August 19, 2010
Dear Gloria circa August 2000,
I am writing from the future. Ten years ahead in fact.
I’ve seen all the movies and read all the cautionary tales that warn about the negative effects altering the past could and most likely would have on the future, so I want to be really careful here. It’s important that I impart a few words of advice, but, though there are aspects of my life today that I would love to undo, there are many aspects that I wouldn’t change for the world. I have no desire to try to alter your path. I wouldn’t wish any of your choices be different. My goal here isn’t to warn you against doing what I’ve already done, but to arm you with tools that I’ve only just begun to collect and use.
At this point in your life, you are 24 years old. You’re living with your seven year old daughter and a roommate in a house you really love. You’ve just accepted your boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Good for you! Your whole entire life is about to change.
May I suggest that the most important thing you could possibly do to prepare yourself for your life ahead is to learn how to argue? I don’t mean how to be the loudest or the most aggressive, but to really truly engage in intelligent debate that is based in critical thinking. In 2000, the internet is not quite what it will be ten years later (I don’t think I’m ruining anything there), but you could try to look up “Logical Fallacies” in a search engine. The public library would also be rife with useful information. Pay close attention to “Ad hominem,” specifically “Ad hominem tu quoque.” These types of arguments will be a regular occurrence in your life. This is no surprise; they already are.
Please note: it does not magically go away. You cannot try harder. You can only try smarter.
Go to the mirror, young Gloria circa August 2000. Look in it. Say to yourself out loud, “I cannot try harder.” Now say, “I am alright the way I am. I am doing my best.” Repeat.
We all have stories we tell ourselves. You can only ever control your own story. So let it tell you that you’re okay.
Believe your own thoughts more. You think you know what you’re talking about a lot and you allow people to convince you otherwise. I can tell you – there are many, many times you do know what you’re talking about. But be careful! Watch for the times when you don’t.
Specifically, learn to double check emails and verify facts. Even if you’re sure you remember something accurately, learn to double check calendars and re-read emails and other correspondences – especially when you’re feeling reactionary to how you remember this information. You’ll be less likely to go off half cocked, to shoot off at the mouth, or to shoot yourself in the foot. Any time you feel reactionary, see a gun in your head. Think of it as a trigger. Then, take a deep breath, remove yourself from the situation, verify your information, and proceed accordingly. I can’t impress upon you enough how much grief this will save you.
Learn to double check.
Your gut will tell you when you’re talking about something you know about and when you’re treading dangerous ground . Learn to listen to your gut. It knows.
The second most important thing I want you to know is that you’re a good mom. You are making so many mistakes right now. This will not change. What will change is your attitude toward your mistakes, so if you could just learn to be patient with yourself now – or, at the very least, start working toward that goal – you’ll be ahead of the game when you get where I am.
Don’t give up.
You need mommy friends; try to find some.
Don’t alienate yourself so much.
Nobody cares as much as you about how you’re doing with raising your daughter or how old you were when you had her. And that’s okay. When in doubt, please repeat the mirror exercise described above.
Stop worrying about getting in trouble. You are always going to piss somebody off somewhere. Maybe it’s because you weren’t tactful enough or because you spoke out of turn. Maybe it has nothing to do with you. The point is: no matter what you do, there’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t like it. Learn to stop suffering about that now. Suffering is a choice.
While you’re at the library researching arguing, check out some books on The Human Condition. Nobody is better than you and you are more okay than you think you are. One day, you’re going to find a copy of The Desiderata at a garage sale. You’re going to buy it. When you do, pay special attention to the part that says, “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe – no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” Read this every day if need be.
Truly, Gloria circa 2000, you are a fine mom. You’re doing the best you can and it’s enough. And even though you feel frustrated, please remember: it never helps anything to punch holes in the wall. It hurts. You look like an idiot. You’ll see what I mean. Also, screaming and yelling will just make people quit listening to you. Learning to argue is the way to go.
Some day you’re going to learn that when you make a parenting mistake, you should apologize immediately. Know that this applies to your marriage, too. All relationships, actually. You don’t have to feel bad every time you make a mistake. You’re human, just like everyone else. Also remember that Thank you and I’m sorry are more effective when said only once. Be on guard to never sound like you’re groveling.
Third, while you’re at the library or on the internet researching, go ahead and get some books on debt. Learn the definition of capitalized interest. Really wrap your mind around the term working poor. Research the shit out of student loans and higher education funds. While you’re at it, grab a book on scholarships and grants and see if you can learn something.
Never sign anything without getting the advice of someone you’re not related to first. Never. Never, never. Add this to your mirror mantra. Say it once a day.
Fourth – and this is so very important – you never, ever, ever have to have sex when you’re not interested. Marriage does not make this fact less true. Choose not to feel too badly about this. When you’re standing in front of the mirror doing the exercise described above, go ahead and add this mantra to it.
Say: I cannot try harder. I am alright the way I am. I am doing my best. I never, ever, ever have to have sex when I’m not interested and there is no reason to feel bad about this.”
Well, that’s the most important stuff I need to tell you. But, since I have your attention and I’ve gone through the trouble of hiring that cyborg and renting out the time machine, I might as well add in a few other bits of advice. Consider it gravy.
Do Kegels. Every day. First the mirror mantra, then Kegels. You’ll thank yourself later.
Listen to more They Might Be Giants. Don’t wait until you’re nearing thirty to rediscover them.
You’re never going to like The Grateful Dead. You’re never going to be able to explain why. You will, however, stop feeling violent when you hear them. Eventually.
Stop smoking. Do I really need to tell you this?
Start working on your triceps now.
To date, I’ve spent $177 on lottery tickets and have never won more than a few dollars. Instead of ever playing the lottery, take this amount of money (now, before you’re married), invest it in Apple Corporation, and never tell anyone. You’ll thank me.
Quit putting so much basil in your pasta sauce. Less is more. As a matter of fact, start trying to think in those terms about all things – less is more. Except Kegels. You can’t do those enough.
Finally, I love you. I love you then and I love you now. Which means that yes, someday you will learn to make this happen. You’re on the right path, Gloria circa 2000. Suffering is a choice. You can suffer and get to a place where you can love yourself in ten years or you can choose not to suffer and still get to a place where you love yourself in ten years. The choice is yours.