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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Before You Go: ‘Dear Jenny at 18’

CRL columnist John Gray sends you birthday wishes.

First things first – Happy Birthday. I know all birthdays are special, but this one is different. High school is over, no more curfews; heck you can even vote for the first time this fall. I’d tell you who’s going to win, but that would spoil the surprise. Right about now you want to skip to the last page and see who this is from so I’ll save you the trouble. It’s from you.

The reason you don’t remember writing it is because you haven’t yet. You won’t until your 60th birthday. How is that possible? We’ll get to that part later.

I know you don’t believe what I just told you so how can I prove to you that I’m, well, you? How’s this? Your favorite movie is “Somewhere In Time” with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. You’ve watched it at least 30 times, but always turn it off before the end when ‘Richard’ finds the penny.

Your first kiss was the summer you turned 11 at Hoffman’s Playland. Bobby Flanagan on the train in the tunnel.

You got the scar on your left knee when you fell during a field trip to the Saratoga Battle field in third grade.

Your favorite ice cream is cakebatter.

You love the sound of the violin, hate hearing brakes squeal and adore walking barefoot in grass after it rains. Not enough? Okay.

Every night you say a prayer, but not to God. You talk to our Nana who watched us every day after school for 10 years. It broke your heart when she died so you pray that she’s watching you still… and proud. I can tell you sweetheart, that she is.

You’ve always believed in magic Jenny and said it’s okay if we don’t understand everything that happens and why. I need you to do that now.  Think of this letter as a little bit of magic wrapped up in the impossible. I sent it to tell you, me, things I know now that I wish I’d known then. Here goes.

Spend time with Mom. These next few years are going to be tough on her, not just with you going off to college, but some health stuff, too. If she calls for no reason and wants to take a walk, make the time for her.

Forgive Dad. I know you’re angry because he missed sports and school events, but here’s the thing. He never made as much money as we thought and grabbed every overtime shift to pay for dance lessons, summer camp and the braces you hated. Open the top drawer on his desk and you’ll find your report cards, prom pictures, there’s even one of your baby teeth in there. He’s crazy about you.

Cut the fat. No, I’m not talking about your weight (although I would definitely NOT take that part-time job at the Cheesecake Factory you’ll be offered next spring; we gained a dress size).  I’m talking about this social media thing. Those 300 ‘friends’ on your page are not your friends. Cut it back to family, co-workers and people you’d call if the car ran out of gas. Trust me, you won’t miss the drama.

Respect yourself. Guys will treat you exactly as you allow them to treat you. Don’t ever be someone’s backup plan. Hint – if he won’t hold the door for you now, how do you think Prince Charming will be in 10 years?

Lose Mr ‘I don’t know’. If you’ve been with a guy for more than a year, ask him where this is going and if he says, “I don’t know”, get rid of him.

Fun over money. When everyone is coming at you with suggestions on what to do with your life, pick a career you’ll want to leap out of bed to do. Rich does not equal happy.

Forget ‘someday’. Everyone has these great plans for ‘someday’. It never happens. You want proof? See if this sounds familiar? Rome, Paris, San Francisco and New Orleans, the four places you plan to visit before you’re 40. Jen, we’re 60 and the closest we’ve gotten to Paris is the French toast I had this morning. Someday means never.

Save. Even if it’s just $20 bucks out of each paycheck, save something. Don’t tell me you don’t have it. I remember how much money we spent at Starbuck’s in our twenties.

Hug more. I know we weren’t the most touchy feely family, but I wish I’d given more hugs to people I loved. You never know when it’s the last time you’ll see them.

Pray more. You’ve always been embarrassed by your faith, like people will think less of you if they know you actually like Jesus. Stop that. Find time to talk to God. He listens.

Unplug.  Once a day for one hour turn off the phones and gadgets and enjoy the sound of silence. We do some of our best thinking that way.

Donate you. Putting a dollar in the can at Wal-mart to fight cancer is nice, but lame Jen. It wasn’t until we were 50 that we started volunteering our time and I always regretted not doing it sooner.

Nice over knockout. I know you won’t follow this advice, but try to give the nice guys a chance. Big muscles are great, but it’s the guy with the big heart you want.

What am I forgetting? Oh yeah, the vase. At some point you might have a little boy named Tucker who plays hockey in the house and he may accidentally smash a $100 dollar vase you got as a wedding gift. If you scream at him his top lip will start to quiver and then the tears come and suddenly you realize he’s only six, it wasn’t on purpose and you’ll feel terrible. It’s only a vase.

Jenny there’s more, lots more I could tell you, but I have to go. Part of me wishes I came back with this letter and could do it all over again, but another part is glad I’m on this side of the journey. I can’t promise you a life without disappointment because that wouldn’t be living at all. Just know your heart only aches if you truly loved and I wouldn’t trade a single tear.  So…Happy Birthday Jenny at 18. Don’t forget to make a wish because they really do come true. You wrote this letter at the stroke of midnight 42 years from now, put it in the mailbox, said a prayer and drifted off to dream.

Later that day with everyone you love gathered around the cake, you closed your eyes, blew out 60 candles and asked for a little magic wrapped up in the impossible. You’re holding it in your hands right now.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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