Oh the Places You’ll Go…

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Dear Soph-
At some point in your life – most likely during high school – you will start to give serious thought to what you want to do and where you want to be when you grow up. You may head in one direction with certain ideas and aspirations for where you’ll end up – and you may stick with those aspirations. Or, like me, you may discover a year or two down the road that your goals and dreams have changed. And that’s ok.

When it came time for me to apply to colleges and start thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I thought I had a solid plan. I loved music. I loved to sing. I was accepted to a music school with a hefty vocal scholarship. Seemed like a no brainer. But shortly after I started my freshman year I changed my mind. It wasn’t an easy decision…I love to sing, I just didn’t want it to be my career. Once I decided to change my major, my college career went as follows:

I went from being a music major with a sizable scholarship to an English major with no scholarship. I then decided to switch schools completely and declared that I could not live my life in a cubicle, so I became a film major. For one semester. During which time I discovered that having an appreciation for watching movies did not at all equate to possessing a true passion for creating them. So I changed my major (for the fourth and final time) to Marketing and Advertising. I now sit in a cubicle. But I have to say, kid, I could not be happier.

My point in this history lesson is this: you may take many different paths throughout your life. Or you may find one path that suits you and follow it to the end. Whatever direction you head, it’s ok.

Don’t ever feel like you are out of options. Your options are endless. Don’t ever feel like the decision is out of your control. It’s never too late to change your mind and change course. And please know I say this with more than just college and career in mind.

As you find your way, your father and I will always be here for you. Although I may find it a bit more challenging to avoid “helicoptoring” than your dad. One of the best gifts my parents gave me was their trust and confidence in my life decisions. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them to stand by and watch as I flip-flopped my way through two colleges and four majors. And while they did question me along the way, they never told me I was wrong. They knew I would find happiness and success in life, however winding my journey may have been.

I promise to have the same trust and confidence in you.

I have never once regretted the decisions I made. Because I know that had I stayed where I was, I would not be where I am today. And I love where I am today. I may never perform for millions (although who knows what life will bring), but I am perfectly happy performing for one. Especially one who seems to appreciate Billie Holiday and the Rat Pack as much as I do.

You may look exactly like daddy, but I think you got your mom’s old soul.

Love, Mom

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Consider the Source

Dear Soph-
As much as I’d like to keep you little and protect you forever, I realize there will be times as you are growing up where you will have your feelings hurt. Someone might insult your appearance, or your work, or your character. And instead of hunting that person down and kicking the crap out of him or her, I will offer up a piece of advice that my mom often said to me when I was growing up:

Consider the source.

I’ll give you a (simple) example: I came home from school upset because Joey told me my art project was ugly.

To help make me feel better, my mom said this: “First of all, your painting is not ugly. You did a beautiful job. And second of all, consider the source.”

What does “consider the source” mean? Well, in the context above, it meant this:

Joey is a little asshole. What do you care if he doesn’t like your painting? What does he know? Do you like your painting? If so, that’s all that matters.

Consider the source is about putting things in perspective. Taking a step back and looking at the situation and determining if someone’s opinion (or insult, or criticism, or back-handed compliment, or perceived slight) is worth upsetting you. Does what they say (or think, or do) really matter in the grand scheme of your amazing life?

If the answer is no – and take it from me, the answer will most often be no – then brush it off and move on. Why waste the energy on this person? Why let this person’s negativity get you upset? Or change the way you feel about a situation or about yourself?

What you need to do is suss out the people in your life who truly matter. When you get down to it, whose opinion really counts? Whose opinion do you care enough about to let it affect your thoughts about yourself and your outlook on life? Ultimately, this should be a short list. You need to live for you.

And yes, I realize this is easier said than done when you’re in the midst of the minefield that is adolescence. But it’s something you should try and keep in the back of your mind always. Growing up and in the “real world.”

My wish for you is that in the face of criticism or negativity you are able to step back and consider the source…recognize what an amazing individual you are and have the confidence to not let that negativity get under your skin. Always remember that if someone is trying to bring you down, it only means you are above them.

Love, Mom

“Video Killed the Radio Star”…or Technology Killed Imagination

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Dear Soph-
Growing up my parents refused to buy us a video game system. Nor would they allow cable television in the house. Yes, kid, you read that right. Your dear old mom did not have cable. I had a handful of TV stations from which to choose (2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 26, 32, 44, and 50). How about that – I can actually name them all.

Without video games or an endless array of Disney and Nickelodeon characters at which to mindlessly gaze (and long before the advent of the “phablet”), my sister and I filled our days by being kids. Playing with our toys. Riding our bikes. Playing at the park. Coloring. Reading. Making up dances.

Did I feel the absence of this technology? Sometimes. But back then, it meant I was only out of the loop on the newest music video or Super Mario Brothers game. I never felt like it hindered my ability to make friends. I never felt judged or ridiculed.

Why am I telling you all of this?

To prepare you for the fact that you will not have a smart phone or tablet…for a long time. I don’t know when I will let you have one of your own. Or how much I will even allow you to play on mine or your dad’s. I learned a long time ago to never say never, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve made up my mind on this matter.

This may not make sense to you in the moment. It may not make sense to you until you have children of your own. But my reasoning is simple: you deserve a childhood.

A real, honest-to-goodness childhood. Where the only thing you have to worry about is what’s for dinner…or how to keep your balance on your bike without training wheels…or how many more minutes we can play hide and seek before you have to go to bed…or how much money the tooth fairy will leave for that front tooth that you thought would never come out.

And in my book, that honest-to-goodness childhood does not include viewing Nicki Minaj’s underboob or reading about Justin Bieber making a complete horse’s ass of himself (again). That childhood does not include sitting on the sidelines and obsessively checking your Facebook or Instagram page to see how many likes your picture garnered from your “friends.”

I want you to have an imagination. I want you to be able to entertain yourself. I want you to be able to carry on an actual, real-life conversation with people. Real people.

I want you to play. I want you to be able to pick up a Barbie (or GI Joe) and come up with a story in your head. Some adventure on which your toys will embark.

PLAY.

Don’t press play on YouTube.

PLAY.

With actual toys. That you make talk…in funny voices…with crazy names and jobs and likes and dislikes. Come up with a story and act it out. Put on some music and choreograph a dance. Sit by the piano and make up a song. Paint pictures that I will hang all over the house.

I realize this is no easy feat nowadays. And my childhood experience without video games or cable may no longer be a fair comparison in today’s technologically-advanced world.

With that in mind, and technology changing at the speed of light, I promise to be flexible in my views on the subject. I understand I may need to make allowances as you grow up. Again…never say never. But in return, you need to understand that technology is a privilege, not a right. And whenever you are allowed access to a smartphone or tablet of your own – and all that comes along with those devices (Internet, YouTube, Facebook and the like) – I expect you to conduct yourself in a manner that will make me and your father proud. Sitting behind a keyboard does not make you anonymous.

And please, if you love me at all, use capitalization and punctuation in your text messages.

Love, Mom

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Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

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Dear Soph-
You will never guess what I did last week. Wait for it… A hip hop dance class.

Stop laughing.

I went with your Aunt Megan and Aunt Missy. And barring the fact that I may be coming up on being considered old and not, at all, “hip,” I had fun…and picked up the routine pretty quickly.

But the point of this letter is not about my sick dance moves.

The class was crowded…I’d say, conservatively, there were 35 women there. All different ages, shapes, sizes and levels of dance experience. Despite the crowd, there was one woman I could not stop watching. She was about 55, with a slim build…short, salt and pepper hair…and the cutest pair of hot pink workout shoes.

She didn’t know all the moves. She didn’t have the best rhythm. But she was absolutely, positively WORKING it. And I could not take my eyes off her. She was having so much fun. She didn’t care who was around her, who was watching and potentially judging her. She was looking at herself in the mirror, smiling from ear to ear, and working it.

I instantly admired this woman. She lived up to one of my favorite sayings:

Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching, and live like it’s heaven on earth.

It was a sharp contrast to something I was surprised to be feeling in the moment…self conscious. I could blame it on any number of things. I still haven’t lost my baby weight (in fact, some of the weight I’ve lost, I’ve gained back). My cheeks get so red when I workout (like fire-engine red…like people stare at me wondering if I’m about to pass out, red). My shirt was too short and kept riding up (exposing the ever popular post-baby “pooch”). As a result, I avoided looking at myself in the mirror. I didn’t put all the “oomph” I could have in my dance moves, because I was afraid someone would look at me and laugh.

And while I did have a good time, I had nowhere near as much fun as this woman. And that is unfortunate for me. It was my loss. I let my insecurities rob my potential.

So the moral of the story – the lesson – is something that will only come with time. I pray that you will develop the confidence, peace of mind and positive attitude that this woman in my dance class displayed. Believe me, I get that this carefree mentality is not at all easy when you’re growing up. Especially during adolescence when it seems all anyone does is judge. It’s still hard for me…and I’m in my thirties. But at some point in your life, do yourself a favor and dance like nobody’s watching. Do your very best to not give a crap about who is around you and what they may be thinking about you. Don’t let your insecurities take away from getting the most out of every experience.

And, kid, if you do catch someone staring at you, I think it would be safe to assume they’re taking notes on how to be fabulous.

Love, Mom

My Views on Make-Up: Less is More…and Sometimes None is More

Dear Soph-
One of my absolute favorite things to do is kiss your cheeks. Especially when you are sound asleep in my arms. They are the cutest, chubbiest, smoothest, most perfect cheeks I have ever seen.

You have such beautiful, smooth skin. It’s amazing. It’s so soft! It’s so blemish free!

It so does not need make-up.

So here’s the deal. When you – inevitably – come to me in junior high (hopefully no sooner than that) asking me to buy you some foundation or eye shadow or mascara, I will tell you what my mom told me.

You don’t need it.

And be glad you don’t need it. Because there will come a time – way down the road – when you actually will need it. But what’s the rush? Milk this time for all its worth. You’re young. You should look young. You have the rest of your life to be a grown up and look the part. It is such a privilege to be a kid…and I will do everything in my power to make sure you have plenty of time to just be a kid. And that includes not letting you clog up your pores with unnecessary make-up. Or make yourself up to look any older than you are.

All it does is cover up your natural beauty. You’re perfecting what’s already perfect. And that’s just a waste of time.

That being said, I will (as my mom did) make exceptions for special occasions…school dances and the like. But, please, no black lips or overuse of eyeliner. You are a young lady – not a raccoon.

Consider this fair warning, kid. Please don’t beg me in the aisles of CVS to buy foundation. I won’t do it. Because you don’t need it. You are flawless without it. You are a natural beauty – inside and out.

But I will meet you in the middle and buy you some tinted moisturizer…with SPF 30.

Love, Mom

The Art of Fitting In

Dear Soph-
This may come as a shock to you, but your mom was never part of the “in” crowd.

(I’ll pause so you can pick up your chair, which you no doubt knocked over in utter shock and disbelief)

It’s true, kid, I couldn’t be classified as “popular.” And while I can’t exactly say that as a young girl in junior high and high school the thought didn’t cross my mind that being popular had its merits, I never went out of my way to try and be the “it” girl. I gave it a shot, I suppose. I was a cheerleader in junior high and on the pom squad in high school. So I was always somewhat associated with those who ranked higher on the popularity scale. And while I genuinely enjoyed being a cheerleader, I never became real friends with many of my fellow teammates. I was too socially awkward. It felt like a lot of pressure to me. I often found myself trying hard to put on a persona…someone I thought these girls would like or be able to relate to. But, to be perfectly honest, I found that changing myself to try and meld into their world was simply exhausting. And not worth the trouble.

I’ll paint you a picture that sums up your adolescent mom:

There I was in eighth grade. Out of the blue, Pam (a member of the elite) called and asked if I want to go shopping with her, Julie and Rachel. WHAT?! Pam wanted ME to go shopping with HER? At first I thought she was playing a prank on me, but then I thought…Hallelujah! What on Earth will I wear? All was going well on the car ride to the mall, until Rachel noticed that she, Pam and Julie were all wearing the same shoes. Some sort of brown, leather, lace-up ankle boots. Everyone in the car then looked at my shoes to see if I was continuing the trend, only to be disappointed to see my white Keds sneakers. They laughed at me. “Keds? Who wears Keds anymore?” they asked incredulously. Pam turned up her nose as if I had tracked dog poop throughout her mom’s car.

I didn’t quite know what to say…so I said nothing. I was embarrassed. Their scrutiny and judgment made me uncomfortable. I had already failed at fitting in and we hadn’t even gotten to the mall yet. But in that moment, instead of thinking I needed to run home and beg my mom to buy me those leather lace-up ankle boots so as to save me from future humiliation, I thought “well this will be the last time I go shopping with these bitches.”

Ultimately I found acceptance by the most amazing, intelligent, supportive, funny and loving group of guys and girls. I remember high school fondly because of those friends. And while we may not have been the “it” crowd, I think we had more fun.

So here’s what I learned and what I want to pass along to you. Don’t try so hard. You will fit in where you are easily accepted and where you can be yourself. You will fit in with people who are like-minded…who find joy in the same things…whose friendship is effortless. You should not have to jump through hoops or do anyone’s bidding or try to impress anyone into liking you. You are awesome. Period. And if someone doesn’t realize that, then it’s 100% their loss.

You are perfect just the way you are. You are worthy just the way you are.

And no matter who your friends are, popular or not, I will take every opportunity to embarrass the hell out of you when you are with them.

Love, Mom