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  • Writer's pictureJenny Penland

X ‣ Fail big.

Some nine months and ten years ago: forty-six chromosomes, two blue lines, and the unwavering perseverance of a girl too young to know better….

Some nine months and ten years ago, your life began, and forever altered mine.

I can still remember the shock - that hollowed-out feeling in the pit of my stomach - and how the shock turned to fear, and from fear to shame; to tiny kicks, and to excitement; back and forth and back again, from fear to excitement, and excitement to fear. Over and over and over. I suppose, that never changes.

I suppose, that’s parenthood.

There's nothing I've ever been so criticized or praised for than for the role I play as your mother. There's nothing I've ever been prouder of, there's no standard I've set higher, and there's nothing I've failed at or fought for more than just being here --- and being good for you.

Every day, it awakens in me this other side of vicariousness - where I get to relive and relearn my years. I have a better idea of where I'm going ‘cause I went backwards with you; and whether or not you recognize this, so many of your firsts are my firsts, too.

Pause and think about what I am saying, Kennedy. What I’m trying to tell you. We do everything as a we, as a team– and you're proud of me in the same way I'm proud of you. I never really had that.

You come home with an "A+" on your STEM Packet and say, "We made it to the science fair!” We’re shopping for spirit week – and you stop so earnestly to tell me, “I’m happy I’m doing this with you.” These things mean more than I could ever verbalize.

Each day, I watch you grow into this spellbinding mosaic of traits: you're accountable and eager and willing. You are inquisitive and precocious. I can’t capture it all in words or pictures, but suffice it to say, I’ve loved every single stage of you. I’ve loved every stage of being your mother.

Ten years since I tucked you into my life; ten years since my eyes first locked with yours.

So many chapters, so many stages.

I joke sometimes and say, “I miss baby Kennedy.” You pretend to be offended - as if it somehow means I now love you less than I loved you then. While it’s true that sweet, little, non-verbal baby Kennedy came with her perks (ha), it remains that I cannot exhaust my love for you, all of you;



Think of who you are now, and recognize that soon enough, I’ll be talking about this stage of you when I say, “I miss her.” One day into year ten, and I already miss nine-year-old you. I miss her toothy smile and love for history. The way she squealed when she was excited. I miss her ability to fall asleep anywhere; how she’d wake up on a dime when I said, “We’re late!” and run ahead to hold the plane, with a level of persuasion that only a toothy-squealy-nine-year-old-you could manage.

I know you’re changing and you’re growing. I know there will come a time when future you won’t recognize this one. But I hope some things stay the same. I hope you retain within the Kennedy who stretches out her arms without fearing her reach. Hold onto the Kennedy who goes for it. I hope you continue to wake up each day with the intention to be your best self, and the grace to accept your worst self. I hope you always remember that it is from this self-acceptance that stems your ability to keep trying.

And you should keep trying.

Try your best to remain soul-bearing and detached from the outcome. Things will fall as they should; the pieces will come together. I’ve found that the surest way to stay on the right path is to remain true to the many facets of your mosaic - love unapologetically and without condition. The love you give may not come back to you in the same form, but it will come back.

And there will come a time, probably sooner than I’m prepared for, where you’ll feel an earthquake inside you; this splitting between your heart’s tenderness for others, your brain’s desire for justice, and your soul’s awareness of the human condition. Try to remember that people do the best they can with what they have and know. Often that means you'll be treated worse than you deserve and will be taken from, again and again. Don’t harden. And don’t stop giving.

When you’re wronged, when you’re hurting, remember that pain is an equalizer. Before you lose your sense of proportion, know that you may come to regret that reaction, but you will never truly regret being kind. Lead with your heart, KK. If you keep looking for the good in people, somehow, you'll find it. I promise you this.

Ten years old, and we’ve turned the corner of “follow your dreams” onto the lesser romanticized, “cultivate your aptitudes.”

I hope you never feel weighed down by the practicality of your choices or the impression of your passions. Find that sweet spot intersecting what you love and what you're good at, and build your life around it, without reverence to the perception of others or the likelihood of it all panning out. When they say, "you've only got one life," make sure you hear the facets. It's true; there are no rewrites - but there are plenty of do-overs and addendums and opportunities to wipe the slate clean.

Don't overemphasize first impressions or first answers. Failure is an intrinsic part of success and there's just as much to be said about trying again as there is for getting it right the first time.

Let me be restate this, because it’s an instruction I hope you take to heart.

Always, always make sure you fail at something, each and every day. Before you go to sleep at night, I want you to recount your efforts and make sure there's something you didn't get right on your first go… because the only thing you can ever deduce from 100% success is that you didn't push yourself hard enough.

Kennedy, when you see the word, "failure", I want you to read it as "lesson." Then dust yourself off, get up, and learn from it. It's learning from those tiny, daily failures that prevents the big ones.

And if, despite this, you still fail big. Remember what I said, and read "big lesson.” Then just do what you’ve learned to do. Dust yourself off, get up, and learn from it. They say victories have many followers, whereas catastrophes are orphans - But life is little more than a series of failures and successes; just lessons and lessons learned.

There’s not much I’m certain about, sweet girl - but I am sure as day that the secret of happiness is growth, and the pursuit of it; growing.

To the same, any amount of unhappiness you will ever feel is a desire for change, and a frustration that it hasn’t changed yet. From hungry tummies to relationships - If you're unhappy with something or someone, identify the stagnancy. Then ask yourself what you can and cannot change. What is in your control? Focus on those parts and choose to rid or accept the rest.

Oftentimes (more often than not), you will find the only thing you control about something is your mindset towards it. When this happens, swallow that jagged pill, because you're the only person in control of your mindset and you're the only person responsible for your happiness. Be accountable for yourself – projected expectations are the surest recipe for discontent and our time here is too short to waste.

My breath shortens when I pause to acknowledge it.

…. When I pause to acknowledge your time is limited, too.

Recognize your transiency. Consider all the combined minutes you’ve ever spent being frustrated or upset, and how much you’ll want them back one day. That’s what they really mean when they say, “you’ve only got one life.” It’s not about what you can or can’t accomplish with yours, it’s simply to say your time is invaluable – so spend it happy.

Know when to tread softly and when to walk strongly. Know when to tread towards, and when to walk away. Sometimes you'll thrive, and sometimes, you’ll find that all you’ll bear to do is survive. Know that a very thin line separates the two, and hold yourself to a standard of total transparency.

Life is easier this way. Believe me.

Ten. Years. Old.

Ten years ago, I birthed you, and in doing so, birthed within me this cautious hope.

That for you, I could be the mother I needed; that I could give you the life I wanted and that I'd guide you through the doorways I once crawled and scraped past.

My success in this is all I could ever want - and that’s why, when I push you, I equally push myself. The way I see it, to deny your aptitude; to fail in doing anything that might help you reach it – that’d be negligence on a grand scale. But it’s your legs, your road, your map. I’m a compass, I’m a vessel, I’m a push. But these are your doors, baby.

So when one opens, don't hesitate to walk through. The time will never be just right.

Trust yourself, and run, jump, leap. Keep going. Uphill and against the wind, whatever you do - keep going.

Ten years old, and I’ve once again gathered up my scratch pads… a composite of one-liners written on glass-ringed napkins. 1649 words and counting, and I feel like I’m forgetting so many things I meant to remember.

Ten years old, and all of this to say I love you.

That I’m prouder of you than you could ever know. That I know no greater joy and hold no greater purpose than being your mother. Happy Birthday, to my brightest light.

Tu es ma joie de vivre.

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