My dearest Amanda,
When you walked across the stage yesterday, graduating from high school with distinction, I didn’t see the beautiful young woman striding out to take on the world, but rather the little girl brushing her hair out of her eyes, the 8-year-old seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, the young teenager crying in my arms because, sometimes, being a teenager hurts so much. You waved at us, sitting in the stands, and it felt like goodbye. Not in a sad way, but I know, in ways you cannot as yet, that yesterday you closed a door and no longer are you my little Manda Panda.
Your mother was so proud when she was pregnant with you, your dad excited and your brother happy but uncertain about just what a “little sister” meant. I think he found out, don’t you? Your birth rounded out your little family, and gave me a niece to love.
And I have loved you, very much, more than you really know. I remember holding you when you were a little baby, how warm and sweet, and I wished so many good things for you. One of my clearest memories is the day we spent together when the rest of your family went to Kings Island. You were only 2 years old, too young to remember it now. We walked around EKU’s campus, playing in the amphitheater, getting a Coke at the student center, just hanging out. Did you know that sometimes I wished you were mine? Because you are precious to me.
It wasn’t all easy and fun. We’ve had long talks, about things that hurt you, about ways to handle the world’s pain, about how life sometimes is just no fun at all, but you have to find the strength in yourself to do what’s right. And you’ve taken some big hits, had some times when your faith in yourself washed away in tears and you felt empty, sad, trying to fit in and making choices that ultimately were the wrong ones. Honey, I know you feel regret for that, but that’s how life goes. It won’t be the last time that happens. Your Aunt Susanna has a list longer than she wants you to know of times life smacked her and she didn’t get back up right away. And times when she knew
what the wrong thing was, what the right thing was, and deliberately, knowingly, did the wrong thing. Forgiveness is tough to come by, especially for those things, but Amanda, that’s part of learning to be an adult. Forgiveness not just of others, but of yourself. A good life is not one with no trouble, no bad choices, but one where you met trouble with courage and got beyond the bad choices to do the right thing.
Do you know that you inspire me? Since you and your brother were born, I’ve wanted to be a better person so you both would be proud of me. Your respect is important to me, and at times when I’ve been tempted to make bad choices, I’ve thought about you and how disappointed you would be if you knew, how it would make you sad and maybe even cause you to question your own choices. You inspire me to be a better person. And you continue to inspire me with your talent and your sweetness.
You are such a wonderful person. I watch you sometimes, laughing and silly, serious and thoughtful, or deep in concentration while playing your violin, and I think, “What a gift Amanda is to the world.” What a gift you’ve been to me. There’s so much I’d like to say, a gift of my experiences to guide you through, but I realize the bigger gift is to stand aside and let you go. Let you learn. Let you be.
On the other hand, you know I don’t always choose the bigger gift, so here are a few things I think it will help you to do:
Meet everyone as if you know they will like you, because most of them will, and if they aren’t inclined at first, you don’t need to give them reason to think they were right.
Call your mom. She worries. What’s more, she’ll call the police if you don’t stay in touch.
There’s always something to spend money on. Choose wisely.
You will find many men exciting physically, and many will find you exciting. A lot of them have as much substance as morning mist. Find a man who cherishes your mind and your heart and choose him; he will love you when you look awful, when you grow old, when he’s holding your head over the toilet when you have morning sickness, and when those pregnancy pounds don’t quite make it off. A man who cherishes you will stay with you. Just make sure you cherish him back.
The mind is the sexiest part of a person. Find a man whose mind spends as much time north as south. (But one who makes you think of south too.)
Make time for your friends.
Be silly - walk on curbs, powerbrake your car, wade barefoot in a public fountain, sing in the grocery store. Life is too short to not to be silly.
Stay connected to God. You will sometimes feel distant from Him, but know He isn’t the one who moved. And He’s not going anywhere - He’s always right there. A life lived with faith has a richness beyond words.
Skip class to go to the beach, but not enough to hurt your grades.
Always be skeptical. Don’t believe what you hear without knowing the source is trustworthy. Question the preacher. Question your teachers. Question the news media and society trendsetters. Be respectful, but ask for proof.
Don’t question your aunt. Where you’re concerned, she’s always right.
A part of me wants to hold you tight and protect you, to clear your path. I want to laugh with you, I want to cry for you. I want you to be safe. But my little Manda Panda is all grown up, ready to take off the training wheels and go it alone.
Be well. Enjoy life.
Reach for the stars.