Saturday, August 25, 2007

Words for My Daughter


On my first day of college in September 1980, there in my post office box was a typed letter from my Grandpa Seiberling (James Penfield). I was used to his long, single-spaced correspondence, dictated to and typed by his social secretary, Mrs. Rodway. I still have every one of the forty odd letters (sometimes handwritten) that he wrote to me from 1974 when we moved from Ohio until his death in 1982. His first-day-of-college letter is one of my favorites.

I had just spent the summer with him in Akron and before I left for college he made sure that my Aunt Mary brought me down to O’Neil’s Department store in Summit Mall to pick out an appropriate suit for meeting the president of Wheaton College on my first day. We picked out a charcoal gray wool flannel Evan Picone kick-pleat skirt and matching blazer, black suede pumps from DeLiso and a black suede clutch bag. [I never wore the suit upon coming to Wheaton because, like today, it was 95 degrees and humid! It was only later that I wore the suit while working in Boston.] In Grandpa’s charming way, he was recreating a ritual for me that had happened when his daughter and son had gone off to college. Little did he know that we arrived in shorts and shirts and whatever was comfortable! Of course, I still have the entire ensemble because I am such a sentimentalist.

Like myself, Grandpa was a big one for ceremony and ritual. Despite his business acumen and many successes, he also was an uncanny judge of character. It didn’t matter who you were or where you were from—he seemed to accept people as they were and what he saw in their potential. Grandpa always encouraged my writing but also cautioned me about my weakness of “wearing my heart on my sleeve” (eg. too emotional at times or willing to share too much with people I don’t know well--I don't know what he might have thought of my blogging!). In his letter he spoke of the four close lifetime friends he had made at Princeton and how his college years helped shape his entire adult life experience. I savored his words even though our college days--and the eras they occurred--were worlds apart.

In recent weeks I have seen and relived flickers from the past 19 years of my daughter's life so far and I am stunned that they have passed so quickly. Today I sent my daughter off into the world in this symbolic way with a feeling that I have not quite done my job--that there is unfinished business. But I also realize that we are never finished people—so how can my “job” be done as a parent when I don’t even feel “done” myself? There is never a clear dividing line in our lives. So my role now, I feel, while perhaps the nitty-gritty of parenting my daughter is over, is now as a member of the sidelines: cheering her on but not refereeing. I have learned a lot about expectations and will: that my goals and desires for my children might not be what they also envision for themselves. I still want to shelter and protect her from the storms but I am learning to let go.

In the great tradition of my Grandpa Sei, I also sent my daughter a letter to honor this occasion. I could have e-mailed her but I don't believe it would have had the same resonance or permanence. Perhaps one day she might do the same for her children or grandchildren--and that could happen in a mere flicker of years.

Here are some highlights:

• All I want for you is to realize your fullest potential whatever and wherever that is.
• Be true to yourself and to your friends (and know who they are).
• Focus on your own agenda and not that of a larger crowd (unless it is for the greater good).
• Treat others as you would like to be treated.
• Honor your commitments and finish what you start.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help: it is never a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
• At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for advice and also to listen to it.
• Stretch your might and your muscles but don’t overextend yourself too much.
• Know your strengths and your weaknesses and work them to your advantage.
• If you show up when you’re expected and do the work to the best of your ability, the rest will follow.
• It might not always be easy but that’s not what life is about.
• Embrace the challenges and savor the delights, whether large or small.
• Take joy in the little things.
• Remember, you are a child of the Universe.


Heather said...

I enjoyed hearing about your off-to-college memories! That is such a lovely picture of your daughter! (I assume that is her) I hope she has a wonderful college experience!

Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog and also enjoyed hearing about your off to college memories, especially since some of those memories took place in Akron (I live in Cuy. Falls).I hope your daughter has a delightful and memoriable college experience.

Thanks for sharing,

Anonymous said...

I received your book from Amazon today. I've only glanced at the cover so far but oh, my..I love the picture on the back!! How I want that to be my kitchen! I can't wait to dive into the book. I hope you do more like it!
Blessings from Ca.!
joanna :)

Wylie said...

Catherine, I loved reading your memories of your grandfather, and your wise words to your daughter as she goes off to college. We had a send-off dinner last night for my neighbor's son as he heads to Boston College. I was so happy to celebrate what a handsome and self-assured young man he has become, but also sympathetic to the bittersweet emotions of his mother sending him off. I stumbled on your blog this afternoon, and have loved reading about New Hampshire, having spent many wonderful summers in Melvin Village on Winnepesauke. I also am an Episcopalian, and was so interested in your writing about your faith. Thank you so much for sharing. I will definitely add you to my favorites.