Big Hearts

Dear Sweet Girl,

Last week, when your Daddy was out for the evening, you and I sat in my bed and I did your hair. I love drying your hair while you sit on my lap. I love the chats we have. I love that every day you say to me, “Mommy. I have a REALLY good question!” and then you ask about how stars are formed, or how electricity gets into our house from the pole, or how we eat green veggies but they come out of us brown. It’s mind blowing.

Well this particular night, we talked about emergencies, and how to deal with them. We went over 9-1-1 and how to call from my passcoded phone, and what info we’d tell the 9-1-1 operator. You thought about it, said the right stuff, and then looked at me with those great big, bright brown eyes with a bit of fear, and welled-up tears.

“What is it, Sweet Girl?” I asked.

“Momma, I don’t want you to get hurt. I don’t want to be alone,” she said. This was after our discussion of what to do if Daddy wasn’t home and something happened to me. “I don’t want you to get sick and die.”

This can be you. With better glasses, and much, much less money. And less testosterone.

This can be you. With better glasses, and much, much less money. And less testosterone.

“Oh, I know, honey. But this is for if anything happened, like I hurt my leg and couldn’t move, or if I just needed more help than you can give me. It’s not just if I died,” I told you. And I saw that didn’t help. The tears just filled your eyes to spilling.

“But I don’t want anyone to get hurt, Mom. No one. Not even anyone. Not you, or Daddy, or any of my friends. Not even robbers and people in jail. I don’t want anyone to need an ambulance. Ever!”

And I know what you mean. I know full well how you feel when the overwhelming feeling of trying to save everyone pushes down on your heart and your chest. And here’s what I told you, more or less:

There will be times, love, that people will laugh at you. People will tell you to worry about yourself. That people need to take care of themselves, and you can’t concern yourself. To them I say bullshit.

And here is the rest of what I want to say: We need people like you, who care and who love and who, despite the odds, try to help people. Maybe you’ll find a calling one day that serves people. And you’ll probably be poor (because helping people doesn’t pay well), and likely will see more than you think your great big heart can stand, and people will turn away. But we need you to care just the same.

For some reason, in this “great” country of ours, we’ve let our most needy fall through our nets. We see people reaching out for help as a drain on society, rather than an opportunity to show what a truly great nation can do for its most vulnerable. We celebrate the vapid and marginalize the poor. And we need people who are strong hearted and strong willed and strong minded to stand up and say THIS ISN’T RIGHT. Why are homeless mothers living in motel rooms with their children jailed for lying about residence so her child can get a better chance at life, but bankers who pulled the rug out from our nation are left blameless? We need to celebrate those who truly care: those who really would shed a tear for the injustice done to the innocent, or to those guilty of only being born in the wrong zip code.

As you get older, you will learn how to take that feeling of overwhelming anxiety and work to make your spot in the world better. To make a mark – even just a small one. Small marks in a great big world are what make up the change we truly need.

Keep thinking big, Sweet Girl.

Love,

Mommy

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The heart of the matter.

Dear Sweet Girl,

Wow, what a nice break, huh? We spent the holiday’s doing the best thing ever: intensive, restorative, giggling family time. We got people from around the world that we love and put them in our home and we cooked and laughed and ate and drank and sang. I haven’t seen you that happy and full in a long time. I mean, you’re always happy, but when you have a full house of people you absolutely shine.

The other night while your dad was out of town, I told him on the phone that although I hate (HATE) his travel schedule, it does give you and me some bonding time that makes me so happy and connected to you. You are growing into a person who is funny and smart and can hold up a pretty decent conversation. You’re crazy and scared about a lot of things (you wouldn’t let the dog in the other morning because you were concerned he may have turned into a wolf in the preceding 8 minutes, and you didn’t want to have to deal with the pain of realizing your sweet dog is now a wolf that you can no longer cuddle with. I swear this whole conversation happened.) but you can rationalize things pretty well. I have to keep reminding myself that I can’t turn you into the person you should be. You are already that person. I’m just giving you pointers and nudges.

Sweet Girl helped me last week with a shopping list. Girl knows her stuff.

Sweet Girl helped me last week with a shopping list. Girl knows her stuff.

Last night, you and I went grocery shopping together. It was a fairly quiet night there, so I let you weigh and label all of the veggies and fruits. You did most of the picking out too, and I saw you do what I do: you picked up each thing, checked its heft, turned it in your hand to make sure it looked good all over, and gently put it in the sack. Baby, when I saw you do that I almost cried. Actually, tears welled. I realized at that moment that you are absorbing lessons at an astonishing rate. You don’t let anything go unnoticed.

You are so like me in so many ways –  despite that and because of that – I know you’ll be fine. You’ll be better than fine. Your ability to flesh out the heart of the issue will keep you able to relate to so many things. You can pick out veggies at five years old. You know when saying sorry is the right thing, even when you don’t think it’s your fault. You value your family and friends above things. These are the lessons you need. I didn’t have to tell you this.

Thank you for this amazing holiday season. I promise I’ll write more often, sweetheart.

Love,

Mommy

Questions I hate to ask.

Dear Sweet Girl,

Normally, I have very little issue asking people direct and inappropriate questions. I’ve asked people about money, sex, ex’s, tons of things I shouldn’t. If someone tells me that I shouldn’t ask that, I’m totally fine with that. If people tell me that I shouldn’t bring up something to their husband/wife/friend, I’ll generally abide. But I’m more or less ok putting people on the spot, as long as it’s not cruel or hurtful. For the most part, I think that as adults who so easily hide behind our blogs, and Facebook and Twitter accounts, we have lost the fine art of question dodging. Politicians still tend to do it well, but they speak more publicly than you and I.

Aw, isn't that precious?

Aw, isn’t that precious?

Which brings me to a question that I hesitate to ask. It’s not that I don’t want to know the answer, because I do. It’s just that I absolutely despise having to ask it. I never thought in my life that this would be an issue, yet it is. I’m trying to craft it in my head so I don’t scare people off, and make you into a kid who can’t do what other kids can, but it jumbles up on me all the time. How do you politely ask other parents “Do you have firearms in your home, and are they loaded? And where are they stored?” without sounding accusatory?

Baby, if you look at 2008 and 2009 and how many kids were killed by guns, you could fill up 229 classrooms. That’s 5,740 children. From that same year, the number of preschoolers killed by guns was double the amount of law enforcement those years killed by guns. If you want to look at how many were injured? 34,387*. I just can’t bring myself to be ok with you playing around these things.

We live in Texas. Texans, democrat and republican alike, love their guns. You play in homes where people have firearms. I know these people and have had conversations about it, and I trust them with you. But how do I deal with a new friend? A play date? A parent I don’t really know? I’m scared of this, because I hate it. I hate the guns, and I think they should be banned for civilians, and I don’t believe that the 2nd amendment is a good amendment. And I hate that people say “It’s our right! It’s in the constitution!” when they know damn well that so was prohibition and so was the three-fifths compromise and it’s just not always right. Because of this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And the other 700+ more since Sandy Hook that I don’t have the heart to even read. This is a great/terrible tool if you want to see for yourself.

So what do I do, love? How do I ask this question? Right now, I have to mull this one over. I’m working on it.

Love,

Mommy

*All stats taken from The Children’s Defense Fund.

Today, we vote.

Dear Sweet Girl,

When I was a young girl, I would go with my mom on election day to the junior high school in town where we’d pile into a little curtained booth, pull a lever for the curtain to close around us, and she’d flip all sorts of levers and switches. I loved this process, mostly because I couldn’t do it and that was allure enough. The first election I was old enough to vote in was a gubernatorial one in New York where George Pataki was ultimately elected. The first presidential election I voted in brought Bill back for another four. The first protest I was a part of was against the invasion of Iraq. The first time I realized that people who *don’t* vote, yet complain about the state of affairs weren’t thinking clearly,  I was in my late teens.

Image

This was something we saw this weekend. We had a long talk about why they were doing this, and why they were wearing masks. You were awestruck.

“One vote doesn’t count!” you’ll hear. Well, maybe in a presidential election you might have a point, but in local elections? Nope. No ma’am. Your vote counts so much. Presidential elections are fancy, never-ending, years-long affairs of bullshit upon lies upon shit-talking. Local politics is about you. Personally, not in some abstract “We the People” sort of way. It will effect everything, everyday. From the potholes (I’m looking at you, Dallas) in your street, to the sanitation, to the schools funding, to whether or not the person representing you in Austin or Washington will stand up for your rights.

It matters. Very, very much.

Here’s what does not matter: people who tell you how to think. The loud-mouthed, blabbering, ill-informed radio hosts. The sensationalistic cable news channels. Anyone who puts opinion to “news” without labeling it “opinion” or “satire”.  Actually, just don’t listen to talk radio or watch cable news. Public broadcasting, NPR, actual newspapers with journalists who want to tell the real story? Good. But don’t base your politics on what other people tell you to base it on. There’s always an agenda. Don’t give people that power over you.

Today, we vote. Remember when we talked about Susan B. Anthony after I gave you a coin with her profile on it? She’s one of the ones that helped make this possible for you and me. And we are still suffragettes. And we are still feminists. And we will always be, until the whole world sees us as equals. Don’t ever forget it.

Love,

Mommy

10 tips for not being an asshole.

Dear Sweet Girl,

Not all of the advice I give you is going to be lovey-dovey sage wisdom. Sometimes I will tell you things you don’t want to hear. Actually, I do that all the time. You’ve mastered the brow-furrow when I do this, and it makes me really want to tuck that whole “no spanking or slapping upside the head” rule into my pocket for a sec. Today, love, I will give you a few one offs to ensure that you’re the least annoying person you can be.

1. If you chew gum, no one over 6″ from your mouth should hear it. It’s gross and makes you sound like an idiot.

2. If you wear perfume, no one over 6″ from your body should smell it. Don’t make people smell you if they haven’t signed up for the privilege.

3. Don’t tailgate ever. This means on the highway or in line. Give people their space. It’s so obnoxious otherwise. Don’t frontgate either. Close talkers are creepy and it’s more annoying when there’s alcohol involved. Throw out a “this is my dance space, this is your dance space” reference if needed.

Personal space, people!

Personal space, people!

4. No one wants to be the victim of your poor choices. Think carefully about your decisions and how they affect others. You are not the only person in the world. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve spent with the same friends crying about the same thing that they keep doing over and over and over. There’s only so much a friend can take.

5. For the love of god, please learn how to figure things out. You will get angry at Dad and me often because we will not help you with things – I see it already – but trust me when I say we are there with a net if you fall. You have to be able to do things for yourself: cook, clean, change a tire, figure out how to take a train from Bucharest to Munich, or fill out an application. All are important, and those basic skills will be far more important in your life than most anything you’ll learn in school. Those are called “life skills”. Learn. Them.

6. If you don’t learn to laugh at yourself, you will go crazy. If you take yourself too seriously, life will eat you up.

7. Don’t brag. It’s unfriendly and unkind.

8. Don’t lie. It’s not worth it. Well, sometimes it’s worth it, and you just have to, but never big lies and never to your friends or lovers. Or your parents (mostly).

9. Travel as much as you can. We’ll take you where we can afford to take you while you’re a kid, but when you hit adulthood you need to RUN! Far away. Eat street food in Cambodia, and borsht in Russia. Sleep in a tent on a mountain in Peru, or on a beach in Indonesia. Just go. It will make you whole. And less of an asshole*.

10. Hold off on handing your heart over completely until you learn to love yourself unconditionally. You need to teach someone how to love you properly, and only by example.

I love you so much. Please don’t become an asshole.

Love,

Mommy

*I mean that in the “you’ll be more open-minded” sense. You may turn out to be one in the “I’ve traveled a lot and am more worldly than you” sense, though. Careful.

Choose Kind.

Dear Sweet Girl,

I’ve made decisions in my life that seemed rather insignificant to me at the time, but had such enormous impact on my life. The biggest, I’d guess, is not becoming an expert at any one thing. I didn’t have the ability or want to buckle down and study one thing. I chose not to finish college because it was harder than partying, but blew off the enormity of that decision by acknowledging that I was smart enough to have a good career that paid well without the degree. I will tell you now that I regret that decision immensely.

Sweet Friend and Sweet Girl. Please always be nice.

Sweet Friend and Sweet Girl. Please always be nice.

After that, I became a quasi-expert at everything. Working in a law firm gave me a lot of info on whichever type of law the firm specialized in. So much so, that people in my family would ask me legal questions, and I’d answer them. Expertly*. Working in private equity, I’d get questions about investments. I’d answer them as well. Expertly*. Thank god I never worked for doctors, or we’d have a lot of dead family members**. So while this all might have lead to some bad legal decisions, investments, or whatever else, what it did do was make me feel like I needed to always, no matter what, be right. Ask any of your uncles or aunts and they’ll surely attest to the fact that I’ve been a know-it-all my whole life. Ask your Dad, and he’ll tell you the amount of bets he’s lost over the years.

But lately I’ve been really trying to change this. Because of this one quote that just punched me in the gut when I heard it: “Choose to be kind over being right and you’ll be right every time.” Richard Carlson wrote that in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff years ago, and shit. He’s completely right. TOTALLY right.

I see in you a bit (a big bit) of me. You told me a few weeks back to remind you to tell your best friend that she was wrong about something she had told you and you were going to let her know. Jeez, you have no idea how that affected me. I realized right there that we have an obligation as parents, and as YOUR parents, to make sure that this gets nipped in the bud right now. So here goes:

  1. There is nothing wrong with a wrong answer. You’ll get things wrong a lot, but you get it right when your mind is open to the right answer. Being pigheaded over something that is clearly incorrect is just awful. No one wants to be friends with that, love.
  2. Unless it’s a matter of life and death, leave it. If you’re arguing with someone who is clearly passionate about his or her stance, and proving them wrong will only hurt their feelings, just leave it. Smile, and walk away.
    1. This will be incredibly difficult when it comes to watching your friends in awful relationships.  Don’t bash. Just love them.
    2. When someone you love is battling an addiction, you can’t force them to win the battle. You can’t really do anything. You might be right, and you will clearly see that, but they will not and nothing on earth will change that. You need to choose to be kind instead. And sometimes that means walking away. I’ll tell you a heartbreaking story about that someday.
    3. There are compromises that will need to be made in every single part of your life if you want healthy relationships. Some of those compromises are so hard to make because you just know you’re right. If someone else being right is going to make the long term easier, make their right (yes, sometimes there’s more than one “right”)  the one you choose. You just gotta sometimes.

Sweet Girl, just choose kind over right. I’ve been to enough therapy in my life to know that once you set your boundaries with people, you can let things fall into place. Don’t compromise who you are – that’s not what this is about – but allow your kindness to open the hearts of those around you.

I see your love for others, and your need to be accepted and praised. Being known for being the girl who is kind is much better than being the know-it-all. I guarantee that it will be your greatest asset.

Love,
Mommy

*Not at all expertly, and quite possibly illegally.

**More than we already have.

Your body, your self.

Dear Sweet Girl,

The other day when I was getting out of the shower, I caught a glimpse of my naked self in the mirror. My belly, while never flat, was hanging in a way that made me want to scream. I thought: that pouch, where I carried you for 9+ months, is flabby and hang-y and I hate it. I was so focused on my stretch marks that your voice startled me when you spoke from my bed where you were lounging in your undies. “Mama,” you said, “you look so pretty now. I love your hair when it’s like that.” Not one teeny hint of sarcasm, or falsity, or smoke-up-the-ass-blowing in your statement. You saw me; you thought I looked so pretty. The end.

chub

At least we can shop at normal stores now.

Girl, I have to tell you that it has been SO hard for me to not speak about our bodies, as humans, in anything other than positives. You have never heard me speak about my weight issues, or the fact that I am fat by many standards. We never talk about food being fattening, or watching our weight. We talk about healthful eating, and types of things that keep us full of energy, and things that make us feel yucky. But I want to crawl inside a stick of butter sometimes SO BADLY. And to you? It’s normal. All very normal.

There will come a day, my love, where people will tell you that you’re ugly, or stupid, or fat, or too skinny, or too tall (we’re dealing with this one already, huh?). I want you to understand something very important: it’s not about you. None of what those people are saying has anything to do with you. If people ever make you feel badly about the way you look, fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em all to hell. If a man tells you that you’d be perfect if you’d just {enter anything here}, please run as fast as you can in the other direction. If your friends tell you that you’re almost the right size for anything, find new friends.

Because, baby, the truth of the world is this: you will spend most of your young life trying to find your way. If you feel, at age 20 or even 25, that you have found your way, then rest assured you are wrong. Your way is a journey that will take you through a lot of life’s little hills and valleys. Stay on the road, and find the right people to ride with. Sometimes you might need to let go of the steering wheel and take a few detours. But I will tell you right now, love, that when you look back at the road, it should be littered with those people who didn’t love you for who you are. And you know what? Fuck ‘em.

Love,

Mommy