An Open Letter To My Future Teenage Daughter

This week I was running and listening to streaming music when Taylor Swift’s oldie but goodie “Mean” started playing. For the first time, I felt a wave of satisfaction as the lyrics ran through my head. Years ago it was a song that helped me get through some tough moments, but now it sounded more like a victory tune. There’s a line in the chorus that says,

Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me, and all you’re ever gonna be is mean.”

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I remember hearing that song when I was nineteen and twenty and thinking, “Someday that will be me. Someday these things that so and so is saying won’t hurt me anymore.” It felt so good listening the other day and realizing, I am there. I am at that place now. Here I am at this point where I feel happy and confident and where I’m even making strides towards successful. The meanies of the universe can’t reach me anymore. But, as I realized this, I also realized that one day my daughter will be a teenager and a young twenty-something. That she will have to deal with the cruelties of the world and the bitter hearts of others and the doubt in herself that both of these things will bring. So I decided to write a letter to my future teenage Bryn. I also decided to share it here because, let’s be real, there’s no way I wouldn’t lose the paper version eleven + years from now. Internet, I’m trusting that you’ll stick around for my daughter’s teens.

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Hey Bryn-Bryn.

I’m sure you’re embarrassed by me at this point in your life, and you probably don’t want to be called Bryn-Bryn either. But I’m writing this when you’re two and a half, so get over it.

I love you and your red curls and your chunky legs and your beautiful, wild, untamable spirit more than anything. I love your big hugs and your toddler smell and even how you line baby dolls in your bed up in a row all creepy and Chucky-like. I wish that I could keep you from the bad things forever. But since I can’t, there are a few things that I really want you to try to take to heart, as best you can. I still have so much learning and growing to do myself, but here is what I know at the ripe old age of twenty-seven that I didn’t as a slightly younger soul.

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First of all, please be kind. There is enough hate in this world, and I want so much for you to be the anti-venom. Don’t call people names. Apologize when you’re wrong. Be open to what others are communicating, especially if they disagree with you. Love on your family, even when we drive you crazy. Give compliments out generously. Tell a cashier that you like their hair. And while we’re at it, because as you know, I do give strange compliments like that, please always embrace your awkwardness. Own it. Be weird and silly and laugh loudly and when you want to.

I need you to know that, like it or not, not everyone is going to like you. That people are going to dislike you for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you. That sometimes someone will want so badly to make themselves the hero in their own story that they will turn you into their villain, even if you didn’t do anything to deserve this narrative. And sometimes, baby girl, people just aren’t nice. You have to know that these folks are fighting their own battles, and more often than not, you are only caught in their crossfire.

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Listen closely here, boo. You can’t and shouldn’t have to prove yourself to people who only want the abstract of who you are. The concrete version of you is flawed and scarred and imperfect, and this real person is so very beautiful, no matter who takes the time to see it.

And Bryn? You don’t ever have to retaliate in anger, or frustration, or sadness. It took me years to realize that one. Try your best to forgive and move on and to focus on you, not anyone else. Look towards your biggest goals and live your craziest dreams. I promise you, that is the only vindication you will ever need.

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Littlest love, this is important too. I don’t want you to ever let anyone put you into a box. Every now and again someone will try to tell you who you are and what you can and can’t be. They’ll try to say that there’s only one path to self-actualization, but please take note of the word “self” there. It’s up to you to find out what makes you, you. It’s up to you, not a stranger or an online opinion piece or your great Aunt Edna (to be clear, we don’t actually have an Aunt Edna. If we did, I’m sure she’d be lovely.) to learn and decide the paths that will bring you fulfillment and joy. It’s up to you to break down the walls that society has put up for you. It takes small minds to impose their barriers onto others, but you need to know that you are bigger and better than any cage anyone could ever try to squeeze you into. Please don’t ever let the world define you. You redefine the world, baby girl.

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I hate this one, but it’s inevitable that you will have your feelings hurt and your heart broken. I so badly wish that I could protect you from those things, but I can’t and I shouldn’t. You’ll be rejected. You’ll hurt others. You will have to let go of people who mean a lot to you, and though this is healthy, it can also be really, really hard. You are going to feel like you’ve made a mess of things sometimes, and you’ll probably wish for a take-back or two or ten. But I want you to make mistakes, because this is how you will grow. I want you to do things that scare you, because some of the most terrifying things in life can also end up being the most incredible ones.

Brynlee Mae, please don’t let these hurts and heartbreaks turn you cold. The world can be a mean place but it will surprise you with its goodness too. Always search for the good. Fight with everything you have to keep that joyous spirit and loving nature. Fight to keep the sparkle that dances in your blue eyes. Fight against becoming jaded, or pessimistic or unkind, and encourage others to do the same. Encourage others every chance you get. We could all use a little bit more of that.

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Finally, I need you to know that so often, more often than not, you will be your own worst enemy. That the voices in your head, you know, the cruelest ones that tell you the things that others probably think about you? That this will so often be only what you fear about yourself. So please, please, please take the time to be kind to yourself. To forgive yourself. To look at what you’ve done and to be proud. Women are so often told not to be proud. To be modest, and meek and to swat away compliments like flies. Lest we be considered full of ourselves. Boastful. Egotistical. Lest we be considered what men are applauded for being, every single day.

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But Bryn, I don’t want you to ever feel like you have to hide your shine just because the world isn’t ready for it. Shine, baby. Show them everything you’ve got. Be the hero that doesn’t need a villain, or a rescuer or the false reality created by unrealistic expectations. Be your own hero.

I promise you, that is a story that needs to be told and told again.

PS: By the time I give you this letter, I will also have a list of Taylor Swift songs ready to guide you through the trials, tribulations and dance parties of young adulthood. You’re welcome in advance.

PPS: Dad says you’re not allowed to like boys.

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‘See You Tomorrow.’

“But just because I’ll forget it some tomorrow doesn’t mean that I didn’t live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean that today didn’t matter.” – Still Alice

During my last year of undergrad, one of my favorite professors gave out an interesting assignment. She challenged us to volunteer somewhere that made us very uncomfortable. Admitting that she probably wouldn’t know if we were lying, she was trusting us to leave our comfort zones on our own accord. This is something I try to challenge myself to do on a regular basis. I’ve always believed that leaving the places I feel the safest will encourage me to be a stronger and more open-minded individual. If it’s at all possible to feel comfortable leaving a comfort zone, I do. So I knew that to truly fulfill this assignment, I would not only have to get out of my comfort zone, but also skip, jump and fly over it.

Of all the scary things in my life that I’ve done, walking in to volunteer at Cedar Ridge Alzheimer’s Center for the first time was amongst the most terrifying. It was not the people that scared me, but a disease so ferocious in its ability to completely take over a human mind. That first day, I hand-fed a grown woman while a resident on the other side of the room continuously moaned in what sounded like complete misery. I honestly felt that I might pass out. So taken aback by what I saw as such an overwhelming sadness, I felt my body reacting physically. I could not wait to get out of there that day.

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It didn’t take much time until my required volunteer hours were completed, but then a funny thing happened. I began seeing less of the disease and more of the person behind it. Sometimes it was simply a smile or a sparkle in the eye. Other times it was a witty comment, small talk or reading a short bio outside of a resident’s door. What I had at first failed to acknowledge was that this disease was only a small chapter of the residents’ lives. In previous chapters there were careers, hobbies, families, passions, accomplishments and lives well lived. Dementia was only a small part of their stories. I began researching and reading about Alzheimer’s to have a better understanding of what those at Cedar Ridge were going through. And I kept going back.

It’d be a lie to say that I don’t still have to mentally prepare myself for hard moments. Residents often feel lost, or are searching for someone, or become upset because they want to go to a home that they don’t realize is no longer theirs. During my last visit, a woman I was chatting with asked me to read something for her because I had a “better brain.” I would imagine that the rare moments of lucidity are the most difficult part for those in later stages of Alzheimer’s. But in the midst of this constant confusion and heartbreak, there is also joy. I fair and square lost more than one game of dominoes to a sweet old soul. Cookies and warm conversation have been shared with a group of lovely ladies. I’ve read magazines, watched movies and listened to live music with some truly great company. One charming gentleman wandered around in search for his family, but still managed to smile and flirt whenever he passed my way. Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles be damned, it only took a bit of searching to see the beautiful hearts and terrific personalities I was surrounded by at Cedar Ridge.

After learning of my pregnancy, I went back to Cedar Ridge once more before realizing that I should take a break. Usually a person with a firm grip on emotions, my hormones were now causing me to cry at the drop of a hat. Knowing what both I and the residents could and couldn’t handle, I waited.

I went back for the first time last weekend. In the past, I’ve always wondered how much good I was really doing. Even if I was able to help in some miniscule way, wouldn’t it only be forgotten soon after? Did my being there for such a short time really help anyone at all? I wasn’t sure. As I was saying my goodbyes last Saturday, one woman stopped me with her words. “Don’t go.” she said, the kindest smile on her face. We embraced as she went to kiss my cheeks. And then, “See you tomorrow.”

I told her I would see her soon, and then I left. Maybe she forgot about me as soon as I walked out the door. But in those few moments, we were both able to make a positive mark in the other’s life. If only for a short time, we shared smiles and caused happiness. I knew that I would not see her the next day, and she might not have any recollection of telling me that she would. Still, we had today. And that was enough.

Perspective And A Photo Shoot

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The older I get, the more I realize that life is so much about perspective. I can be in the worst mood one day and high on life the next, and the only thing that has changed at all is my attitude. So I’ve learned and am still learning to continuously choose joy. To dance while vacuuming and to get childishly excited about smores and cold weather and Christmas. To write bad poetry. To read books that make me feel things. To go on romantic dates with gal pals. To start wearing skinny jeans at twenty-five because, hey, I feel sexy in ’em. To lip sync to “Shake It Off” (And okay, most of the new T-Swift album) with a spoon as my microphone while I make dinner, whilst my 7-month-old stares at me as if I am strange but also somewhat amusing. To create a running commentary with my husband regarding the characters on Baby TV. To allow myself the occasional bout of utter despair, because being present with my current emotions makes for an overall happier me. To spend money on travel instead of shoes, because 1. I can’t walk in heels and 2. Anything tangible rarely competes with the complete wonder of expanding horizons. To try every new thing I can get my hands on and to buy a comfy sweater with a giant heart on it. To do things I am passionate about, because passion helps a positive perspective grow. And to always browse the wine aisle for an extra moment, even though I already have a bottle in mind. You never know what you’ll find if you keep an open mind.

As a side note, these photos are from my most recent shoot. It’s one of my favorites to date, so thought I’d share with y’all.

Photo Credit: J Antonio Images
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What Granny Gave Me

Last month, my grandma, mom, sister, daughter and I made our way to the little town of Joshua, Texas. This is where Miss Bryn met my great-grandma. Her great-great grandma. Together in one room were FIVE generations of our family. Needless to say, it was a very special day.

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Growing up, my Granny Polly and Pa’s house was my favorite place in the world to be. Driving up to their property, after the three hour drive that always seemed more like a lifetime back then, was always a moment for complete and utter celebration. On holidays, the kids would sleep on the floor chit-chatting and giggling until we fell asleep, excited for what the next day would bring. In the summer, I would spend a week at a time with my Granny. We’d fall asleep in her bed, her reading a novel with a scantily clad woman and her beau on the front, me with my Babysitter’s Club or something equally G-rated. In the morning, we’d wake up around 6 am. Granny would make us both coffee, something I was only allowed the indulgence of at her house. She drank (and still drinks) hers black, and I filled (and still fill) mine with copious amounts of cream and sugar. Some days we would get donuts or browse an eccentric bookstore, and on the weekends we’d scope out garage sales. The evening was spent eating dinner at the kitchen table whilst watching the news on a small television, watering the garden and sometimes riding the golf cart around the land. Always we ended the night with more reading.

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Everything about my Granny and Pa’s house was pure magic. Thinking back, I can still feel the lingering touches of the wonder that staying with them would bring. The air came through vents on Granny’s floor, and I can remember standing on the vents as the cold air chilled my feet, mesmerized by even this. Glass drawers were placed throughout Granny’s house, full of glass eggs and other small, beautiful things. I was entranced by all of these little baubles. But most magical of all was this–on their land was a large building, filled with the items they acquired from buying out storage units. It may have been a business for them, but for me, it was simply paradise. I would spend hours going through the knick-knacks, the books, the tables and boxes of seemingly endless treasures. Until my parents would start limiting my collection, I would usually go home with as many of these treasures as my heart desired. As Granny and I browsed her jewelry a few weeks back, she explained to me where many of these unique and lovely pieces originally came from. For a brief moment, I was eight-years-old and totally immersed in that feeling of childlike fascination again.

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I give a lot of credit to my Granny for my love of coffee, bargain-shoping, trinkets and reading. Most importantly, I know she has played a big role in my insatiable love for life. As a kid, I’d often brag to my friends that my great-grandma jumped on the trampoline with me. On the way back from my Pa’s funeral, Granny rode to her house on the back of a motorcycle. I’ve heard that she dyed her dark brown hair platinum blonde, probably just because she could. She is the embodiment of the word ‘pizazz’. In every moment I can remember spending with her, she’s had a zest for life and a knack for living every moment of it to the fullest. As we were looking through a photo album this past weekend, my grandma noted how adventurous her mom has always been. My mom laughed, “That must be where Christina got it from. I know she didn’t get it from me!”

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I feel so fortunate to have passed down to me this joy for the turning of a page, the searching for the smallest of treasures, the first sip of a pumpkin spice latte, the wonderment that comes with trying something new. And I can only hope that I can pass down to my daughter all of the happiness and love for life that my Granny Polly has gifted me.

Weekend At The In-Law’s

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Spending a weekend at my in-law’s place in New Ulm, Texas is a lot like spending a weekend at a cozy and lovely bed-and-breakfast. But way better. Because this bed-and-breakfast comes free of charge and with complimentary food, love, hugs and laughter. There is a magic about waking up in New Ulm that leaves me feeling like a little kid, anticipating a day of fresh coffee, sunbathing, long chats, small talk, the smell of barbecue, the warmth of family and the joy of new memories being made. I just feel incredibly lucky to have married into so much extra happiness. (Not to mention the perfect weekend getaway)

Pictures:

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