Back to the Future: An Open Letter to My Daughter

In response to today’s Daily Prompt, the first person that came to my mind, naturally, was my daughter.  Maybe it’s not the most original concept, as far as who would be the recipient of a letter to the future, but that doesn’t make it any less the truth– so much so, in fact, that it’s already occurred to me.

When my daughter was about 4 months old, I decided to start a journal, in the form of letters addressed to her.  Whenever she did something new, hit some landmark in her development, or just did something to make me smile, I’d add an entry to the journal.  It was a way to sort out my thoughts and often overwhelming feelings of love (and consequent worry) for her. It is also sort of written scrap book, and a way to let her know I love her in the event that anything should ever happen to me.

I’m under no illusions that I’ll live forever, but the thought of leaving her before I’ve had a chance to see her grow up, before I’m ready to go, is really scary.  I want to be able to be there for her, for all the trials and tribulations (if you’ll excuse the cliche) of growing up– skinned knees and school plays, boy troubles and sharing her dreams.  I want to be not only her mother, but her confidant, and her friend.  But if something should happen to me, if I should be in a car accident or fall terminally ill, there are a few major things I want her to know:

Dearest Daughter,

There are so many things I want to tell you, to teach you, and to share with you.  Hopefully there will be time to do them all, but if for some reason I can’t be there to tell you these things in person, there are just a few things I want you to know.  Some of these things might seem little, but I think they are important nonetheless.

–Always send thank you notes.  It’s good manners, but more importantly, it lets people know you appreciate them.

–Be kind to animals.  How you treat animals is a good indicator of how you will treat people.  Also, animals are innocent and a gift, and it’s our job to protect them.

–Honesty is important.  There is almost never a good enough reason to lie to someone you care about.  Be honest with yourself as well.

–Value your good friends.  You may have a lot of friends, but true friends that are always there for you are rare and something to be treasured.

–Nature is beautiful.  Take time to stop and appreciate it.

–Hold the door for others.

–Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

–Be respectful to your elders, but never be afraid to stand up for yourself.

–Stand up for yourself, and those who can’t stand up for themselves.

–The world can be scary and people can be mean; always be vigilant and protect yourself.

–Know when to say “I’m sorry.”

–Cherish books and music.  They can open doors to magical places and become part of your soul.

–Love unconditionally.

–Love unconditionally, but don’t ever let anyone treat you badly.

And most importantly, know that I love you.  I’ve loved you since before you were born.  I love you more than anything.  Your father loves you more than anything.  We love you no matter what you do, who you decide to love, where you go, where we go…  We love you now and forever.

Love,
Mama

(photo taken by Cynthia Gemmill)

(photo taken by Cynthia Gemmill)

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When Not to Pet a Pet

First, a shout out to my friend Dianda, over at Cats & Co., for giving me the inspiration for this post.

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I think for the most part, this is sound advice, advice that you would think is common sense for most people.  Well, we already know that many people are inexplicably devoid of common sense.  Aside from that, this post is geared towards children.  Children, even small children, are capable of understanding a great many more things than you might think… but… they are still children.  They lack sound decision-making skills and impulse control.  And in any case, not all children are lucky enough to have responsible adults around them to teach them these sorts of common sense rules about animals.

Not only do studies show that children who grow up in homes with pets are physically healthier (based on the idea that having a pet may result in a stronger immune system,) children that grow up in homes with animals also have tendencies towards more pro-social behavior, such as empathy, responsibility, and compassion.

This all sounds pretty spiffy… as long as your pet is child-friendly.  I speak from a semi-unique perspective, in that not only do I have a small child, but as a pre-teen, I suffered a fairly serious injury to my face due to a dog bite.

Admittedly, the bite came as a result of me violating one of the above rules– I put my face too close to the dog’s.   However, in my defense, I’m sure I don’t know what would possess a person to give a hundred pound Rottweiler (who has already shown aggressive tendencies) a bath in the midst of a family party is beyond me.

That said, especially in the case of very young children (like mine,) one of the first ways they learn to show affection is through proximity and hugging.  We have cats, and much to their chagrin, J is always trying to “hug” them, and kiss them…and poke them in the eye repeatedly, while saying “Eye.  Eye.  Eye. Eye.” She is two and a half, and while I give her credit for a great many things, I am not sure she understands that the kitties do not necessarily like this, especially when she is too rough with them.  Also, we have a neighbor who has an old pug dog and he lets J do whatever she wants– kiss him, hug him, follow him around…  He even seems to enjoy the attention.  So I know that she will naturally assume all dogs are like that.

When we are out of the house, and come across “strange” dogs (that is, dogs she doesn’t know,) I try to hold her back and encourage her to ask before she touches, but either she is too young yet to understand this, or she is too young to care.

Basically, I think the above chart has excellent guidelines, but ultimately, it will be the parent’s responsibility to teach a child age appropriate skills and rules for dealing with animals on an individual basis.  Each animal really is different, and even “nice” animals have the capacity to bite or otherwise injure someone if the conditions are right.  There have been many instances of children injured or killed by a household pet that was assumed to be a safe animal. And until your child is capable of understanding the rules of engagement, it’s up to the parent to be vigilant and responsible so that their child is not injured (and likewise, does not injure) by an animal, even someone’s pet.

Here are some statistics on dog bites.

*please note that the above link is statistical data, and although it offers data on breed specific attacks (ie. “the dreaded pit-bull”,) it does not, in my opinion, offer a context in which to interpret the data

North Korean Crime Stoppers

My hilarious blogger buddy, IG, at Political Incorrection (Phunny News) posted this story recently.  It’s short…take a quick peek… but to summarize, a North Korean Man was executed by firing squad for killing and eating his kids.

Despite the fact that this article is written in IG’s usual reporting style–that is, tongue-in-cheek (no pun intended)–  the quote from source material intimates that this is “not the first time the communist regime is believed to have punished residents who resorted to cannibalism in order to stay alive.”

So I guess the real question is if this man was punished for killing his children or for daring to defy is government.

That said, regardless of your feelings on communism, and the sad state of starvation that forces people to resort to cannibalism to live, you’ve got to admit that if the U.S. had a justice system this effective, our prison population would be a lot more manageable.  Even though there have been some studies that suggest the existence of capital punishment does not prevent or deter crime, I guarantee there’d be a lot less recidivism.

And let’s face it, especially given the epidemic of violence rampaging through the country, people who kill their own children (or any child ) deserve nothing less than swift justice and a preferably painful death.

Having All Your Ducks in a Row

I’ve contemplated this post before, but I wanted photographic evidence.  I know depression and anxiety disorders can be hereditary.  My maternal grandfather often had severe depressive episodes as he aged, requiring hospitalization on more than one occasion.  My mother suffers from depression and anxiety, and I seem to have gotten a full blown anxiety disorder.  I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 12, but can recall, in retrospect, episodic evidence of the problem as early as eight years old.

My husband also has some issues with anxiety and depression, although I’d wager not all of his issues are due to chemical imbalance like mine, but also partially stem from loss and abuses he suffered in his past.

So my poor kid has got her work cut out for her.  I have often wondered and worried about if she would inherit these issues from us.  It seems possible, if not likely.

And now I have the evidence! Two years old and already obsessed with lining things up!

Hold on, don’t get your knickers in a twist.  I’m just kidding.  I know she’s likely just exhibiting normal two year old learning behavior when she lines up her little rubber ducks, or our shoes, or her diapers…  I mean, I’m assuming that’s the case, because even though I was a psych major, I didn’t study kids specifically, and as this is my first time raising an actual child (as opposed to an imaginary, fictitious, or counterfeit child,) I am learning a lot about child development as I go.

But in all seriousness…  I’m going to be watching my kid like a hawk as she grows up.  Luckily, I felt comfortable enough to talk to my Mom (who actually worked for a shrink for many years) and to her credit, she got me evaluated when she began to recognize in me patterns of obsessiveness and sadness.  I often felt abnormal and guilty.  Still, in my mind, memories of my childhood often come with a painful bittersweet twinge.  I had way more worries than a child my age should have had.  I don’t want that for my daughter, and you know what they say…forewarned is forearmed.  So as she grows, I’ll try to foster the kind of relationship where she knows she can tell me anything, no matter how weird it may seem.

Mommy’s got your back, baby girl.  I’ve got this shit under control.  I’ve got all my ducks in a row on this one!

Peach

I stand in the doorway, unnoticed, watching her while she draws.  Her head is bent low over her paper, the tips of her straw-colored hair almost touching the flat writing surface of the little school desk that her Nana rescued from a yard sale for five dollars.  Despite the slightness of her frame, the expression of extreme concentration on her unlined brow makes her look curiously studious as she hunches over her drawing, rendering each line painstakingly, and then attacking it with her giant gum eraser when she see something she doesn’t like.

I am overwhelmed with a species of muted sorrow.  She is growing so fast .  It seems like only last week she was  lining her stuffed animals against the wall to play “school,” teaching them the alphabet and scolding them in her nonsensical toddler’s vocabulary.   Only last week.  But maybe time is different now.  Four years have passed.  And I’ve spent every moment of them, every moment I can, watching her.

I try to speak to her, but she never answers.  Maybe I should have listened more when she was little.  Now I grieve for those moments, working at my laptop at night, when she would wobble over and try to insert herself onto my lap, dividing my attention from my work.  It seemed so important at the time…

I feel a tear slip down my cheek and I laugh softly at the irony.  “I love you so much, ” I say to her, for probably the thousandth time these past few years.  I have to make sure she knows.  I wasn’t ready to go.  My heart would have broken in half, had there been any life left there, at the thought of not being there to watch her grow, to tell her how special she was to me, and let her know everyday how much I loved her.  So I stayed for a while longer.

I drift soundlessly to her side and peer over her shoulder.  She has a colored pencil clutched tightly in her little hand -it’s Peach- as she surveys her art with all of a seven year old’s critical eye.  The three figures on the page stand in a line, linked together by their stick fingers.  Two large and one small one in the middle.  They stand in front of a white house with purple shutters and a lumpy brown dog frolics in the very green grass behind.  A huge yellow sun with long eyelashes and pink cheeks smiles down on them.

After another moment, she puts the Peach pencil down and picks up a red one the color of bricks.  I watch silently as she pencils a wobbly heart next to the figure in the blue triangle dress.  Then she begins to carefully print.  She prints the word “mommy”, and my eyes once again fill with phantom tears.  I can go home now.