When they are very small, we give them warmth, snuggles, and in some cases, if we’re lucky, breast milk. Before their first birthdays, we are giving them excuses for why we won’t eat the mushy food they are trying so generously to share with us, and also giving them back their tiny spoons that somehow keep ending up on the floor. As our children grow up, go to school, make friends and test our limits, we try our damnedest to give them nuggets of wisdom at each step along the way, finding random opportunities to casually share with them some of the knowledge we’ve accumulated by
making horrendous mistakes living a full life.
While this is not a definitive list of all the insights I intend to bestow upon my daughters as they enter their tween years, here are 16 prominent pieces of information I hope they will let marinate in their brilliant minds as they morph into young adults:
1. You don’t need to eat food out of a box or a bag that’s handed to you out of a tiny window on the side of a building. With a handful of ingredients, a bit of want-to and a few spare moments, you can make just about anything from scratch, especially rich and frothy whipped cream, which requires only three ingredients plus five minutes of very active arm muscles, and is so very worth it, especially when the chocolate chip pancakes you’ve just made from scratch for dinner are still warm. (Sometimes, a box of mac and cheese after a long day is the best option. Just toss some frozen peas in there too to make Grandmom happy.)
2. Those impossibly happy people in commercials, on billboards and in magazine ads are being paid to look that happy. If you don’t need what they are selling—and to be honest, you probably don’t—you do not have to want it or buy it.
3. No matter if my earbuds are in and I’m on my way to the shower after a sweaty run, or if my eyes are peeled on the stoppage time finish of my favorite soccer team’s match, or if I’m still asleep before dawn on a weekend morning—should you have something you need to say, something you need to get off your chest right then in that very moment, I am ready to make you and your voice my top priority. Everything else can and will wait. But if you wake me up to tell me you’re hungry, we’re gonna have a problem.
4. A sensible career may very well pay your bills comfortably, but if your work brings you no joy, then you have every right to switch gears and follow your heart.
5. Your heart may sometimes lead you astray, but no path could ever be more worthwhile.
6. You will undoubtedly encounter rotten people along your path, and they may attempt to cause you harm, but those people are the exceptions to the rule—not the standard. It may be difficult, but please do not judge all by the nasty actions or sour intentions of a few.
7. The good in the world will always outweigh the bad, no matter what the TV, internet or talk radio announcers say.
8. You should never intentionally make anyone’s life more difficult—anyone’s. This means, among many more things, that you should be kind to the waiter who serves you, leave a hotel room in decent shape upon checking out, and put away your shopping cart at the grocery store. Seriously, don’t be lazy—walk the 30 feet and put your damn cart away.
9. Small moments and actions matter more than we might ever fully know, and the world depends on each and every one of them to keep working.
10. Your love of reading will take you far, but it’s absolutely OK to enjoy the movie versions of the stories you hold dear (while still believing that the book was better).
11. College will always be there, but your youth is a ticket you can only cash once. That said, please don’t run off with some dude to “find yourself.” I’ve worked too hard investing in your childhood to suffer such a clichéd fate.
12. You don’t have to drink beer or wine or any other kind of alcohol to be cool or to relax or to be interesting. Your personality does not and will never need liquid enhancement; it’s remarkable as is.
13. If people are taking time out of their day to talk about you behind your back, it proves that you’re already far more interesting than they are.
14. You can love sports every bit as much as a boy might, and you don’t have to wear the pink version of your favorite team(s)’s jersey/T-shirt/logo.
15. Sports and science and math and engineering and action movies and Star Wars Legos and comic books and stand-up comedy and fart jokes and magic tricks and race cars are not only for boys, even though it may appear that way sometimes.
16. If you love something deeply and want desperately to participate in it, you may need to elbow your way in for a seat at the proverbial table. Elbow away, darling.
In reality, there are probably 160 other prominent pieces of information I’d want my daughters to know before, or as they, become young adults and then about 1,600 more I should share between now and when they eventually venture out onto their own, but after a certain point, even a well-meaning dad’s helpful wisdom becomes part of the din that surrounds us all in 2016.
My daughters will discover, soon enough, that there’s never been a worse-better time to be a young woman in America. Glass ceilings have been, if not shattered, at least raised up quite a bit higher, and yet as we approach having our first female president, there’s still so much ugliness facing girls—from the intentional omission of female Star Wars heroes in our children’s playthings to cat callers roaming the streets, slut shaming, victim blaming and worse. Much worse. That said, we keep going back to No. 7 on the list above. It’s become a mantra for my girls and I, a prayer, a hope and a rock solid belief we must cling to together as they enter their tween years.