A few years ago, after a particularly horrible week at work, I wrote a letter to my boys about some things I wanted them to know about life that I felt would help them remain the truest versions of their amazing little selves down the road. I knew when I wrote it that they wouldn’t understand it then, and they really are too little to understand it now, but the advice was important and I needed them to know.
This week hasn’t been my favorite. It hasn’t been horrible, but it hasn’t been my favorite. I’m not really sure why, but for some reason as I struggled through this week, I was reminded of that letter, so I decided to go back and find it.
And I’m really glad I did…
Dear Ben and Blake,
I was watching you play tonight at YaYa and PaPa’s house when I was there to pick you up after work and I couldn’t help it…all I could do was stare at you. You both bounced from one thing to the next with such purpose and at the same time with no care in the world. You made each other laugh, you ran in circles, you played dice at the table and you mimicked each other. You gave me hugs, you asked how my day was, and you softened the blow of what was honestly, one of the most mentally and emotionally challenging weeks I have had in a long long time.
All I wanted to do was bottle every bit of happiness you exude right up. All I wanted to do was figure out how to keep you small, to keep you laughing, to keep you as free as you were…and as you usually are.
But, despite my best efforts, I can’t do any of that.
I cannot stop you from growing up. I cannot promise you won’t have a week from hell, that your feelings won’t get hurt, that your heart won’t get broken, that you won’t bat last in the lineup, that you won’t feel defeated and that you won’t get knocked down a few pegs every now and then.
I have spent most of this week feeling completely defeated…but that is only because most of my week was spent at work and not with you.
As we drove home from YaYa and Papa’s tonight I couldn’t help but feel better (and not just because it is Friday). No, Friday didn’t make me feel better…
You boys, and your love for the world made me feel better. And while I can’t do for your life what you do for mine, I can give you some words of wisdom that will hopefully help you be able to channel that inner happy that you so easily have right now. It’s the only way I know how to help you remain in touch with the truly happy little beings we all get to start out as.
Here, my little dudes, are some things I want you to know, some things I want you to do, and some feelings I want you to never forget…
Stand up for yourself.
You are going to have the week that I have referenced here. You are going to come across people who only know how to knock you down. They may do so with lies or they may do it with ignorance…or it may be a little bit of both.
Be better than them.
Do not let them defeat you for long. Do not let them make you question your worth, discount your efforts or flat out give up.
Take credit when you deserve it, give credit when someone else deserves it and (very importantly) give credit to yourself when you deserve it.
It’s ok to think you are awesome.
It’s important that people can trust you.
It takes lots of time to earn it and seconds to lose it…and it is tough to gain that trust back.
You are going to make mistakes.
Some will be small and some will be jolting.
Own them inwardly and outwardly.
Become better for them.
People will believe your achievements when they know you’ve owned your failures.
Let it go.
Some days you will be able to do this better than others. And while I would like to say that I never went to bed angry, that has not been the case. Just don’t hang on too long to things that are bothering you. If you aren’t going to change them or if it is something you can’t fix…say a prayer, take a breath and let it go.
Laugh at yourself.
You are funny boys and you have funny parent. I mean parents. Laugh at yourself, alone or with others. Find the funny.
Do not…and I mean do not…make others feel small.
If you are in a position of power, walk even more carefully than when you were at the bottom. Don’t be the bully…whether you are 5 or 55. Do not make others feel less important than you. Do not demean others to make yourself feel better…you are better than that now and I expect you to remain that way.
There is a difference between having fun and being an ass.
Do something fulfilling.
I’m not saying you have to love every minute of what you do. I’m saying if you find something, anything, whether it be a career or something you do on your own time, do something that makes you feel full.
Have kids when it is an appropriate time in your life to have kids. As your mother I suggest that not happen for somewhere in the 25ish year from now range…for what that is worth.
But truly…have kids.
That will actually make you feel full. Full of love, full of exhaustion, full of hope, full of pride.
I can’t explain this one.
You have to be here.
You’ll get it then.
Apologize…and mean it.
Say you are sorry when it is necessary.
And please, please, please…do not always follow the “I’m sorry” with a “but.”
Sometimes you just need to be sorry.
Say thank you…and mean it.
Be grateful. Tell people that you are.
Say thank you for things, say thank you for words and say thank you for people.
You need people.
Thank the good ones…they keep you going, and they need to know.
Say I love you…and mean that too.
You will say “I love you” more times than you will even realize.
And while it is an amazing thing to be surrounded by people to say that to, it is even more amazing to slow down and think about how awesome it truly is to hear and say.
Life is scary. Dreams are scary. Chances are scary. The dark is scary.
Whatever the obstacle…be brave.
I don’t believe the whole “nothing good comes easy” thing, but I do believe that some really awesome things are also just outside of your comfort zone.
Understand the danger in comparisons.
You are not the person next to you, and what they have is not always better. Please do not compare your average day to other peoples’ exceptional ones. They have average days too. You will never enjoy what you have if you are forever comparing yourself to someone who has more.
It’s ok to want more…but want it for you, not because you want to be them.
Pay your bills.
Pay them on time and pay them always.
Splurge after your bills are paid.
Ask me about a little thing I like to call “bulimic shopping.”
You should feel guilty if you buy something before your bills are paid and your family is taken care of. There is no shame in returning it.
Did you pay your bills?
Return the golf clubs now, if not.
Go on vacation.
Go with your family. Go with your friends. Go by yourself. Just go.
Take a minute to yourself…and spend it selfishly.
You want to ignore responsibility for a night and just watch the game? Do that. Be level headed enough to do what needs to be done but also know when you just need a break.
Ask for help.
You cannot do it alone, and the more you try, the more bitter you become.
Ask for help. You need it and you, your co-workers and your family will be better because of it.
While I still stand by the whole danger in comparison point, I also think competition is healthy.
However, being raised in the household you are being raised in…I don’t foresee a lack of competitive drive being an issue.
Remember, I make better breakfast, I make you feel better when you are sick and I am better at Mario Kart.
Do not let a job jade you.
Sometimes work sucks and sometimes work is awesome. Either way, work is work…not life.
Do not let it ruin your spirit or jade your soul.
It will drag you down, and it is your responsibility to not let that last too long.
And remember those people I told you to thank?
Lean on them to remind you that you need to get up off of the ground, that you are better than this and that life outside of your job is what you are even doing this for in the first place.
Do not use threats.
I hope that goes without saying.
But in case it doesn’t…threats won’t get you anywhere worth going.
There are ways to motivate and to get what you want out of the people in your life.
Threats are not that way.
Understand the power of your words.
Your English loving mother wants you to always know how much power you have if you have the ability to use your words wisely.
And your actions.
Actions can speak louder than words, and they usually do.
Be sympathetic. Be empathetic. Know the difference.
Feel sorry for someone. Feel bad for someone. Feel angry for someone.
Feel with someone.
Sometimes you just need to listen and sometimes you need to relate.
It is important to your relationships and friendships that you learn when each of these is appropriate.
Remember where you came from.
Wherever you are, you worked to get there.
Someone else is journeying down that path behind you.
Never forget that you were once there too.
See the good and be ok that it’s not all always good.
Whether it’s a nice day outside or you just got a huge bonus. There is something good in every day.
There are awful awful days, and there is something good somewhere in them. You don’t have to find the good for a day or two, but don’t spend too long turning a blind eye to it.
You actually have to let the good back in, or you are in trouble.
Understand the worth of folding laundry, washing dishes and knowing where the shoe closet is.
Ask your dad. Ask your mom. Ask your wife.
So many problems can be avoided by attention to these matters.
Know how important it is to offer help to others.
But don’t assume that everyone knows how to ask for help.
Offer it up.
People will be grateful.
Give a compliment…and take a compliment.
I’m bad at them both.
It’s not an attractive quality.
Buy the guy behind you coffee.
Pay it forward every now and then. That can be your fulfilling moment for the day.
Know how much I love you.
I’m not sure you will possibly know until you have a little one of your own, but someday you will understand the true depth of my love for you. In the words of you, my sweet Benjamin “I love you this whole big and this whole little.”
And yes, it sounds a bit silly, but I can see it in your eyes and feel it in my soul when you say it…and you really think loving me “this whole little” is the greatest love there is.
And you are right.
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