In the spirit of summer repeats, I’m posting a blog I wrote for the Family Legacy Center this spring. I promise to get back to producing original material as soon as I get out of my writing funk! Grrrr.
As I disclosed in my earlier guest post for the Family Legacy Center, I write my children letters each year on their birthdays. I then file them away for my kids to read when they’re older. Several people have asked me what I write in these letters and I don’t have an easy answer. Each child and each birthday is different. I mix the good with the bad, the funny with the sad, and try to paint a picture of Barrett, Hunter, Audrey and Camden for each year of their childhood. If one day I’m not there to tell them what they were like at seven, ten or thirteen, they’ll have those birthday letters.
Recently I saw an article on the Huffington Post about a letter that a 73 year-old grandfather wrote to his grandchildren to pass along accumulated bits of wisdom. The guidance aspect of his letter got me thinking. What kind of sage advice would I like to pass on to my children, and their children?
After a period of contemplation, here’s what I’ve come up with:
I love you all so much, and being your mother was the best gift I’ve ever received. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t always smooth sailing, but even during the bad times, I never stopped loving you (even during the teen years). I hope this never happens, but if the last time we’re together isn’t happy-go-lucky, or we fight about something, please never doubt the love I have for you – and that goes both ways. I forgot to tell my mother that I loved her the last time we spoke, and I lived with the regret for years. To steal Debra Winger’s line from Terms of Endearment, “I know that you love me!” No matter what, even if you forget to tell me.
I think clichés get a bum rap. There’s a reason they’ve become clichés – they’ve been repeated ad nauseam, because of their inherent truth. Here are few I believe: Do what you love and love what you do (this will preserve your sanity and health). Don’t do drugs. Marry your best friend. Always be kind and take the high road. Avoid negative and toxic people, because they’ll kill your spirit. Know when to walk away, but don’t be afraid to stay and fight (unless of course you’ll get seriously hurt, then by all means – run!).
All your lives, I’ve preached the following: Don’t get a tattoo. Save your money. Go to college. Make your bed. Take good care of your teeth. Honor and respect where you came from. Help those who can’t help themselves. Don’t lie. Pay your taxes. Get health insurance. Wear sunblock. I said these things for a reason, not to hear myself speak. They’re important to me, and its good advice. You should hear my voice chanting in your ear for all time, and repeat these sentiments to your own children.
Read every day. I don’t care what it is – books, periodicals, newspapers, the internet, but exercise those curious minds. Reading can educate, entertain and comfort you. It will stimulate ideas and exercise your imagination. Reading can transport you to different worlds and different times. Reading has provided me with great joy, and I want you to experience some of the same. Don’t roll your eyes, I’m serious. I’m cool with audio books, too.
Please get a college degree. Yes, I am back to this one. Your father and I have planned and sacrificed to ensure that you’re able to get a college education. It’ll provide you with opportunities throughout your life. No one can take away that degree, the knowledge or the pride you’ll feel when you obtain it.
You’ve all been so wonderful with your brother Barrett. Nothing makes me happier or fills me with more pride than when you take care of him, play with him, include him and consider him. He loves you all so much. Please continue to watch over him (and if you don’t, I will haunt you). I realize it hasn’t always been easy having a sibling with special needs, but he is a part of us and he’s made our life uniquely magical.
Family first – Team Smithie. Always have each other’s back! I also urge you to surround yourself with good friends, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Having ONE bestie is boring and sometimes, people can break your heart. You’re fun and interesting individuals (how could you not be?!), so spread your mojo around. In the friend department, I’ve truly been blessed. The genuine and fulfilling relationships I’ve cultivated over my life have sustained me through the good times and the bad. Remember too, friendship is a two-way street. To have good friends, you need to be a good friend.
Forgiveness is a gift, both when it’s received and when it’s given. Don’t hold on to old hurts and grudges, because they will eat away at you. Forgive and move on. You will undoubtedly encounter hurt and betrayal in your life, but it doesn’t have to define who you are. Also, learn how to make an authentic apology.
I’m a believer in the hand written thank you note. For the life of me, I don’t understand why it’s become passé. If someone gives you something or does something for you, please take the time to acknowledge it in writing. It’s good manners and the right thing to do. The recipient of your note will appreciate the sentiment and the time you took to write it, address it, stamp it and walk it to the mailbox. Seriously, it doesn’t take much effort. And who doesn’t love receiving mail that isn’t junk or a bill?
Learn to be comfortable being alone. Don’t depend on other people for happiness, entertainment, security or fiscal resources. You need to know how to take care of and support yourselves. I also think each of you should live alone at least once. Living by myself gave me confidence, peace and freedom. I have seen people do crazy things to not be alone. Solitude should not scare you. And while we’re on the topic, I recommend you also travel by yourself – at least once!
Don’t affiliate yourself with a political party (unless, I guess, you’re running for office), both sides of the aisle scare me. Don’t vote unless you know what you’re voting for. Do your research, form an educated opinion of your own, not that of your friends and family. Then keep your mouth shut about how you voted. Trust me on this one – no good comes from telling people who you voted for.
Always go to the funeral, unless you have a really, really good reason for missing it – especially if you knew the deceased. Obviously there are exceptions, astronomical plane fare certainly being one of them. Attendance should also be seriously considered if someone close to you lost someone they love. Those who are grieving will never forget that you showed up. They will also not soon forget those who didn’t. At the very least write a note, call, send flowers – do something to acknowledge someone’s passing.
Life will throw you some curve balls, but things almost always get better. When this happens – persevere. Pick yourself up and dust yourself off. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Things will not go according to plan and that’s okay. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be married, with four children, living in the suburbs, writing about our life and sharing it with the public. And for the record – neither did your dad! Be excited about the unexpected surprises the future holds for you. For me, it’s been glorious.
What advice would you give to your children?