May 10, 2013

Open Letter to My Daughter As She Turns 13. ~ Gracelyn Santos

When my daughter, Charista, was three years old, I was eight and a half months pregnant with twins when I dropped her off for her first day of preschool.

She was not pleased, but instead of throwing a tantrum, she calmly discussed the matter with her teacher. The door was closed, but my ear was pressed against it, straining to hear, “Please, Mrs. Allen, Mommy is right outside. Please open the door and I’ll be right back.”

When that didn’t work, she resorted to negotiations, “I don’t think I’m ready for school yet, Mrs. Allen. Maybe next month will be better” and “I just have tell Mommy something. She’s probably worried about me. Please let me out.” When that didn’t work, she tried to bribe her (yes, bribe her), “If you let me go home with Mommy, I’ll give you my Elmo pencils and Wiggles erasers.”

When that didn’t work, she resorted to threatening a walkout once class started (that was pretty hilarious). When that didn’t work, she gave in, eventually loving it.

This September, my little baby will be a high school freshman and I can hardly believe it. Last Monday, she turned 13 and just like that (snap fingers here), I’m left only with lovely memories of the years that have so swiftly flown by.

This is an open letter to her as she embarks upon her teen years. It may come in handy if you are in the same terrifying boat as I, the mother of a new teen. I wish all of us good luck.

Dear Charista,

You will never know how deeply, purely and completely I love you and your two sisters. You, Tatiana and Angelica are the last thing on my mind when I fall asleep and the first thing when I wake up. I thank God for you every day and hope that Daddy and I are giving you the kind of childhood which you’ll look back when you’re old and smile.

Between all the fun things we experience as a family, there may be times I am too strict and perhaps downright unpleasant. I will not apologize for them and rest assured I only do and say things you may not like because I love you. When you’re all grown up and the mother of my grandchildren, God willing, you will understand.

In you lies a beautiful spirit and a kind heart with boundless potential for greatness, whatever path you choose to take. It is my job as your mother to help you find what you love and help you get good at it. The goal is and my only wish is for you to be happy.

To that end, please keep in mind the following things I’ve jotted down for you.

Happy 13th birthday, my Chrissy-Pops.

Be yourself. March to the beat of your own drummer. It’s better to feel happy and content in a small group (or alone) than it is to feel empty and lonely in a large, noisy crowd. Don’t be afraid to not follow the rest of the pack, as tempting as it may seem, because many times all those cool kids are simply too scared or too weak to be more than a just a follower.

Just when you think you’ve worked hard for something, work even more. If you’ve studied six hours for an exam, for example, and feel you’ve had enough, keep in mind that every other person taking the same test probably stopped studying at the same exact point. Go the extra mile—it will set you apart. Be prepared to go up against the best because if they’re not, then you’ll have it easy, and if they are, you’ll be prepared with your A-game.

Do something every day that makes you happy. The soul and her interests—music, painting, literature, dancing, poetry, cooking or whatever passion feeds your creativity needs to be nurtured regularly. Do the things you love and you will find that the things you don’t love as much, but still need to be done, will come more easily.

Don’t forget, mistakes are okay, as long as you learn from them.

The internet is forever. Use it only for your studies until you are 21. Trust me. Every word, image, thought, comment, joke, opinion or video posted to the internet is forever, even if it’s only up for three seconds. No backsies. It can never be retrieved, erased, forgotten, reversed, forgiven, rationalized, altered or diminished. Nobody is anonymous and repercussions are serious. It will haunt you forever and forever is a long time. Think before you post.

Better yet, don’t post at all.

Be kind and laugh often. The older you get, the more you’ll realize life’s sadness and happiness. Be grateful for your blessings and enjoy them, but don’t forget to help others less fortunate, because to whom much is given, much is expected. It’s the right thing to do and why God put you on His green earth. Find the good in everyone and look for the silver lining and humor in every situation.

Laughter is the best medicine and a positive attitude is infectious.

Don’t be afraid to be pretty. You are beautifully perfect in every way, in my eyes. As important as getting good grades, practicing to become excellent in sports and being a compassionate human being are, taking care of your physical appearance and mental well-being are crucial to leading a healthy life. Take pride in presenting yourself in the best possible light.

Gluttony is bad and a smile is a woman’s the best accessory.

Mean girls are just, umm, mean. Not to say that you deserve their meanness nor do you have to take it. I will help you with this if you want, because I’ve heard this plagues many young women your age. Always remember you have bigger fish to fry than wasting time or energy on mean-spirited girls. Ignore them. You are special and you are in charge of your life and how you feel about yourself. Surround yourself with people you like and who like you.

Be proud of yourself. Never stop learning, but enjoy your accomplishments, big or small. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. Show the world what you’ve got to offer, which is a lot!

And please, don’t be envious of others—it’s counter-productive. Someone is always going to have more or be better than you at some things. Worry about doing your own personal best. Period.

The thing about boys is they have a knack for breaking your heart.

Daddy and I pray that one day you will find a Prince Charming as kind and as handsome as you’ve ever imagined and that he’ll love you as much as we do. Until then, be very selective and ever careful with whom you entrust your heart. Your priority right now is to yourself and your education. Focus on that.

Most importantly, always put your family first. When push comes to shove, your family will love and support you unconditionally. Long after Mommy, Daddy and your grandparents are gone, take care of your little sisters, even when you’re grown-ups, and always set a good example for them.

Be each other’s cheerleaders and raise each other up. Blood is thicker than water and if you put your family first, you will never go wrong. Trust me on this.

So there you have it, Charista. Please read this every year on your birthday—do it for me and hopefully the day will come when you are a Mommy, too, and you will fully understand where I am coming from.

You and your sisters are my world and my reason for living. Thank you for bringing unimaginable joy to my heart each day and for making me the luckiest mom in the world. I love you.

To the edge of the universe and back,



Gracelyn is a dentist with three daughters, ages 13, and 9-year-old twins.  I write a weekly column, Gracelyn’s Chronicles, Diary of a Working Mom for the Staten Island Advance, which is also posted on silive.com.



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