Dearest Thea Alexandra,
You turn 9 today and I marvel at how much you have grown, or rather metamorphosed into this amazing adult of a child. Every day, you keep me in awe with new revelations about yourself.
You’re now into rap music and song-writing which I think is awesome. I’m thinking maybe you’re a poet, just like your grandma when she was alive. You’re quite a story-teller, too, preferring to narrate your tales in the way scriptwriters organize their story lines into scenes and segments. Perhaps someday, you’ll be the greatest Pinay playwright the world ever had, or the genius creator of brilliant cinematic artistry worthy of a Cannes or an Academy award.
I know that you’d rather be a teacher so that you may serve as a beacon of inspiration to many young learners. Or, a doctor so that you could extend a healing hand to the sick and the needy. I won’t stop you from pursuing those dreams. It’s just that I see a lot of myself in you. But then again, unlike your mommy, you have a way of growing on people. And I suppose in that way, we are different.
You have a knack for dressing well, too. With your sense of style, I bet you can upstage any sophisticated twenty-something-year-old at their own red carpet event. But there are still so much of that baby in you that you haven’t outgrown: Barbie dolls, Disney princesses, and wearing big fancy bows and candy-colored hairbands. There isn’t a single trace of masculinity in your body; for some reason, that worries me a lot.
You see, the world can be a great and dangerous place: something like a bottomless ocean that can swallow you into its perilous depths should you slip out of Mommy and Tatay’s close watch. I suppose liberal as I am in my parenting philosophy about raising you and your brother, I am no different from any parent prone to paranoia. Though you continue to amaze me with your beyond-your-years insights, there is still a lot that I want to teach you about this world.
It’s your 9th birthday and here are nine reminders (out of a never-ending litany of advice and life lessons) to guide you in the next nine or so years of your life at the least.
- Enjoy your childhood. You are allowed to be a kid. Though education is very important, never forget for even just a second to reward hard work with a lot of fun play. Run, jump, leap, and laugh out loud even though I tell you off for being too rowdy. Play dolls, play soccer, go hide-and-seek with the children in the neighborhood, and hang out with your girlfriends at our balcony. Celebrate your youth before it’s all gone.
- Learn to love reading. It’s your ammunition against ignorance and it will take you to the farthest reaches of the world. But, Alex, when you’re old enough to afford it, travel to those far-flung places. Sometimes firsthand experience is better than imagination. For now, relish the joys of reading books.
- Appreciate beauty in every color, shape, and size. Kim Chiu may epitomize your definition of beauty, but I want to remind you that being beautiful is not just about being tall, glamorous, and fabulously thin. You can be short, brown-skinned, and stunning in a pair of faded jeans and a tie-and-dye tee, or voluptuously gorgeous in a velvety blue cocktail dress. A girl’s true beauty shines brightest when she is at her element: doing what she loves best and so comfortable in her imperfection.
- Remember that beauty is skin deep. For adults, this saying may sound like a line worn out from overuse to convince friends that they are beautiful. But there is truth to this cliche. You see, beauty really does come from deep within. If you feel good, it just radiates. When you are sick and feeling down, it is reflected in the pallor of your skin and in the dark circles under your eyes. If you’re mean, people will distance themselves from you. Physical beauty is nothing when you have an ugly heart.
- Try to be kind even when it’s hard. There will come a time when you will feel insecure about your looks. You will be discontented about the way things are going in your life. You may even feel pressured by the success of other people. As a result of this sense of inadequacy, you may want to lash out at people and indulge in gossip to make yourself feel better. No matter how terrible you feel, be kind anyway. When you try to hurt others you hurt yourself more because the satisfaction you derive from putting people down is only temporary. And, when you’re happy and feeling on top of the world, be kind still. Never gloat in your victory over other people. Instead extend a helping hand because you never know when you might need it.
- Know that there is really no Prince Charming! When you grow up, you will discover that fairy tales are simply just that: the stuff of make-believe. And boys, in general, are just as rough-and-tumble as anything. They are nothing like the princes of fairy tale books–gallant, chivalrous, and perfect. They are prone to self-doubt and temper-tantrums as any little girl. They are not always invincible and brave as they make themselves out to be. They cry, too. Only that they won’t show it. But be warned: there are boys who will use their tears to get what they want. Be wary of those people. Nevertheless, respect them as your equal.
- It’s the quality of your friendship that counts and not the number of likes on Facebook. It’s sad that many people find validation from the number of acquaintances in their friends list or in the number of comments and likes on their social media wall. But genuine friendship cannot be measured by the stats that appear on your posts. Rather, it is defined by the conversations that take place in private; the warm hugs; the kind words; the arguments; and the apologies that are not publicized on your FB account.
- Be your own hero. Not everyone you rely on can be depended on all the time. Sometimes, you will have to face your fears and fix your problems all on your own. Trust your instincts, rely on your skills, depend on your inner strength, and learn to stand up for yourself. Most of all, stick up for other people, too.
- Be grateful. “Thank” and “you” are two of the most important words that you will ever say to anyone. Expressing your gratitude for every kind gesture, big or small, can make a world of difference. It makes people feel good to be appreciated by others. It will also make you feel better to know that you’ve made someone’s day by simply being gracious. So, thank your teachers for imparting new knowledge. Thank your friends for staying by your side. Thank your brother for making you laugh. Thank your parents even when they’re mad. Thank a stranger for helping you out with the right directions. And thank God for the simplest things.
Most of what I’ve written in this letter may sound gibberish to you at the moment, but in time you will understand what I mean. Keep this letter and read it every year on your birthday until it finally make sense to you. I have so much to tell you about life that it would probably take me a couple more pages until I am done. So let me reserve the others in my succeeding letters to you that are yet to come.
I love you, my Alex. Don’t ever doubt that.
Happy 9th birthday!