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  • Writer's pictureJenny Penland

VIII ‣ The girl who lived.

This time, eight years ago, I laid beside you, contemplating life. Specifically, my life. And what was left of it.

I was so young.

Too young to realize how young I was; too young to fully appreciate this alteration of my existence. Most people haven't begun to figure out their purpose at twenty years old - much less crash into it by sheer accident and force.

I thought I was ready until the moment they placed you in my arms. I had the crib and cabinet locks, I was prepared for the sleepless nights. I just hadn’t considered the rest of it... The other 95% of parenting that the books fail to mention: The part where it’s not just you anymore, and what that really means.

Why doesn’t anyone tell us the things we need to know?

Like, it will be ten-plus years before you “run into the store” again? That parenthood is the bane of privacy and personal space? That it never gets easier?

Labor turns to sleepless nights turns to potty training turns to terrible two’s and wait, just kidding, the three’s are harder… And just when you think you’ve caught a break, your child can form full sentences and now you’re mean and when they grow up, they’re going to be so much better, nicer and smarter than you.

Everyone says…

“Don’t blink.” “They grow up so fast.” “It’s the hardest and most rewarding job you’ll ever do.”

And maybe the go-to advice becomes so simplified because it’s just so difficult to put into words. Or maybe it’s because the very nature of parenthood is a state without pause - How does one encapsulate it? How do I explain constant, contradictory emotions? How I’ve sacrificed everything for you - how I wouldn’t change it for the world?

No one else can hurt me like you can. No one else can bring me more joy.

For me, the basics came easy…. You were potty trained by two and reading chapter books by four. I never had to worry about you sticking your finger in a socket or pulling ornaments off the tree. And here you are now, a second grader with a perfect GPA - you skipped an entire year in math without missing a beat. You’re learning to play the violin and zipping through Harry Potter as if it’s Dr. Seuss.

Truly, you are brilliant. I can’t even type out your IQ because I’m afraid you’ll develop some sort of academic entitlement and frankly, it’s intimidating….. to know your capacity and that I’m responsible for making sure you reach it.

I literally stay up at night, imagining who you’ll be. Who you want to be. How I can help you get there. Every single night, for eight years now.

Kennedy, you're more sufficient and self-reliant than most adults I know. And I’m so, so proud of you.

....But these aren’t the things that stir me.

How do I raise a compassionate human in such an embittered world? How do I shape a gracious soul and balance your sage with innocence? You are so gifted and so capable - and with this comes great responsibility.

I wonder how hard your life must be sometimes? To have two homes and two differing sets of expectations? To have learned empathy from life experience no eight year old should ever know? How do I remind myself that you’re a just a little girl, when your words are so eloquent and profound? How do I continue to prepare you for yourself - when sometimes you make it such an uphill battle?

Kennedy, life will never be easy on you because you’ll never allow it to be. This will be a blessing and a curse; and I can say as much with certainty, cause I’m the same way. I lay beside you tonight, just as I did eight years ago - but I know so much more about you now than I knew then; largely because I know more about myself.

Looking at you is like looking in a magnified mirror - and sometimes it's painful because we have so many of the same strengths and weaknesses. How do I make you understand how hard this is for me? This source of strife and contention? To want to steer you away from my bad habits, and make sure you fully appreciate our shared skill-set… because I know sometimes, I didn’t.

Kennedy, learn when to shut up.

There, I said it.

Learn when to shut up and bite your tongue. You don’t always have to get the last word and life will be so much easier as soon as you accept this. Be quick to say “I’m sorry.” Accept apologies you never have and likely never will receive. Love yourself enough to ignore meritless negativity. Love yourself, period. Very little else matters.

Take your time.

You have all the intellect and talent in the world, and your recognition of this is a dangerous thing. Don’t procrastinate just because you can. Slow down; dot your i’s, cross your t’s and make sure your sentences have periods. (Th

at last bit is literal. You missed six periods on an assignment yesterday and got a 75% instead of a 100% because your teacher thinks you should slow down too).

Dance, paint, write - create something every day. Your brain is special. I’m not just saying this because I am your mother; I am saying this because you are extraordinary. And you can take any number of these talents as far as you choose… the on

ly person who will stop you is you. Don’t put it off for tomorrow, keep pushing yourself and dreaming your dreams because you’ve got the part others would kill for; that indelible lens. It can’t be bought or broken, but it can be underutilized. Cultivate yourself and your talents; to not would be an insult to grace.

Live life on your own terms. People will try to define you: who you are, what you do, why you do it. This is rooted in their own jealousy and fear. Disregard them. Live the full width of your time here on earth. Have as much fun as you can; learn, travel, soak in every memory and every moment. That is our only purpose.

And above all, know how very, very much you are loved. I am flawed and I am fallible. I mess up every day. I say things I shouldn’t say and do things I shouldn’t do. But every night, I lie awake, looking at you. I reevaluate myself and this life I’m shaping for us - how we can be better tomorrow, how we can stretch our arms further. I will never stop growing for you. I love you endlessly and unconditionally - and there is nothing in the world I’d rather be than your mommy.

Happy Eighth Birthday, my sweet girl. Stay hungry, stay foolish.



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