It was eighteen years ago today that I was rolled into Beth Israel Hospital in New York City to meet our daughter, Anjali, for the very first time. It was an uneventful C-section, an easy infancy, a happy toddlerhood, and a bearable adolescence. (Adolescent daughter and peri-menopausal mother? Great biological timing! One of us was always either crying or eating chocolate.) Along the way, she and I have laughed, cried, fought, danced in the kitchen, and validated how very normal and well-adjusted we are by watching countless hours of Dance Moms and Wife Swap. And, all to soon, she will move on to college and start living her own life, on her own terms.
So, my dear daughter, on your eighteenth birthday, I offer you eighteen bits of life advice that I have gathered along the way. Someday, I hope these all make sense to you. Happy birthday.
1. Your life won’t just be about you, but always make time for yourself. As women, we seem to live several different lives, all in one life. We are career women, many of us are mothers, some are wives, we often have second and third careers, we are caregivers for our children and then find ourselves doing the same thing for our parents, partners and friends. You will play an important role in many lives. In order to care for so many others, you must always carve out a little time that is just for you. Fill it with music, or reading, or enjoying the silence. Do whatever brings joy to you and you alone. Your heart will never run out of love, but your mind and body will run out of steam if you don’t recharge.
2. Tip well. This is a very practical bit of advice that your father lives by. Yes, we usually get very good service because of his generosity. But it’s not really about that. We all depend on the generosity of others, both monetary and generosity of spirit. Tip well, treat with respect those who are helping you in efforts large and small, and remember that we are all here to serve and help each other.
3. Go to class! Oh, the urge to skip class will be great. Resist! Fight the good fight! Do as I say and not as I did! Borrowing notes to catch up on a missed lecture helps, but will not capture the nuances in between the written lines. And it is those nuances that make up the good thoughtful responses to essays. Your college has deliberately hired good teachers, not just dispensers of facts. Go to class, engage, and learn. Please believe me that your instructor does not care if you are a bit bleary-eyed and have your hair in a ponytail, but she does care if you don’t show up.
4. Stay away from the fruity punch. I don’t think I need to say much more than this. No one really knows what is in it, and it always ends badly.
5. Marry your best friend, not your “boyfriend”. This is a big one. There are going to be so many good looking guys. And there will be a lot of funny ones. And there will be some who are great to talk and hang out with. The real challenge here is figuring out which one will be the one you can spend the rest of your life with. I hit the lottery with your father. He was my acquaintance, then my friend, then my boyfriend, and then he simply became my best friend and the most important person to me. Marrying my best friend was the best decision I have ever made because it led to you, your brother and 26 years (so far) of companionship, laughter, and a shoulder to cry on. Marry your best friend who just happens to make you laugh and you will always think he is good looking, because he makes your heart dance in a way that no one else can.
6. Be prepared. Be prepared for class. Be prepared for work. Be prepared for meetings. Be prepared for parties. Always do your homework, and I am not just talking about school. If you are prepared, you will get the most out of every opportunity and you will develop a reputation for being smart and valuable.
7. Work hard. Don’t give things a half-way effort. Working hard is still just as important as working smart, no matter how cool your smart phone may be. Technology is great, but you still have to put in the time and effort to read and understand what is happening around you. Whether you are in school or out in the working world, putting in great effort, double checking your work for mistakes and being willing to stay late and take on responsibilities that are not yours will always set you apart. And, working hard feels good. There is great satisfaction in giving all of your effort and seeing great results. You will have to accept that the results will not always show up in your grades or your paycheck. But, it is still the right choice to work hard and give your best effort. We all know the world is not fair, but that does not give you an excuse to be less than your best self.
8. Be nice. We reap what we sow. Be nice to people and most of the time they will be nice to you. Extend yourself, pay a compliment, reach out to those who may be lonely, smile at people, and be the first to lend a hand at school, work or social events. This will cost you nothing, and will be repaid tenfold. Don’t be a doormat — you should say no when you cannot commit to something. But, do so kindly. It is your kindness that will be remembered long after the rejection is forgotten.
9. Wear lipstick. This advice comes from Aunt Nadine’s grandmother, and has always served me well. Put on some lipstick and your face will brighten, you will be ready to face the challenges of the world, and everyone will think you are well put together. Do not underestimate the power of having three favorite lipsticks in your bag and do not disregard the advice of a Jewish grandmother.
10. Forgive yourself. Too many times I have berated myself for firmly lodging my foot right in my mouth. We all do it — saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. I am cringing right now as some of these incidents run through my mind, some from over 20 years ago. I shudder still. It took me far too long to learn to forgive myself. We are human, we make mistakes and we sometimes unintentionally hurt others. Allow others to forgive you, and even if they don’t, you must eventually forgive yourself. You know what your intentions are. If you hurt someone on purpose, you need to make amends with that person and change your heart. If it was a mistake, you must still make amends and forgive yourself. And then move on.
11. Be reliable. If you commit to something, then you better follow through. Nothing will ruin your reputation as a classmate, team member, colleague or social contact quicker and more thoroughly than saying “yes”, and then flaking out. Say “no” when you must, but if you say “yes”, you must be prepared to follow through.
12. Make your bed. This advice is from your grandmother. Oma was taught by her mother to make the beds, sweep the floors and sidewalk, and clean the counters off every day. Your house will look tidy and you will be ready to receive any guests who may drop by. I think this has a lot of applications beyond housekeeping. Do the same thing to your desk, your workspace, and your mind.
13. Stop worrying about what they think. This is a “do as I say, not as I do” thing. I still fall into this trap. But, time and experience have taught me that most people are so wrapped up in their own lives, troubles and insecurities that they really are not paying attention to you. They are not thinking about what you are wearing/reading/saying/eating/doing any more than you are focusing on them and their actions. So, try to let go of worrying about what they all think. Do what you know is right, makes you comfortable, and what you know your father and I would approve of (see how I slipped that in there?).
14. No one will ever love you like we do. But so many people will love you, and there are many kinds of love. As your parents, we will love you unconditionally and for all time. But, there are great romantic moments out there for you, and you will experience heartbreak, too. You will have deep, long lasting friendships. There will be people who will be with you for the rest of your life, and some that walk with you for a while and fade away. It’s okay to let them go. You will feel the constant bond of family that may pull and stretch but does not break. Each loving relationship, the romantic and the friendly, brings its own moments of joy and comfort. I want you to experience each of these. And, I hope, you will one day have a child put into your arms and you will then know what it is to love unconditionally until the end of time.
15. Always keep a book at hand. There is always time to read. It expands your vocabulary, takes you to places and times you will never experience firsthand, teaches you new skills, gives you appreciation for how others think and approach life, opens your mind and heart, and fills the time when you are waiting for your kids to finish at dance/karate/soccer/basketball/golf. Just read.
16. Learn how to throw a party. You are a particularly social creature – of that there is no doubt. Learn how to throw a good party and you will be assured a good social life. People will want to come to your parties and will usually return the hospitality. Don’t be lazy – make sure your place is inviting and have plenty of good food and drink (except for the aforementioned fruity punch), invite a variety of friends and acquaintances, smile a lot, and talk to every guest. You grew up in a house that has been filled with people and parties. Some parties were crazier than others, but each one was worth the effort.
17. Make lists. This is advice that Auntie Nee would give you. She is the Queen of Listmaking. She is also the most organized person I know. She makes lists of lists. Breaking down overwhelming jobs into small pieces will give you a sense of control. And, it is undeniable that there is something very satisfying about crossing things off your list, and then throwing the darn thing away.
18. Don’t be afraid to say “I love you” when you mean it. This took me a long time to learn. It is still hard for me. I grew up in a different time and those words were not often said because there was a fear of devaluing them by saying them out loud. They are not words to throw around without meaning. They should not be uttered to every boyfriend. But, when you mean them, use them. Tell your spouse and children daily if you can. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose by saying “I love you” to those who matter most to you. I love you.