To My Wildly Funny and (mostly) Adorable Daughters,
I hope I’m around so long that I get all wrinkly and drool-y and you grow tired of finding my dentures stuck to the bottom of the pie plates on the kitchen table. SHOULD that ever happen, it’s not my fault. It’s exactly where I found my own Grandma Sara’s dentures on the day of her angioplasty. True story. God, now that I’m less dumb do I ever miss that woman. She may have lost her teeth on occasion, but she was one bright cookie.
If I do get lucky with longevity, I know you’ll grow tired of hearing me chant my “3 Secrets to Happiness” lecture; so in case I’m short on luck, I shall write it here as my forever gift to you:
At the RIPE age of 40, I have found that there are only 3 things which will bring you most of your happiness, (or conversely, most of your discernible unhappiness):
(1) Who you are,
(2) Who you marry,
(3) Who you choose for friends.
What? No career aspirations? No Ivy League Admission letters? Nope. I don’t give a hoo about your major, because Sara, that was a gift your life has given me. Before your births, I whispered “MIT” into my womb. Science, Technology, Math, Engineering…read the papers, it’s all the rage. And then I gave birth to a child who could not compute, but could discuss the relevance of Jackson Pollock’s art by the age of 5. I gave birth to another child who doesn’t much care for science, but could analyze plot sequences in movies by the age of 3. I might just be a round peg Momma who gave birth to square peg babies. Wait…I’m probably supposed to be the square peg in this analogy? But I digress.
One day I came across the quote, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid”, Albert Einstein. I could not help but wonder about a world in which Steven Spielberg was pressured into medicine and Dale Chihuly was pressured into engineering. They are pure geniuses…they could have easily chosen those paths…and it would be a loss so large, it could not be calculated.
Land-Of-The-Lost Sized Cauliflower. Cool. Not on my Secrets of Life List.
Sara’s story forced me to throw out canned assumptions about your future, and focus on what really matters. And it ain’t gonna be found hidden in your title on a business card. I want you to be happy in your work, not fulfilling some predetermined destiny I had in mind for you before we even met. If I change my tune come your 18th year of life, print this off and make me eat it for lunch. If I can’t find my teeth, just look underneath the half-eaten pie.
After life threw me a few curve balls, including the discomfort of facing 40 sans my own business card (and yet magically, I’m quite content), I came up with the 3 things I want you to make as your top priorities:
(1) Who you are. This vague treatise comes on the tails of Sara’s Spelling Cheating Scandal (which involved little more than a grounding from movies, a lecture, an apology letter to her teachers, and a hug), when I had a true opportunity to sit with you and talk concretely what it means to decide “WHO YOU ARE”. What choices do you make when the chips are down? When you’re at the movies with friends and they decide to sneak out and grab a smoke? When you see an enticing shortcut that would necessitate a white lie? When your gut tells you no, and you have to let your values rise up through the pressure? There isn’t a valuable experience in my life when I didn’t have to be clear FIRST on WHO I AM. I’ve really screwed this one up at times, as I’m sure you’ll do circa 2025 (feel free to spare me the details come your 19-23-esh years of life), but eventually, I started getting it right. MAJOR stuff goes wrong if you don’t have this one nailed down first.
(2) Who you marry. I’ll make this simple: marry the man who most reminds you of your father. You absolutely cannot go wrong. Last night after I tucked you two into bed, I came downstairs to a cup of hot tea, and a man who looked me in the eye on a random Monday night, and told me he really loved being married. Falling in love was great fun, but he likes this more. THIS is real. THIS is what he had in mind. Every marriage needs one person firmly and happily planted on the ground, and for us, that is your father. He knows me, he gets me, and he’s given me a world of happiness. Marry a GOOD man, because if you get this one wrong, your life does nothing but blow up in your face in a nuclear fashion. Watching my childhood family disintegrate forever changed me as a person, and I promise you…GET THIS RIGHT. Oh yeah, and I hope this goes without saying so I don’t have to ground you as an adult, but be someone worth being married to. Duh.
(3) Who you choose for friends: As much as the storybooks will sell you on the line that Prince Charming will meet all of your needs, that’s total bull. No 1 person could possibly do that, even though on your wedding day, you’ll swear it’s a Universal Truth. Your girlfriends will make up for the 20% of stuff your husband simply cannot understand: What the hell are IN those pumpkin lattes that no stain stick can get out? Why on earth would I change to electronic calendaring when I can scribble through my day on paper just fine? And there are critical discussions vis-a-vis lasering that are not for male ears. I’ve been with your Daddy for over 10 years and there are things about hair he just doesn’t need to know. You must have cohorts who you can call when the kids are sick, the projects are behind schedule, the laundry is piled high, the school musical costume was due yesterday, and your husband is waffling on the vasectomy. Your relationships will be built on support, laughs, scandals, and coffee, and if they are good ones, you’ll swear they could cure cancer with the amount of joy they will bring you.
They are USUALLY the best of friends. Usually.
There will be many days when details will masquerade and dance around, pretending to be priorities. You’ll think if ONLY you had a bigger house (more to clean), the next promotion (time away from your kids), and more time to travel (Lordy, do it before kids), you would be happier. The daily grind will be loud, and you will forget your happiness doesn’t hinge upon the laundry putting itself away. Technology will probably solve this chore for you, and I’ll sit in my Lazy Boy lounger, whining about how I had to fold my own towels, because the Dyson Towel-Master 4.0 didn’t exist. Get my 3-Secrets list right, and the laundry is a chore, nothing more. Get those wrong, and the daily grind suddenly becomes a mournful anthem which never stops ringing in your ears. Every unfulfilled need will be a testament to the decisions you made hastily, and without thought for the long-standing consequences they might bring.
I spent my 20′s having no idea who I was, flopping around like a sad monkey (to quote Sara’s description of herself during a bad day). I would have married the wrong man in my 20′s, probably more than once, had those losers asked. I’ve always loved my careers, and in my 30′s, I learned where they belong, and more importantly for me, where they don’t belong. But luckily, in my 40′s, I can look back and realize the importance of having a lifelong set of phenomenal girlfriends, because they have kept me sane. More than anything, I wish these 3 Secrets to you, as I wish for you all of the happiness my life has brought me.
I love you. Now go make me some pie.