Dear Tristan: on words

Dear Tristan,

As we near the end of this year’s Christmas letters, I want to tell you about why your dad and I decided to write these letters. I was inspired by reading these letters from a mom to her baby boy. I loved the way she shared her heart, and her real, with her son. I wrote a few letters to you when I was pregnant, but throughout a lot of my pregnancy with you I was thinking and processing and wasn’t quite able to put into words all of what I want to say to you…so I didn’t write as much as I’d intended. (Something you’ll learn about me is that I tend to take a LONG time to process things and know how I want to talk about them.) But over the pregnancy and the last seven months of knowing you, somehow now I know how I want to talk to you about things.

I know you are far too young right now to understand these letters, and that they are something you won’t read for many years. Probably by the time you do read them, much of what we are saying here will be second nature to you, because it is what we will live with you. (At least that is my hope.) Probably, too, some of it will be different – perhaps we will change our minds on some things. (This is a good thing – we should always be open to learning more and changing our perspectives.)

But I want to write to you now because there is so much on my heart when I think about being your mom. Things I want to tell you, things I want to share with you, things from my deep heart. I know that the most important thing is to live real with you, but I also know that words are a powerful way of sharing what is alive in me. Writing has been for me a way of coming to terms with what is real, knowing what and who I am, and figuring out how to share that. Journaling, letters, blogging – they are all ways for me to get what is inside of me out. 

Words are one of the most important things your dad and I want to share with you. We are both book lovers, and I have to admit we hope that you will be too. There are many things that are important to me – but books are quite possibly at the top of that list. I can say without any exaggeration that books have changed and shaped who I am today, and that without books, I would be a very different (and very undeveloped) person. Books can share entire worlds, take you on long travels without ever leaving your home. They can teach you about other people and about yourself. They can challenge you to think, inspire you to move mountains, and change the direction of your life. They can tell you stories, and help you to understand your own.

Can you tell I love books?

But words are important in more ways than just in books. Words between people – both in written and spoken form – are the principle way that we share who we are in relationship. And you know how I’ve written about relationship being the most important thing. Well, in the context of relationship words can heal as well as harm. They can help us share our heart – if we withhold our words when they are necessary, it’s like withholding our true self.

Words used carelessly can do tremendous harm. They can dig deep into other people’s hearts, planting pain and judgment and fear. Be careful with your words…someone is always listening.

Something that is important to me in all my close relationships, but especially in my relationship with you and with your dad, is to not have any “taboo topics” between us. I don’t want there to be anything, ever, that you can’t say to me – that you feel you have to hide, or keep quiet about. I want you to be free to live your real with me. In the same manner, I want to be able to always share my heart with you.

“Taboo topics” arise for many reasons, but one big reason is the inability many of us have to use words well. The fact is that many times, we don’t know how to say what we want to say, and so we end up saying something that hurts or harms the relationship. We don’t know how to communicate. But it turns out communication is not just a fancy way of stringing certain words together. You can only communicate what is alive in you. If what is most real to you is fear, or anger, or judgment, those are the things you will communicate…even if you are trying to be nice. If what is alive in you is compassion, or openness, that is what you will communicate…even if you don’t always know what to say.

One of the reasons your dad and I have been attracted to the premises of Nonviolent Communication is that NVC deals both with words and with your heart. It doesn’t just teach a fancy way of stringing words together like some “communication seminars.” It teaches how to live with compassion, how to hold others in your heart, how not to live in constant judgment of others, and only lastly does it talk about how to put words together to express all these things.

You see, as much as I love words, they are just a tool. They are the means by which we share our deep heart, but they are not in themselves the heart. That is, I think, what is so hard. You and I cannot be reduced to words, as powerful as they are. But words can tell us about each other, and help us to know each other, and help us to live well….and that is what I want for you, and for us as a family. To know each other and to live well.

He ate and drank the precious Words, his Spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor, nor that his frame was Dust.
~Emily Dickinson


other letters in this series:
on failing to live up to ideals
on curiosity
on intrinsic motivation (and why we won’t do sticker charts)
on disagreements and choosing a different path
on being open
you are not what you do
on perspective taking
on the most important thing
when the going gets hard
on falling in love
on feelings and needs
on empathy
on differentiation and self-validation
on insecurity
on expectations
on becoming
on respect
on requests and demands
on authority and power
cherish the moment
on hope, desire, disappointment
on choices
on addictions

Daddy’s letters:

I love you
I’m sorry
Be Yourself
Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be
Be Powerful
Be…just be
Do it for you
On Rewards and Punishments
Choose Wisely
Hold onto Yourself
Cultivate Empathy
tell me what you feel
Be Differentiated
an invitation
no expectations
have regrets
what do you want?
why do you want?
I hear you
seek the truth
how do you know?
imagine that
what’s your story?