I sat down to write my daughter “that letter.”
You know the one.
That letter that every parent who has a child taking wing feels compelled to write… even those who don’t end up writing it.
That one that includes a last bit of sage advice mixed with humor, tenderness and love that you just know your child will cherish forever.
[More on what NOT to say at college drop off here.]
That letter that will be crumpled and yellow from so many readings.
That one that will move your child from tears to laughter.
That letter that let’s them know just how much you love them while allowing you to cram in a last gasp of parental advice.
That letter that comes with no pressure and low stakes… a bit like parenting itself?
This is what I wrote instead.
My Dearest Molly,
I can see the toes of your tiny hot pink hiking boots tapping together as you sat staring straight ahead, slightly embarrassed by the goings on around you. Never contemptuous yet a bit a dismissive, you watched out of your peripheral vision as the other toddlers and parents danced and sang the hokey pokey.
It was the only part of story hour you disliked.
You were here for the stories and neither needed nor wanted help getting the wiggles out so you could sit quietly and listen.
You arrived ready.
Just shy of two you were already teaching me the importance of being uniquely and unequivocally yourself. You didn’t want to dance and sing so you chose not to, despite my coaxing.
I had been raised to conform and to fit in — to do as others were doing — to color inside the lines and not make a fuss. And I was trying to raise you the same way.
Yet you would have none of it and it was through your quiet determination to not participate in the hokey pokey that you taught me an invaluable lesson.
Let you be you.
You were most comfortable sitting and waiting for story time to begin. It was I who was embarrassed that you didn’t want to participate.
Oh for the love of those tiny pink hiking boots, tap, tap, tapping as I sat uncomfortably beside you, wishing you would conform.
I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am that I failed; that you didn’t give into the ease of conformity.
Most would say that we raise our children. However, after a little over 18 years in this business called parenthood I know we’ve got that backwards.
Molly, in every sense of the word you have raised me. You have raised my capacity to love and my ability to accept love. You have raised my thinking, my expectations, my patience and my understanding of what truly matters.
You raised me into a mother. And you taught me far more than I could ever hope to teach you.
As you leave us, heading off into the larger world via college, I am ambivalent. Not because I think you’re not ready but because I still have so very much to learn.
I so wanted to write you a letter with some last words of wisdom… some parting last, best advice that you could hang your hat on. Yet as I contemplated my options, they all fell short. And I quickly realized the fallacy in my thinking.
[More on advice for college freshmen from a professor here.]
A little over 18 years ago, I was so very naïve. I thought it was my job to guide and teach you; to show you what unconditional love felt like. But it was you who came to teach me.
Kahil Gibran wrote in his poem On the Children, “You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.”
I finally understand his wise words.
As I think about whom you are and have steadfastly been, I can only hope, as you venture forth, that I am more like you each and every day.
A little over 18 years ago I was handed the most inexplicably precious 5 pounds and 4 ounces this world had to offer. Precious in ways I have only just begun to understand.
Your arrival and journey have taught me that the only advice I have to share with you is simply the lesson you taught me so many years ago sitting in that library.
Let you be you.
Each. And. Every. Day.
Hold on fiercely to who you are and don’t let anyone make you feel less than for being unapologetically you; including yourself.
You are precious beyond measure. You are perfect just the way you are.
While a lot of money is made off of our believing that we are faulty or incomplete it’s just not true. Diet, fashion, beauty and big pharma (to name but a few) all want us to believe we’re flawed and spend billions (with a B) of dollars each year to remind us of that. Even well-meaning relatives, friends, teachers and yes, even parents might try to convince you that there is something about you that you must change.
I beg of you to stick to what you’re not quite 2-year old self knew.
That, in its simplicity, is your gift to this world.
With love, pride and awe,
Photo credit: Matt Zhang
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