell people you are sad. Do not be afraid to talk to someone if you think something is wrong or if you think you are sick. There are people that can help – there are people whose job it is to help.
You can’t change the past and you have to live with your decisions, the good ones as well as the bad. Your life can change in a second whether you want it to or not and it’s not always something you do that ends up changing it. Running away from your problems does not solve anything. Neither does ignoring them or trying to sweep them under the rug. Face your problems and don’t be afraid to get help if you need it. There is no weakness in needing help to get through life. No one can do it alone.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; it can sometimes be the best way to learn. Sometimes something you consider at first a “mistake” can be the best thing that ever happens to you. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes. It does not mean you are weak. Everyone makes mistakes and if they tell you they don’t, they are lying through their teeth. Hiding your mistakes is not a good idea; they WILL be found out and it will be a lot less trouble to come clean on your own. Just be sure you at least help to clean them up. Don’t expect someone else to always bail you out. “Help” does not mean “do it for you”.
Don’t be afraid to believe in something, even if it’s just to believe that there is nothing there to be believed in. Don’t be ashamed of your beliefs, no matter what they are.
You can’t always help everyone, but help everyone you can. Don’t let someone walk all over you. Don’t let anyone hurt you. You deserve better. Never let anyone tell you that you are not worthy of something or let anyone make you believe you are any less than what you are. Make sure you have people you can trust; good friends are hard to come by but when you find them, don’t ever let them go.
Listen when people talk to you. You’d be amazed what you can learn – about the person and just in general. Sometimes all someone needs is to talk to someone – your ears aren’t going to go anywhere and it won’t hurt you to put them to use.
Money doesn’t grow on trees. I know you’ll hear that over and over but it’s something you need to remember. You will most likely not win the lottery and most people don’t have jobs with salaries in the six or seven figures. I apologize that I cannot set you up with a trust fund and be sure of your security for the rest of your life. Money will not magically appear, you have to work for it and earn it. Save. Budget. Don’t spend money you don’t have. You’d be amazed how little you HAVE to spend to get by and how much you can save. You’ll be glad you did too.
It’s okay, and sometimes good, to be different. It’s okay to have your own opinions, especially if they are not necessarily everyone else’s. Don’t let someone else tell you your opinion is wrong. That’s why it’s an opinion, not a fact.
Pay attention in school. Yes, it might be boring and you might think it’s pointless, but down the road, you’ll wish you’d worked harder. Go to college, even if it’s for a degree you are not quite sure what to do with. Once you leave school, it’s terribly difficult to go back and the day will come when it’s not really a possibility anymore and you’ll really wish you’d gone and graduated when you had the chance. That does not mean, however, that you can’t take a year or two off between high school and college. Just put those years to good use.
Weight is just a number. As long as you are healthy – meaning that a doctor says you are healthy – the specific number really doesn’t matter. Don’t kill yourself to be the smallest size. Don’t let a number rule your life and what you eat and don’t be afraid of scales. Or food for that matter. Food is your friend – even fried or sweet or fattening. You can eat anything you want and it won’t hurt you (you know, as long as you aren’t allergic to it). It’s all about moderation. (But seriously, don’t forget to eat your vegetables; they are good for you. No, French fries are not really a vegetable. And candy apples don’t count as a fruit.)
You will love a lot of people in your life. Sometimes you will love someone who doesn’t love you back. Or someone that you haven’t seen or talked to in years. Sometimes you will love someone who makes you furious and other times you won’t be able to stop laughing. It just happens. You can’t stop it, you can’t control it. You just love them and it’s just a part of who you are. Sometimes you will love someone who isn’t here anymore and that you know you will never see again. There will come a time in your life when you will love someone you’ve never even met. There will come a time that loving someone means stepping back and letting them live their life, including making their own mistakes and, at times, getting hurt, because that’s what’s best for them. And watching someone you love hurting is not easy or fun at all. There may come a time when you are in love with someone who is in love with someone else. It sucks. There is no other word for it. It sucks, it’s hard, and it hurts. And most of the time, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it because, once you love someone, it’s very very hard to just stop. You can’t exactly turn off your heart.
This is not to tell you not to love. Love with everything you have because the rewards can be amazing. But just know that you will have a few heartbreaks along the way. It will hurt. It will suck. It will be hard. But you have to just trust it. Let it be what it is. And love everyone you can with all you have for as long as you can.
Be sure to tell people you love them. You never know when you might not get the chance to again.
Love yourself. Love yourself for who you are and don’t try to be something you aren’t. That curly hair you got from me will be the envy of everyone else, but it will probably make you furious sometimes, but always remember, it’s yours for good. Those freckles you will probably inherit from me will make you “oh so cute” your entire life and you’ll want to scrub them off, but remember, they are part of you. You can dye your hair and paint your nails, cover your face with make-up but it’s not going to change who you are inside. Learn to love her, learn to be proud of her, let HER out and you’ll be just fine. Then you can worry about the hair and the make up and the clothes. Those are accessories; they are accentuation’s They are not who you are – nor should they be. Love yourself for you and you’ll be much happier. (Though I do have two suggestions – grow your hair long and use lots and lots of sunscreen. It helps.)
Don’t shy away from pictures. Yes, I know they can be annoying and I know that sometimes in your life you won’t like the way you look. But trust me, you will always be beautiful and years from now when a person has passed away or moved to another country, or when you try in vain to remember what a face looked like from a long over friendship, you will be very grateful to have pictures. You never know when you might need them for something or when it might be the only way you can see someone.
It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing sometimes. It’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life or where you want to go. Don’t let anyone pressure you into something you don’t want to do or something you’re unsure of. Even though you may be good at something and you may be able to do it well, that does not always mean that doing it will make you happy. Do what makes you happy (as long as it’s legal) and ignore everyone else. Their input might have value, but you don’t have to substitute their judgment for your own.
Don’t be afraid to say no sometimes.
Sometimes the best decision is the hardest one. Sometimes the best decision is the easiest one. Don’t over think things – if something works, even if it doesn’t make much or any sense at all, just let it work. Things happen for a reason and you don’t always get to understand that reason today or tomorrow or maybe even next year. But one day you’ll look back and see and understand. That doesn’t mean whatever happening won’t hurt. It just means that at some point you will understand.
Don’t be afraid to cry.
The truth is always the best answer. Sometimes lying or telling a story or just not telling the whole truth is easier and may seem like the better option, but it will come out sometime and it will bite you. You are better off telling the truth from the beginning. Even if it gets you in trouble, it’s much less trouble than you will be in after someone finds out you lied to them. That is not a happy feeling and you never want to experience it. Just trust me on that one.
Distractions can be helpful but don’t let them make you lose sight of what’s important. Set your priorities and don’t change them just because someone else doesn’t think the same way as you do.
You can do and be anything you want and never let anyone tell you differently. You can be a doctor or a lawyer or you can be a stay at home mother – it’s your life and your decisions; don’t let someone else control you.
Not everyone can be the most popular girl in school. There’s only one and, to be honest, odds are stacked against everyone. Most people won’t be that person. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not want to go to parties. It’s okay to not want to be friends with everyone. It’s okay to want to sit in the corner with your nose in a book and really not care about the silly politics of high school hierarchy. It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to be a “smart kid” and get good grades. It’s okay to skip football games or basketball games if they bore you (but it’s also okay to go to every one if you’re interested!) If you are in a group or club that goes on a trip, it’s okay to not go because it’s expensive, or to not go purely because you just don’t want to or feel like it. It’s okay not to like everyone. It’s okay if some people aren’t your friends. Not everyone in the world likes everyone else, sometimes — a lot of the times — for no real reason other than, well, they just don’t. It happens. It’s okay. Don’t sweat it and just enjoy those people you do like, you do have fun with and you do care about. Those are your real friends. Don’t worry about the others.
No one else is, or should be, responsible for your happiness, nor are you, or should you be, responsible for theirs. It may sound odd, but you need to be happy and stable on your own before you allow yourself to make someone else’s happiness, stability, or mental state your problem. No one else can make such things your responsibility (though some people will try), you can only take such responsibility on yourself. But you don’t have to. Remember that.
Live your life for yourself. Do what you want to do. Do not do the (non-important) things you don’t want to do. Do not feel obligated to say “yes” to invitations. Do not feel guilty about taking an earned day off or saying no to covering for someone else. Do not force yourself to stay in relationships that you are not happy in. Do not let people walk over you or use you. Do not take other people’s problems as your own and certainly do not make other people’s happiness your responsibility.
Being yourself is not only okay, it’s incredibly important.
Accept criticism without feeling put down. It does not mean you are a bad person. You are allowed to speak up for yourself and put your views across. You don’t need to worry what other people think about your views. You don’t need the approval of other people to feel good. You should not feel guilty about saying what you want.
It is okay to be sad, hurt, or upset. It is not okay to allow other people to make you feel that way. It is your life and your responsibility.
People will leave you along the way. People will die and people will move and people will “grow apart” from you. You can, and should, miss them. Just don’t let it become who you are. Just because someone is dead or moves away doesn’t mean they are gone forever. Think about them, but don’t dwell. Love them, but go on. Never forget them, but be sure to remember to live. No one that leaves you wants you to be sad for the rest of your life. They want you to go on and live. They want you to continue to make them proud.
Being scared is okay. Being scared of things in the world is perfectly normal. This world is a very scary place and bad things can and do happen to good people, whether we want them to or not. Hell, I’m thirty and the world I am surrounded by still terrifies me. There is no shame in that. But don’t let it scare you so much that you stop going out or you stop living. Being scared is a healthy part of life as long as you don’t let it control you.
Just never let anything other than you and your intuition control you.
You have to learn to love yourself before you can learn to love someone else.
Realize that, no matter what I tell you or anyone else tell you, no matter how many times we have to warn you, you will end up having to learn all of this for yourself. And at some point, you will look back and remember that I told you and only then will the reality of it burn itself into your brain and you will never, ever, forget it.
There are also going to be difficult times in your life. Everyone has them. There are going to be moments, days, weeks, sometimes even months or years when you are going to be in a bad situation or have bad things happen and, during that time, you are going to feel alone. But let me tell you, that’s not true. Someone, somewhere, is always on your side and will help you and be there to catch you if you fall. Sometimes, that someone will be me. Sometimes, it might be your Nana. Or your Gigi. Or your Daddy. But someone will be there.
Growing up is hard. But you will make it through. It gets better. At some point, it will pass and there will be light again. You just have to keep breathing and keep watching for it. Growing up is part of being alive.
And, most of all, love your life, little girls, and live it how you want to. Because it may not be perfect and it might not be what you planned, it may not be what other people want for you or necessarily what you think you want for yourself but, in the end, it is your life. It’s your life and if you accept it for what it is, it will always be wonderful and completely yours. That’s one thing no one can ever take away from you. They will try, lord knows they will try, but never, ever, let them.
I will always love you.
P.S. Also, remember – when the zombies take over, always shoot for the head. And, if you can, find a Daryl Dixon.