Life Lessons for Jahanara

A few months ago, I started a notebook with random things I wanted to tell my daughter. I was consumed with this need to write lessons and instructions down for her in case something happens to me. I suppose this need also arose from the knowledge that I was privy to my mother's journals when I was living at home. Years ago, I read the entries she wrote just before my birth in which she detailed her anxieties and fears. She had learned she was going to have a C-section. It was her first pregnancy and my father had gone to England for work. I had heard the stories of what happened after my birth. My father came home with suitcases full of toys and clothes and little baby booties in every color. But my mother had never told me about the days preceding my birth, during which she felt utterly alone and paranoid. What astounded me was how much she loved her child before she even came into this world, and that's how she referred to me - my child - because there was no way for her to know back then in Lahore, Pakistan, whether her baby was a girl or boy.

I felt no such affection towards my unborn child. We bonded after she was born, after a long, hard labor, after I saw both harshness and gentleness in nurses, after I went several days without sleep, crying quietly in the bathroom for my own mother. And so, I was not impelled to write love notes to my child before she came into this world. When I wrote this particular letter to my daughter, the only one so far in this notebook, I probably didn't intend it to be a list of lessons and instructions. In retrospect, it reads like a litany of entreaties, do this, do that, things I have and haven't done in my own life that I would like my daughter to do. I am posting it here now, because I have distanced myself from it enough. It can go out in the world. She will find it eventually - but first she will hear all of this from me directly (I hope). Plus, the letter begins with a cliche that makes me cringe, but there is no other way of encompassing this feeling.

My dearest Jahanara,

I love you so much that it hurts. Since you have come into my life, my heart has grown so big. You are such a beautiful child with your fluffy ringlets and your chubby cheeks.

You will always be beautiful. Believe that.

Be honest even if it scares you. If you are honest, you have nothing to hide. Hiding from the world is very difficult, so stay honest.

Read a lot. Books will teach you many things about the world, but they will also teach you a lot about yourself.

Be kind. It is very easy to be cruel, but resist the temptation. Be kind to people and be generous with money, compliments, and possessions.

Be respectful of your elders.

Study hard even if you don't feel like it. I know learning can be boring, but do it anyway. You will be at a huge advantage if you do and a much bigger disadvantage if you don't.

Drink milk!

Take your vitamins!

Do what YOU want to do, do what will make you happy.

Fall in love. It is the most wonderful and the most ephemeral feeling you will experience. Do it whole-heartedly.

Your best colors are pink, yellow, and white, but wear what you love.

Eat healthy foods and pick up an activity: running, hiking, yoga, dance, anything.

Listen to music.

Be wise with money.

Read Harry Potter.

Learn how to swim.

If someone hurts you, try to distance yourself from them without wishing them ill.

Go to college!

Don't ever smoke.

Never do something because others are doing it. You are smart, confident, beautiful, and beloved. You don't need anyone's approval but your own.
Know that your Baba and I love you and you can share anything you want with us - our family is your safe space. 
You will make mistakes. We all do. Own them. Apologize sincerely. Learn from them.
Think a lot. Generate ideas. Execute them to perfection - perfection as you see it, not some prescribed idea of it.

Bake. It's good for the soul.

Think about Mummy from time to time and when you do, believe that you are the dearest thing to me.

Make your marriage a platform of partnership, not one of control or competition.

If possible, go to Lahore in the summer and the winter. I remember it as a beautiful city.


Learn another language.

Love fiercely and without reservation or expectation.

Be firm about your beliefs, needs, and demands.

Always stand your ground and stand up for your truth and for what you believe in.
 Photo by Rebecca McCue