Another birthday has come and gone, and it’s so hard to believe how much you’ve grown up! It’s been a monumental year, to say the least, and years from now, when you think of 2020, here’s what I want you to know and remember (beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic) …

1 – Clean your fucking room.

Yes, I’m starting out this year’s list with the mother of all swearwords. This is a very important life lesson, but I feel like it’s not quite getting through to you. It’s true, I am not always perfectly clean, perfectly organized, or frankly, perfect at anything, however, disorganization makes me anxious and, let’s face it, NO ONE likes Mom when she’s anxious. But here’s the thing about keeping things tidy—it reflects on you. When you respect yourself, and your entire overall surroundings, it shows your integrity, gratitude and overall good sense. I don’t care if you live in a mansion or a 10×10-ft shack, just keep your shit clean (no matter if it’s a lot or a little) because I’m not always going to be around to come in your room with the force of a hurricane to put everything in its place. In fact, my love, Hurricane Mom is officially in the history books. It’s up to you now.

2 – Stop looking for bread at the hardware store.

A close friend of mine is very good at putting things in perspective in the most profound and simplistic ways. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Julie Wedel.) This quote, however, came to her from someone who said it to her at a time when she needed to hear it most, and then she repeated it to me at a time when I needed to hear it most. It’s now engrained in my memory and I refer to it often. I want you to remember these words because you will need them—soon, and they have nothing to do with carbohydrates or tools.

At some point, you will find yourself reaching toward a certain person you care for deeply. You’ll want them to give you the same amount of love, attention, respect and comfort you offer them. In other words, you’ll want them to reciprocate your efforts. Makes total sense. Instead, they’ll turn out to be gigantic assholes who leave you empty handed. This is one of the hardest life lessons in both friendships and romantic relationships alike, and it will happen. When it does, try to rise above it. Respect the lesson, understand the meaning and be smart enough to know when to walk away and leave that empty cart in the aisle. The ones who truly love you will always meet you at the checkout counter without stealing your last hard-earned dime. Never stop giving, but don’t sell yourself short. Ever.

3 – Why mullets scare me.

OK, so this is one of those parenting moments where I need to remind myself that I am not always in control. These are the “let go and let God” moments that we, as parents, are terrified of. You want to cut your hair and that scares me to death, because even though hair grows back, regret can’t be wiped away so easily. Right now, you and your friends are enamored with 1980s fashion and culture, but as a person who grew up in this most magical of eras, let me be the first to tell you that we’ve spent a lifetime trying to forget most of what we did back then. The ozone layer is damaged because of our copious use of aerosol hairspray, and our feet are still messed up from the jelly shoes that were anything but actual shoes … I could go on and on here, but this list is already long, so let me just say this—please be aware of defining moments in your youth. These moments will sneak up on you and you might not always be aware of how defining they are until it’s too late. One of my teenage defining moments was my mullet. Sure, like you, I thought it was cool at the time and I thought it was so much less maintenance than my long, frizz ball-curly hair—but I made a mistake. Now, when I see pictures of those days, I see Achy-Breaky-Heart Billy Ray Cyrus, only with big teeth.

As a parent, I have to let you make the occasional bad choice so you understand the very important lessons that walk hand-in-hand with regret—but that scares me, and I don’t scare easily anymore. Please remember when we disagree that I am your mom. My #1 job is to protect you from everything—including terrifyingly bad hair choices, so choose wisely, and please, don’t get a mullet.

4 – Why math isn’t stupid.

You struggle in math, I get it, math has always been hard for me too. Numbers don’t compute sometimes in the minds of creative individuals, but the truth of the matter is we still need them for reasons that go far beyond the obvious. The next time you find yourself struggling with a problem, whether it’s in math or just life itself, break it down like this:

You MINUS self-sabotage, self-loathing, and defeat DIVIDED BY resilience, effort, and perseverance MULTIPLIED BY confidence, faith, optimism = FUCKING AWESOMENESS.

The key to fully understanding an equation isn’t always about how you get to the final answer, it’s in being sure the final answer was worth the struggle it took to get there in the first place. Now math makes more sense, right?

5 – You’re supposed to be a dancer, girl.

In the highly acclaimed movie, Sister Act 2 (which we need to add to our growing list of “Cult Classic Movies We Must Watch Together”) the charismatic pseudo-nun, played by Whoopie Goldberg, gives this very important piece of advice to the highly-troubled and very talented young singer, played by Lauryn Hill (actually Whoopie stole the advice from poet Rainer Maria Rilke, but I digress) … “If you wake up in the morning and you can think of nothing but singing first, well, then you’re supposed to be a singer, girl.”

Like Hill’s character, you are driven by passion and your talent is equally unmistakable. You can’t see it, and you don’t trust it yet, but your day is coming. The reason I know this is because you come from a long line of talented, artistic women. Some chose to keep their talents hidden, and some chose to share them with the world—none of us ever became rich either way, but that’s beside the point. Money and fame don’t make anyone more or less talented. Whatever you choose to do with your talent, I want you to remember this: YOU built it, and it does not make you self-centered or boastful to share it or call it what it is. Talent doesn’t come to just anyone, and it doesn’t magically appear—it comes to those who work incredibly fucking hard. Your talent belongs to you and no one else. Don’t sell it, don’t disrespect it and, by all means, don’t doubt it. Keep going, keep dancing, and keep it on your terms, always.

6 – Say their names.

This is a year we won’t soon forget, for so very many reasons. For the first time ever, you have been deeply affected by what you see on social media, hear on the news and, yes, even from those around you. As hard as it is, I need you to remember what you felt on the night you came to me in tears and said, “Mom, this is wrong, we need to do something.” That emotion is difficult to embrace, difficult to understand, and difficult to explain even for me. But, here’s the thing about emotions, they drive you to make important decisions that help define your character, and if more people think like you, it will define your generation. I want you to remember the day we walked side by side in Milwaukee surrounded by pride flags and BLM signs. What we did seemed small, but showing our support was huge. Not everyone does that, but we did. We didn’t experience violence, rage or hatred that day (thank God). Instead, what we saw was unshakable human kindness and a collective sadness over issues that seem beyond our control, or are they? Human indignance will always exist, but remembering to do the right thing, even when it’s hard, is what drives important change.

So, yes, I want you to remember and say the names Breonna Taylor and George Floyd as many times as you feel you need to say them in order to remember why those injustices cannot continue, but I also want you to say these names (and so many more): Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth Bader Ginsberg … I could list a thousand names, and there would be a very solid reason for each and every one, but, don’t forget, it’s not always about politics, sweetheart. It’s about knowing what’s right and choosing to fight for it without resorting to violence or ugliness. And, if you choose to step into the fight, mean it, and never lose sight of what it is you’re fighting for.

BLM Pride Walk - June 2020, Milwaukee, WI

7 – Stay gold, Ponyboy.

The Outsiders is a fantastic book written by S.E. Hinton. To be honest, the movie is pretty damn good, too. It has nice scenery, if you’re into that sort of thing. (You’ll understand this reference after we watch it, so add it to our list.) Anyway, the main character of the story, Ponyboy Curtis, (yes, his name is Ponyboy, and he has a brother named Sodapop) has a good friend, Johnny, who comes from a broken home. Lots of things happen in the story that I can’t divulge, but at the end of the book Johnny tells Ponyboy to “Stay gold.” What he means is that he wants Ponyboy to remember and appreciate the good things in life—the beauty in everyday things like the colors at sunset, the golden wheat in the field, and lots of cool junk like that. But, my point here (and I do have one) is this—metaphors and analogies are usually a series of pretty words strung together to trigger the imagination and evoke emotion. As writers, we can do this simply or we can do it boldly, but the reason is always the same—we want to move you just enough so you remember the phrase, as well as the point it made. So yes, stay gold, Charley Addison, and always choose your words carefully.  

8 – What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.

Ah, the drunken poet, womanizer and former postman, Charles Bukowski. I’ve mentioned his name several times on this list over the years because the man, though seemingly a misogynistic idiot, had quite the knack for stringing words together to create brilliant and beautiful poetry. One his many fabulous phrases is, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” Obviously, you know I don’t want you to actually walk through fire and you’re smart enough to know by now (especially following point #7) that phrases like this mean so much more than what they initially imply. That said, when you’re faced with challenging situations your first instinct might be to react suddenly and irrationally, depending on the circumstance. I’m here to tell you from personal experience that this rarely works out in your favor. Sometimes the best reaction is no reaction at all, and that is so much harder than it sounds. After 47 years, I’m still trying to get this one right. So, when you find yourself faced with a metaphorical fire, please, try to walk through it calmly and with dignity. You’ll be respected more if you do.

What matters most is how well you walk through the fire. - Charles Bukowski

9 – You’re going to college, or will you?

“You’re going to college” has been on this list every single year since its inception. I have been emphatic on that point, and in some ways, I still am. However, 2020 has changed many things, actually, let’s be honest, 2020 has changed everything. Do I still want you to go to college and experience everything both higher education and all the fun things college has to offer? Abso-fucking-lutely, and I still hope you do. But what we’ve learned in 2020 is that even though a good education will get you far in life, it will never give you infinite job security. Sadly, nothing can, not even talent. So, yes, I hope you go to college, but if you find another path in life that gives you peace, joy, and security, by all means, do THAT. You are your own woman despite my wants, wishes and hopes for you, so create your own path. As one of my favorite writers, Cheryl Strayed, once wrote, “The best thing you can do with your life is tackle the mother-fucking-shit out of it.” And, if you do nothing else, please remember to fill your brain, get scrappy, and tackle that shit every chance you get.

10 – It’s not easy being this bitchy (and cheesy).

Right now, you think I’m a cool (and somewhat dorky) mom. I love when you say that because you have no idea how hard it is to be a cool parent. But, keep in mind, you’re going to lose your ability to see me as cool very soon (sorry, I’ll always be a bit cheesy). The thing is, I can’t always be cool in your eyes or I wouldn’t totally be doing my job to equip you for the reality of life. Sometimes I need to be a hardcore bitch, and believe me when I tell you that’s harder on me than it is on you. But, honey, bitches get stuff done. Be kind when it matters most, and bitchy when there’s important work to do—but don’t be an asshole. There’s a really big difference between a bitch and an asshole, so be smart enough to know the difference.

11 – I’m going to flush your earbuds down the toilet.

Not everything needs a big long, carefully thought out explanation, so I’m just going to tell you something plain and simple—every once in a while, I need you to take out your fucking earbuds and LISTEN TO ME. There’s been several times recently when we’re driving along and I think we’re having a great conversation and I’m feeling pretty good about myself as a parent because, after all, you seem to be occasionally nodding in agreement … and that’s just about the time you pull out an earbud and say, “Were you talking to me?”

Now you just burst my bubble, and that’s not cool.

I know there’s going to be plenty of times in the next few years where you see my mouth moving and choose not to listen, but can you please just try to take out your earbuds now and then? I love music too, but sometimes I might have something super important to tell you, and it could be one of those epiphany-monumental-mom-moments where brilliance pours out of my mouth and I surely don’t want you to miss it. OK, that probably won’t happen, but please listen to me now and then or I’m gonna flush those Beats down the toilet—for reals, homey.

12 – A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living.

Virginia Woolf. She needs no explanation to you because she is one of my all-time literary heroes. You know more about Virginia Woolf and Harper Lee simply by default, and though it might seem useless now, you could impress someone with that knowledge someday, maybe. … Anyway, Woolf was brilliant and crazy, which might seem strange, but we’re all brilliant and crazy in our own ways. One of her many famous lines is, “A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living.” This is as self-explanatory as it is simple. Please, please, please don’t ever be afraid to change your situation if it’s not working for you. Change is hard, but change can be good, and it will remind you that the winding road, though it might make you carsick and you’ll need to pull over and barf now and then, is still the best route when heading toward a destination that was truly meant to be. Go ahead and take it, despite the barf. The universe always has a way of pointing us in the right direction if we trust it now and then.

13 – I am your home.

We will always remember the summer of 2020 as the summer of house hunting. It was both exhilarating and heartbreaking in ways we never expected. Me and your dad have lived in a house we’ve loved for 17 years—longer than anywhere either of us has ever lived before. But, this summer, your dad and I decided that in order to still love and respect each other for who we are, as well as give you the best example of what love can really be, we need to live apart. You have taken this in stride, and you’ve handled it better than both me and your dad put together. That is so unbelievably admirable I can’t even begin to tell you.

This house we live in has been so many things for all of us—a place to hide, a place to heal, a place of comfort, of love, of joy, and so much more. But, like all houses, it’s also harbored its fair share of pain. Sometimes, if you’re not careful, pain can coat everything like a thick layer of dust and after a while you might grow tired of trying to wipe it away, so you’ll stop. And then, one day, you might wake up and that dust is so thick you can’t see the beautiful things underneath it anymore. That’s when you know you can’t neglect the inevitable.

In just over a month, you and I will start a new chapter in a new house, but we will still be very much be tied to this one, because your dad is starting his new chapter here, dust free. So, here’s what I want you to remember about all of this—a house is just four walls with a door and some windows, and you will live in many throughout your life. This house might be the one you remember most because it’s where you grew up, but no matter where you go, where you live, or where you choose to set roots, when you need a place to run, or find comfort—I will always be your home, and you will always be mine. Home isn’t always the place you lay your head; it can be the person (or people) you come back to when you need them most. For you, my door will always be wide open, and I hope you visit often.

14 – Go with grace.

OK, this list is long and it’s time to wrap this up, short and sweet (or something like that) … There are going to be times in your life when you need to leave. It might be leaving a relationship, a job, a friendship, whatever the case, just know this—it is OK to leave when you know the situation isn’t good for you anymore. Sometimes, as once again, Cheryl Strayed puts so eloquently, it’s ok to break your own heart. Breaking your own heart means you’re strong and smart enough to know when to stay and when to go. When you find yourself in that place, go with grace, sweetheart. Don’t fight it, don’t twist it, don’t turn it into anything more than it is—despite what anyone says. Just lift your chin, swallow hard, and put one foot in front of the other. You owe no one an explanation for doing what’s right for you. Take it from me, the going is the always the hardest part. You might turn back, and you might stumble, but when you’re ready—keep going. Life is hard, so be gentle with yourself and always love the woman you are. It will make all the difference in the end, I promise.

Happy 14th birthday, Bug. I love you more than words can say.

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