Dear Zoe and Talia,
It just hit me this morning (many years too late) that I probably should have been writing you separate birthday letters—you are, after all, separate people. But I decided I wasn’t going to feel guilty about that because I have so many other items already on the things-to-feel-guilty-about list. Plus, I make you each a birthday cake or dessert every year, and have since birthday number one, so we’re going to call it even. If that’s not okay, please don’t tell me (see the aforementioned idea about guilt).
All kidding (or not) aside, it seems surreal that we’re sitting at this moment, the point where you’ve each now become four hands full of years (and right now, I see you both as little girls practicing multiplication tables, using each hand to stand in for five, saying, “Four times five equals twenty”). Twenty! Twenty years old. Have I truly been a parent that long? I’m not sure.
After birth, there’s a moment where they place the baby (or babies) in your arms, and they expect you to know what you’re doing (with the breast, the bottle, the diaper, the crying), but the truth is, you have no idea, and in my mind, I couldn’t possibly be called a parent then. No amount of babysitting, reading, listening to parents, grandparents, or friends prepares you fully for the next moment: when they send you home from the hospital with words of encouragement and good wishes. Let me be frank: good wishes never got anyone through the experience of two babies with colic. (Your father will back me up on this.)
My point here is that each moment of parenthood, of knowing you, presented me with “unprecedented times” (yeah, COVID-19 doesn’t get to claim that one). I had no idea how to care for one baby, much less two, but something in your sweet faces, your tiny whimpers, your bright smiles, made me want to figure it out. And though being patient, understanding your nonverbal cues, and helping you grow took time and energy and felt arduous at times, in truth, it was easy because I love you. Both of you. Unequivocally and irrevocably. I love you in ways that are too difficult to articulate, and I hope you feel that love whether you’re here, in Athens, or on another continent.
But no amount of my love will be enough. You have to love yourself.
Now that you’re moving through adulthood, I want you to know and understand that fully. Years ago, we placed so much importance on the other person: be kind, be hospitable, be generous, be loving. And that’s true—never stop giving to the people around you, especially those who are hard to love. The important thing, though, is to not forget about yourself in that giving. And there’s an easy way to do that, at least according to Dr. Brené Brown (someone Grandma C would have loved), who says, “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.”
And that’s the crux of this birthday letter. Even though you’ve legally been adults for two years, these next few years will steer you toward more adult experiences that will be challenging. Be sure to have as much compassion for yourself as you would anyone else, and when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed (because it’s bound to happen), take a moment to remember those words. Remember how we speak to one another, full of love and respect; remember how you speak to your significant others, your friends, your grandparents. Then turn that speak toward yourself. The sooner you truly learn to love yourself, the better off you’ll be.
Part of being a parent is wanting better for our children. It took me a long time to learn Brené Brown’s lesson, and I’m still not well-versed in it. Hopefully, you’ll be quicker and more skilled at applying her words. That’s only one of my birthday wishes for you both, and it’s the most important one.
Happy Birthday, Zoe and Talia. Take a moment to enjoy it.
Image of white mailbox with numeral twenty by TanteTati at Pixabay.com.