This is really the only personal blog-type writing I do anymore, and for those who still read this annual list, thank you for indulging my rambling thoughts. It’s tough to be a teenager in today’s world, but it’s also really, really tough to be a parent to a teenager right now. When we can’t articulate to these kids face-to-face how we feel, well, sometimes you just need to write it down in a really, really long list. That usually works for me. Hopefully someday they’ll appreciate and understand that even though we don’t always have the right answers, we keep trying anyway.
(And, yes, she still gives me permission to post this every year. I just have to promise not to embarrass her.)
1 – Creativity is intelligence having fun.
This is one of my all-time favorite quotes from our friend, Albert Einstein. You are incredibly creative and you are definitely smart (even though you don’t think you are), and it was no accident that you ended up being both. Don’t be afraid to use these things simultaneously from time to time, and, more importantly, don’t forget to use them simply for yourself whenever you get the chance. As you get older the natural flow of your creative intelligence might start to wane, especially when you overuse it in your day-to-day work. But if you learn how to balance creativity and intelligence correctly, they’ll stick by your side like lifelong friends, so use them wisely.
2 – There’s always going to be cat hair in your yogurt.
Almost every morning I end up picking a piece of cat hair out of my yogurt. It gets annoying, but I can’t really blame the cat for this one considering I open the yogurt, set it down on my desk and continue working without touching it for a good 15-20 minutes. During that time Harper (the cat) usually hops up on my desk and takes a few licks off the top. Though some people might find this disgusting, yes, I eat the yogurt anyway.
My point in telling you this is because I want you to understand that in life, there’s always going to be a little something that annoys the shit out of you, but you need to let it go and move on—especially when it’s an issue you created in the first place. In other words, if you don’t like something, fix it, otherwise just pick out the cat hair and get on with eating your daily dose of protein and probiotics. Life is just too damn short to sweat the small stuff.
3 – Believe in the integrity and value of the jagged path.
This quote from Cheryl Strayed has been written on the whiteboard in our kitchen for about four months now. I’m not sure if you’ve ever actually noticed it or not, but if you were paying attention, you might’ve realized that it appeared just as you were ending your freshman year in high school. I wrote it because you endured a year of total transformation—a new school, new friends, and a whole new way of learning that nearly paralyzed you in the beginning. Everything about those first few months was hard, and we both cried, a lot.
But then something shifted.
I can’t pinpoint the specific moment, or even a particular reason, but things slowly fell into place. Though the work was still hard, you found a way to forge ahead and create your own path. You went in a direction that most, including me, probably wouldn’t go, and then the coolest thing happened—you found your integrity along the way. It’s hard to be different, and it’s even harder to think different. But veering off course to take the path less traveled isn’t just brave, it’s bad-ass brave. You are on your way, and though the destination might not be clear just yet, you are moving, and for now, that’s all you need to do.
4 – How about you make me dinner?
You literally just walked in the room and interrupted me writing this list to ask me what’s for dinner. If you ever think you’re not a brave soul, let me just remind you that interrupting my train of thought when I’m writing can have potentially life threatening consequences for those who do it. You are one of the very few people who receive a pardon for this, and it’s only because I gave birth to you, and I love you. But you’re 16 now, it’s time to cook ME dinner for a change, or do what I did at your age, pour yourself a bowl of cereal and leave your mother alone!
5 – Advice from 90-year-old women is priceless.
My grandmother, your great-grandmother, is still here, and that’s a rare thing at both our ages. I’m going to share some quick, simple advice that she gave me not too long ago that she probably doesn’t even remember giving me, but I won’t ever forget it. It was right before I made one of the toughest decisions of my life, and I had been pondering that decision for months, possibly even years, but when she heard the choice I made, she said exactly what I needed to hear, right at the moment I needed to hear it. “You will be just fine,” she said. And she was right, because women who have lived that long usually are.
Of course, Grandma will also speak at length about her love of football simply for watching the “cute butts,” or how she’s convinced that her pastor has a crush on her, but those are the moments to cherish, kiddo, because you’ll miss those conversations when they’re gone.
6 – Light it up and stare it down, just like Eleanor.
Fear is a ruthless bitch that stops us from accomplishing a lot of things we could easily do if we just got out of our own way. I know there are plenty of things to be afraid of, especially right now. But sometimes all we can really do is face the things that scare us most. You’re rolling your eyes right now, I can feel it, but for this one, let’s take a little lesson from the book of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Ok, yes, Eleanor Roosevelt was married to yet another, white, male president. And, yes, in pictures Eleanor Roosevelt looks like a friendly little grandmother who just wants to go home and knit a sweater. But I’m guessing there’s one or two things about Eleanor Roosevelt that you don’t know, and there’s at least one thing about her that you won’t learn in school (and it might just knock your fuzzy socks off).
- First, Eleanor served as the very first Chairperson of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, and she helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was a big deal not only because it was needed, but because it was spearheaded by a woman, in 1946.
- Second, she did all of this while hiding the fact that she was gay herself. Fun fact: She had a lengthy affair with a successful Associated Press reporter named Lorena Hickock (who happens to be from East Troy, Wisconsin) while being married to a president and living in the White House. This affair was well-known and it’s well-documented, yet history books often fail to mention it.
So, why am I telling you this? Because I know the world sometimes feels like it’s moving backwards, but women like Eleanor Roosevelt lit the torch that young women like you must continue to carry. Even when it gets heavy, and even when it seems pointless. There will always be forces that try to put out your flame, but keep it burning, because it’s important.
“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just one step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, and discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”– Eleanor Roosevelt
7 – Unplug.
Just a short and simple thought. Put away your phone, stop looking at social media, block out the insanity, find your center, and for God’s sake, child, just breathe. Or just do what I do, go watch Schitt’s Creek because it’s damn funny! I mean, who doesn’t love David?!
8 – Use expressive language, but don’t fuck it up.
Swearing. This is something that’s made this list at least once or twice over the years, but I’ve seen it come up again recently (and I’ve heard you use some of it yourself), so it deserves a revisit here.
As an educated woman, I feel using the mother of all swear words is perfectly acceptable—in the right setting. I believe this because using expressive language helps you reiterate your point while venting your frustrations. Or, in other cases, it allows you to express extreme joy and approval of something with just a quick flick of the tongue. But let’s not forget, not everyone agrees on this point, and sometimes we learn this the hard way.
That’s why I want to remind you that whether you choose to swear like a trucker or tread lightly with your vocabulary, please do not forget that all words are powerful—especially that one.
The connotation in which you use the word “fuck” (or any other word for that matter) will ultimately determine its weight, as well as its impact. If you use the F-word to express your emotions with no intent to hurt others, it’s perfectly acceptable as long as you stay mindful of your audience. But if you’re having a bad day and you call your friend a fucking asshole for no reason, well, honey, that’s just called “projection,” and when you project your emotions rather than deal with them, you’ll almost always end up being the asshole in the end.
9. Go through the hardships to get to the goodships.
I have no idea who said this one, but I wrote it down because it makes total and absolute sense.
In some ways at only sixteen years old, you have more insight and empathy than others do at twice your age. But because of those two things you tend to let things weigh you down too quickly. To get through the rest of your teenage years, especially with all that integrity that I talked about earlier, you’re probably going to need to jump ship from time to time, and you’ll probably need a good life jacket, too. But when things get tough, just remember to keep your head above water, your eyes on the horizon, and swim like hell, baby.
10. Your bird is both an asshole and a miracle.
Recently you learned that sometimes the most heart-breaking mistakes can teach you something incredible, and it all started with your asshole bird.
I had my reservations about allowing you to get a bird for your 15th birthday. I mean, we have cats and dogs, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. But, like I do with most things when it comes to you, I caved, and you got a bird. Ironically, you named him Achilles.
Fast forward to just one month ago, Achilles decided to do what most asshole birds do, he swooped at his big, lazy cat brother, Winslow. This inevitably engaged Winslow’s predatory instincts, as well as his murder mittens. As a result, Achilles found himself stunned and bleeding on the floor. I was not pleased with you for allowing this to happen, in fact, I was downright angry because I had warned you countless times that cats are predators and birds are assholes. But I saw the fear in your eyes, so I held my tongue and I did what most animal-loving mothers would do, that’s right, I hopped on The Google. I didn’t sleep that night from the nightmare of what the world-wide web showed me about cat-bird encounters, and the next morning I found myself driving you and Achilles nearly an hour away to the only emergency clinic in the area that handles bird traumas. Of course, the news was devastating, and I tried to prepare you for what the doctors were almost certain would come next (while crying over the very large bill I took home with us).
And then, by some crazy stroke of luck, Achilles lived.
This experience, though expensive and gut-wrenching as it was, taught both of us that sometimes miracles really do happen. They are few and far between, and in this case they’re small and covered with feathers, but I hope you always remember that very moment, just days before your 16th birthday, when you turned from a skeptic into a believer. Hope is elusive, and at times, it can be dangerous, but as long as a shred of it still exists, all is not lost. Please, don’t ever stop believing in miracles.
11. Drink more water.
I try to drink a fair amount of water every day in order to stay hydrated and healthy, and you should too. To be honest though, I’m not sure how I survived my childhood or teenage years. We drank water from a garden hose in the summer, and no one carried a water bottle at school. We drank from a bubbler after lunch or if we got hot during gym class—and get this—we stood in line for it. Yeah, it was weird and gross, but somehow, we survived without that or the internet, but you should drink water anyway.
12. Go outside.
I know this has made this list several times now as well, but I’m just going to keep putting it on here because you’re starting to look like a cross between Wednesday Addams and Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice. Vitamin D is good for you, so get more of it now and then. You keep telling me we won’t be able to go outside in 20 years because the planet will be too hot. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but that’s all the more reason to enjoy it now.
13. Be the “Bad Witch.”
You know how much I love Wicked, both in book and musical form. What a surprising amount of people don’t know about that story is it’s actually a revisionist prequel to The Wizard of Oz, and it’s the brainchild of a super creative guy named Gregory Maguire. As a former children’s author (who did not write The Wizard of Oz, by the way) Maguire found it difficult to create evil characters because he believed no characters were inherently evil (neither real nor imagined). So, in an absolute genius way, he took the story of The Wizard of Oz and wrote a completely new narrative for all the characters, and it adds an entirely new spin to what you now see when you watch the movie. Cool, right?
In Maguire’s version you have Elphaba, better known as the Bad Witch (or the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz) who actually turns out to be a beautiful person both inside and out (despite being green). And then you have Glinda, the Good Witch (or the Good Witch of the North in The Wizard of Oz), who’s more or less a shallow beauty queen who befriends Elphaba, then betrays her, then Elphaba forgives her, and then Elphaba runs off with Glinda’s boyfried, who is actually the Scarecrow … anyway, you know the story, and it’s genius.
My point is, despite being ridiculed for being different and labeled as being ugly and evil, Elphaba still stands up to authority and makes her stand for equality—a stand for the greater good. In the end, history still remembers her as the “Bad Witch”, but this story allows us to see her in a completely different light. Why is this important? Because you should never be afraid to defy gravity (yep, I worked in a song from the musical there), and always, always, always, stand up for what you believe in. Also, never let a blonde convince you to wear a funny hat to the dance. Unless you want to wear the hat, then go ahead and wear the shit out of it. (Only those who’ve seen Wicked will understand that joke.)
14. Are you even reading this anymore?
I bet you aren’t, but I’m just gonna keep on typing, because that’s what I do.
15. Roe v WTF?
This is going to be the most serious and heavy topic on the list this year, and for obvious reasons. It’s actually pretty difficult for me to express everything I really want to say to you about the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v Wade this summer, but I’ll simply start by saying, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry you now live in a country that doesn’t respect or protect your right to choose. I understand that for you this ruling is a heavy blow, and it feels heavy because you understand, as I understand, that this has less to do with the physical act of abortion, and everything to do with your autonomy being taken from you.
“Abortion prohibition by the State controls women and denies them full autonomy and full equality with men.”– Ruth Bader Ginsberg
It is now 2022, and to not have full equality with men or the right to choose what you can and cannot do with your body is something that should set your brain on fire. Your rage is justified. This topic should never be a matter of public debate based on religious discourse or the gross misuse of political power; and that’s exactly what it has become. At the end of the day, this choice should be in your hands, because if it ever happens to you, it’s about your life, and the life you can or cannot offer to another human being. That is not a choice any woman makes or takes lightly.
Of course, I hope you never find yourself in a position where you need to make this kind of choice, but just so you know, in case you ever do, I would support you in whatever decision you make when it pertains to your body. In my eyes you will always have a choice. I may not agree with your choices, in fact, I might even try to talk you out of them from time to time, but you are here, you are valid, and your voice matters. If this political tirade continues, you can bet your sweet ass I’ll walk beside you and protest. I will help you turn your anger into activism, because that, my beautiful, strong, and powerful daughter, is what good women do—and we’ll keep doing it until the job is done, once and for all.
16. You’ll appreciate this more when I’m dead.
It might take you weeks (or months) to read all these rambling thoughts when I die, because I know you definitely don’t read them all now. But I hope you (and maybe my future grandchildren) find them both useful and entertaining anyway. I promise I was sober when I wrote them (well, most of the time anyway).
I love you, kiddo. Please stop growing up so damn fast!