My Dearest Peanut,
Sooner or later, you will know your alphabet, and that will give you the foundation to discover so much more. It is my hope that you will embrace these words, live them, and through them develop into the little girl and young woman I know you can become:
Accept. Accept that we are all different, and learn from others through their differences. Accept that we each have limitations, especially those closest to you. Someday you will realize that your father is not a superhero, that he doesn't know everything, and that he can't do it all. If and when he disappoints you, it doesn't mean he loves you any less, or that you should depend on him any less.
Believe. Believe in God, even when you doubt Him the most. Especially when you doubt Him the most. Believe in Santa Claus, even when you're grown up and your kids are grown up. Believe in your ability to change the world, even if it's just a little. Believe in the good in other people. It's there. I've seen it at the darkest of times, and it's incredible. Whatever you do, at the risk of sounding like a Journey song, don't ever stop believing.
Care. Care about the environment. Care about politics. Care about the issues and people that impact you the most. Care enough to send birthday cards to friends and relatives. They may not always reciprocate, but they will appreciate it. And they will know that they have a caring person who is thinking of them, and is always in their corner when they need someone.
Dance. Dance in front of the mirror when you're all alone. Dance like no one is watching you when you're not alone. Learn how to dance well enough that you won't be compared to Elaine on "Seinfeld," but don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself once in a while. I'm not giving you license to compromise your dignity. Just choose times to travel outside of your comfort zone. Eventually that will expand your comfort zone, and make you stronger.
Educate. Educate yourself. Through school, through friends and family, through life experiences. Then educate others around you. There's nothing more empowering and invigorating than watching the reaction of someone whom you've just taught something they didn't previously know. But don't push your knowledge on those who are unwilling to listen. And no one likes a know-it-all. Only offer advice or an opinion when someone asks. You will be rewarded with gratitude.
Frolic. Frolic with the dog on the living room carpet instead of watching TV at night. Frolic in the snow in the park in the moonlight. Take advantage of a stormy day at the shore and frolic in the raindrops. Be silly and carefree.
Give. Give your time. Give your knowledge. Give your heart. Give to those in need. Give to those who refuse help. Give what you can, but only when it feels right. Don't give just to say you gave. Give without anyone looking. Don't look for praise or thanks for your good deeds. Do them because you want to. You will be rewarded in kind, and in heaven.
Honor. Honor your commitments and your responsibilities. If you want to take piano lessons, you're going to take them until you know how to play "Benny and the Jets." Or at least "Chopsticks." If you want to play field hockey, you're going to play out the season. You don't want to look back at your childhood and wonder "what if."
Interview. Interview your grandparents and your great-aunts and great-uncles. They are amazingly funny, smart, interesting, insightful, and entertaining people. Ask them what me and your mother were like when we were growing up. Ask them about their parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles. This is our family. This is our history. It doesn't get more important than that. You can't choose your family. Just accept, love, and learn as much as you can from them while they're here. Because before you know it, they're going to be gone.
Join. Join clubs, join teams, join conversations. Join the circus if you want to. Don't just test the water with your toes. Dive right in. Do a cannonball. Make a splash. Don't take yourself too seriously. Don't stand on the sidelines. Get in the game. Life is fun. Enjoy it.
Keep. Keep the secrets of someone who confides in you. They chose you for a reason. Don't ruin that bond. Keep valuable information until you need it the most. Keep those you hold dear very close to your heart. Don't take them for granted. Keep those you don't get along with close as well. Unfortunately, there will be people in this world who will not like you. I don't know how it's possible, but it's true. Always know what they're up to. Protect yourself, but there is no need to be paranoid.
Laugh. Laugh until it hurts when you're happy. Laugh until you cry when you're sad. Laugh in the face of adversity. Laughing makes the best times more enjoyable, and gets you through the worst times. Most important, be able to laugh at yourself. You're going to make mistakes. Laugh at them, and learn from them.
Mistake. Or rather, don't mistake. Don't mistake a person's flaws as a weakness. Recognize them as part their personality, and move on. No one is perfect, not even you. Don't mistake the presence of good fortune as an excuse to not work hard. Nothing in life is free.
Navigate. Get behind the wheel and drive, making sure, of course, to obey all traffic laws. Or sit shotgun and plot the course. Always know where you're going. But don't be afraid if you get lost or have to take a detour along the way. You'll always find your path, it just might take a little longer. But for the love of God, do not be a side-seat driver like your mother. Ugh! That's annoying.
Observe. Observe traditions, like eating seven fish on Christmas Eve, or freshly warmed stollen on Christmas morning. These traditions are a huge part of who you are, and where you came from. Learn them. Appreciate them. Make them your own. Maintain them, while making changes to fit the times. That will make passing them on even more special.
Participate. Participate in a lot of things. As many as you can. Music, theater, sports, government. Scuba dive. Run for class president. Try out for the school play. Speak Italian. Take trips. Do as much as you can. Find one thing you are passionate about and give it your very best. Throw yourself into the things you love. There's no better way to enjoy something than to pour your heart and soul into it.
Question. Question your teachers. Question your bosses. Question authority. Don't get suspended, fired, or arrested in the process. Do it politely and diplomatically. Ignite debate. Push the envelope. Play the devil's advocate. You just may change someone's mind. Or your own.
Respect. First and foremost, respect yourself. And respect others. But remember: respect is not demanded, it is earned. Treat people the right way, with honesty, integrity, and understanding, and you'll have their respect. And in turn, they should have yours. They might not always agree with you, but they'll most definitely respect you. Earn a person's respect, and they will help you move mountains. Lose it, and you will lose that person as an ally for good.
Smile. Smile in pictures, even if you're not happy in that moment. That's how you will be remembered for eternity. Smile at a person who holds open a door for you. Don't flirt. Smile. Once again, that's how you'll be remembered for eternity. It will make their day. Smile when you've accomplished something you've worked hard for. It will make yours.
Trust. Trust your parents. We will always make your best interest our foremost priority. Trust yourself. We will arm you with enough wisdom and knowledge to enable you to make informed decisions. But do not hesitate to ask for our advice. You might not always agree with us, but we are always willing to help you, no matter what the situation. You can talk to us about anything. Yes, anything. Even that. PLEASE, especially that.
Understand. Understand the problems that you face, and what set of circumstances brought them about. That will help you solve them. Understand that there will always be obstacles on the road to success. And the way you confront them will tell a lot about your character.
Value. Value friendships. They can last a lifetime, and be the warm blanket you need on a cold and rainy day. Value your heritage. Be proud of who you are and where you came from. You should be. An extraordinary and powerful love brought you into this world, and will nourish you. Value that love, and pass it on to someone who truly deserves it.
Win. It feels so good. Fight to win. Winning isn't easy. But when you do it, you'll never want to lose. And when you win, do it with modesty and humility. Act like you've been there before. Don't show up your opponents. If you ultimately lose, you wouldn't want them acting like that after beating you. And always remember, your mother and I are your biggest fans, and we love you no matter what, win or lose. We're not going to give you a trophy for coming in second. It's also important to experience the hurt that comes in losing something you so desperately want. But it's OK. You're only human. And we still love and support you, are very proud of you.
Xample. I know, I know, example doesn't start with x, and it's not a verb. But if you can come up with an active verb that does, you're going to go very far, my smart little princess. Set a good example, for your friends, your peers, and God willing, your younger sibling(s). Be brave, honest, and fair. Learn from the example your mother and I will provide for you. Be aware of our bad habits, and promise yourself not to repeat them.
Yankeefy. That is, embrace the dark side that is the New York Yankees. I don't care if you go to school at UMass or BC. I don't care if you fall in love with a guy from Worcester. They hate us because they want to be like us: successful, extravagant, champions. You are born and raised in a Yankees house, and you will bleed Yankees pinstripes. For crying out loud, you were almost named after Don Mattingly. Now get your jersey on, and let's go to the Stadium. Uncle Arthur got us really good seats. Rooting for a winner is a lot of fun, and a lot less stressful than the alternative. Trust me. I'm a Jets fan. So will you be, They'll find a million different ways to break your father's heart, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In fact, find something else to do on Sunday afternoons in the fall. Don't watch the Jets.
Zone. Allow yourself to get lost in your thoughts every once in a while. Close your eyes and daydream. I cannot endorse doing it in church, or during class, but must admit those are two places where I have been known to zone out myself from time to time. Don't do it when you're standing at the altar, or in a job interview. But do it enough to recharge your batteries from doing everything from A to Y.
I want you to know, my precious little daughter, that I have high expectations for you, but I know you will have no problem meeting them. For all I expect is for you to be you, wonderful you. I am so looking forward to helping you meet those expectations.
p.s. Yesterday would have been your Popsie's 64th birthday. Ask me about him as often as you can. He will live in our hearts forever.