Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Letter to My Daughter

A Letter to My Daughter
September 20, 2017

My beautiful girl, you are already well into your fourth week away from home—longer than you’ve ever been away from me.  It’s quieter here now, and I’m missing the sound of your laughter and the day-to-day chatter at home, on the soccer field, at the track, on the pool deck, and in the car. So, so many hours in the car! Although I sometimes wished you could cart yourself off to practice or to youth group in these past couple of years, I almost feel that your incredible commitment to NOT getting your license while you were in school was an inadvertent gift to me, because it afforded us so much time together.  Your sister was already grown and living her life in L.A., and although your brother was still at home, he was keen to exercise the freedom that all young college men with the keys to their own cars yearn for. 

So that left you and me, Kid, with lots of things to talk about, great and small.  And I cherish those times, whether we were talking about where you wanted to go to college and whether or not we could make it work financially, or talking about your friends and all your exploits together, or talking about your passions—church, photography, sports, or even talking about which Starbucks drink you were trying to talk me into buying you on the way home from school.  And even though we spent so much time together, I still feel like there were things I should have said—things I want you to know as you are creating a new life for yourself in your home away from home at college.  You’re going to have incredible experiences in college, but you might have some pretty rotten ones, too, and it makes me sad that I won’t be there by your side to help you navigate those experiences.  That’s okay, though.  It’s the way it’s supposed to be, and I’ll probably have a harder time with it than you will, truth be told.  Still, I’ll share a couple of bits of wisdom and advice that you probably know, but that I want you to hear again anyway:

First, I am incredibly proud of you.  Your determination and perseverance have surprised and delighted me since literally before you were born (that’s a story for another day).  Those traits have propelled you to challenge yourself both physically and intellectually, and have paved the way for you to become the independent young woman you are.  You know what you want, and you are ready to climb any mountain that stands in your way.  At the same time, you have a giving and loving spirit that gives you a heart of service, which is something I dearly love about you.

That determination and perseverance goes a long way.  However, sometimes, no matter how hard we work or push ourselves, circumstances beyond our control can thwart us.  Things aren’t always going to go your way; it’s a fact of life.  Sometimes, things will be downright awful.  We can’t control everything, but we can control how we respond.  Use your creativity to look at a problem in a new light, or to reframe the situation so that you can learn and grow from it.  Failure is only failure it you choose to view it as such.

You’re going to make mistakes.  Sometimes you won’t know you’re making a mistake until it’s too late, and sometimes you’ll make a mistake knowing full well it’s the wrong choice but in the moment you let your impulse take over, instead of your brain.  Just know that when—not if—you make a poor choice as you are learning to be an adult, I will never love you less for it, and I will support you as you work to right that mistake. 

College has a wealth of new experiences, and you alone are responsible for making sure you get all you can out of it.  Get yourself to classes, make sure you take care of your business, pay attention to deadlines.  Also, meet lots of friends, get involved, be a part of the culture of the place.  Be the one, as you always have been, to reach out and include those who seem to need someone to reach out and include them.  Find balance.  This is so important.  And if you get a few Bs along the way, don’t beat yourself up about it, and know that I won’t either.  (A “C” here or there won’t kill you either—and it won’t kill me.)  Balance, balance, balance.  Sleep, study, laugh, play, learn.  They’re ALL important.

From your mama, you got a basic belief in the goodness of people, and I am incredibly thankful for that.  However, as much as I believe in the goodness of people, I know that there are a few rotten apples out there.  You know this too.  Trust your instincts on this.  Like many young women, it’s hard to face the reality that there are people who might mean you harm.  At parties, stay with people you know.  Have a buddy system where you and your friend check in on each other.  NEVER take a drink from someone you don’t know, or that you didn’t see poured.  Better yet, take your own drink.  Be vigilant about not being cornered in a place where others can’t see you.  Don’t walk out on your own after dark.  This is a hard subject, because I don’t even begin to want to think about my baby girl in a situation where she could be in danger, but colleges can be notorious for too much alcohol, uninhibited behavior, and ‘friends’ who take advantage of being unsupervised by parents, sometimes for the first time in their lives.  And yes, these things happen even at Christian colleges.  You have often joked that you are strong enough to take on someone who wants to attack you.  You are fierce, you are strong—but you are one person, and any person, given the right circumstances, can be overcome.  And there are fierce, strong, and callous human beings, much as I hate to acknowledge it, who are sick, angry, entitled.  Caution and awareness are strengths, too.  Use those strengths.  Know this, though, loud and clear—if you are ever attacked, accosted, raped, no amount of anything you did or didn’t do, before or after, will make it your fault.  Ever. 

Ugh.  That was hard to write.  I didn’t even want to write the word “rape”, because it’s so hard to wrap my brain around the concept in relation to my own children.  I thought it was important to say, however, because I don’t ever want one of my kids to be ashamed to say the word to me if they are looking to me for support and love and comfort as a result of it.

Okay—last subject.  (For now.  I am your mama, after all, and I reserve the right to disseminate mama-ly advice until you’re, say, 93.  Yes, I have spectacular ambition when it comes to my own longevity.)  As I have said before, this is an age and a time when you’ll be discovering all kinds of experiences.  You might even fall in love.  Many people do, in college.  Some people don’t, and that’s perfectly fine, too.  If the right Prince Charming doesn’t sweep you off your feet, Honey, don’t settle for Prince Churlish.  There’s no timeline but your own when it comes to love.  If you do fall in love, there’s always the possibility of heartbreak.  You might love someone who doesn’t love you back, or who does for a time, and then moves on with his life.  It will feel like the end of the world.  Your heart will be crushed.  You won’t know how to be who you are anymore.  But please listen to this: you are a beautiful, talented, wonderful gift.  If you find a man who recognizes this and treats you accordingly, well, that’s a wise and wonderful human being.  But you are not beautiful, talented, and wonderful BECAUSE a boy might love you; if his love or infatuation falters, it does not lessen who you are.  This is a terribly hard lesson to remember in the depths of despair, but if you tuck this truth deep in your heart now, it will be there when you need to find your way back to you.  This was a hard lesson for me to learn—it took me many years to recover myself when I was young—but you are wiser than I was at your age.  And just like you may one day experience heart-break, you may also cause heart-break, even when you don’t want to.  You may find that the love you thought was there simply isn’t anymore.  Or you may find someone you find dear—someone you love, but aren’t in love with. This doesn’t make you a bad person; don’t hold on to love out of guilt or sadness.  Be gentle with a heart you no longer want to share, and be kind to that person who is, like you, a beautiful, talented, wonderful gift, who may struggle awhile to find his way back to himself as he is piecing back together his heart.

These are some of the things I think about now, as I’m riding alone in my car each day to the school we both shared, and while running errands throughout my week.  I am sure there are a million more conversations I’ll have with you in my head in between the short phone calls and the text messages back and forth, just like I thought about when your sister left for school or when your brother started college.  You all grow up, and you learn to move in a much bigger world than the tiny world of our home, but I want you to know: I will always be your mom, I will always want to share in a part of your world, I will always be here for you to offer advice or support, and I will always love you.  You are always in my heart, even when you are not sitting next to me.


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