A Letter to Myself at 16: To Whom it May Concern

Philosophy: What’s coming will come and life goes on…even if it’s the hard way.

I know you’re a nose away from signing the papers, but you’re not going to do it. In a year, or so, you’ll thank your lucky stars your dad told you the Air Force won’t let you paint your nails. After all, that’s really what kept you away…in early 2001. Nail polish kept you from being deployed to the Iraq war.

You’re running your heart out now, but you won’t take the offer to run for Walsh College. You’ll think back when you’re 26 and wish you had, but you won’t lose sleep over it.

You will run in the Akron Marathon one day. You’ll see the coach, even in the thousands of people running, that told you you would never have it in you to finish road races. You’ll remember that conversation in 7th grade and you’ll dig deep to pass her.

When you do, that’s what will give you the last wind you need to cross the finish line. You’ll also lose two toenails because of it. A small price to pay.

A smooth-talking professor will pull you aside and tell you you have a gift for Philosophy. He won’t tell you how impractical it is. Neither will your mom. When you ask her why she didn’t force you into business school, she’ll tell you it was because you liked what you were doing. You won’t understand that until you have a daughter.

Your dad knows what it looks like when you jack knife a trailer into the side of his F150. You know that, but you’ll still tell him it was a shopping cart. Even when you’re 35, you’ll wonder why he ever let you drive that thing with a trailer on it.

You’re doing your best to convince yourself you’ll have no problem replacing your first love who just left you for Ashland College. You’ll feel better in the years ahead, but you never will replace him completely, nor should you.

You’ll spend some time hell-bent on proving everyone wrong and living like you know it all. You don’t. But time spent living that way will come in handy later when realize you didn’t know it all, but you were learning most of the things that will get you through the hard times.

Even though you missed the Air Force, you’ll take flying lessons from an arrogant French instructor. He’ll tell you you can’t fly in high heels, so you’ll do it just to prove him wrong.

You’ll pray to die when he teaches stalls and he’ll call you ricochet rabbit because of the way you land. You’ll never get your license, though. You’ll never solo and you’ll wish you had.

When you leave for Texas, turn back around as you drive away. What you see waving to you is what will bring you back home in a year and a half.

Speaking of Texas, you’ll make it through the homesickness. You’ll graduate up at the top, but you won’t stick around to walk across the stage. You won’t regret that either. Oh, and about homesickness, don’t bother crying to your dad about it. He was in Viet Nam.

You’ll fall in love again. When you do, say yes. Even though it falls apart and burns worse than a wrecked semi full of diesel, say yes. You’ll get two of the most precious gifts you’ve ever laid eyes on out of it.

When you lose your grandpas, you’ll find it in you to write again and you’ll find it in you to stand up and deliver the words you owe them. So when your mom and dad ask you to speak, don’t think twice.

When you’re out on your own, doing the work of two people alone, you’ll resent the people and reasons that put you there, for maybe all of five minutes. There isn’t time to dwell on it. You’ll be content for the first time knowing what’s coming is going to come and life goes on.

And do it again. Fall in love, that is. Even though you know you shouldn’t. That time, you won’t break. And, you’ll get to raise a son the hard way because…

despite everything you’ve learned in all the lessons the good Lord gave you in the past 18 years, you’ll still insist on doing things the hard way.

I’ll Always Button Your Cuffs and Other Promises I Can’t Break

Philosophy: I’ll always button your cuffs.

My first husband and I wrote our own vows. Part of mine were my promise to him that I would always button his shirt cuffs.

He came to me every morning and asked me to do that one simple thing for him. After a while, he didn’t have to ask. He just came up to me with his wrists out and I did it. That’s part of the language of love; the things we say without speaking.

I forgot about doing this until the other night when Jack came up to me with his wrists out and asked me to button his shirt cuffs for him. It caught me off guard for a second. There was a little mini version of my ex-husband, dressed just like him, asking the same thing of me.

“Of course, Jack, I’ll always button your cuffs.” I think I said it out loud just to hear myself say it again. I made that promise once before. I had to break it.

Sometimes life is very ironic. The things that happen to me, I couldn’t make up if I tried. It’s worth taking a step away from yourself once in awhile and looking hard at everything around you. It’s worth looking back to see where you came from and ahead to how far you have left to go.

If someone told me when I was writing those vows how important that particular part would be – not because I was promising them to my husband – but because years later, we would be divorced and I would be promising my son the same thing instead, I would never have believed them.

I had no idea where our life would take us after we walked back down the aisle that night, but it certainly wasn’t here. The best laid plans…But I took the time to think for a minute about all the little things that happened between then and now.

I had kids, I lost loved ones, I hurt and I made it out alive. All of those things led up to the moment when Jack reminded me a promise I made that I had to break.

I always tell the kids I will never break a promise to them. That’s true. But, when I say that, it reminds me of all the promises I’ve had to break over the years.

My mom used to tell me it wasn’t okay to break a promise. I believed that for a very long time. I disagree with it now. It’s always okay to break a promise if it means you simply can’t carry its weight anymore.

Sometimes the weight is worth trying and sometimes, no matter how much you want to or how hard you try, you have to let go to carry on.

I’m glad I get to keep some form of them, living here Somehow. They have a different meaning, but they surely carry more weight.

Jack’s cuffs, I’ll always button. Jack’s cuffs give me hope that promises have the potential for keeping no matter what.

To My Daughter: 26 Things I Want You to Know

I always dreamed of having a daughter that was a little extension of me. Now that I do, I wish I could take some of the me out of her. Even though she got my rigid perfectionism, she also got a lot of things I wish I’d had at her age.

She keeps me grounded. Her eight-year-old logic astounds me at times. Maybe that comes from pure childish innocence that we lose as adults. If so, I think a little regression would do us all some good.

She helps me in ways she may never know, and sometimes, I admit, I rely on her too much. She’s my extra set of hands in this single mother life, and I always make sure she knows just how much I appreciate her.

Like a young me, she thinks she has all the answers. As much as I can, I let her learn things for herself. It was hard to learn to choose my battles, but sometimes, you just have to let them fall so they can learn how to get back up.

One thing I have always told her was that I don’t know much, but I’ll always tell her what I know for sure. For Elise and all our daughters, this is what I know for sure:

I could not do what you do at your age. You’re brave and beautiful. You have stars in your eyes and flames in your heart and you don’t care who sees them.

Read 14 Things I Love About Being a Single Mom

You will be jealous of your friends. Just remember you also have traits and talents they don’t. Life is a lot more fun when you learn to build people up instead of tearing them down. I promise.

Less is more. Unless it’s mascara, in which case, more is never enough. But you don’t need mascara anyway.

Speaking of mascara, don’t pay more than $10.00 for it. Ever.

You should stay up all night at a sleep-over, but don’t take it out on your mom when you’re tired the next day.

You’ll feel defeated every now and then. It’s ok. Walk in like you own the place.

Find a hobby and get good at it. The time is going to pass anyway. You might as well have something to show for it.

Be nice to your siblings. Someday, they’ll be your only link to your past and the only ones who lived through the same memories you did.

If you’re ever on the fence about cutting your hair, do it. It grows back.

If you think your nails are dry, wait one minute longer than that before trying to use your hands.

Every little thing that makes you self-conscious now will turn into your greatest assets later. Appreciate them before age takes them away.

Weight is nothing more than a number. Being healthy is far more important than the size you wear.

Take care of your favorite dolls and books. Someday, you’ll want to give them to your little girl.

Read Full-Tilt Boy: The Wreckage of Raising Sons

Slamming your bedroom door will get you attention. It just won’t be the kind you want.

I know you’ll make fun of me and the music I listen to and the clothes I wear. It’s a rite of passage for daughters and moms. But, just remember, someday, your kids will do the same.

If you’re thinking of using hair dye of any kind, pay someone at a salon to do it and please, oh please, pick a natural color.

You have more courage than I do when it comes to singing and dancing. Don’t lose it.

You’ll swear there are days I don’t love you because I keep you from going somewhere or doing something you really want to. It will always be my job to protect you first.

On those days, you’ll tell me you hate me. You’ll think you do, but you don’t really mean it.

You don’t understand why your dad and I are divorced. Someday you might know the reasons, but I’ll pray you never learn the lessons first-hand.

If there’s a breath in me, I’ll worry about you.

Find other ways thank skimpy clothes to get people’s attention…like your mind.

You don’t have to be the loudest girl in the room to be heard.

Never underestimate a good bubble bath and a good French manicure.

It will always feel like yesterday I held you in my arms for the first time. No matter how old you are, how big you get, how far you go, I will still see you as my baby.

You’ll never know just how much I rely on you. You’ll never know how many times you kept me from being scared or losing my mind. The boys are the reason I have no choice but to be grounded, but you help me figure out to stay there.

You’re so good at doing some things I should be doing for you. One of these is understanding when I don’t always have enough hands or enough time.

On the days I have exceptional doubt about myself and my abilities to make anything good, one look at you proves I did something right somewhere to deserve to call you my little girl.

Full Disclosure

Philosophy: “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone…” – Bob Dylan

Motherhood – especially single-motherhood – is a brave art, indeed. If raising a child takes a village, I’d like to know why I feel like I need a metropolis.

Then again, I do know why I feel that way. Enter: my impossible expectations. Yes, perfectionism. When I became a mom, I was going to be the perfect balance of imperfect. I sat in college, pre-motherhood and logically, I knew perfect was impossible, but man oh man, I was going to nail being a mom.

Elise was born in June 2011. Jack followed in February 2013. My marriage destructed piece by piece the way a rocket ship disassembles when it heads for the moon. After a 2016 dissolution, I lost equal parts of my mind and inhibitions, got remarried for 68 days and had Tyler in May. That marriage also destructed, but it was one big explosion…more like the Challenger than Apollo 11.

So, here I am. Eight years later. Three kids. Two failed marriages. Not what I had in mind when I set out to be perfectly imperfect, yet here we are, living despite it all.

Elise mastered pitting one parent against the other very early on, so most everything that leaves her pretty little lips has to be cross-checked between her dad and me. She’s too smart for her own good and at times, her eight-year-old logic trumps my well-thought reasoning, without question. 

Elise

All 36 pounds of Jack is spitfire, comedian and aspiring policeman. He’s hyper and spirited and knows how to drop a swear word in the proper context just when I least expect it. He’s almost always in some form of uniform, complete with duty belt and toy gun. When I’m too tired to argue, he even wears this to bed. Choose your battles and all that.

Jack

And sweet Tyler, my lunchbox baby, just wants to nurse and take it all in. While I share Elise and Jack 50/50 with their dad, I get Tyler all to myself, courtesy of an ugly mistress whose name is Addiction.

My Ty

Sure, I had resentment. At first. I was on my own trying to figure it all out. Then I learned how to cut-in with a paint brush and use power tools and mow grass (even though Jack had to show me where the gas cap was) and maintain an in-ground pool and juggle bills and schedules and doctor’s appointments.

I also learned what an overwhelming responsibility it is to care for three kids and a house. Oh, and a dog…and we can’t forget the guinea pig. I spent a lot of guilty time worrying if I was keeping the kids happy enough. I already felt at least half responsible for landing them in a broken home. They didn’t ask for that. Was there enough of me left after working full-time and doing all these things to keep us going?

That worry was misplaced, though. It’s not about happiness. It’s about wholeness. If I do the work of motherhood correctly, my kids won’t always be happy. Happiness is a side effect of wholeness. So is anger and disappointment. So, the question becomes: is what I’m doing making them whole? And, I think it is.

I forget what it’s like to be little. I forgot what it’s like to see every little thing for the first time and what it’s like to get excited for Christmas and winning a goldfish at the fair. So, I remind myself to get down to their level, to acknowledge their fears without dismissing them. It’s up to me to try to teach them the right time and way to clean messes, disagree, apologize, make chocolate milk, paint fingernails, tie shoes.

My parents deserve to be canonized as saints. They help whenever and wherever they can. So do my friends and co-workers. They’re my village. There aren’t enough jewels in the world for their crowns.

It took a lot for me to start writing again. Then I thought about who I would be if I didn’t show Elise, Jack and Tyler that it’s ok to chase after the things they enjoy, that it’s ok to try things that seem too big and see where they take them and that in order to grow and change, they have to dive in and start because the time will never be just right.

I hope you keep reading. I hope my words hit you somewhere and stick. We’ve only just begun.

xoxo

Amanda

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