I watched you on the beach the other day, playing in the sand. You have the cutest little pot belly, which I kept wanting to kiss. I know, I know, I am always trying to nibble on you because you are that delicious. As you walked around without any self-consciousness whatsoever, I thought I hope you never lose that confidence. I hope you love your body, always, and know that ones of all shapes and sizes are beautiful.
I still remember what it was like to be 8, when I got glasses and felt self-conscious, started calling friends on the phone and regularly wore a red flannel dress with embroidered daisies because it made me feel pretty, much like the way you constantly wear that sheer black tie-top from your favorite store. (Full disclosure: It’s a consignment store.)
Eight is such a special age. You are still innocent enough to ask questions like “Can we have another baby soon?” yet maturing every single day. You’re amazingly curious and able to engage in conversations about everything from how an octopus breathes under water (gills) to whether I enjoy working (very much so). There is so much life wisdom I have to share with you, much of it hard-won. These are some of the biggie lessons; I’m sharing them for posterity, but also so I can remind myself to keep up with them in both words and actions.
Take pride in you.
I see you peering in the bathroom mirror at the spray of freckles on your nose and cheeks, and I know you’d like them to fade away. I see how crushed you are when your BFF says things like “You like those shoes? You are so weird!” But one of the most important things you can do in life is embrace the things that make you you—quirks, tastes, freckles and all. Self-love is your best defense when other people try to bring you down, and the most high-octane way to power through life. I cannot give you major self-esteem, but I will keep doing my best to encourage your interests, praise what’s unique about you and (sorry!) kiss every last one of those freckles.
Read as much as you can.
Books. Newspapers. Websites. Magazines. Captions on museum displays. Whatever! It’ll make you wiser, more interesting and a fun person to chat with at parties.
Believe that you can do anything you want to….
“I’d like to be a serious violin player!” you told me the other day. “And a dancer! And a singer!” I just nodded and said, “Yes, sweetie.” While I think that you’re truly good at only two of those things (I’m not saying which!), I want you to think that you can grow up to be Itzhak Perlman Beyoncé Martha Graham. Trusting in your abilities will get you far, no matter what path you choose.
…but pick one thing to excel at.
As you may have realized from the proliferation of frozen food and takeout in our house, I am not a great cook. As you may have perceived from the hodgepodge decor and the unfortunate floral drapes in our bedroom, I do not have an eye for design. I am OK with this. I know that I’m a good writer, and I pour my energies and efforts into that, both in my work and in my free time. Someday, it will be clear what your own super-powers are. Keep right on having fun with all of your interests, but spend real time and energy on those super-powers. It is so much more gratifying to be the master of a couple of things than mediocre at many.
Do. Not. Tan.
I was a little freaked when you recently announced “Mom, I want a tan!” Have you secretly been watching Jersey Shore reruns?! You’re fair, like me, and you’ll only burn and then you’ll grow up and get brown spots and little wrinkles around your eyes, not that I know any moms like that. God invented some really good self-tanner. Use it.
Find joy in what you have.
Lately, you’ve been on this streak where you point to big homes with “For Sale” signs and ask if we can move there. The other morning, you woke me up by standing at my bedside with your computer, a photo of a stunning sun-filled room on the screen, and inexplicably announced “Mommy! I want to add a sunroom to our house!” I have been explaining to you how lucky we are to have our home, good clothes and plenty of food to eat—something I fear gets lost on you, given that you can purchase anything online in all of twenty seconds (um, except a sunroom) and McMansions abound in our area. We have made donations at DonorsChoose, Kiva and and Heifer International, to help others and also give you perspective. Still, like many 8-year-olds, you’re always wanting more—and I will continue to help you see the good fortune in what we own. A critical part of happiness is being content with the blessings you have.
Have real face time with friends.
At 8, you’re already proficient at texting, IM-ing and face-timing with your buddies. And, oh yes, technology is fast and fun. But there is nothing like live, in the flesh, face-to-face connecting. As you grow up and your days get busier, always make time to hang with friends and have actual conversations. Feeling truly connected with people keeps you grounded when life feels like it’s out of control. Also: You can’t give each other manicures (one of my fave sleepover activities) on Skype.
Stand up for people who can’t defend themselves.
This starts with your brother. Other kids will continue to gape at Max and occasionally make fun of him because of his cerebral palsy. I am not expecting you to be his keeper—no, that is too big of a burden to place on your small shoulders. But I would like for you to want to defend him, without prompting from me. I’ll admit, it made me sad when you both came home from the playgroup at the gym and you said, “Other kids called Max a droolie!” When I asked what you’d said, you told me “Nothing,” and we had a conversation about how you could explain to other kids, “He drools because he has some trouble controlling his mouth.” I understand why this might seem like a hard thing to do, and we’ve continued to discuss it. But I desperately hope you grow into sticking up for Max, and for others like him who can’t defend themselves. It will make you not just a better sister but a better human being.
Remember: Stretch pants, lip liner and Jell-O shots are not your friend.
Trust me on that.
Listen to people.
Look them in the eye. Don’t interrupt as they talk. Respond to what they’re saying and talk about them, not you. There is a severe shortage in this country of listening. Master it and people will respect and adore you for it.
Have the Doritos
Back when I was your age, my health-conscious dad banned junk food from our house. Which meant that any time my sister and I were out of his sight, we’d raid vending machines for candy and chips. I grew up constantly craving them, and still consider them the enemy. Thing is, healthy eating habits mean embracing all kinds of food so that you’re never tempted to gorge when you’re exposed to treats. I love that you sprinkle chia seeds, those Omega-3 packed wonders, onto yogurt—even as in the next breath you’re asking for a bag of Doritos. Fear no food! Keep your diet balanced, eating the more caloric stuff in moderation, and you’ll keep it healthy.
Don’t be a homebody.
Right now, I can’t imagine sending you off to sleepaway camp for a week, let alone for a summer. Ultimately, though, I want you to take trips without me and your dad, and lots of them. It is one of the best ways to learn about yourself, about other cultures, about life. Spending a semester in Florence, Italy; traveling around Europe; and visiting far-flung locales like Chile and Egypt have been some of the most meaning-filled, rich moments of my existence. So go away—but please, send your mom e-mails.
This post was inspired by the empowering new CD for kids Color of Your Heart by Jean Louisa Kelly.