Sunday, February 27, 2011

Love Letters

My daughter is doing one of those standardized practice tests and I am her timekeeper. She just finished the reading comprehension section with six minutes to spare and she said, "Mom, I just read a whole passage on the word good."

"Good!" I said.

"No," she said. "Not at all. The writing was unnecessarily convoluted and hard to understand. Too many extra words and phrases you could just simplify."

My beautiful child is a critic.

"Check your answers," I said. "You have six minutes."

There are so many things convoluting my brain and I have to simplify, so I can address them one by one, these things that demand that I push away the rest of the agita so that I can accomplish the real world tasks required of me, like the performance review narratives I have to finish writing for my direct reports at work before our sit down and here-is-your-raise conversation tomorrow, and the highlighting and cross-referencing of receipts and explanations for my follow up appointment with the tax auditor this week, and the fifty-mile-long parent questionnaire that I have to fill out about our daughter before our meeting with her college counselor next week.

And that whole paragraph was one sentence.

The beautiful critic would have something to say about that.

We had to fill out one of those parent questionnaires for my son, too. Parents are asked to give insight on their children's strengths and challenges and special natures, to help college counselors figure out how your child can best be packaged to make a compelling pitch to the schools of choice. It's all about selling their individual story and I am starting to realize that my son's experience as an Explorer Firefighter with the FDNY helped set him apart. How many applicants had search and rescue training, how many had the experience of putting out fires using the actual garb and gear? How many had studied the patterns of how flames spread, and could navigate through small spaces with bulky equipment, finding and hoisting heavy test dummies on their backs in blinding white storms of steam to simulate real smoke?

No wonder he got into all but one of the schools where he applied. I didn't really understand that others would grasp how special he is, that others would see what I see. I thought his mediocre SATs would be a roadblock, but in the end, he leveled all the obstacles. And now I am in the same place again, not trusting that others will see how wonderful and unique my daughter is, trying to figure out how to help her stand apart from the numbing sameness of all the college applications. I feel as if I am standing in at the foot of a mountain and trying to marshall the energy to climb it again, but with more faith this time. More faith.

Our son's high school guidance counselor made approaching the parent questionnaire easy when she said, "Think of it this way: You are writing a love letter about your child." So this is how I will think about the questionnaire for my daughter. It is a love letter I look forward to writing as soon as I can clear the significantly less appealing tasks off my list of must do now.

Maybe I won't even get dressed today. I'll just sit at the computer and work. That way, I won't be tempted to leave the house, to escape my obligations. Oh right. I have to get dressed. My aunt is in the hospital after falling again. I will need to go there and sit with her for a while. What happened at the hospital on Friday with her two children is the saddest story that touches my life. Sadder still, for my aunt. Later.


  1. Angella,

    I want to hug you for the words re your dear Aunt.

    I give you so much credit for these letters to help your children . I would find that hard. You have to brag without bragging. I don't do well with those situations. I know for a fact there have been some things my children missed out on because I wasn't enough of an advocate or at least a cheering section. I am learning. How can a stranger know what sets apart the one , you are so right.

    And I imagine your daughter is going to rock the socks of what ever she undertakes.

    The best of luck as you tackle all the life stuff.

    Sending love.

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about your Aunt and worry about the family issues you're having to deal with now.
    I have a questionnaire to fill out as well, which I keep delaying because it's hard to put into words what I want to say. Mine asks for10 adjectives describing her as well... which I find a bit easier. Now I will think of it as a love letter, you have no idea how much that has helped me.

    All my love and good luck getting through it all.

    Keep being your kind self and remember....this too shall pass. XO

  3. Dear Angella, you have two beautiful, intelligent, amazing children, but they got their unique luminosity in part from you. You have shown them by the way you live and think how to blaze through their new worlds like two comets. Your love letter will be extraordinary and will describe your girl just as she is--extraordinary. The other work of the world is so dreadful, so time consuming, so disconnected from these important times in your children's lives. I'm so sorry you have to try to compartmentalize everything all the time, day after day, week after week, month after month--and now your aunt has fallen too--oh, Lord, it must feel like the weigh to of the world. But all you can do is the best you can. I wish I could knit you a suit of armor to cover you and keep you safe, as you have to sail into the workaday world without any skin. Have faith, Angella. Your children will keep you buoyant. And you can't do everything, only your share. Much love. Melissa

  4. I'm sorry that your aunt is still having troubles. I hope things are better for her today.

    Angella, if anyone can write the beautiful words to capture all of the amazing aspects of your lovely daughter, it's you. I know you will do her justice. :)

  5. deb, the love letter thing really frees you up to brag a little, but of course how do you do that without being so obnoxious that the counselor dismisses everything as besotted and biased. i will just speak what is in my heart about my child and go from there. thanks for the kind words about my aunt. a day at a time. love.

  6. susanjva, i'm so glad the love letter idea helps you! it really did help me when my boy's counselor said that to me. she actually wanted every little story that showed who he is, and she wrote him a fine recommendation. I don't yet feel the same connection in the current situation, but we have yet to have our first meeting! i keep seeing your paris pictures and they are beautiful. they inspire me. one day soon. love to you, dear friend and let's sit down over coffee soon!

  7. Melissa, the work of the world snares us so completely we have to make a super conscious effort to not get lost in it, and lose sight of what is more real and beautiful and true. i love the suit of armor. the idea of it has me feeling rather more covered than before. Indeed we knit suits of armor here in this place that are so much warmer and embracing that I ever imagined. i will pull that suit around me and sally forth. sometimes, compartmentalization is the only way to stay sane. we do what we can. thank you for being here, dear friend.

  8. ellen, thank you for your faith in my ability to do my daughter justice. I actually think she is so amazing, i don't know how to convey it without it sounding like a platitude. but i will put one foot in front of the other and walk through this requirement, which is not burdensome because it is for this child i so love. as for my aunt, she's still in the hospital. i'm on my way there now. love to you!

  9. What you have written about your beautiful children here, on your blog, has conveyed so much about who they are and how incredible they are as individuals, that I feel as if I know them. I have no doubt that you will be able to convey your daughter's wonderful qualities in a way that will do her justice.

    Oh Angella, I am so deeply saddened that your aunt had to be put through more stress by her own children. I am also very, very sad for you. You are so loving and protective over your aunt and the only thing that the two of you should be sharing right now, is love. Would it be possible to ask the hospital staff to disallow your aunt's children from visiting her right now? Just a thought.

    Much love and gentle hugs to you, sweet friend.

  10. Debra, it did become necessary to do something like what you suggest while my aunt was in the hospital. She goes home today. Thanks for the kind words about my children!

  11. Good. Women who advocate for those they love can be as strong as mother bears. You do what you need to do. My grandma had a daughter who needed to be kept away. All she did was cause heartache and pain. Lucky for us, we moved my grandma 3000 miles away, but then the letters would show up, mean and vicious. Sigh....those letters would hurt my grandma for years and years. We even talked about them the last time she was in the hospital. She wasn't able to remember my two youngest girls, but the letters, she never forgot. Why do people create such pain?

    I pray that your dear aunt will do okay at home and that she won't fall again:( I KNOW how hard this is for you and your family, but mainly you. Remember to breathe, dear one.


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