Wisdom for my children from your mother as I enter my 36th year:
I hope you both continue to embrace each other and say “I love you” throughout your entire life. Nothing is more important than family and relationships with others. When your father and I are gone, you will have each other. Do not let petty differences or hurt feelings get in the way of your love for each other. Even if the only way to resolve conflict is through screaming and yelling, it’s worth it. Forgiveness is powerful.
Success doesn’t have to look the same for you as it does for others. To some, success is defined by a powerful career, to others, success is defined by the amount of money in their bank accounts, and still to others, success is defined by how much the world loves them. Perhaps your idea of success is to wake up in a safe, warm home and be able to enjoy the freedom of daily, peaceful walk around your neighborhood. Maybe your idea of success is freedom to travel or to play in a band on weekends. Don’t let the world chain you down with its superficial and unattainable idea of success. You know in your heart what brings you joy.
Money helps you stay comfortable during life’s inevitable crises. When your car breaks down, or you end up with large hospital bills, or you want to go on a luxurious vacation, having a certain amount of money will lift stressful burdens from your shoulders. You only need a certain level of financial comfort. Beyond that, money becomes dangerous. And money cannot bring your life meaning. Worshiping money, working only to accumulate money, hoarding money—this strips your life of meaning and rots your soul. Money is a tool, not a god.
Meaning and purpose come from your spiritual beliefs, your relationships with other humans, and your connection to the Earth and creatures great and small. You cannot find joy in life without having purpose, without believing that you have an important role to make the world a better place. And you cannot find life to be meaningful if you only believe in yourself. Humans are not enough on our own; we cannot rely on ourselves to fill the void in our hearts. We need God. You can find Him anywhere you actively look.
It is unwise to wrap up your whole identity in any one thing, especially if it is mutable, like a career, a personality trait, a preference, or idea. You contain multitudes. Your career can change, your ideas should change, your preferences will most certainly change, and everything that makes you who you are is not something that can easily be labeled. You are made of values and morals and beliefs and personality traits and ideas and DNA and so many things. You are more than every descriptive adjective attached to your name. So don’t get hung up on one sole identity. Except, you will always be the beloved child of your father and mother—the beloved child of God. That will never change, and that is very much part of who you are.
It is important to take pride in your work, no matter how big or how small your job. Whether it is tending to a backyard garden, or leading a city, whether it is doing daily dishes, or making positive change in your community—all jobs are important and should be taken seriously. Never look down upon those whose jobs may pay less than yours or be unglamorous. Every member of society has value, every job has purpose, and we all need each other to thrive.
It’s easy to find things in life to complain about. It’s easy to see yourself as a victim of your circumstances. But unless you’re intent on changing your circumstances to make your life and others’ lives better, walking around feeling sorry for yourself does absolutely no good. Pain is relative, yes, but it is so important to take a step back from yourself to see the many ways your life is wonderful, the world is beautiful, and you are lucky to be alive. Health is the greatest wealth. Treat your body like a temple. Do not take your physical and mental abilities—your life itself—for granted. Many people find pleasure by being negative, and misery loves company. Don’t let them infect you. Find the beauty in the world around you, look for the good in others, and don’t let your unfortunate moments defeat you.
The world is a vast, beautiful place, filled with people who think and behave in many different ways. Different isn’t bad. However, immoral behaviors and beliefs exist, and should be condemned. Read and genuinely consider all sides of an argument. Listen to understand. Even if you don’t agree with another person, it’s important to treat them kindly. Don’t be dishonest, but be direct and honest in a kind tone. Don’t try to hurt their feelings, but you might hurt other people’s feelings without trying. Other people’s feelings are not your responsibility.
Your friends and peers will try to pressure you to wear what they wear, act how they act, eat how they eat, and believe what they believe. Never follow others simply because it’s popular. Be wary of trends, whether it’s the latest fashion, the most recent health fad, or a popular ideology you must believe lest you be labeled “evil.” Any time a swarm of people embraces an extreme, you must be careful not to follow. You might lose friends or relationships if you stand firm on your opinions and beliefs. But having one true friend holds much more value than having one hundred acquaintances. You will find a few wonderful friends who cherish you and respect you, who share your morals and values; if you’re lucky, you will find many.
Do not confuse opinion with fact. People might state their opinion as if it is a fact; it is important to remember everything people say is not necessarily true, especially when it is a critique of your behavior, personality, or ideas. You cannot change or control other people; you can only control your reaction to other people. Mean people will always exist and you will probably be a mean person many times. We are human and we are all flawed. You must find healthy, productive ways to cope with hurt feelings, fear, insecurity, and anxiety. These are all basic human emotions that you will repeatedly feel throughout your life. Don’t run from them or numb them or feel shame for feeling them. Find ways to shake off undue criticism, mean words, and hurtful behavior from others. Building a strong character will help you overcome difficult situations.
My hope is that you two go through life fearlessly pursuing joy and purpose and contribute to society to make life better for all people. My wish is for you to remain close as siblings.
I want you to know that I love you more than anything—I love you unconditionally. You have made my life whole and made me feel like the most honored mother on Earth.
And if anyone ever tries to harm you I will sink my bare fangs into their chest and rip out their beating hearts. I will do anything for you.
I love you forever, Mommy
Crows feet run from my eyes like rivulets down dusty hills. Gray strands of hair shoot across my head like lightning in a night sky. I’m aging. And I’ve accepted the way aging looks on me.
Acceptance is a powerful thing. I could stand before a Nordstrom mirror and declare the lighting is harsh, or I could accept the dimples dotting my thighs. I could scroll through photos of myself and conclude the angles were bad, or I could accept that that’s just how I look. I could dye my hair and inject Botox — and I very well might do that soon — or I could accept that I’m no longer 25.
I could accept that beauty fades. And I could believe that youth is an attitude—a way of being and thinking—and that awe and wonder is what’s truly beautiful. I could choose to be grateful for every new wrinkle and strand of gray hair—for I am alive another day, joy etched into my face and wisdom painted onto my head. So many people don’t get to live long enough to see their body change, to see their children grow. Aging is a gift—a reminder that you have been given life, and your appearance reflects how fully you’ve lived it.
Acceptance is a powerful thing. When we accept ourselves as we are, in every season of life, we see that aging is beautiful—that true beauty will never fade.
I used to be able to fly
I danced upon moonbeams
Leapt through the sky
Butterflies, twists, promenades
My legs gracefully glided
Carrying me toward the stars
To the sound of the bodhran
Tin whistle and fiddle
My spirit was free
Time has slowed me down
And my legs ache every night
I see wrinkles etch into my skin
Like frost on window glass
My knees crack and my hips hurt
I can’t fly like I used to
Only in my dreams
I used to be able to dance, light as a feather upon a spring breeze
I can’t fly like I used to
Only in my dreams
And for now that’s good enough for me
The Irish word seanchaí means “storyteller”or “barer of old lore.” In modern terms, seanchaí might refer to a “bullshitter.”
Both are true for my father, a man known for his gift of the gab. He’ll talk to anyone, and no subject is off limits. It helps he’s friendly looking, resembling some sort of mythical creature.
His stories sound quite mythical, too. Like the true story of how he fell off a scaffold thirteen floors down an elevator shaft—on his face—and got up and walked away. Or how he shot himself in the foot with a nail gun and drove himself to the hospital. He’s fallen off of roofs, too.
More than just a man with a history of construction trauma, he is a storyteller weaving together his own past with his rich Irish heritage. He grew up in a house with no running water; he bathed in a living room tub, made hot with boiled water from the fire. He used to roam the woods of Ireland barefoot—his childhood wild and free. He rode his bicycle up the town cathedral’s bell tower; jumped out from behind apples trees to scare oncoming nuns during afternoon prayer.
A troublemaker. A hell raiser. A weaver of tall tales and star of true stories. But deep down, a sensitive soul interested in everyone’s stories, especially the underdog’s. He passionately roots for “the little guy” and believes in fighting against those who use their power for evil.
You will always find him with a pint in hand, eyes sparkling, ready to engage in a political argument or retell a magical memory. Ready to knock his shoulder into yours after taking the piss out of ye. You’ll never quite know if he’s telling the truth or spinning a fable. But you’ll always know his stories will be entertaining and his intentions pure.
For he is made of myth and magic.
He is a survivor of unbelievable incidents.
He is a modern day warrior.
He is my father.
He is the great seanchaí.
“Daddy, are you dying?” my 2.5 year old daughter asked my husband after he let out a painful grunt. He was not aware she knew the word “dying.”
“No, I’m just getting old. My back hurts,” he explained.
“Ohh. You’re growing into baby,” she said, pleased with her conclusion.
When my husband told me what she’d said, we laughed. But then I wondered: how did she connect pain and dying? And what did she know that we didn’t about “growing into a baby”?
After my husband, daughter, her twin brother and I spent the past week in Florida visiting my husband’s grandfather in a memory care home, I realized my daughter was on to something. Pushing 91, her great-grandfather needs round-the-clock supervision and assistance with getting in and out beds, chairs, cars, going to the bathroom. His memory care home offers arts and crafts, and he and the twins sat side-by-side. He practiced holding the brush with his stroke-affected right hand; my twins practiced staying in the lines. He took a nap when they took nap, and they all went to bed at 8pm. Just like my children, Great Grandpa doesn’t have an appetite for dinner, but always for ice cream.
Growing old IS like becoming a baby again. So where did my daughter’s wisdom come from?
What if before we are conceived, our souls are waiting around in Heaven, hanging out with the souls who have already passed on? What if my children knew my great-grandparents because their souls had connected in the afterlife—which is also the “beforelife”? What if that’s how she knew? Maybe old souls coach the new souls as they enter tiny unborn bodies, encourage them as they are pushed out of the womb and into this bright, beautiful world. And maybe unborn souls welcome souls who recently passed into their arms, comforted like babies.
I like to imagine my grandmother in Heaven holding my future grandchild, ready to encourage her when it’s her time to be born. I like to believe my wise daughter is right—we all grow back into babies.
“This too shall pass.” The hard times, the simple times. Colds, flus, and even seemingly permanent health conditions. Most things are temporary, I remind myself. The only permanent condition is death. And even then, I believe there is glorious life after this.
So when my body feels like it’s failing me once again, I remind myself that this pain will pass. And so will these beautiful little moments with tiny children who still desperately want to be held by me. Their handprints on the window glass won’t always be there, and somehow that makes even this clean-freak sad. I know I’ll miss seeing their toys strewn about the floor. They’ll be keeping me up all night not because of their own bad dreams but because of mine—wondering where they are and what they’re doing and if they’re safe.
All this will pass. It’s only temporary.
Remind yourself that when you are afraid your pain will haunt you forever; remind yourself that when the sun shines brightly on a February day and your child begs you to join them in play. “This too shall pass.”
You can’t call yourself strong if you haven’t been to hell and back,
If you haven’t carried a heavy load and watched your soul turn black,
If you’ve never trudged through mud while boulders weigh you down,
Watched the world you built burn to the ground.
But you learn to dig your claws into crumbling rock,
Your limbs become nimble, your eyes sharp like a hawk.
Resiliency stretches you from your feet to your hips,
See the looming mountain ahead and tho’ fear has its grip
You learn how to shake from its shadow and soldier on,
Emerging from darkness to follow the dawn,
Barely able to make it, your last ounce of energy,
Driven by hope, crawling on your hands and knees.
You’ve done it before and you’ll do it once more.
You are strong enough now to win this war.
My mother’s hands, once soft and delicate, touched her swollen belly while I grew inside.
My mother’s hands, always warm and welcoming, held me against her breast when I was newly born.
My mother’s hands, strong and encouraging, guided me as I walked through life.
My mother’s hands, both tender and firm, carried me when I couldn’t pick my broken heart up off the floor.
I’ve watched her hands change from youthful and soft to aged and worn. But her hands have always been open, ready to take my own in hers. She doesn’t often get manicures, and time has made her knuckles swell, but her hands are more beautiful now than they’ve ever been. Her hands show the story of her life; she has cared for all others before herself.
My mother’s hands are tough. My mother’s hands are loving. My mother’s hands are beautiful.
And as I age, I am beginning to see that my hands are changing too… just like hers.
They have held babies, led children, and are starting to carry others.
I am proud to have my mother’s hands.
The sight of snowflakes falling from the sky like powdered sugar. The smell of a neighbor burning wood in a backyard nearby. The sound of high pitched giggles chasing Daddy down snowy hiking trails. The feeling of that first step inside a heated home welcoming us back to warm and cozy. The taste of rich hot chocolate with a pinch of salt after a morning spent in the brisk air outside. The gratitude for my simple yet awe-inspiring senses. This is wonder. This is joy. This I don’t want to ever take for granted.
What a privilege it is to wake up and be able to move your limbs. To taste the bold, velvety richness of your coffee. To see the sky outside, even if it is gray. To sit and stand and squat, even if it is to pick up toys from the ground. To be alive today, even if you're in pain.
Never give up on lofty goals and lifelong dreams. But question “What’s the goal of this goal?” Will achieving it make me happier? Will it make me more grateful for this moment that I’m alive?
It is only when we lose something that we are grateful for what we had. My commitment to this year and every year after is to be thankful for every moment, and to not chase superficial dreams and trendy goals. To lift my middle finger to the bullshit so I can bring my hands together in prayerful thanks to the meaningful.