My Dear Daughters:
No letter, especially one to daughters, should begin with I’m sorry, but this one does. I’m sorry. Though regrets are a waste of time, I must apologize for your inheritance. No, I don’t mean money. In all likelihood, your fortunes are your own to make. And I know of no genetic medical challenges in store for you in this lifetime. No, this apology comes upon seeing the two of you drive off to lunch together, one tight-lipped and tense, the other tentative and earnest.
You see, dear daughter number two in birth order, you have inherited the portion of your mother’s temperament that ruffles easily when you convince yourself that another has acted poorly or unjustly or incompetently. You do not suffer lightly the effects of others’ actions on your life, irritated at the shortcomings of your fellow beings. You stew.
To make matters worse, you can’t shake it off. When you decide to change teams and find the coach knows little more than the last one and your teammates are no different, no more skillful or intelligent or cooperative than the last, you simmer, aggravated after a game where the forwards hardly ever anticipate your serves from mid-field and so miss scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity, while the coach fails to instruct and the defense fails to adjust for the deflected offense.
So you grouch for the rest of the day, angry at your teammates, your coach, but mostly at yourself for having chosen the team, or for even playing soccer in the first place.
And you, daughter number one, I owe you an apology for both your inability to fix your sister and your desire to do so. Like me, you feel discomfort when others display unpleasant emotions, even if they are mere facial expression. Your sister cannot hide what she feels, though she speaks not a word or a sigh. Her face tells the story–sorry again, second born, for yet another trait passed on.
And you feel responsible when you are not completely oblivious. Sensitivity is not your strongest attribute. You need to be hit over the head, spoken to directly, told what someone feels, unable to intuit. I gave you that obtuseness. Then when you hear the complaint, the source of woes, compassion turns to anxiety to solve the break, the mood, or problem.
That anxiety leads to paralysis. Your mind turns foggy with the pressure to create, find an idea. And so you retreat, get disinterested and frustrated. You have no idea what to do to please her, though you try: bribe her with first choice of music in your car or chocolate or a trip to the mall. You try teasing and joking but the list of sorry-I-gave-that-trait-to-you includes stubbornness on her part as it does cluelessness on yours.
But you know she unwinds in time, flexes her tension and exhales in release when she does, so there’s no rushing through it. The two of you cleave to one another as the best of friends, so you know.
Daughter born first, the days ahead bring many lessons about letting go, acceptance and boundaries, yours in relation to others. Your compassion will hold you in good stead if you never swallow it down in futility rather than acceptance: you can offer but no one has to accept. Perhaps she cannot. That is not your fault. Give, nevertheless, without the expectation of receiving. Help others because others need help, not to get results. You are not here to fix but to try.
Daughter born second, when you too learn to accept yourself, mistakes and all, your moods will calibrate, even out. Your expectations so high for yourself, you project those on to others who cannot meet them. If only you can merely see people, observe them without judging, and accept your strengths and weaknesses realistically without judgment, you may be able to do the same for others.
The expanding pressure contracts and recedes in the exhaust of toxic release, the poison of fear–of disappointment, not measuring up, and not succeeding–whether aimed at you or others.
You both have a lifetime ahead of procuring patience, and if you get the jump on everyone else, you may discover the secret, the jewel of existence, of slowing down just as time speeds up. If you can, if somehow in cinematic slo-mo you can envision your two hands grab the big hand of the clock, just like when you were little we learned from that interactive picture book with the brightly colored spinning clock hands (blue for the big one and red for the small one) and hold that big boy back with all your might, you better the odds at beating the odds against you–your inheritance.
Take time, my daughters, to be and let be. She who came after you needs time to work the inarticulable undulations of anger mounted on uncertainty overlaid on the foundation of fear that shift and morph like sea kelp ebbing and flowing with the tide. If you, my first born, breathe slowly, let every drop out before you sip another slow breath in, the extra seconds may allow you the focus, the time it takes for the words to come, the ideas to set you free: “She is who she is, and I am who I am. Nothing more.”
I am sorry but have no regrets. You two embody the best I have to offer–and more.