Your path in life will not always be easy, or clear, or feel like it’s going anyplace good, but you will always know that you are loved. You will be optimistic and make the best out of every situation (with the exception of a few teenage years when you are convinced everyone is out to get you. But I can assure you, they are not). You have to experience a situation to really benefit from it, to learn from it. Most situations that you will be presented with, you will handle in ways you will not regret, for even the bad choices offer a lesson. The situations in which you cannot chose the outcome will be both wonderful and dreadful. These words are not meant to change your path. This letter is more of a guide to help you through the days ahead.
You will one day have a sister (this will be explained better around age seven). Some days you will hate her and other days you will not think it’s possible to love anyone as much as you love her. Here is what you need to know:
1) When you find her missing Seal CD “Kiss From A Rose” in the attic, open it up before you return it to her. There are 200 dollars inside the liner notes that she received for Christmas which she forgot she hid in there.
2) There will be a night your parents tell you two to stop doing flips on the sofa. Listen to them because if you don’t, your sister will break a family heirloom that you will be sick about for the rest of your life.
3) There will be a time the two of you accidentally set something on fire inside the house. This is a good story so I am not going to tell you when or how but you should know that you do get away with it. So don’t fess up because you think your parents have caught on you will be ratting yourselves out. This will only lead to weeks without TV or dessert.
4) This sister will not always be in your life (this will be explained better around age nineteen). You can’t change this part. So hug her, kiss her, and love her as much as you can while she is still around.
As for your older brother Jeronimo, the extreme downs and not so often ups will never end. Throughout your childhood you will often hear, “When you get older it’s easier to have a relationship with your siblings.” For you two, it is not about the amount of time that passes, it is about the situations you are presented with and how you deal with them. This should help:
1) No matter how convincing he is, you were not adopted.
2) He loves you. You will often question this because he has trouble expressing it. Be patient with him. Over time he will prove to you how much you mean to him.
3) There are no unicorns in Mario Brothers. Pushing ABABAB really fast as you jump down the holes will never work. He wants you to lose all your turns so he can play Nintendo by himself. Despite this, later in life you will both agree those times playing together are some of your fondest childhood memories of one another.
4) He likes to weld and is really good at it. Someone needs to nourish this much sooner in his life. Suggest it. Uncle Frog will help.
5) In high school he intercepts the boys who stop by to see you. He takes the things that they bring like flowers and candy and gives them to his own girlfriends. This is the only reason why your biggest crush does not ask you to the prom.
6) Though you feel like your brother is your parent’s number one priority, he feels the same about you. If you spend time talking about this as a family you can resolve many childhood fights that are totally unnecessary.
They never stop being amazing and incredibly supportive. They both live well into your adult life so stop worrying that they won’t. You are going to make yourself sick always going to the worst place possible if they are a bit late picking you up from school or if they forget to call when they are out of town. Relax. Besides, the love you share is expressed enough while they are alive to last you a lifetime, even when they are gone.
You will always be your father’s little girl no matter how old you are. He will tell you this every time you say goodbye to one another. He will not only be your father but your friend. No matter how far apart you live or how much time passes between when you see one another, you will always have a close relationship. He wants you to be happy, whatever that entails. The worst moments your share together will be when you know he is hurting.
The very first time you see him cry will be when your parents tell you and your brother that they are going to take a break for a while. Previously, your brother will have told you, “We will never see dad cry. Men do not do that.” He is wrong. You will watch your dad and brother desperately try to hold back backs tears and think, “That’s silly, if a man wants to cry, he should cry.”
The second time you see him cry, he will be on a sofa in a living room. When you get out of the shower you will be wrapped in a bright white robe with a towel on your wet hair. He will be sitting in dim lighting and will look like a small frail boy. The tears will run down his face and fall from his chin quickly. Just by looking at him you will know his mother has passed away and at the young age of 28, he has lost both of his parents. While you sit there you will think that he will never stop crying. You will wonder if it is OK to watch him. All he is thinking about is how much his heart hurts. This will be the moment he needs you the most.
The third time you see him cry it will be your fault. You do not choose your words wisely nor do you understand how powerful and hurtful they can be. At this point in your life, you think you know everything, but you don’t. There are emotions you have not yet felt, so you have no idea what they can do to a person, how they can change a person. You will not understand the conversation that takes place in a blue Ford in a parking lot at Dunkin Donuts until you are 20 and have your heart broken for the very first time. His tears show you how much he loves you and that he will do anything to make you happy.
The fourth time you see him cry you are in New York City. Out of the corner of your eye you see the tears stream down his face, under his glasses as he holds the chain link fence in front of him. Most people cry when they stand in that spot in lower Manhattan for the first time. His chin quivers and his head drops. You make an effort not look at him. You both stand in silence until he is ready. He turns to you and says, “Everything changed that day, Chella.” His tears are for other people. You will learn compassion from him.
Fact: you will never receive one report card that does not mention how much you like to talk. Fact: you get this from your mother. She is a person who can approach any situation with a clear head and good intentions for everyone involved. She is a problem solver and genuinely loves helping other people. She is quick to make friends. You will learn many things from her like sewing and carpentry, but talking will always be your strongest bond. Embrace it. There is something people love about hearing a well told story.
When you are about to turn nine you will be on an outdoor deck on a beautiful fall day. Your mom will have her camera, snapping pictures of you. Your long brown hair will have lost most of its curls and it will be perfectly messy. Your mom will want you to sit down, “Just stop moving for a second. Stop talking. Shelly. Stop. Talking. Thank you.” When taking this picture it will seem like just another afternoon, but as you get older this photograph becomes one of your favorites from your childhood. You frame it and keep it on your desk as a reminder of that fall afternoon and the woman behind the camera. The kind of mother you want to be one day, the kind of mother she already is.
This woman, who you get the privilege to call mom, loves you more than you will ever know, more than she can describe. She will do things many mothers do for their daughters. She will make birthday cakes and attend choir recitals. She will wait up for you to return from school dances. She will stash extra money in your purse before leaving on a date. “Shelly this is mad money. You get mad, you leave. Let him pay for dinner, but never rely on him to do so. You should always have enough to cover yourself.”
She asks you to stop smiling for this photograph. This will seem like an impossible task. “No, it is not stupid Shelly, you will see. It is going to be artistic. So stop smiling.” She does not know that the very next summer you will knock out your front tooth on your brother’s skateboard and your smile will never be the same. This will eventually lead to a mouth full of caps. When you call her from a dentist office when you are 27 to tell her you not only just broke another cap, you broke the actual tooth and it needs to be pulled, she will stay on the line until it is over and you are calm. “It is a tooth that can be fixed. Shelly, this is not cancer. This is not a missing limb. It is a tooth and they will fix it just like the others.”
The gash on your still tan nose will not scar. The photograph will be the only memory of it thanks to the anti-scar cream she rubs on it repeatedly no matter how many times you tell her it is not necessary. The bangs you make her cut really short were a bad idea. She tries to talk you out of them. You will need to listen to her advice as you get older. She is a pretty good judge of situations involving you. “Shelly, let’s wait a few more years and if you still want an eyebrow piercing we can revisit the situation then.” “Shelly that boy is trouble and is going to break your heart.” “Shelly do not ignore the change oil light on your dashboard.”
But one piece of advice she is going to give you will change your life forever. You are going to listen to her, but later she will tell you it was the hardest thing she has ever said to you. “Yes Shelly, yes. New York sounds like a wonderful place to live. I think you should go.”
So when you get there, don’t forget to write home. Calling will not be hard to remember. You will have many wonderful and not so wonderful things happening that you want to share with her. But it is going to be hard to slow down and write her letters. Don’t forget that part. Fly home whenever you can. It is not going to be very often so you will have to make the effort to choose home over vacations in warm exotic places. Send pictures. She wants to see all the places you visit, the ones she can only dream about.
On New York
New York is a huge step. I know you are wondering how the heck you end up there but don’t worry, it happens quickly. The move feels like the right decision in many ways but being in a big city so far from your childhood home feels scary. Don’t get those feelings confused. In the long run, it is right and the scary part goes away. So don’t feel guilty, your family and friends are proud of you but you will have to keep ontop of your relationships. It is not going to be easy, work and finances will often keep you from travelling, so savor your time at home.
The basic thing you need to know about NYC is that when you are scared or confused, step back from whatever is going on and remember who you are, where you are from, and who you want to be. You are in charge of the decisions you make. In these years make sure to stand up for yourself more. Find your voice and your footing right away. Don’t be passive. Drink less. Write more. Watch your purse. Always carry a camera. Do more NY things. Write letters and never stop being polite.
New York will change you. You will walk faster, talk faster, judge more, and sleep less. You will meet interesting people who offer ideas and possibilities that seem unfathomable right now. You will attend many events. Any weeknight can rival your prom. You are never socially awkward. You can pretty much hold your own in any situation thrown at you. New York is just a lot of networking which you will be good at, so take advantage of it.
On Life in General
1) None of the boys you will meet before you are 20 will make any difference. None. So stop wasting your time and study more.
2) Punching the kids in your neighborhood is not OK. Even though you think they deserve
it. Find another way to deal with your anger and stress.
3) Don’t wait till 10th grade to start wearing clothing that fits better. At the very least don’t wear your dad’s Bulls tee-shirt on the last day of eighth grade, some of those photos surface years later and you regret it.
4) Hair products were invented for a reason, learn to use them.
5) Your sophomore year you and your best friends will take a road trip during school hours. You call the school office pretending to be your parents reporting each of yourselves sick for the day. Your mistake will be calling Amy as her mother who is out of town and has notified the attendance office she is away. Pretend to be Amy’s Aunt Cindy, who is in charge while her mom is gone. If you get caught you serve an hour detention for every class you miss, your personal phone line is shut off immediatly, and your mom makes you return all the clothing you bought.
6) Don’t ever lose touch with Dan Connor . On June 27, 2008 do whatever necessary to stop Dan from driving home.
7) Start following college football more closely. As you get older you will wish you could recall more classic games. This will be good for picking up guys later in life.
8) Wait till you are ready. This pretty much applies to everything.
9) Valarie Harper will give you some of the best advice you will ever receive (Yes. You meet Rhoda, and she loves you). “Never apologize for how you feel.”
10) Don’t pierce anything other than your ears.
11) Don’t stress the math thing. Eventually you will have a mini calculator in your purse that will be sufficient for all your math needs.
So there you have it. A collection of things that will hopefully guide you, motivate you and inspire you to be the best you can be. Again, it is not an easy life, but that is what makes it wonderful, that you work for it. The people you meet will greatly contribute to who you are as an individual. The people you choose to surround yourself with will be the family you pick for yourself. So, “Chin Up Baby,” everything will be OK in the end, if everything is not OK, it is not the end.