A Letter To My Daughters: How To Live If I Die

A couple of years ago, I started writing both of you letters. Slowly at first, as my health took a gentle downward dive; and then more fervently, at NPO midnights and early surgical mornings.
Publish date:
September 17, 2015
motherhood, daughters, open letter, mother-daughter relationships

Dear Daughters,

A couple of years ago, I started writing both of you letters. Slowly at first, as my health took a gentle downward dive; and then more fervently, at NPO midnights and early surgical mornings.

Although I will still be fighting -- fighting for the bands on your braces, and the ivory veils, and sweet newborn kisses -- the letters persist. As you face down your futures, there are a few things I want you to know, so that one day, your legacy can be more than mine.

Always remember that words are the most powerful legacies we leave -- whether through letters from mother to daughters, or simply in the ones you put into the world. Don’t waste your breath on lazy words. Don’t scream when the same could be said in a whisper. Don’t be stingy with “I love you.” We all of us deserve to hear it at least once a day (even the people who don’t really deserve it).

If you can’t find the perfect path in life, create one. Ask for a job that doesn’t exist. Define your own identity, even if the universe doesn’t agree. Never stay static in something that doesn’t challenge, terrify and elate you, congruently. Life demands change.

You’re going to be told “no” more times than you can count, but it’s the times that you say “no” that matter the most. There is power in knowing your limits… in knowing yourself… in knowing what you deserve -- a power that won’t always make you friends.

Don’t ever let your femininity become your weakness. You are exactly the way you were made to be (in fact, it took 10 months of indigestion and Zofran to cook you up, since nine months is a total crock).

Being a woman means you will never be able to take a walk alone at night without looking twice over your shoulder. It means you’ll never sip a casual drink at a party without hesitation for what’s within. It means you will never be able to wear whatever makes you feel good without thought, because what you wear (supposedly) directly subjects you to varying levels of unwarranted sexual scrutiny.

What you wear, and how you look, and how much you weigh, will invariably mean more to others than what you say or think. Don’t EVER let it mean more to you.

There is no relationship in life that doesn’t take work (they don’t teach you that in our Disney movies, I know). Whether friends, parents, children, partners -- if you want it to last, it’s going to be hard. Sometimes you will hate someone because they know your dark and twisty sides. Sometimes you will want to run away, because it is easier than seeing yourself without a shiny new tarnish.

Find someone who sees the flaws, but loves you more for them. Find someone that if you look upon yourself through their eyes, you see the best version of yourself possible. And don’t -- no matter who they are, or what accent they have, or how well their flan sets -- don’t ever settle for anything less.

Put more into the world than you take away. Never stop creating things: write, read, draw, dance. Try new things and never stop trying. I fail at most things that I try, but laughing on the other side is one of greatest pleasures in life. Actually, I’m often too scared to try because I hate failing too, so let me try that some more and get back to you later.

If you think something nice about another person, always say it. Compliment that girl at the convenience store with the cool eyebrows, or admit when someone is better at something than you. You never know when the kindness you’re harboring inside could change someone’s perspective on themselves, and that’s a power most of us waste.

Don’t expect the world to be exactly like you. We will never all have the same religion, or sexual preference, or skin color, and if you ever think we should, expect an intense, terrifying haunting from yours truly.

If you see someone sitting on the side of the road begging for money, give him whatever change you have. Who cares if he “goes and spends it on booze” as others might say? If you were without a safe space in the world, you may want a pint of Jack, too. It’s the least you can do.

One day, if you choose to become a mother (or a father or whatever gender suffices), there will be nothing more important to you than your children. Ask them questions and truly listen. Challenge them to form opinions on the world, and revel in the instances when they challenge you.

Put them first, but make sure they still see a person with passions, pursuits, a persistent thirst for life. Don’t become a martyr. Take your children with you on the adventures of life. That’s what living is for.

Make the movie of your existence a Cameron Crowe, filled with music. Make your self-portraits a Kahlo: what makes you strange also makes you beautiful. Some days, there is nothing left to do but cry, eat ice cream and wear fuzzy socks… and that’s okay.

And in conclusion, a host of motherly platitudes that actually do apply: This Too Shall Pass… It Could Always Be Worse… Take It One Day at a Time.

Why do you have to listen to this bossy letter, you might ask? It’s rather simple really.

Because I'm your mother and I just said so.