A writer’s letter to her unborn daughter
I’ve been thinking about you quite a lot lately.
Sometimes the thoughts are grounded and specific: I wonder if she’ll like baseball, or beg us to take her camping, or love Anne of Green Gables, or arrive with spiky black hair, or want to study medicine like her daddy, or plan elaborate Halloween costumes months in advance.
And other times it’s far more abstract: I wonder how she’ll feel about her home, her name, her family. I wonder what kind of a life she’ll lead. I wonder how I can be her most reliable guide.
Today, these accidental ruminations came to me while cutting vegetables, and later when I intended to think about my protagonist, and later yet, when I attempted a nap moments before Cameron awoke from his.
It’s an odd new development, because I’ve never been one to daydream – brainstorm, problem-solve, analyze, yes, but not daydream – and I’ve already found it riddled with danger.
How quickly a meandering freeform daydream can turn dark….
What if, the unleashed thought began today, something prevents me from sharing an insight she may someday need? What could I possibly offer, right here, right now? What rough observations collected over these thirty-two years of hard lessons, unexpected revelations, and sweet, small victories might have been buffed and polished into a shareworthy gem?
In a (cleaner) sentence:
What do I need this girl, my girl, to know?
It’s difficult to hush a question like that, especially if you’re already having trouble sleeping, and if your laptop lives on your nightstand, and if, you know, you’re me.
So here it is, Sweetie. For now, here is what I need you to know:
I’ve found it’s crucial to have individual passions and purposes that you pursue with curiosity and gusto and pleasure alone. It’s a great gift that I love to read and write and watch baseball and films.
Emotional self-reliance is a noble pursuit.
To awake excited about something that has little to do with anyone else is a sort of freedom, and one people don’t talk about or celebrate nearly enough.
During your life, you will come across a handful of people who will believe in you. Not in your talent, not in your beauty, not in what you may be able to do for them. These people will not be related to you, nor will they see you as a pawn, a lever, or a stepping stone. They will believe in you, and the pure, unbiased nature of their faith will restore you when you lose your own.
When you meet these people, you will be changed.
Each time I’ve met one of these folks, I’ve felt a visceral spark somewhere in the vicinity of my chest. You may observe your own bell, and when you do, pay attention.
These people are your best guideposts. Be good to them. Do not lose touch with them. And should they fail you in some way, be forgiving. These random folks – people who have likely never met, and who you may not even particularly like on a personal level – arrive to nudge you along on your intended path. Should you outgrow them, your dynamic can become uncomfortable. Be grateful, and promise to serve others as they served you.
I hope very much that you’ll find a partner in this life, whether that looks like marriage or not. (Though robbing me of taking you wedding dress shopping would be a horrible mistake. I live for that shit.)
Your father is my adult life’s greatest blessing, and my daily (often hourly) source of joy and comfort.
I’m now going to state the obvious thing that everyone (even beloved Jane Austen and Nora Ephron) fails to point out:
The most important thing in partner selection is that you like them very very much.
I like your father’s secretly wicked sense of humor, and his always-clean hands, and the way he methodically scrutinizes minor decisions and can be sort of charmingly lasses-faire about seemingly bigger things. I just enjoy him immensely, in most every way, most every day. Seek that.
In my experience, the secret to fulfilling romantic love is not so much about how they make you feel, but how you feel about them.
At some point, Sweet Girl, something will inevitably happen to you, something unexpectedly tragic or upsetting, and you may feel that no one understands. You may also feel that you somehow “have it worse,” and you will wallow in the unfairness of it all. This is okay – for a day, a week, a month or two.
But it is not a suitable or sustainable lens through which to see the world.
The universe owes you nothing, and you really have no idea what it’s like to be anyone else. Actively listening to others helps, so does reading good fiction and watching good films, but really, we’re all on our own, figuring it out as we go.
Of course, as your mother, I would like to protect you and Cameron from everything that could ever cause injury – from a bee sting to losing a loved one to the grief of a dashed dream – but I know this will be impossible, and detrimental, too. What I can do is help equip you to weather these storms with your chin up and your eyes and heart as open as you can manage, and promise to remain an ally and advocate for as long as I live.
Be on the lookout for what symbols speak to you.
Every woman should know what color ignites her power.
I like red, and the numbers ten and sixteen, and oddly-shaped keys. Masculine, cologne-inspired scented candles put me at ease. I like fat, fluffy afghans, black coffee, yellow and white flowers, canvas totes, and Edison bulbs. I virtually only wear Minnetonka flats, four-inch-tall pumps, or slippers. I prefer ivory to white, black to navy, and gold to silver. I’ve grown to appreciate massive TVs and micro desserts. I’m hyper-picky about my stationary, but not what car I drive.
The better you know yourself, the more your decisions will bring you long-term happiness because you’ll have curated a life that provides you particular comfort.
This one’s very simple.
You will never regret being kind.
When in doubt, offer the hand, drop the note, sit longer, listen better, apologize sooner, give more, take less. If someone repeatedly tramples your spirit, take note, act accordingly, and find someone more deserving and appreciative of what you have to offer.
Throughout every stage of your life, you’ll likely have some fluctuating thoughts and feelings about the exterior casing in which you walk around. I say this because I’ve yet to meet a human who doesn’t. This is okay, but I encourage you to not spend too much time navel-gazing (literally or figuratively).
In my belly, right this minute, you are a tumbling, kicking, rolling queen.
You feel healthy, vital, capable. I’ve found myself subconsciously humming Tiny Dancer. Today, that’s you. Once you’re out and free and not-so-tiny, I hope you’ll grow to appreciate how you can move in your body, through dance, through athletic feats, even while tackling everyday chores. Someday, should you find yourself “with child” (one of my favorite awkward phrases), I hope you’ll marvel at your body’s miraculous, peculiar evolution.
Some people really struggle with harnessing their body’s potential and accepting its flaws. Women in their sixties, seventies, and beyond often regret the self-loathing hours/years(!) they were convinced they looked awful during their physical prime.
On this note, I hope, too, that you won’t be so severe that you find no pleasure in expressing yourself through the clothes, makeup, jewelry, shoes, or other window dressings that may speak to you. Some days I revel in adorning myself until I resemble a glittering, gaudy Christmas tree. Other days, I feel more liberated in my bare skin and glasses and Harrison High Tennis sweats.
No one likes everything about their bodies, and no one can have it all. Nourish yourself with good, wholesome foods and products, treat others with kindness, and please, please don’t take anything superficial too seriously.
Life will be far more fun if you believe you’re beautiful.
FAILURE | REJECTION | BAD TIMING | BAD LUCK:
Happens to everyone.
Wallow briefly, then refuse to be defined by something so common.
When you find yourself with a true, loyal, caring friend with whom you can laugh and cry, treat them like the precious gem they are. Should a gem you used to celebrate and appreciate proudly become a wretched pebble in your shoe, kindly part ways. Maybe your friendship ran its course, maybe you learned something, maybe she’ll miss you. Who knows. The stubborn stragglers, the ones who accept you and your flaws, this is your tribe.
Defend them with everything you have – every time, with ferocity and conviction.
That’s how a tribe works.
It’s important to remember that the world in which you’ll enter has been shaped – thoughtfully, lovingly, deliberately – by the sacrifices and advancements of those who came before you, particularly other women and people of color. It is my hope you enter a world of greater equality for our sex and all people, but equality is never a given. Never forget this.
You may find that the world will reward you for being confident, but not too confident. Clever, but not too clever. Accomplished, but not too accomplished. Stylish, but not too stylish. (You get it.) So who sets these wavy, capricious lines in the sand? Everyone. Meaning while you’re beguiling many, you’re offending some.
Meanwhile, it’s become common in Girlworld to assume that if someone doesn’t like you, they must be jealous of you.
In my experience, this is often not the case. I’ve experienced jealousy very few times in girlhood and womanhood and have disliked many, and I’m absolutely certain some people do not like me and jealousy has nothing to do with it.
Here’s the rub: some people are simply not going to like you, and that’s entirely a-o-k, and entirely not your business. Trite as it is, the important thing is that you like you, and that while you continue to acquire skills and aptitudes and confidence and a slew of other darling traits, you keep a level head.
My best pal, Judith, sagely preaches, “You be you.” It’s my belief that almost always when a person is most authentically themselves – confident when confident, raw and vulnerable when raw and vulnerable – they are not only their loveliest, but also their most impactful.
I know this is an impossibly tall request, but please try not to worry too much.
(My own wise, elegant mother, your darling Grandma Sal, a proficient worrier herself, reminds me of this regularly. And on the Lopez side, you have your gorgeous Nonna, whose heart is so big she can worry about your upcoming exam, your roommate’s sister’s toothache, and whether the coffee stain in your duvet will come out with equal enthusiasm. While I pray you inherit your grandmothers’ uncanny beauty and grace and generosity and intelligence, I’m sorry to inform you that you are genetically predisposed to go to that scary, worst-scenario place — an impulse you must stifle before it suffocates.)
Truth is, most everything works out, and when it doesn’t, the human spirit, in an almost predictable, nearly mundane way, shines with resiliency and resolve.
What I mean is, it’s not at all unique to look back on your most trying experiences with gratitude for the lessons gained.
Besides, worrying’s a waste. No one wants to have horrible things happen to them or those they adore, but worrying does nothing to prevent it. Be street smart, eat well, move often, and express rational concerns in a way that may best resonate with your intended audience.
That’s all you can do, Honey. I know it’s unfair, but it’s true.
Mix it up: read a new author, visit a new restaurant, take a new class, get a new haircut, buy some new sneakers, explore a new park.
Do not get a tattoo. Do not quit your job. Do not abandon a commitment. Do not break ties with a quality friend or lover.
Those decisions require — and deserve — a clear head.
When my mind and heart are torn, I go with my gut. It’s easy to forget that we’re animals, equipped with innate instincts that often function as our finest decision-making barometer.
On less important pickles, flip a coin.
When the winning side shines, your immediate reaction will reveal what you truly hoped for while it was still up to chance, suspended in air.
(25 films to watch before your 25th birthday)
A League of Their Own
Fried Green Tomatoes
Now and Then
The First Wives Club
Set It Off
Thelma and Louise
If These Walls Could Talk
The Trouble With Angels
Real Women Have Curves
Iron Jawed Angels
The Upside of Anger
Reading is far more intimate and time-consuming than taking in a film. I would never recommend titles until knowing you and your interests.
But someday, likely sooner than I like, you’ll see me with more dimension.
What I mean is, you’ll see me not only as your mother, but also as a flawed, complex, well-intentioned human with gifts and shortcomings, and around this time, I hope you’ll willingly read my more significant works, and I hope you’ll find something to enjoy in them.
(And if you don’t, I hope I’ve raised you to have some tact.)
SHOULD YOU EVER QUESTION YOUR WORTH:
Please picture me now. I’m sitting in my office. The curtains are pulled. It’s 2am. On my desk, beside my keyboard, sits a cold mug of tea, a soupy carton of Whole Foods peanut butter ice cream (that’s got to be because of you – before you I never ate peanut butter ice cream in my life), and a heap of (mostly pink) baby cards. I’m surrounded by unwrapped gifts for you. I mean entirely surrounded, as in, I can hardly move my chair from the desk. These gifts were selected by our family members and my girlfriends. They bought them because they’re already invested in you becoming a healthy, happy, stimulated, clean, well-read, well-cared for, well-dressed little girl.
In a few minutes, I’ll walk up the stairs, carefully, quietly, so not to wake your brother.
After brushing my teeth, I’ll take the medication that helps ensure you and I don’t meet for another month(+).
In bed, I’ll sleep on my side, facing Daddy, with my hand resting on my round belly. Before I close my eyes, I’ll whisper, “Good night, Baby,” and sigh with gratitude that you are you, and I am me, and sweet, wonderful, curious Cameron is sweet, wonderful, curious Cameron, and Anthony is my Anthony, and that we get to share this life together, the four of us, who will soon all call this house “home,” where we’ll learn and play and read and feast and laugh and cry and dance and toil and experiment and make mistakes and forgive and hug and watch television.
I will wonder, fleetingly, what you will look like, smell like, sound like, what it will feel like to again hold all that newborn budding potential in the crook of my arm. See, I already love you. I’m already in your corner. I already feel like your mama, and you couldn’t be more wanted.
As I drift to sleep, I will finally admit that while I haven’t done much daydreaming these last two decades, it’s likely because I fulfilled my lifetime quota as a girl. What’s happening now is too familiar, too natural, too much a result of muscle memory. From three to thirteen, I probably daydreamed as much as I jumped rope, took groundballs, studied for spelling exams, sharpened pencils, and relayed my day’s events to anyone who would listen (thanks, Mom and Dad).
We haven’t met yet, and you’ve already provided me with a remarkable gift: the invitation to revisit the purest, least complicated chapter of my life.
Girlhood, when done right, is a time of boundless curiosity, exploration, experimentation, fun, and learning – a time when everything is still possible. What a privilege and adventure to usher you through this era, with love, with intention, with gratitude, with as much patience as I can muster, and, of course, a healthy dose of glitter. (You choose the color.)
Really, really look forward to meeting you.