#28

Dear Zoey,

Today is your first day of 1st grade. And I know it’s cliche to say, but I really have no idea where the time went. These years are flying past me, and I feel like I’m constantly grasping at moments and locking them away, so I don’t forget anything. Today, I don’t have any advice, at least none that I haven’t already written about. Today is more about you, and what I see in you.

You are so bright. And I don’t just mean in the traditional way, I mean it in every way. You radiate. You have such a deep enthusiasm for people and life and knowledge. You also have an incredibly soft and kind heart. It’s one of my favorite things about you, but also one of those things that scares me. I know what it’s like to grow up with that same heart. The one that bleeds for people that hurt or struggle. The heart that wants to fix and help. The heart that wants to open wide for anyone and everyone. These are good things, but they are also things that require boundaries.

I’ve struggled with my boundaries my entire life. Always searching for a balance between give and take. And it’s tough. So, I have one big hope for you this year. I hope you learn how to speak for yourself. I hope you learn that you can (and should) be kind to everyone, but that kindness is not weakness.

You are kind and brave and strong. I am so proud of you and all that you are!

Love you,
Mama

#27

Dear Zoey,

Several months ago, a dear friend of mine texted me out of the blue with a question (I’ll be majorly paraphrasing) that hit me deeply,”If Zoey came to you and told you she felt like she was born in a body that wasn’t her own, what would you tell her?” I immediately assumed, based on the personal story of this friend, she was asking me about gender identity (she might have stated something about it, I can’t really remember). And this was the first time that I came face to face with the gut-wrenching question–if you’re child chose to be honest about his/herself (let me be clear that I don’t believe anyone chooses their sexuality, but there is a choice in living who you really are), and it meant possibly facing a world that didn’t understand him/her and could, quite possibly, be very cruel…what would you do? Would you join in the ridicule? Would you try to convince her otherwise? Would you love her less? Would you abandon her?

The answer actually came really easy for me. I told my friend that I would be there for her and love her. That I would find a therapist that would help guide her in whatever transition she needed to make. If my little girl found that her body was not a place where she felt safe or truthful, I would want her to find the truth. I would love her without any condition or disapproval. I think my friend asked me this because she knew I would show only love and acceptance. At least I hope she did. A few weeks later, my friend made the decision to be truthful and is now a transgendered man. And to see the freedom he now experiences is a really beautiful, incredible thing. Another friend of mine just shared how her beautiful daughter is now her transgendered son. To see a mother embrace, support, and love her beautifully brave child is inspiring, to say the least.

Zo, there will be a lot of things in coming years that you learn and see that might make you uncomfortable. Let me tell you this: they make you uncomfortable because you don’t understand it. I think there’s some sort of instinct that people have which ignorance into fear. Or maybe people create it, I’m not sure. Either way, I will fight every day to show you a world in which acceptance  and love fuels our actions. (Here comes a cliche) Knowledge really has power. Educating yourself on people and their stories is absolutely one of the best things you can do with your life.

While we may not face the same circumstances, it doesn’t mean they are not real for someone else. I will never know what it feels like to walk in the shoes of a transgendered boy or girl and I’m pretty positive I’ll never know what it is to raise one (as long as you’re my one and only), but I do know what it feels like to try and hide pieces of who you are…I think everyone does to a certain degree, and let me tell you this, I never want you to hide or shy away from the incredible human you are. I know what it feeling alone is like. I know what being judged feels like. And that is where I can find common ground. I can say, “This feeling of loneliness or emptiness or condemnation or need to hide feels awful…I would never want someone else to feel this way.” And in one sentence, compassion develops and we break down all the identifying features of a person, able to see that we are all more similar than we know.

It goes back to the basic sentiment…treat people the way you want to be treated. Value and love people for how wonderfully different and similar they are.

Love you cuddlebug,
Mama

#26

Dear Zoey,

It’s the last day of twenties, so along with my letters to my former child and teenage self, I figured I’d end this era with a letter to my “20s” self, and a bit of what I’ve learned along the way.

In a matter of 10 years, I have managed to get married, divorced, birth two babies, raise one as a (mostly) single mother, join the military, discharge from the military, and am on the cusp of getting my degree (FINALLY!) Talk about a whirlwind. Zo, so much happens in your 20s, regardless of what you choose to do with those 10 years. Who I am at 29 is so incredibly different from who I was at 20, but in so many ways, so much the same. If I could talk to my “early 20s” self (this is pre-Zoey, we’re talking). I’d tell her to stop planning everything! Yes, it is good to have goals. It’s good to have clear visions of where you want to be, but don’t get so wrapped up in trying to make life happen that you forget that life is right now. I would tell her to stop spending money on stuff and spend it on traveling or experiences instead. Life is meant to be experienced, not just merely observed. I would tell her to stop being so damn regretful about everything. I lived so much of my early 20s in shame and fear, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that regrets are bullshit. You can’t change the past, so stop beating yourself up about it. Holding onto shame only stunts your growth. Inhale all the pain and bitterness, and exhale all the goodness and positivity.

Around 26, I started to feel like a failure. I didn’t have a husband or a degree. I wasn’t a homeowner, and money was a constant struggle. I kept thinking, “I have nothing to show for success.” And then around 28, I realized what my definition of success was…and it was different from other people. From that point on, I’ve become more and more comfortable in my own skin, comfortable with my choices. I still have self-doubt sometimes, but it doesn’t seem to invade me like it used to. I’ve learned that like everything else, it will come and go. You get to choose what your success is — that is powerful.

Which leads me to one of the best lessons I’ve learned. It’s from a simple quote that a former technical director at JCCC had posted on his door, “No excuses, only choices.” It seems like a simple idea, but it really was revolutionary for me. The minute that you can hold yourself accountable for your own actions, you are unstoppable. By not allowing yourself to make excuses, you are suddenly in control of your life. Sure, you won’t always make the best choice, but when you own your choices, and stop blaming outside people or circumstances, you find a whole version of yourself. You are no longer a victim to your circumstances, and that is so incredibly pivotal.

Your 20s will be some of your hardest, most rewarding, weirdest, most fun years of your life…no matter what you choose to do. Don’t pressure yourself to have everything figured out….because love, you will never have it all figured out. I think that’s one of the biggest indicators of “growing up.” You will never get all the answers, but keep striving to learn and grow. Invest in people that invest in you. Love and friendship involve a great amount of choice — You choose who to give your energy to, so believe in those choices. Don’t allow people to influence your decision making, if they won’t be affected by the outcome. Trust that life is a constant ebb and flow. Bad things will happen. Life will blind side you, just live it. Don’t be a spectator of your life. Engage in it with no regrets. Breathe in this moment because it’s gone before you know it.

Love you,
Mama

#25

Dear Zoey,

So, I talked last time about what I would tell my former child self, and today, I’m gonna talk about what I would tell my former adolescent self.

Adolescence is hard. For anyone. The obvious changes physically and emotionally make you feel like a walking moron half the time. You feel like no one understands you, and it can get really lonely. You never feel pretty or valuable or interesting. And I would tell my former self: you are beautiful and vibrant and enthusiastic. You are valuable and interesting. Don’t doubt the impression you can make on the world because you may be young, but you are fierce and you can change the world. I would tell her that you should never settle for friends that treat you poorly or belittle you. I would tell her to slow down, life goes fast enough, stop trying to speed it up.  I would tell her that kindness is not weakness. You can be bold and strong, but also be compassionate and kind. In fact, true kindness comes out of a deep strength of character. I would tell her that her body is beautiful, not awkward. I would tell her that karma will always work its magic. Keep giving out positive energy, and it will be returned to you.

I would never want to relive my pre-teen or teenage years. Ever. And I have some great memories, and some great friendships were born out of that time, but those years were tough. So, when you come home from your first real heartbreak, I will let you cry on my shoulder, or lock yourself in your room while you listen to sad songs. When you feel chubbier than all of your friends, or hate your new haircut, I will look you in your eyes and tell you that you are the most beautiful thing in my world. I will recite one of my favorite slam poems from Kate Makkai,

“This is about my own someday daughter.
When you approach me, already stung stained with insecurity begging,
‘Mom, will I be pretty?’
‘Will I be pretty?’
I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, ‘No!
…The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be!
And no child of mine will be contained in five letters.
You will be pretty intelligent.
You will be pretty creative.
Pretty amazing.
But you…will never be merely pretty.”

When you can’t figure out your emotions, and end up angry…all the time. I will try to be understanding. I’ll snap too. I’ll be reminded of all the times I felt misunderstood and realize that I now must step back and allow you to grow. I mean it when I say…I will be here for you no matter what.

Love you baby girl,
Mama

#24

Dear Zoey,

Around birthdays, I tend to reflect a lot. I’m an insanely nostalgic person, and I think as long as you don’t live in the past, it’s good to look back and see how far you’ve come.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would tell my former self. So, I thought it’d be fun to break it down into different “eras” of my life. If I could talk to my child self…the one right before puberty, the one who played hockey with the boys, but desperately tried to be girly enough for the friends around me. I would say this…

Don’t spend so much of your childhood trying to grow up. I know it’s natural to think about how much greater it is as an adult, and in some ways, it is. I mean, I get to eat chocolate almond ice cream any damn time I want (which usually means, I’m sneaking away in a room away from you, so you don’t steal any of it…sorry, I know…I’m cruel). Anyway, I was always obsessed with being older, trying to be more mature, pushing the boundaries of what it meant to be a kid. And if I could talk to that girl right now, I would tell her, “Slow down. You have plenty of time to grow up. Breathe in the summer air, run with your shoes off, get dirty, play until it’s dark outside.” Because those moments of childhood, are the ones you’ll remember. If I could talk to my 6th grade self, I would tell her…you are not as awkward as you feel. You are kind and interesting and valuable. I would tell her that she was smart for enjoying time with her parents, that those Barnes & Noble dates with your mom and dad would be something she would cherish forever.

In fact, I think I would tell my former self, in just about every era…to slow down. Life goes by quickly. I see it every day in the ways you change and grow. I mean, you are READING entire BOOKS now. It astonishes me daily what you have learned and how you have grown in a matter of 9-10 months. So, enjoy being a kid. And enjoy having a designated bed time. Trust me, you’ll regret all the hours you fought (I just wrote “fighted” by the way…phew, it’s been a long day) sleep.

I love you, baby girl…

Love,
Mama

#23

Dear Zoey,

I’ve neglected these letters recently! Time to get back on track.

About a month ago, we saw the new Cinderella. We both loved it, but what struck me most was the film’s very clear thesis: “Have courage and be kind.” I don’t know that there is anything more that I want for and from you than kindness.

Baby, our society is plagued with injustice and misunderstanding and cruelty. It feels like every day I read or hear something, particularly from people I love and care about, that makes me cringe. You have no idea how many times I want to shake people around me and say, “SHUT UP AND BE NICE!” Just be nice.

And I don’t mean a passive nice. I mean an overwhelming, passionate kindness. I hope you overflow with love and empathy for all types of people. I have to remind myself of this. Because it’s easy for me to practice kindness to the downtrodden, misunderstood, and alienated people, but it’s not so easy for me to feel the same on the opposite end of the spectrum. What I remind myself every time I read articles of people justifying discrimination in the name of religion, or hear conversations attempting to justify racism (These usually start with, “I’m not a racist, but…), or see the degradation and alienation of the poor….What I remind myself is that kindness is not a one-way street. Kindness requires that you sacrifice the self-righteousness in your own gut. It means letting go of your pride, taking a breath, and choosing not to take part in things that are divisive. It means viewing every single person you come in contact with as someone with a story. It means offering compassion to everyone–especially those that anger you and make you want to scream. It is not brave to be kind to those that you agree with. That’s easy. What takes courage is choosing kindness. When being kind to someone does not come easy, but you choose to be anyway, that is brave. (And as a side note — this does not mean you aren’t open about your opinions and ideals. It means that when you come to a place of dissension, you choose kindness over your pride. Believe me, it is possible).

This is not easy for me. At all. But I’m getting there, and your sweet heart continues to inspire me.

So, above anything else, please always be kind. What you put out into this world is what will eventually come back to you — make it good.

Love you,
Mama

#22

Dear Zoey,

Today was near-perfect. We woke up, had a dance party, took showers, got right back in our PJs and stayed in them all day, watched movies while snuggling on the couch. We talked and laughed and ate tons of food (and candy….and ice cream). We napped. I woke up before you and read…and watched some Parks and Recreation. You woke up and we snuggled and watched more movies. And now you’re doing a puzzle with Papa and giggling.

We survived Christmas. We not only survived, but enjoyed it. It wasn’t devoid of tinges of pain and loneliness. And there were some sad reminders of what used to be or could have been, but we had each other. With every single step in this journey, we have been by each other’s sides. We have cried and laughed and wrestled with hard questions and danced and cried some more and laughed some more. This process of healing has not been an easy one, and we still have a long road ahead of us, but today proved to me that we are okay. More than okay. We are capable. And thoughtful. And loving. And fun.

It also reminded me of how important the present moment is. In theatre, we’re always saying, “Be in the moment.” And it’s really a profound thing to shed all of the pain and regret and hurt of the past, to tuck away expectations or anxieties of the future and just be present. Living and breathing in the moment, taking in the scent, and the taste of the food, and the warmth of our feet snuggled up together. Today reminded me that the present isn’t such a bad place to be. And that being available and present with our pain is just as important as being invested and present in our joy.

You are my joy, baby girl.

Love you,
Mama