To my beautiful, creative, spirited, eldest daughter . . .
Twelve years ago today, in the wee hours of the morning, you changed my life forever. As I think back on the details of that momentous event, I feel compelled to share some of my thoughts about that day, life since that day, and life going forward.
How wonderful that you are to an age where you can start to understand life on a deeper level. I know you’re feeling a bit trepidatious about growing up, and I understand. Some might say this is your last official year of childhood. But there are so many great things about getting older, and I look forward to passing along my humble shards of grown-up wisdom as you make your way into adulthood. In fact, I’ll share a few today.
But let’s start with your birth, since that’s what we’re celebrating today. Along with the joy of getting to meet you, your birth brought me an intense understanding of how awesome it is to be a woman. I chose to do everything I could to have a natural childbirth, mainly for health reasons. But there is so much more to the birth experience than I ever imagined. It’s hard – really, really, really hard. With your birth, I was as prepared as I could be, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I knew it would be hard. Even so, there was a moment towards the end when exhaustion and the feeling of someone sticking a white-hot knife into my back every time I pushed made me feel like I couldn’t do it anymore.
But in that split second – just when I thought I literally couldn’t push one more time – I had a vision. I saw this long line of women – our ancestors, stretching back over the centuries – who had each endured and survived their own childbirth experiences in order for me to be there, in that moment, ushering you into the world. They had all been through the same thing to make that moment possible. I’ve never experienced anything like that moment, and I’ve never felt more empowered. So I pushed, one more time, and you arrived.
They put you on my tummy, wiped you clean, and I swear, not five seconds later, you lifted your bobbly little head and looked up at us. Looking into your big, round eyes for the first time is one of the clearest memories I have.
Imagine your dad and I, two separate individuals, now looking at this miraculous, perfect physical fusion of us. But you weren’t us. You had my eyes and his hair, but you were you. A totally unique blend of genetics infused with your own portion of providence. You brought with you your own heart, your own free will, and your own destiny. And our job as stewards of those things was both an awesome blessing and a sobering responsibility.
I would try to explain that further, but it would be useless. You won’t be able to relate much at all to parenthood until you become a parent. There’s just no way to really understand until you’re in it.
That’s true of a lot of life experiences, I’ve found. We all come at the world with different perspectives and backgrounds. And we’re all having unique experiences, all the time, which brings me to my first shard of wisdom:
Always try to put yourself into other people’s shoes, especially when you find yourself passing judgment. Try to look from different angles and see all sides of a situation. Even if you can’t fully understand what someone feels or where someone else is coming from, try anyway. Just trying is often enough to give you the humility to let go of negative judgment.
At the same time (second shard of wisdom here), don’t put yourself into shoes that don’t belong to you or that don’t fit you, just because they look good on someone else and you want to know what they feel like. Be who you know you are, and avoid being who you know you’re not. I would just say, “Be yourself,” but that’s a bit too simplistic. Figuring out who you are is an ever-evolving process. Over the next ten years or so you’ll probably spend a lot of time trying to figure that out. Some you’ll choose, and some you’ll discover through trial and error, but over time you’ll find the things that are for sure “you” and the things that are for sure “not you.” Listen to yourself when those things become clear. It’s not always easy.
Third shard of wisdom: Pray. A lot. All the time. About everything. There’s a mysterious wisdom to prayer, and the more you pray, the more you see it. It’s not about getting what you want, or trying to get certain things to happen. Not at all. It’s about keeping yourself connected to the divine. I’ve come to learn that morning and evening prayer/meditation routines are vital for healthy spiritual discipline, but that’s not all prayer is. Prayer is cleansing and clarifying, and making prayer an automatic response to difficulties and joys alike is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
Fourth shard: Ask questions and ask for help. Asking questions makes you smarter, and asking for help makes life easier. Very simple concepts that, for some reason, people tend to get hung up on. If the answers to your questions bring up more questions, ask those, too. If you come across someone who seems annoyed that you’re asking questions, ask someone else. Compare people’s answers. If they conflict, ask some more. Always seek to understand and to see all sides. You don’t have to take people’s answers for gospel truth; in fact, it’s always best to cross-reference any answers that are supposedly fact. But ask away, especially when you meet people from other places, or who are very different than you. Ask them about themselves, their thoughts, their impressions of things. People are fascinating, and most people want to share.
Fifth shard: Don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t be too easy on yourself, either. Perfectionism is limiting and impossible to sustain. Perfectionism will lead you to quit things prematurely or to not start things at all. Setting high goals is good. Striving for excellence, yes, absolutely. But don’t confuse excellence with perfection. Everyone can reach their own level of excellence with discipline and love and reasonably high expectations. Set a good standard for yourself. Don’t let yourself get lazy or apathetic (which, ironically, often results from perfectionism). Choose something to work toward, something you enjoy enough to work at but that challenges you to push yourself a bit, and keep at it.
Naturally, I have many more shards of wisdom to share with you, but most of them will wait. These five are good for now. You’ll come up with your own shards of wisdom as you make mistakes and grow from them. But having some experienced advice can come in handy during that process. 🙂
I’m so proud of who you are, and I’m so thankful to have been chosen as your mother. I’m sure we’ll have our rough spots in the coming years, as all mothers and daughters do, but know that my love for you will never wane or fade. We’re in this growing up thing together, and I am always here when you need me.