Letters To My Daughters: Life Lessons

Dear Ammu, Pattu and Laddu,

Over the years I have written many little notes to you. Some were on post-its that found their way to trash the next day. Some have been on my blog which talk about you at a specific age. Some are birthday wishes. Some are celebrations of milestones. Today however, I am writing because of some morbid thoughts in my head.

I am forty.

I am at an age where I see some of my friends die way too soon. I see people like me leave behind families and spouses and it hits me that someday it could be me.

That it could be us.

I have dreams for you, for us. I envision you and I becoming good friends someday, but before that I will need to be a parent to you. I want to be the one you come to when something bothers you at school. I want you to tell me if not being part of a clique bothers you. I want to be there to soothe you as you experience your first period. I want to be the one to hold you to my bosom when a boy (or girl) breaks your heart (trust me they will). I want to see you go to college, spread your wings and fly. I want to see you married and mother children your own.

Sometimes, I worry I may not have that chance, that I may not be able to tell you as we sit side by side about all the times I failed and tried again. I may never get the chance to tell you that the staid Amma you know once was a little girl. A girl who had trouble fitting in at school. A girl with body image issues. A girl who desperately wanted to fall in love. A girl who struggled with finding out what she wanted to do with her life. Eventually, she did grow up to be the person you now know as mommy. Your mommy who is very happy with her life now.

In no particular order, I want to share with you the things I have learned. In the event I am not around, I hope you will sense my presence as you read this:

Tell the truth.

It is simple. Tell the truth all the time. It will not be easy but it will save you from heartache. Whether it is owning up to messing your life or pretending to be busy so you can avoid something you committed to, choose truth over lies. Uncomfortable definitely, but worth the peace of mind.

Say sorry and mean it.

We all mess up. God knows I have messed up. Saying sorry when you are in the wrong offers a way forward. Own up to your mistake and put it out in the open. Apologize and mean it. You will be amazed how many conflict-ridden situations can be smoothed over by a simple heartfelt sorry.

Always carry a gift if you are invited anywhere.

This is something I learned from my mom, your paati. Every time we visited someone, we would stop to buy fruits or flowers or a box of sweets. It is a simple gesture but it says a lot.

Say thank you.

Much like sorry, saying thanks is underrated. Showing appreciation for another person’s effort is a simple way of saying you matter, your work matters. We often say thanks to strangers and acquaintances, forgetting to extend the same courtesy to family. Say thanks to your siblings, your parents, your spouse, your children. They matter and are often the ones we take for granted.

Speak your mind.

If your friend asks you for a favor and you would rather not spend your time on it. Speak up and say you would rather not. Much like telling the truth, speaking up for how you feel is important. It is uncomfortable. It risks the relationship. It also makes the relationship stronger. It frees you up to be the person you are rather than the person someone else wants you to be.

Keep your promises.

This has been my toughest challenge. I often over-promise and under deliver and feel wretched about it. If you promise to do something, do it. Integrity is hard won and something that will be recognized life-long.

Walk the walk.

As your mom, I have often noticed you do not do what I say. You do as I act. Words are less powerful than actions. Model the behaviors you want someone else to emulate. Before you advise someone to quit smoking or stop drinking make sure you model those behaviors yourself.

Fall in love.

Yes, you heard me right. Fall in love, get your heart broken. Feel with all your being. Few things in life are worth risking everything for and love is one of them. You will be heart broken. You will mope and cry. You will pick up and move on. But guess what, you will have experienced one of the best things in life. Love makes you vulnerable. It makes you put someone else ahead of you. It makes you see beauty everywhere. It is truly a joyous thing.

Spend less than you earn.

Common sense right? You will be surprised how simple things are the hardest to follow. Earn an honest living. Spend within your means. Save what you can. Do not borrow. These are small edicts that will keep you solvent and happy. Money cannot buy happiness but it can keep you comfortable.

Donate.

Set aside a small percentage of what you earn to share with the less privileged. It does two things. It reminds you of all that is well in your life. It opens your eyes to the needs of others. The amount does not matter. Pick something you are comfortable with but do it year over year. All life long.

Love means respect.

As you grow, you will discover boys (or girls). You will discover the joys of romantic love. Your world will shrink to the two of you. It is easy to be taken in, easy to give up your identity to take on another. I want you to know and remember that love also means respect. A partner who does not recognize you as an individual, does not respect you, has no place in your life. Retain a strong sense of self, even when in love. Especially, when in love.

Follow your heart but use your brain.

There will come a time when you are in high school and the question of what to do with your life will come up. When I was in high school, I knew in my heart of hearts that I wanted to do something with communications. However, I followed my peers and signed up for Math and Physics. I became a software engineer. I do not regret my choice but that is only because I was able to earn my way to financial independence. Now, I write, which is what I love to do. When you are faced with the decision, look at all options and pick something that will let you earn your way to doing what you love to do. Sometimes, it may happen that what you love is also something that will make a successful professional out of you. If that happens, count yourself lucky.

Discover yourself.

Find the things that make you happy. Pick a hobby. Set time aside to do the things you love to do. Create an identity for yourself that will set you apart from your family. Nurture it. Do it when times are good. Do it when times are rough. Create an oasis to which you can retreat when the world outside is overwhelming.

Make friends, but learn to let go.

The only constant in life is change. Learn to nurture meaningful friendships. Treasure these relationships with your life. Relationships need work but they also need both parties to make the effort. If you find yourself giving more than you get, re-evaluate and move on.

Your life. Your way.

Much too often, you will have others tell you how you should live, how you should look, what you should do and what is good for you. It is great that you have so many people looking out for you, but the key is knowing what you want. Always remember, it is your life. What you want from it comes first. Listen to your inner voice and follow your gut. The people in your life? They will come around.

Love yourself.

It is true. It took me forty years to realize that self-love is the best love. It has taken me all of my life to look in the mirror and love me the way I am. Skinny or fat, fair or dark, the world we live in has impossible standards for beauty and acceptance. Love yourself the way you are. Dress for comfort. Own yourself and rock it. Always remember that it is what is inside that counts.

We love you. Yes, we do.

Always remember Appa and I are here for you. So long as one of us are alive, we have your back. Remember, we are just one call away.

I love you.

Amma

15 comments

  1. Beautiful! The part about not being there for them hit me the most because I’m also seeing a lot of people going away too soon leaving behind families struggling with their loss. I’m also dealing with morbid thoughts of late.

  2. My mother died when she was 40. I have lived three years longer than her, and have seen my daughter bloom into adolescence, something my mother missed in me.

    Your post gave me a catch in my throat. When I was forty, I was very disturbed and saw the need to say these things to my daughter too, but she always resisted, and I did not insist. Recently when I started the topic again, she, with wisdom way beyond her age, said “amma, you are not going to die. Even if you do, you don’t have to leave me anything. to remember you by, and I will learn life’s lessons as I live”. The practicality and coldness of the logic shocked me to no end, but I release that she is right. So, these days, I merely savour the moment.

    Hugs to you, sister.

    • Hugs LG! This is something I have been mulling over for a while. My children are too little to weigh in on any of these but I wanted them written down in some form for later. I know my views may change but this is what it is for now and it will have to do.

  3. Thank you for writing.

    I would probably write a thing or two specifically about interacting (or sharing time/space) with another person that you see everyday – a room mate, a colleague or even the spouse.

    Something like, know your part, and do it, always, no matter whether the other person knows and does his/hers. Do their part if you are able to enjoy it or let them know their part. More often than not, letting the other person know works. When it doesn’t, well, you will know what to do because it depends on what you are. At this point, it is not about a moral or a doctrine; it is about what works/keeps you sane.

  4. This is a truly beautiful post! We all wish to convey exactly these simple but powerful tenets of life to our children and you have found an amazing way to do just that. So brilliantly! Will share this with my kids.

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