A birthday letter

I turn 33 today. Double 3s.

It makes me think back to turning 22—where I was. Who I was.

What would I tell myself during my senior year at Wofford College, if I could write a letter to me?

Here are 10 Things.

1. You will never drink peppermint schnapps again.

2. You think you know what love is.

Engaged at 21! You crazy kid, ya. You’ve never even lived in the same zip code.

You’re two odd socks. He’s numbers. You’re words. This won’t be a Disney movie marriage because he doesn’t dance or sing (two of his three only flaws).

Right now, you don’t know that love, sometimes, is taking out someone else’s trash. Learning to sleep without a radio, but with a fan. Counting coins to finance a washing machine and giggling all the way. Listening to understand, not to answer. Giving. Giving in. Giving in to silly. It’s unconditional, unlimited and unimaginably easy.

Right now, you just know that you’re smitten with the freckle under his left eye, the way his one palm spans the small of your back, the brush of him that sends you to shivers. You don’t even have a job yet when you say yes to forever. But you know this man will nonstop love you, encourage you, inspire you. You know he will make you laugh and make you whole.

And you’re right.

Now, in 10 years, one of Jeff’s co-workers will ask him: so, do you and your wife go home and talk about unicorns and rainbows? (No clue how he could possibly leave pixie dust off the list). You two think it’s funny that so many people ask you if you ever fight, if you ever raise your voices, if you ever feel anger.

Ha. Ha.

anniversary

3. You think you’re smart.

Between the two of you, you have a few degrees from important places with squeaky GPAs and a string of accolades. You’re going to do well, you two. A big, brick southern two story house with an open-arm driveway and jasmine vines crawling every which way.

Well, no. There’s no jasmine, no view, no outdoor entertaining, no “Oh, here, let me take your coat and hang it in our mudroom.”

But, minus the cruddy dishwasher and the cream-colored couch (girl—don’t buy that cream-colored couch), you’ll be surprised how much this won’t bother you.

4. You think things will never change.

And some things won’t. You’re an ENFP for life. Sensitive. And blessed beyond freakin belief.  But you will lose touch and perspective and weight. You’ll gain it all back. In time, you’ll lick the chapped nostalgia from your lips. You’ll realize that life isn’t always simple, but there’s always a corner of magic somewhere.

magic
Disney Digression

5. You think you’ll have girls.

Your doctor told you a while ago that you’re going to have a hard time having babies. You may not be able to at all. So you and Jeff have had lots of grown-up talks and you’ve settled on adoption. And your future as a parent hasn’t gone much further than consideration and a few daydreams about dance recitals and fairy tales.

Spoiler alert: there will be no tutus.

feet

And this parenting gig? That’s another letter. I wish I could write you a book, really. Good gracious. Maybe a book for each stage, with instructions, diagrams, pictograms and the perfect calm response to every shock that pops up. Or a little tip-off so you know that you will no longer possess your own heart. I’ll just say this. You think you love your parents now? Psssh. Wait til you become them. Wait until your firstborn has surgery and you’re holding him as he comes out of a post-anesthesia stupor. His eyes beg you for an explanation and, though you know exactly why he needed this procedure, he can’t understand it. And you get the tiniest taste of how your heavenly Father might feel when you’re hurting and you don’t understand.

6. You think you’re busy.

Homework every night, hours and hours of reading, pages and pages of paper-typing. Cheer practice, sorority meetings, newspaper deadlines, weekend drives over the mountains to see Jeff. There’s never enough time.

Just you wait until you’re working full time. You work all day, race home, help the kids with homework, make dinner, give baths, referee, mend a heart, bandaid a booboo, read stories, tuck them in, work some more. Add the kids’ birthday parties and baseball practices and play dates—in between all the dishes and dinners. Then you’re in 3 cities in 3 days and you still have to make sure that all 4 people in your house have clean underwater options at all times.

7. You think you’re fat.

Oh, you’re cute. No. Really.

Hush.

8. You think life is super cute.

A bubble that floats you from one fun thing to the next.

But diagnoses and disease and death smear in. I wish I could warn you.

Soon after your mom is diagnosed with breast cancer, you’ll be at an appointment with her when the doctor, appropriately stoic, prescribes her fate. His voice will be free of swells and dips as he runs through the chemo and radiation schedule. “And you will,” he will say, as if he’s saying oh, by the by, “You will lose your hair.”

You can’t see the mass poisoning her body or feel the weight of worry in her infected chest. So you don’t cry for the cancer. You cry for her hair.

And you try to heal with diversion. Glossy bridal magazines, appointments with florists, photographers. Unmessy things. Things lacy and rosy and new.

You think death politely taps someone on the shoulder and, with manners in his mouth, tells that someone that it’s time to go. You take your time for goodbyes. I’ll wait here, death says with a nod and a bow.

You think that until death grabs someone by the neck and rips them from their bedroom. And you get a phone call from your husband and he tells you that his mom just died. Just. And you’re driving over a bridge to pick him up and you’re screaming at God and crying and calling out “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” over and over and over. And you think if you scream loud enough and fast enough, everything you say may reach her ears before she crosses to the other side.

I’m sorry that I didn’t call enough. Or ever. I’m sorry that I moved your son, your only child, hundreds of miles away. I’m sorry that the DJ played the wrong version of the mother/son dance at our wedding.

After a whirlwind flight, you’re walking through her front door. You have to step through first because Jeff can’t. She’s gone, but nothing else is. It still smells like her house, a familiar, sweet, suffocating smell.

You walk through her room and there’s a brand new pair of shiny white Keds, still in their box, because she was planning on so many more steps. And on her bathroom counter, jewelry for the week is rationed out in a re-purposed pill box. Earrings for Tuesday, a ring for Thursday.

In that moment, you swear that you’ll never take another day for granted. But you will. You’ll get lost in the busy and you’ll forget how precious and glorious and miraculous each new day is.

9. Oh. You think you’re so fancy, huh?

Look at you. You’re the editor of the college newspaper, the co-captain of the cheerleading squad, VP of your sorority, member of a dozen clubs, groups, societies. You lead, you do, you like need to shine.

And you just fell down the rabbit hole into advertising, an intern in an Atlanta agency. It’s a pretty sweet shop, but you don’t know that. To you, “shop” is a class with a band saw and safety goggles. But you’re taken by the energy of the place—it runs on the same urgent pace as the newsrooms you’ve worked in. But the agency’s hip edge left you tingly and tipsy. You came up with a print ad for Toyota, someone told you it was pretty good and that’s all you needed to hear. You must be made for this, of course. (p.s. Today, I hardly recognize your bloated self-confidence and I wonder how and when and why it deflated).

And—you’re hired! Good girl. But you start with just a few toes in the door, a place you’ve never been. So, you’ll spend the better part of a decade studdering, trudging, fighting to be sure of yourself. Until, finally, finally, you’re content to just be yourself.

10. Strike that. Forget everything I just said. I don’t want to tell you a thing. Because a predictable path won’t lead you to poetry. You won’t find life in sonnet-like structure. It’s the unruly, unexpected bits of this human experience that jump start your heart. The moments that don’t go according to your own plan are the faithful ones that remind you that you’re a thread in a much bigger one. And you’ll just have to wait.

Wait. I will tell you just one little thing. Buckle up, sister. Buckle up. Throw your hands up and keep your eyes wide open and upward.

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20 thoughts on “A birthday letter

  1. Happy birthday, sweet Mindy!

    I often just want to tell young me that all of the heartbreaks along the way are happening for a reason, because I wouldn’t be here, exactly, in this very place today without each and every one of them, and really, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

  2. Your writing still amazes me from the time you were a little girl until this day,your 33rd birthday. Keep writing to amaze all of us who enjoy each and every word. Happy Bithday little Pea-nut.

  3. Sweet Little Niece,
    I’m at work and just bawling. You are an amazing daughter, wife, sister, niece, granddaughter and much, much more to all whom you inspire. Keep up the writing because at 44 the memory starts to go. I love you sweetie. Happy Birthday.

  4. Mindy –
    I’m writing the last statement down on my kitchen chalk board. Tomorrow I begin yet another in a series of new treatments for my disease and your words will be one of my cheers! You go girl! Hugs, Erin

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