Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sooner or Later: A Letter to My Daughter

Miss Bean in 2003
Dear Miss Bean,
When you are old like me, and you are steamrolling toward 40, and noticing little lines in your forehead and sagging where there’s never been, I hope that you have a daughter. Because if you have a daughter, you will know that these bodily changes will be compensated by the fact that you are the center of someone’s world, at least for a few fleeting years.
If you have a daughter, you will know how it feels to watch your heart go strutting about outside your body (I’m not the first to say that, but it’s the truth.) You will see yourself reflected in your daughter’s sense of adventure and self-righteousness, her refusal to wear uncomfortable shoes, in her cerebral humor and infinite insecurities. You will cherish and agonize over every moment of parenthood.
And sooner or later, you will want to tell this daughter of yours a few things, even though you know she’s not ready to listen. So here are a few words of advice from me, your mom, who just wants you to hear them -- when you’re ready.
  • Sooner or later, someone is going to try to tell you that you can’t “do math.” That writing and language and storytelling are your things. So maybe these are your strengths, but if the math is scary and the boys’ enthusiasm intimidates you, you simply need to work harder. Study for the tests a little longer; ask for help; maintain your confidence. Don’t settle for a B when you know you could have had an A. You don’t have to love the work. You don’t have to become a genius math professor, but you do have to show everyone: the teachers, your classmates, your father, and me, that you are brave. You are smart. You are strong.
  • Sooner or later, someone is going to try to convince you that your body is not good enough. You’ll be too flat, too curvy, too hairy or too brown. And you’ll listen, and maybe cry a little, and you’ll begin to believe them. Stop. Look around you and recognize that everyone, even your mom, is imperfectly perfect. To paraphrase the serenity prayer: Accept what you can’t change. Work on what you can. The rest is bullshit. (Yes, that’s your mom using a swear word. Sometimes that’s appropriate. But not for you.)
  • Sooner or later, you will find yourself in a room full of cool kids offering you a joint or a pill, or worse. I hope with all my heart that you don’t take it, but you might. So if you do, I hope that it makes you so terribly sick or scared or powerless that you vow never to experiment again. I hope that you decide these kids are lacking in imagination, and that you can go places all on your own that they’d never have the brains to find. You won’t need anything but your alert, beautiful, active mind to get there. Go seek out some cooler kids like you. Make some new friends.
  • Sooner or later, a boy will try to convince you that sex equals love. It doesn’t. You will know when you are ready. Trust yourself. This sounds simple, but it’s not. Do it anyway.
  • Sooner or later, you’ll want to move out of the house. I know this sounds ridiculous to you now, but I’m fairly confident that this day will come. And though I will weep to see you go, I will put on my bravest smile and help carry the boxes to the car. We’ll all be ready for the change by then, I hope.
And probably later, much later -- you’ll learn that despite my impeccable nagging skills, my very public bouts of singing and dancing, and my cheesy advice, this mom does know a few things about staying true to yourself. So when I call or text or Skype or monopolize whatever fabulous technology is available by then, I hope you answer. I hope you will listen, and I hope you will hear.


  1. You are a wise mom indeed in your words to your babe. Happily I can say that my daughter is now all grown up (well, mostly), earned her bachelors in Engineering AND Japanese, met a wonderful guy and has been married 5 years and they're now thinking of starting their family, and recently went back to school and earned a masters in Education and just started a new career teaching other young women and men Physics. Whew! I hope she's as proud of herself as I am of her. You go, Mom!

    1. Thanks Marilyn. I'm glad your family is doing well. Sounds like you have much to be proud of.

  2. This made me very teary-eyed - thinking about what my mom felt when I packed up and moved out and thinking what it will be like when the little boy wants to do the same.

    1. Thanks Annie. There's so much we want to say to them, isn't there?

  3. Such a good letter. Wish I had written one like it years ago. My oldest girls are 21 and 19. I tried to convey what you shared, just not in a letter. When I talked to their teachers, all I cared about was how they were doing in Math and Science because I knew they were "boys" subjects and I didn't want my girls getting lost in that mix! Glad I did. =) Your daughter will cherish this when she's old enough to read it! Dropping by from Mama Kats

  4. Wow. I'm having trouble breathing. Thanks for verbalizing my heart.

  5. This is the MOTH. I'll say it once, Bean. Listen to your mother, especially about the answering the phone/skype/future technology. If you don't, no matter where you are, we're coming for an extended visit.

  6. As I steamroll toward 40 right along with you this month, I have tears in my eyes and snot in my nose while reading your letter. I may not have a daughter, but I plan to hijack some of your ideas (and replace reading and writing for math) when I write to my son. Great idea to write her a letter. Beautifully written!

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