Dear Claire (on your second birthday),
Every Sunday evening, I take out the trash. I ask you to help.
“OK,” you say.
I carry your 25-pound body to the garage and plop your butt on top the trash can. When I rock the can back on its wheels, you fall onto my chest and cling there like a koala.
I roll you to the end of the driveway, and we drop off the trash. It’s so cosmically insignificant, and yet one of my favorite moments every week. It’s thirty seconds when we’re together, your head against my chest, us scanning the sky, looking up at the moon and the stars.
I heard once that it’s impossible to be grateful and upset at the same time. So every day, I try to name at least three things I’m grateful for in life. Every day, you’re one of the three. I’m thankful for the 15 minutes I get to spend with you in the mornings before I take you to the sitter.
I love seeing you wake up. You look like a grinch, nose wrinkled, eyes narrowed. Sometimes, your hair is stuck to the dried boogers on your face. It just takes a few seconds, though, and you’re smiling and yanking at your soggy, five-pound diaper.
“Milk,” you say. “Milk please, daddy.”
You said “bye-bye” to me for the first time on April 1.
Your legs are long enough for a tricycle.
You had Bill’s Donuts a few weeks ago. You were instantly smitten (you had to be; it’s in your genes).
You got sick in September. Croup. You were in my lap in the ER, doctors and nurses everywhere, your breath wheezing, lungs pumping in and out so hard your whole body moved. They gave you breathing treatments, steroids, fluids, antibiotics.
I couldn’t do anything but hold you.
Six weeks later, you were sick again. I took you to the doctor, and they gave you another breathing treatment. “She might have asthma,” the doctor said. Then, she gave us our very own “Sammy the Seal” breathing machine. Now, we can give you breathing treatments at home.
You know exactly what that little grinning seal is for, and you hate it. The first time you saw it in the living room, you clapped your hands over your mouth and ran away crying.
Over the past two years, I’ve been thinking about how I can raise you to believe you can do anything. I want you to have dreams, and I want you to go after them. I don’t want them to be something you plan to do in the future.
Future goals are goals that never happen.
How can I teach you that?
The answer’s pretty obvious. Your mom and I have to follow our dreams if we want you to do the same. It’s always the things we do that matter. Not the things we say.
So right after you were born, I got serious about following my dreams.
I started writing books – not books motivated by money like I’d done in the past – books that I wanted to write; books that I hope will inspire kids to do great things. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to stop going out as much, stop watching TV, stop blogging. I’ve turned down freelance web design jobs even though your mom and I could have used the money.
Mostly, though, the hard part has been sitting in the chair and doing the work.
I’ve had to face my fears (fears that my writing sucks, that I’m wasting my time, that I could be making money and saving for retirement instead of writing), and I’ve had to ignore them.
I signed a contract with a literary agent in New York on October 29. She’s going to help me make my book better. Then, she’s going to sell it. Or, at least she’s going to try. Someday, I hope I’ll be able to take you to a bookstore and pull down a copy from the shelf.
In his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon before he died, Randy Paush said there are brick walls between you and your dreams. They’re not there to keep you out.
“The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough,” he said. “They’re there to stop the other people.”
Don’t let them stop you, Claire Bear.
Someday you’re going to want to quit something. It’s going to feel too hard. You’re not going to be sure you can succeed. You’ll be tired. You’ll have doctor’s appointments. Your car will need an oil change. Your furnace will go out. Your dog will swallow a sewing pin. Your child will have a fever.
You’re going to want to quit. And that’s exactly when I want you to keep pushing.
Keep that little fire in your chest a burning. Feed it with whatever you have.
There’s a secret successful people don’t talk about much. It’s this: before they were successful they were just like you and me, confused, uncertain, bumbling – just regular people with a lot of hope and a willingness to get their hands dirty.
No one knows they’re going to be successful before they become successful. If that were the case, we’d all be successful — every single one of us. Going beyond our fears and doubts is what matters. This drawing (via Jessica Hagy) sums it up:
Your mom’s asleep while I’m writing this. She’s eight-and-a-half months pregnant. She gets out of breath walking between the bedroom and the kitchen. You’re going to be a big sister soon. I can’t wait to see you holding your little sibling. I can already picture how proud you’re going to be.
I’m nervous, too. Daddy’s not afraid to admit that. It’s going to be an adjustment for all of us – you, me, your mom, even Maddy the bird dog.
We’ll muddle through.
Parents have told me there’s something special about their first child. Sometimes, I can hear it in their voices. And I think I understand.
You’re a miracle.
I hope we have another 50 years to spend together. I want to take you camping. I want to hike with you to a waterfall and watch you learn to ride a bike. I want to read you The Hobbit and buy you ice cream and movie tickets when you’re going through your first break-up. I want to see what sort of person you become, what passions you have, what value you want to give the world.
There’s a chance we might not get that 50 years. If I have to say goodbye sometime soon, know that I’ll be looking in on you, kiddo, any way I can. I’ll encourage you not to quit, to get up when you’ve got dirt in your mouth. To smile.
Here are three things I want you to remember:
First, some more advice from my man Randy Pausch. “When it comes to men who are romantically interested in you, it’s really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do.”
Second, make learning a habit. Try to improve yourself a tiny bit every day. Over the course of 50 years, those tiny improvements will have turned into an extraordinary life.
Third, be happy.
A hospice nurse named Bonnie Ware spent several years working with the terminally ill. She wrote a book about it called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Over and over, she heard the same thing from her patients: “I wish I had let myself be happier.”
Make happiness a goal. Find out what it means to you and pursue it.
There’s a difference between hedonism and happiness. Happiness means doing things that matter, things that you love, every single day. It means finding your passion and applying yourself to it.
In the end, I want you to be able to count your days by the number of times you smile, by your friendships, by the work that fulfills you and gives you meaning.
I can’t believe you’re two already, little lady. You’re teaching me as much about life as I’ll ever be able to teach you. You’ve taught me to slow down. You’ve taught me that having a little food in your hair ain’t all that big of a deal. You’ve taught me this, too: I used to think raising a newborn was hard. Now, that you’re two, I know how easy newborns really are 🙂
On July 27, your mom and I rode our bikes to the playground. You bumped along behind us in a bike trailer, all the while the clouds grew darker and darker. The rain came on hard. Your mom and I hid under the slides. You stayed with us for a few minutes. Then, tentatively, you stepped out in the rain. You looked back at us, smiled, and took off running for biggest puddle. I’ll never forget that moment. You looked so impossibly happy.
I love you, baby girl. Keep your chin up and never stop playing in the rain.