Inspired by this article on Outside Magazine online – which also triggered me to order a copy of the Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure for my daughter and myself – I decided to write an open, unedited thank you letter to my parents.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Over the last thirty two years, I know I have said “thank you” for many things, but I don’t know that I have ever truly thanked you for what has proven most important.
Thank you for the endless crayons, markers, colored pencils and erasers. Thank you for the rubber stamps, water colors, pads of paper, giant pieces of sidewalk chalks and messy glitter glue. These weren’t just fun, colorful things to have and use, but a means to express myself from the time I could grip a pencil. The endless hours of gravel-embedded knees from creating sidewalk art — but never on Dad’s side of the driveway where it would mark up his tires — will always come to me on warm summer nights when the streetlights begin to glow yellow and the sky turns pink. Fond memories of wearing a water-color stained shirt (you know the one, with the dancing fruit on it?) as a smock while painting under the redwood tree on our old deck, hand built by Dad, flood my mind’s eye every time I see those little hard circles of paint at the drugstore, begging for a wet brush.
Thank you for taking us outside and not just watching, but playing with us. Even before family rollerblading adventures, including the time where Dad used Emily in lieu of brakes while we rolled along the beach, we were outside, together. I remember being small and struggling to keep up, laughing hysterically as we raced one another through tall, prickly green grass at the park, Emily poking fun at Mom (who was not yet a runner. How times change!) The feeling of air rushing through my pig tails as I was pushed higher and higher on creaky swings is a pure one that smells only of childhood. As a teenager and even now as an adult, those first few leg pumps to get the swing going feel like I am learning all over again. May I never be too old to accept a good push, and may I never turn down the opportunity to give one. I am counting down the days till my own daughter is big enough to experience this swooping joy.
My body is a road map of adventures and misadventures, of years of pushing my own boundaries and limits and the strength of the knees of my jeans. Every scar was once a scab, every scab was once a trophy earned while riding a skateboard on my knees down the driveway, or from a trip and fall during tag on the playground. I’ll always giggle thinking about us trodding along the red dirt path in Hawaii and Dad peeking around to make sure we were the only ones around before faux-mooning the video camera. This get-dirty, smell-like-grass, sweat-and-smile attitude is one that has taken me places I never imagined. May I never lose the playful spirit the two of you brought to every aspect of my childhood. (Yes, both of you. I recall one night after dinner where Mom made herself “pudding lipstick” and kept talking like it was a normal thing. Neither of you remember, but I do, and it is those small snippets that explain so much about who I have become, and who I strive to be for my own child.)
Thank you for never letting me feel as though I couldn’t. There was never “because you’re a girl,” and I have no memories of being told no because I was too small, too young, too anything. The fact that I never recall being told no tells me that even if there were moments when the answer was no, it was never without good reasons. Often I tell people that in may respects, my sister and I were raised as “unisex” kids. I spent time making tiny jam “pies” out of scrap pie dough and dumping ingredients into bowls, but I also spent endless hours in the sand and the sea. Emily and I could play Wonder Woman and pretend princess, we could ride bikes and get grass stains; nothing was off limits and there was always encouragement when it came to trying new things. We were given every opportunity to explore and experiment, trying dance and art classes, music lessons (where I of course decided I needed to not be like my violin-playing sister and instead chose alto saxophone,) and more, till we were able to find what brought us joy. I never recall being made to do something I had no interest in, nor do I recall having something I wanted to experience being withheld from me. My daughter is tiny still, but I imagine maintaining this balance wasn’t always easy. Thank you for making it feel like it was, and like no matter which path I chose, you would support it.
Thank you for letting me fail. Oh, we had our hard times with me crying while you asked, “Why are you crying? We aren’t yelling at you. We don’t hit you.” Oh those times where we had calm talks, the disappointment inside me was such intense punishment. Those were the moments where I felt like the sky was falling, and now as an adult, I know just how good I had it. I remember beginning to fail math and having to show Dad I had no idea how to use a protractor. I remember not getting an “A” on a Cleopatra report in middle school because I didn’t focus as much as I should have or could have. Thank you for keeping me honest, for pushing me to pick myself up and show that I am capable of better, of more, and for not letting me settle.
Thank you for the times where you let me fight my own battles, but stood by my side. If I close my eyes, I can see myself sitting on my bed as Dad came and told me the soccer coach called him and told him that “Christine” was a good player, but that I was being cut from the team. (This same coach later tried to recruit me back to his team at another tournament, and thanks to how I was raised, thanks to learning to take things in stride, I recall keeping remarks to myself and simply going about my own business, knowing I did not owe him anything.) I remember crying my eyes out as the coach at district soccer team try outs said “If you have any questions about your failure to make the Olympic development program.” After days in the hot sun getting an indelible ink number tanned onto my leg, after resting between sessions in what little shade we could find eating Mom’s homemade sun-dried tomato chicken pasta salad to fuel up, I was told I hadn’t made it. I remember trying hard to put on a brave face as the tears welled up, yet melting into Dad’s arms in tears like so many other girls as we were dismissed. As an adult, the disappointment of that moment floods back with fresh tears. I remember thinking that I wasn’t good enough, that my sister made the state team, why couldn’t I make the district team? What did those other girls who made it have that I didn’t? Was I not good? Those thoughts aside, I know that as the freshness of the moment faded, encouragement ensued, and confidence was re-instilled. There was never a time when I recall going to you and asking you to fight for me, to “make them” take me, to ask them to bring me back. Instead you helped me find reason to fight within the hurt. Those moments never killed me, but instead made me stronger. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t been allowed to stand on my own two feet, knowing I had support behind me.
Thank you for encouraging me to keep pushing. It wasn’t just soccer, or school, it came up in play too. On family beach days, I’d paddle out into the ocean, get dumped off my board and get water up my nose and have to sit on the shore for a while to evaluate things and work up the courage to go back in — but I don’t recall ever refusing to. Get dumped off your board nine times, paddle back out ten times. Little did I know that learning to push through pain, frustration, failure and fear would help me so much as an adult. It’s not just the mental game either, but the physical game too. I attribute the attitude I bring to my workouts now to what I inadvertently learned as a child. I also learned as a child that it’s best to take your wetsuit off sitting down or someone (maybe your own father) might push you over into the sand. Life lessons come from everywhere. Looking back as an adult, I see that now, just like when Emily and I talk or text and say “Remember when Dad used to say ____? It makes sense now.” Or “Remember how Mom used to ____ when ___? I caught myself doing that today.” We are so lucky in that we agree the worst thing our parents ever did was love us too much. And we are grateful.
Thank you for showing me it is never too late to learn something, to find a passion great or small, to try something new. I laugh as I still tell the story of coming home late one night while on break from college, trying to tread quietly, only to see flickering lights within the darkened house. Opening the door, I found Mom in the living room alone, eyes locked on the screen, playing the latest game to consume her. “I unlocked a rhino,” she said proudly, “His name is ‘Rip You a New One.'” I love that the kids at the school where she worked would come into the office and talk with “Miss Lisa” about beating big bosses or unlocking certain tools in games they too played. I remember in junior high when Mom first starting going for a walk, something she never used to do — and now it makes my heart sing when I see photos of the three of us crossing a finish line together. I don’t doubt that in retirement, Dad will go back to college and major in something that didn’t exist when he went to college the first time. I love it all and can only hope I maintain the same passion for life as I make my way through the years.
This open letter could go on for days and days.
Thank you for every trip, every new experience and every life lesson. Thank you for the family gatherings, the laughter, the recurring annual jokes about our “Irish uncle Patty O’Furniture” and every pet-gift joke whose punchline involves opposable thumbs. Thank you for teaching me it’s okay to thumb wrestle at a restaurant (until you break your wine glass) and for my funny, turned-in knees, for my crooked teeth that are mine alone, for my sense of humor, for raising me to embrace seeing my entire, giant family while others find it to be a chore. Thank you for giving awkward teenage me a night of drinking Coronas with limes on vacation, barefoot while playing an ancient edition of Trivial Pursuit where Dad would win with the answer of “Tinkerbell.” Thank you for running behind me holding the seat of my bike and for flying back to California from Hawaii to be here, with us, to welcome your first grandchild.
Thank you for encouraging me to be my own person and take my own path from the moment I arrived on a birthday that wasn’t supposed to be mine, but I made it mine anyways. Thank you for the endless support and caring, the beautifully scarred knees and every memory we ever created together as a family.
Thank you for helping shape the woman I am still becoming, and in turn, shaping a mother determined to raise a strong woman of her own.
Thank you. For everything.