How to love a daughter

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. Nothing I say or do can possibly repay this stunning, sweet woman for all she has given me. Here is an attempt at a tribute to someone who has shown me the beauty, bravery and incomprehensible sacrifice required to love a daughter the way my mother has loved me. 
  • Let her take a Brick Red Crayola Crayon to your interior decorating plans. When she selects a sparkly neon Walmart star for the top of your Pottery Barn-esque Christmas tree, put it in the cart and watch her marvel at its gaudy glamour for the next 10 years. When she builds a Barbie mansion out of foam blocks in your living room, push the couches back and say so long to the feng shui. Twenty years later, she will remember that you made room for cheap glitter, pink plastic pumps and her creativity.
  • Read to her. Begin with “Goodnight Moon” and “Where the Wild Things Are.” Introduce her to Stewart Little and Bilbo Baggins. Buy her Noel Streatfeild’s “Shoes” series — the vintage version with the charm necklaces. Take her to Wuthering Heights, Boston Public Garden and Pemberley. She will appreciate the boost her love of language gives her SAT score, but, more importantly, she will learn to associate the smell of library books with the warmth of your arm against hers before bedtime.
  • Make room for her in your routines. When you’re getting ready for date night, invite her to sit on the bed. She will remember the smell of Chanel No. 5 and the feel of velvet as she sifts through your oriental jewelry box. This is when she’ll tell you about her crush on the star of the 7th-grade basketball team. When you’re making dinner, invite her to pull up a bar stool. As you chop parsley and steam broccoli, she will ask for your advice on college classes and career choices. When you’re bathing her younger brothers, sit on the bathroom floor with her. She will see these mundane moments as invitations to bond. Even if the topic is frivolous, the experience will be meaningful.
  • Be her Valentine. Every Valentine’s Day, whether she is five or 15, send her a note, a gift or flowers. When she is 25, she may place that bouquet on her desk and forget to correct co-workers who assume it’s from a boyfriend. Your simple displays of love throughout the years will shield her from the cynicism and despair so commonly associated with this day.
  • Teach her to dance. You may have professional dance experience. If you do, twirl your baton and let her try on your sequin drillteam skirt. Show her how to do the Electric Slide and a padabure. Don’t be ashamed to sing Cher’s “Believe” while car dancing. Take her to a Zumba class and show her what “shake what your mamma gave ya” really means. When the anxiety of adult life sets in, she will turn up the tunes so loud she can’t hear herself think. This is where she’ll find peace with her body and energy to cope with life.
  • Send her mail — of the snail variety. She will read the text messages and emails (and she will love them), but she’ll save the thank-you and thinking-of-you notes on the polka dot stationery. She’ll come home from a difficult day of work or a bad date and need something tangible telling her she is loved. She will see her name on the envelope and appreciate your magical motherly ability to know days in advance when she will need your encouragement.
  • Be honest about broken hearts. When she calls you from her car at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night, listen to her salty sobs. Tell her she has the right to feel hurt. Don’t try to explain the confusion away. Don’t tell her it will never happen again. Tell her she will always have a spot in her heart that belongs to that blue-eyed boy. Tell her that spot will scab over, but the scar will remain. It will remain as a reminder of her courage, her kindness and her willingness to love. And that’s the way it should be.
  • Be brave. She will watch you embrace the news that you will be moving your young family to Tokyo with enthusiasm. She will see you give speeches in a new language and deliver a baby in a foreign country. Her own fear and hesitancy will be mitigated by your example. When she faces future life challenges, she will remember how her mother did hard things — and she will believe she can, too.
  • Be you. Ten, 20 or 30 years after you’ve relinquished your pageant titles, she will still think you’re a first-place beauty. She will admire your selflessness. She will try to emulate your patience. She will envy your sense of style. Be true to yourself. She will respect and love you exactly as you are. Never forget that.

How to measure a day

Like a pile of lima beans looming between a child and dessert, this week feels bottomless.

I am staring at the pile of green, grainy blobs and choking them down. The first one, labeled “Monday,” expanded exponentially in my mouth, making chewing a 24-hour chore. The “Tuesday” bean is stuck in my throat, and the contents of two waterbottles have failed to dislodge it.

If the next four days are lima beans, the fifth is my apple pie. Sunday holds the promise of something sweet, but the anticipation-induced anxiety is unbearable.

You know that cheesy movie scenes where the camera zooms in on the second-hand of the clock, and it ticks at an excruciatingly slow pace? Yeah, that doesn’t seem far-fetched to me anymore.

As I’ve tried to fill my calendar with anything that will distract me from the 432,000 ticks that separate me from Sunday, I’ve come across an interesting question: How do I measure a day?

At the moment, I’m trying to stuff my schedule full of daily-grind fluff. Is there a meeting I can attend? I don’t know anything about B2B marketing, but I’ll sit in. I just bought a gallon of milk yesterday, but what if a find a dozen kittens in a cardboard box and need to nurse them back to health. I’ll make a trip to the market tonight. I just love cleaning baseboards. The monotony is exhilarating, no?  I’ll put that on my schedule for 6:03 p.m.

As I’ve attempted to make time pass more quickly by injecting busyness for busyness sake, I’ve realized my metrics for measuring a day need a makeover.

I’m given 24 hours, and I can choose how to spend and measure those hours. I can evaluate the successfulness of a day based on how many to-do items I checked off or how many emails I responded to — or how many dust bunnies I annihilated. But do those metrics reflect what really matters to me?

Am I filling my day and measuring my day based on what I value most?

I value creativity. Am I making time in my day to write or dance?

I value my family. Am I calling my sister on a regular basis or sending a text to my brother?

I value my faith. Am I taking time to pray?

I value my friends. Am I looking for ways to serve them?

Meetings, emails and chores are necessary, but they are a depressing way to measure a day. Their impact is fleeting.

One Zumba class. One lunch date with a friend. One phone call to my mother. One prayer. One laugh.

These are the best ways to measure a day.

Those are the metrics that turn even lima bean days into apple pie.

Embracing the beauty of the season

I adore autumn.

Yesterday I decided to embrace all of its crispy, comforting goodness by treating myself to a bag of apples and a bottle of Spiced Pumpkin soap.

As I headed home, I felt the pull of the hills set ablaze with fall’s foliage. According to my iCalendar, I didn’t have time to take a detour. I should have merged onto the freeway, if I knew what was good for my schedule. But my weary mind pleaded and pulled me up the back roads toward the trees.

I turned off my radio, rolled down my windows and breathed in the beauty.

That 15-minute drive through the cinnamon-speckled hills restored sanity to my soul.

Although this was an undeniably enjoyable encounter, there was a time when my adoration for autumn was not so strong. I resented the oncoming cold for making me pull out my coat. I feared the arrival of the first icy snow. At some unidentifiable point, I realized that the cold and the snow would come regardless of how I felt. I could choose to waste my autumn days focusing on the baren weeks ahead, or I could revel in the harvest of honey hues, spiced cider and cable-knit sweaters.

At some unidentifiable point, I decided to take the latter path. Now, I try to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with each season, instead of shoving it out the door.

My recent embrace with fall got me thinking about not just nature’s seasons but life’s seasons.

This current single, twenty-something season of my life can sometimes feel like the ominous autumn I used to dislike. Barrels overflowing with blessings surround me, but, too often, my mind jumps ahead to the fear of a wintery future. I worry that the upcoming seasons of my life may leave me feeling baren and lonely.

I hope this won’t be the case, but, even it is, how foolish it would be for me to be blinded to the beauty of this season by fear of what another season may bring.

I have incredible friends and family members. I have a career that challenges me and gives me purpose. I live in a safe home. I have opportunities to accomplish my goals. I know I am cared for.

I have more than I deserve.

Instead of wishing for a change of seasons or fearing what may or may not be on the horizon, I’m going to embrace the here and now. I’m going to take a moment to turn off the insecurity, open the door to my heart and recognize the beauty of this season.

Dear 16-year-old, 20-year-old, 40-year-old you

I came across a blog the other day, Chatting at the Sky, where a woman had posted a letter to her 16-year-old self, and she invited readers to share their own letters.

As I thought about what my life was like 9 years ago, I remembered a phrase that occasionally took my self-conscious teenage mind hostage: I’m not OK.

I never uttered these words aloud. They just snuck in sometimes, set up camp and made it hard to soak up the sunshine.

That’s not to say that I was perpetually unhappy or unsatisfied with life. I knew I was lucky to have a wonderful family and unique opportunities. But, when I neglected to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, my I’m-not-OK feelings spread like weeds:

I’m not talented.

I’m not comfortable in my own skin.

I’m not meeting the expectations people have of me.

I’m not enough.

Now, looking back, I feel sad for having wasted so much time attending my own pity parties. Yes, moving across the globe and leaving behind friends and all things American was difficult. But my teen years in Tokyo were filled with educational opportunities, loyal friends and faith-building experiences. I couldn’t see them then, but miracles were happening, and I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

So, if I were to run into that bleached-blonde version of me on the subway in Shinjuku (I’d be easy to spot amid the sea of black hair), I would give her a hug and declare, “You are OK!”

You are strong.

You are kind.

You are doing your best.

You are safe.

You are enough.

I recently had an empty night when I needed to give myself that pep talk again. I had curled up on the couch to watch “Tangled” and have a good cry because my I’m-not-OK monster was poking his head around the corner. I began to wonder if I’ve chosen the right career, if I have any talents, if someone will love me even though I can’t cook — if, in this moment, I am enough.

I wish I could slay that monster for good, but I think regardless of age and accomplishments, we will all have moments when we wonder.

So, to the 16-year-old you and me who wished she was a cheerleader or longed for a boyfriend, I say, “You are OK.”

To the 20-year-old you and me who prays for marriage, or children or skinnier thighs, I say, “You are OK.”

To the 40-year-old you and me who has dishes piled in the sink, young children screaming and teenagers shouting, I say, “You are OK.”

When you’re having a moment, remember the advice from Jeffrey R. Holland at the top of this post.

“Don’t you give up.”

You are OK.