Every birth is a different story. The night before I was induced (at 41 weeks in a balmy NYC August with my parents having driven in unannounced a week earlier all, “DON’T MIND US!”), I remember gazing sleeplessly into my baby’s empty crib, wondering about who’d soon inhabit it. It was the last moment of not knowing the person I’d soon know better than anyone. However, I’d be lying if I told you I was anything less than terrified to be having a daughter. Womanhood is a tall order — as powerful and beautiful as it is brutal. And the thought of raising a daughter, while exhilarating, was, frankly, incredibly scary But the thing is, when I finally was handed my little girl, she looked up at me, and while I did feel more fear that I’d even anticipated, it was overshadowed by more love and joy and hope than I had ever known. As much as part of me wanted to keep her as perfectly innocent as she was in that moment, the better part of me (the mom part) knew she had so much learn. And though I wanted to be able to teach her everything — the whole kit and caboodle — I quickly realized that I couldn’t (and totally not because I thought it was “kitten caboodle” until yesterday). And so, my girl, while you won’t remember every lesson I’ll try to impart, I hope you do hold on to these most important ones. I’ve narrowed it down to 77,000 of them. OK, just 10.
1. FIND YOUR WEIRD
That same restless night as I stared lovingly into your empty crib, I turned to your dad and whispered, “I hope she’s the perfect amount of weird.” He was snoring in total agreement. Somewhere there is a home video of a preteen girl exuberantly solo kick-lining in her favorite plaid nightgown while belting “Tomorrow.” She breathlessly grabs the lens, and through her enormous purple glasses and Chanukkah-themed braces beams, “THIS IS YOU, ALY!” While that girl may have been less than thrilled when her parents brought along that video the first time they met her first real boyfriend’s parents, little did she know he’d one day marry her in spite of it — or as he insists, because of it. And whenever she’d feel like she’d lost her footing in the world, he’d look in her eyes, kick his leg, and assure her, “This is you, Aly.” That girl, as you may have guessed, was me. Find your weird, that unabashed, funny, quirky, spark that is so uniquely you. There are so many pressures on women to dim that light, but try your best to kindle it — and find those who will remind you to do so.
2. FIND YOUR PEEPS
Peeps, my dear, is a cool word for friends. It’s no coincidence that the summer after I made that video, I also made the best friends I’d ever have — my peeps. They’re the ones who make you want to be your wonderfully weird self because they love you for it. They make you laugh and challenge you. They’re the people who make you want to get out of your comfort zone and in whom you find your deepest comfort. Friendships like these are rare — they can come when you’re 2 or 62, and when they do, cherish them and be an even better friend in return. Take special note of the power that comes from friendships with other women. A very cool one once wrote, It Takes a Village. Find yours, be theirs, and never let them go.
3. FIND YOUR JAM
Find that thing that tickles you and makes you tick. Find what hooks you and keeps you up at night and immerse yourself in it. Maybe it’s art, maybe it’s sports, maybe it’s actual jam, but whatever it may be, ferociously learn it and believe in it and pursue it with all the passion and confidence in your weird little self.
4. BE LOUD
As anyone on the Delta Thanksgiving flight to Cleveland can (and did) attest (Thanks, Nancy from Dayton!), you, my girl, have a voice. While I may feign embarrassment to spare myself added holiday drama, deep down I’m screaming, “YAS, QUEEN.” I want you to never, ever be afraid to speak your mind. Stand up boldly for yourself and for what you know is right. Be the voice of good, and be a booming one. Be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. You have it in you and have already proven that people will listen (amiright, Nance?).
5. BE QUIET
As loud as I want you to be, I hope to teach you to be equally strong in your silence. You’ll learn so much more from listening to others than I could ever teach you on my own. Listen to the world around you so you can find where that voice of yours is needed most. Take the time to hear those closest to you and strive to understand those who may seem furthest away — they’re a lot closer than you think. (We can practice this quiet thing on our next flight.)
6. WASH YOUR FACE
I once went to hear Allison Williams give a talk at the Y, and when a girl in the audience asked her what advice she’d give to someone starting out, she said, “Wash your face.” She then something to the effect of, “Pimples really come through in HD … even in an anal scene.” I remember going home that night being all, “THANKS, ALLISON WILLIAMS!” and then drinking all the wine, sleeping in all the makeup, and waking up with all the zits. I didn’t need HD reruns of that day to remind me that I was the worst version of myself. I was a bad partner, a bad friend, and a bad daughter. Granted, we all have our days, but we must ultimately treat ourselves with the respect we deserve. Take ownership of and love that beautiful body of yours — nourish it, exercise, brush your teeth, and yes, wash your face. I want you to look in the mirror and walk away proud to be in your skin. How are you going to take care of your peeps and the voiceless and the … jam(?) when you haven’t cared for yourself first? It’s much easier to do good when you feel good, and much easier to know your worth when you know you’re worthy. Turns out Allison Williams does know a thing or two about Girls (see what I did?) #coolmom
The path you take to become that confident, passionate, independent woman I hope you’ll be will undoubtedly be bumpy, and sometimes the toughest part is letting it be. And as hard as your struggles will be for you, it’ll be just as hard for me to know that at times I’ll be helping you most by letting you work through them. They will be TEACHABLE MOMENTS (omg I’m a mom). Will you always succeed, even if you work hard and try again? We all were recently reminded that that’s not necessarily the case. But girl, I want you to be relentless. The struggle is real, yo — and really necessary. It gives you texture and grit and wisdom and stories. It makes you the woman you will become.
8. ASK FOR HELP
While I want you to gain independence and resourcefulness through your struggles, it’s important to learn that often the key to getting there is knowing how to ask for help. Otherwise you could end up getting lost on your first day of overnight camp and instead of simply asking for directions to Theater Games, you end up at a barn for Horse Games with your binder of quirky audition songs and severe hay allergy. And then your mom has to send you a care package of Allegra, a compass, and your teddy bear you swore you wouldn’t need. Hypothetically. And when the tables are turned, always be on the lookout for others to whom you can be that helper. The more kindness and understanding you put into the world, the more there will be.
9. LOVE HARD
One of the most important things I will attempt to teach you is to love hard, with every fiber of your being. Go through life with an open heart and let love in with gusto. Have experiences, meet people, and crave them with all that you are. And yes, the harder you let yourself love, the more it will hurt when your heart is broken. I know this sounds awful, but that heartbreak is a struggle I want you to experience too. It’ll be kind of heartbreak that makes you crumble, open-mouthed sobbing on your bedroom floor, and your braces get caught in the rug and your mom has to literally cut you out with sewing scissors. Hypothetically. You’ll value these memories as the ones that ultimately taught you who you are and what you need. Get entangled and get so wonderfully undone, while somehow finding the strength to stay true to your strong, worthy self and staying open to love again. If you’re lucky, when the right person does come along, you’ll be there to feel that love so completely in return.
10. KNOW THAT YOU ARE LOVED EVEN HARDER
As you blaze your trail, I want you to know that you are loved, so wholly and deeply and unconditionally. I want you to go find your weird and your peeps and what makes your heart beat, and as you do, know that you are loved with every single beat of mine. Womanhood is a complicated, beautiful road, and the feeling of guiding you through it is something I could have never fully grasped when staring into an empty crib — it’s the greatest honor I’ll know. Whoever you are and wherever you may be, I will be here screaming, “YAS, QUEEN.” I will be here when you need your teddy bear or when you need your braces cut from the rug. And if you do have a child of your own, I’ll be there a week early assuring you, “DON’T MIND US,” because my girl, you feeling what I feel for you? I wouldn’t miss that for the world. While I may still be figuring out what kind of mom I am, one thing’s for certain: I’m yours, and I’ll love you always with all of me — my whole kit and caboodle.
Share this to every mother you know.