Last week, my beautiful daughter started middle school. I wrote her a letter in hopes of giving her a little extra support during these tumultuous years.

My darling Madeline,

Today is your first day of middle school! What an adventure! I remember my first day of middle school like it was 36 years ago – because it was – and I’ve been trying to forget it ever since.

I couldn’t wait to wear my brand new yellow pants (hey, it was the early 80’s) and sport my super curly hair, thanks to the toxic home perm my mother had given me. Those home perms were very popular back in my day, and while I chose the picture of a young woman with beautiful waves as what I wanted my hair to look like, it turned out something like this:

Phil-Spector

 

It was my first real lesson in “Don’t try to be something you’re not.” Fortunately, my hair is inept at holding any sort of curl and I was back to myself in no time.

Don’t get me wrong, precious daughter. Middle school is VERY exciting. New teachers (seven of them!), changing classrooms, your own locker, new kids from different schools… it’s completely different from elementary school. The change is an amazing journey and will impact you for the rest of your life. You’ll make friends now that you’ll hopefully have long into your adult years. And the next major change you’ll make will be when you head off to college. I mean, high school is its own special experience, but the next major step will be trying this whole school thing while living on your own. Thankfully, we have a while until that happens, unless you go all Doogie Howser on me this year, open up a can of genius, and head off to university next year.

Regardless, this year will be amazing. And challenging. Because there’s this fun caveat that “the powers that be” like to throw at us during these years called “puberty.” It’s a hellish experience, but totally necessary in order to reach that all important milestone called “adulthood.” Don’t rush this process! Let it simply happen. It’s traumatic enough to let it occur naturally, so trying to force it is a really bad idea! Take your time when it comes to liking boys, wearing makeup, forgetting about your dolls, and withdrawing from your mother. Yes. Especially that last one. You can skip that one all together! I cherish the closeness we have. I know it will change in some ways, but I hope we can sail through these next few years with minimal issues between us.

Understand now that I only have your best interest at heart. I only want wonderful things for you and, as you mature, you’ll find what I think is wonderful and what you think is wonderful will vary greatly. Just know that I have had 36 years of extra time to process the information that you’re just now receiving. And I’m always right. Always.

Always. 🙂

Here are some things that I want you to know:

*Skip the drama. It’s never worth it. *Don’t worry about still enjoying your “American Girl” dolls. Chances are that the girls who publicly shun them still like to play with them in private. *Your body will change when it’s meant to. Just because so-and-so already got their period doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you… and you’ll find that once the novelty of that “first time” wears off, you’ll wish you never, ever got it in the first place. I will find you a copy of “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” by early next week. This should be required reading for all adolescent girls. *Don’t rush finding a crush. Relationships are tough stuff – even as an adult – so focus on loving who you are first. *Someone will hurt you. It’s inevitable. But all you can do is be the best you can be, learn from it, and move on. *You will hurt someone. Hopefully, it’s not intentional, but it will happen. *Never compromise who you are: embrace that you’re deliciously quirky and accept that you’re sensitive. *Find a tribe who loves you just as you are. Trust me, they’re out there. *Don’t “follow the leader” because, at this age, they usually don’t know where they’re going, either. *Dream big but enjoy the daily grind of getting there. In other words, “enjoy the ride.” *Don’t try to be someone else. YOU ARE PERFECT AS YOU ARE!

I have absolutely adored having the last 11 years to watch you become the amazing person you are. You’ve always been a little ahead of the game because of the brutal reality of your brother’s illness, but I know it’s made you a very special young lady. You have a compassionate heart, which I believe will help you make the right kind of friends. People who will love and support you. It doesn’t mean that people won’t hurt you – and the realization that people you think are your friends can hurt you – is a tough lesson to learn. You already know that life isn’t fair. But, I think you have an amazing grasp on who you are as a person, and this will ultimately serve you well.

Oh, and one more thing: I’ve got your back. No matter what, I love you and am proud of you and think you’re AMAZING! I will embarrass you at times (remember where you get your quirkiness from!) but I will love you ALL THE TIME. You got this! And for the times you think you don’t, remember I’m right here. It will be hard for me to let those wings of yours unfold without trying to dry them off for you, but you can’t soar with me fussing over you all the time. I ask for your patience with me. I’m going through a transition, too.

And with tears in my eyes as I send you off on this new journey, know that I am proud of you. Excited for you. Scared for you, but know that you will succeed. Go, little bird. I’ll be waiting for your return with open arms.

Love,

Mom.

IMG_1319

International Cat Day

Last week sucked. And since I have nothing nice to say about it, I’ll talk about cats instead, since today is International Cat Day.

For the first half of my life, I considered myself to be a cat person. The first cat I remember having was a big black cat that my Grandma Sarah picked up from a yard sale. Grandma never could turn down a good yard sale, and I’m sure my mom was thrilled that Grandma found such a “bargain” for me. Anyway, I could carry this giant cat in any manner – like a baby, upside down, by the tail… it didn’t seem to care. Apparently, it had given up on life since it had been relegated to the bargain bin at a yard sale, and didn’t have an opinion on how I paid attention to it, as long as I was paying it some sort of attention. Unfortunately, I don’t remember if it was a male or female, and I cannot recall what we called the poor, dejected cat. And I’m not sure if it moved on from our world “naturally” or if it simply ran off to find its inner Qi. Regardless, I loved the cat dearly and considered myself to be a bonafide cat aficionado based on my experience with this cat.

The next cat I remember was a member of what I like to call our “Gone With The Wind” phase. GWTW was my mother’s favorite movie and she honored her fandom with the first in a long series of Siamese cats she named Rhett. Scarlett came soon after. When one would die (usually of Feline Leukemia), we’d replace it with another Siamese GWTW cast member. This was before we learned that feline leukemia was contagious and replacing them was essentially killing them.

So, when we found a stray Siamese wandering around, Mom adopted it and gave him the name “Ashley.” The GWTW character Ashley is probably my least favorite, I always thought of him as weak. But Ashley-the-Cat was a first class a-hole. He didn’t like anyone but my mother. And he especially didn’t appreciate his other “cast mates.” He felt he should be starring in a one-cat show. And on one fateful day, he took his disdain for the world out on me.

We had just come home from school. I was in second grade. I remember I was wearing my favorite yellow t-shirt. My sister, Cassi, was making a sandwich in the kitchen and I was sitting on the floor right next to the kitchen, directly beside an ironing board. My sister was grumbling at me about something… my needing to do chores or something of the sort. I was busy petting my kind Siamese cat, who was sitting next to me on the floor, but since I was listening to my sister, I failed to hear Ashley, perched on the ironing board, growling directly above my head. I noticed the hair on my kind kitty standing on end, probably bracing for the impending fight with Ashley. But since I was focused on what my sister was saying, I didn’t realize my dangerous situation before it was too late.

Ashley pounced to attack, but my face got in the way. He landed on my head with claws out, and, in what seemed like slow-motion torture, shredded me to pieces. I’m sure the whole incident was over in a matter of nanoseconds, but it seemed like a million years of tiny knives shredding my head into julienned strips. When the cat retreated, I sat stunned, my sister still grumbling about something in the kitchen. I stood up and walked to the kitchen door, beginning to cry, which caused my sister to whip around from her sandwich making. The look on her face was sheer horror. And the scream emanating from her assured me of what I already suspected: I was going to die.

I don’t remember the exact order of events, but I know Cassi called my mother at work to ask what to do. Mom worked downtown – over 25 miles away – so she wouldn’t make it home in time before I bled out. Ok, that’s probably a big embellishment, I probably wouldn’t have bled out, but I like to add a little fiction for dramatic purposes. 🙂 Cassi was told to wrap my head in a towel and take me to my neighbor, Jane’s house. Jane was the mother to a whole lot of boys, and dealing with blood was probably one of her specialties.

So, my sister searched for something to wrap my head in, but in her panic, ended up wrapping my head in a blanket. Now, I’m a second grader. And I was super tiny for my age. So, this little stick figure with a blanket wrapped around her head and blood everywhere had to be quite a site. My sister drug me out of the house by my arm and we ran across the yard to Jane’s. Despite growing up in a tiny village, the street we lived on was well traveled. People stopped. And I told them all that I was dying as Cassi drug me across the yard, bloodied blanket trailing behind my tiny frame.

Jane wasn’t impressed with my wounds a poured a bottle of ST-37, which is still sold online today as a “soothing antiseptic solution” (a review I do NOT agree with,) all over my head. By the time I stopped hyperventilating, mom was home and took me to the ER.

Clumps of my hair were missing. A scratch around my right eye was dangerously close to making me a One-Eyed Sarah. The favorite yellow t-shirt? Destroyed. The cat? Retired. Or punted to the Rainbow Bridge. Not sure what happened to Ashley. Except that he’s been reincarnated and has attacked me repeatedly over the years. Yes, I’ve been sent to the ER/hospitalized three times thanks to cat attacks. And when I shaved my head this past March for St. Baldrick’s, I was reminded of the old war wounds I received thanks to that little bastard of a cat.

And this is why I’m now a dog person.

*I don’t think I’ve ever said so, but THANK YOU, sissy, for taking care of me that day. I know you hate when I tell this story, but you did a good job! I love you!