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  • Writer's pictureJenny Penland

XV ‣ Violent Happenstance.


I could be wrong (nine was pretty rough), but I think this is the first time I’ve ever written your birthday letter while you’re mad at me. I could be wrong (you’re mad at me a lot lately), but I think this is probably the maddest you’ve ever been.

Every day, pictures pop up on my memories like messages from the past, reminding me that each season has its lesson and sometimes you just have to hunker down and bear the storm. Still, there are moments where I’m left frostbitten by the undeniable sincerity of your bitterness. If I could give nuance to you as a birthday gift, you should know I would in troves.

I look out the window and watch the snowfall, wondering if, from wherever you’re seated, you’re watching it too. Have you ever noticed how it comes down from different directions, at different trajectories all at once? There are the languid flakes who gently float like bees – up and down, as if to take their time. Some nosedive ostensibly like kamikazes, darting and hell bent. Then, others, swirl in flurried circles, like schools of fish, around and around, until finally whooshing away into oblivion. Have you ever considered that some land softly while others crash like waves? Or how many melt before ever having met the ground? Same sky, same storm; yet so many courses taken on their way down. No two the same; no two the same path; wanton and indiscriminate.I can’t help but consider maybe that’s how two wayward souls can course the same days – the same trials... so differently. The question though, is will we end up in the same place, when the storm passes?

I looked it up, and my life expectancy is 78.3; yours is two years longer. Statistically, that makes me 44.6% done, here. Which means, if I were to die right on time, I’ll have spent 75.7% of my life being your mother.

Can we at least agree that’s a soul shaping chunk of change?

I made a decision to have you with the same deliberation I make all my choices… A decision I’ve never once regretted. And in doing so, I made a conscious choice to devote most of my life – 54.3% and counting – to you. You may not have asked to be born; you may not always like who you were born to or the circumstances you were born amongst – but life itself is violent happenstance, and here you are. Here we are, K; floating amongst the turbulence.

If it’s any consolation – statistically speaking – you only have to spend 22.4% of your life in my home. And, good news - you’ve already completed 18.75% of it. Do the math, Kennedy. Just a mere 3.65% to go, and then all the calls are yours to make. Right now, from your vantage, that may seem like an insufferable eternity. But I know like I know – ‘cause I remember each and every fourteen of the birthdays before this one – that your childhood will be over before we both know it and I’ll have to make peace with the job I did. I’ll have to trust one day, even if not every day, you’ll regard my love, effort, and endeavor as unwavering. In my heart, I already know this to be true, and I’m learning that sometimes that’s gotta be enough.

They say the days are long but the years are short, and I wonder if in this exact moment, you can lower your walls enough to zoom out and see the placement amongst your timeline. Three years forward might feel like forever, but what about three years back? COVID was about to ramp up (That’s right – your dream of owning an Orchid Orchard is barely 2.5). We celebrated your twelfth birthday in Nashville. I bought you your first leather jacket and threw you a Golden Girls party. Does that really seem like a distant past? I can’t imagine so…

‘Cause I can still hear the crowd when we propped you up at Tootsies; I remember teaching you to line dance, and our stomachs pressed against the stage at Miranda Lambert. Us, standing in the recording studio, where Elvis laid down his records; FINALLY finding a singer who would play Rawhide; and scream-singing each line, like lunatics into the ether…

Remember when the band pulled you on stage and every last patron in the bar was aghast, ‘cause you knew all the nineties country songs? Remember me snickering from the crowd, ‘cause in that moment you understood why I shoved jam sessions down your throat, all those months preceding? I bet if I put on “Alibis” right now, you’d be hard pressed not to sing along. I bet as you read this, the hook loops in your head. I bet, in this exact breath, you’re trying to hold back a snicker. We’re still those same girls, K. We always will be.

And as much as it may piss you off, that’s not a bad thing. Complicated, sure. Messy, often. But real, raw, good.

You know, when I started this tradition, fifteen years ago – it was mostly because you could not understand all the things I wanted you to know... All the things I wanted to remember about each stage of your life – and each stage of my motherhood. I wanted you to be able to look back and reflect upon our intertwining, because you happen to me just as much as I happen to you.

And in the way things happen to people, some parts of it are simply out of our control. I’ve learned the crevices of myself through raising you, and when this all started; when I crashed headfirst with those epiphanies, I wrote them down. And then, at the end of each year, when your birthday came, I compiled my notebooks and napkins, and carved your letter from all that hard fought learning.

And maybe the shift in methodology contributes to our conflict... Because instead of softening the edges and presenting my thoughts in prose, you frequently get them in rapid fire. But I hope one day, when the storm calms, you’ll know my greatest source of happiness… is yours. And everything I do is for the purpose of raising you to be whole and content. To give and receive love freely. To be proud of yourself.

So if nothing else this year, I wish for you a sense of proportion. I hope you’ll try to pause and consider that I’ve probably changed a lot less from 32 to 35 than you have from 12 to 15. I hope you know I don’t have to agree with you to accept you, and I don’t have to like you to love you – (even though, I still, really do think you’re the coolest kid there ever was).

(Emphasis on the kid, though kid. So maybe - Chill. The. Fuck. Out – just a little bit).

This year, I hope you learn that labels – both the ones we give ourselves and the ones given to us… are most often little more than cliff notes for those taking cursory glance. That you are allowed – and encouraged – to evolve. Not at thirty-five, or at twenty-five, and most certainly not at fifteen are you required to lie back and accept the typecast. Even (especially?) if you’re the one who drew the character map.

I hope you’ll work on letting people give you what you want. I hope you’ll try to stick your neck out of your shell a little more often. I hope you’ll consider that while you are entitled to your feelings, they often reflect more upon your protective capacities than any wrongdoing you might perceive.

What do I always say?

When you find yourself in a hole….





Don’t make people take ten steps towards you before you’re willing to take one. Extend your hand and open your heart. So many people love you. And however imperfect we may be; however imperfectly we may have shown our love… it’s not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere. The life you want is yours for the taking.

Tu es maie joie de vivre, KK. Stay hungry, stay foolish.

1 comment

1 comentario

17 mar 2023

This is sincere and beautiful. Good luck to you both. Jeff

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