advice to baby hoover

from the coolest member of his family

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The man behind the girl behind the advice.

Hoover, if you had to pick three traits that you had to say encompass my existence, what would you say?

"Best aunt in the world" is one of those that people will say you can’t prove because it’s an "opinion," although we know it’s entirely a fact and very verifiable. But we’ll skip that one on the list for now. I know, I know, I think it’s weird to leave it off too. C’est la vie! The other top defining traits of your Aunt Vuh, though, correct me if I’m wrong here:

1. Obsessed with birthdays

2. Sentimental (but in a decidedly smart and thoughtful and un-cheesy way)

3. Unrelenting daddy’s girl

I think that really sums me up, don’t you? (Runner-up leading characteristics: naturally charming, left eye noticeably bigger than the right, only flaky when it’s something I really feel thumbs-middle on doing.)

This is all leading up to me telling you that for the past week I’ve been looking through a lot of old photos and listening to a lot of Cat Stevens and thinking a lot about my dad because today is his birthday. He would have been 63. Obviously you and our family and the whole rest of the world know how I feel about my dear old dad, and that’s probably not going to change any time soon. It’s like, WE GET IT, AUNT VERA, YOU WERE CLOSE, am I right?

Slow your roll, Puff the Magic Butt. Hear me out. 

Sometimes I think about how you won’t ever get to know your Grandpa Bob, and that really bums me out, little man. Because he really would have loved you. I obviously don’t have outside perspective on what he was like with me as a kid, but I got to watch him with my cousin Bryan, the youngest of our generation of Herbert cousins, and he became such a goofball every time he was around that kid. He was a man who, sometimes surprisingly, had a real childish and mischievous streak. I can only imagine how excited he would have been every time he got to spend time with you, even on days when you were being a major grump-bot. You guys woulda been tight. Of this, I have zero doubt.

They say that people achieve immortality through their offspring. Their legacy lives on. Your dad and your Uncle Ian and me are that for our pops. Not just DNA-wise, but like, the way we think, the things we do, a lot of the weird habits we probably have come straight outta this guy:

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Which is kinda neato, huh?

Now, here’s the thing. I know you think I give a lot of advice, but Dad was really the advice guru. Not always when you wanted it. In fact, a lot of the time when you didn’t. The man had opinions, Hoover. The bummer about being his kid who was as stubborn as him was that there was a lot of butting heads and then I basically always had to accept at the end that he was right and I did what he said and things unfolded the way they were supposed to. Ugh, you know? But he didn’t just give advice to me and the family, he liked giving it to everyone. From anyone in our social circles to a particular group of students he affectionately called his Desperados, no matter who you were, Bob Herbert wanted to tell you what to do. 

For the past seven years, we haven’t had that in our lives. I consider this a great loss to the world. When I need to make decisions, I have to rely on what I think he would have told me based on similar situations that occurred during my first 18 years. It’s an imperfect system, but I feel like it usually works out okay. (When I’m still iffy, I obviously call your Babcia, ‘cause her advice game is usually pretty on-point, too.)

This is all a long way of saying: I don’t want you to miss out on Bob Herbert’s life advice. So for the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about a few of the things he taught me throughout my life that, whether I’m conscious of it at the time or not, I refer back to frequently when I’m working my way through existence. Things that I want to make sure we pass on to you. This list will be entirely too short and entirely inadequate. But it’s what I have for you right now; maybe it’ll be the first in a series. Anyway, here we go:

1. Be a little rebellious. 

When I was a kid, I never realized my dad had a real subversive side. The time he wrote a note to our school about a fake religious holiday the family was observing to get me and my brothers out early one day probably could have clued me in. But I was more concerned with being perceived as weird. He was not someone who picked fights with normal just for the sake of doing so, but when the occasion called for it, he had no problem going against the grain and the system. Respect authority, but don’t be a drone to it. At my high school, canvas shoes were out of dress code. I remember one random day senior year when I really wanted to wear my Chuck Taylors. I debated if I could get away with it, and I remember him just being kind of amused and having a “live a little” attitude about it. I wore them. It was fine. I think he was proud that I became a little less of a square that day. 

2. Don’t toot your own horn.

I think this was a very important thing to him. You can be smart or successful or whatever, but that doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Other people may not have had the opportunities or experiences you’ve been afforded. Dad hated when people were pretentious and full of themselves and needed everyone around to know just how intelligent or great they were. Take pride in your work, but don’t brag about it. If it’s good, it’ll speak for itself. So keep that chatty toddler trap of yours all zippered up, señorito.

3. Don’t be materialistic.

It was never important to Dad to have fancy things. The old Chevy Caprice station wagon that he drove for many years, which he and Mom dubbed The Chariot, was proof enough of that. (Can you imagine being picked up from middle school in such a car? Woof, man!) He didn’t believe in paying a lot of money on clothes or having new technology the day it came out or anything like that. The things you have are not who you are. Spend your money on people and experiences instead. You don’t have an allowance yet, so this one’s for later when you figure out how trick your parents into giving you one. Probably a few months away.

4. See the world. 

I mean, the man was an anthropologist. He studied people and cultures for a living. Your dad and uncle and I were born on three different continents. Our parents really committed to the travel thing. The world is out there just waiting for you to explore it, kid! Go see it. Let it change you. Just be sure to get yourself a secret passport/money pouch you can loop on your belt or wear under your shirt so you won’t lose them or get them stolen. Got it? (By the by, you ever need an international travel buddy, your Uncle Ian is the best in the biz, and I’m sure he’d be happy to accompany you anywhere in the world you wanted to go. He’s good at reading a map and can use the placement of the sun to determine what direction you’re going. It’s pretty impressive.)

5. Call your mother.

Dad was dutiful in this respect. And trust me, when you grow up, your mom is really gonna dig it if you are, too. You started pre-school this week and I think she’s already prepping her own abandonment issues. Make sure you throw her some extra love when you come home from your days of puzzles and playgrounds, you got it? 

Hoover, September 13th is a good day. It’s a day we celebrate the birth of a man who around 30ish years later proposed to a woman on a train, and then had to let her drink the bottle of booze he intended as a gift for her father in order to get a yes or no out of her. Because Polish ladies don’t make decisions sober. And thus began our little branch of the family tree, Puff!

So let’s pour one out for your Grandpa Bob today. But, like, a small amount. The man did not believe in being wasteful, and neither do we. 

xoxo,

Aunt Vera

P.S. I know you think you’re the scowliest baby to ever grace this family with his presence, but look, bro, I was here first.

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Oddly, autonomy has nothing to do with cars and trucks.

Hoover, let’s talk about my vanity. 

I just cut my bangs and I currently have a color called Cherry Bomb setting in under foil on the bottom inch of my hair — ombre, man, I’m getting on this train. People are always surprised to learn I’m my own stylist. “You’re so brave, I could never cut my own hair,” they say. I tell them it’s all a matter of extreme vanity — that if and when the apocalypse comes and there’s a total breakdown in society and all the hair stylists have abandoned their posts, I’ll still be able to keep my appearance up, and I’ll look great in the found footage documentaries. It’s always important to plan ahead, boyo. But zombies/natural disasters/whatever aside, my cosmetic autonomy has nothing to do with bravery and everything to do with the fact that I’d rather disappoint myself than have someone else disappoint me. 

Back when I had really short hair in college, I had to get it cut every couple of weeks to be able to spike it the way I liked. But the ladies who cut my hair rarely gave me exactly what I wanted. The bangs wouldn’t be razored in the right way, the back would be too short, whatever it was. And that would make me upset and disappointed that I had wasted my time and my money and I still didn’t get what I wanted. I lived with my friend Caitlen then — I will maybe one day write you a whole post of the rules to live by that Caitlen and I wrote on our apartment wall, but in lieu of that, I will say that basically her existence is summed up by the phrase, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.” She can basically build/fix/do anything, like she knows her way around all the power tools and she can change her own oil and she once designed/sewed a replica of Shirley Temple’s “On the Good Ship Lollipop” costume (best class project we ever did) without batting an eyelash. Here’s a picture I once took of her spray-painting a baby doll that I think we found on the side of the road (look, dude: art school, okay?) which should give you an idea of who she is. 

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My point is that Caitlen is a doer. She also has a low threshold for whining. One day after one of my unsatisfying haircuts, she told me she had a razor and we could fix my bangs. She pulled the blade out of a box cutter and handed it to me. And thus my life changed.

It was pretty scary the first time I cut my own hair. But then it felt so good. Because I did it myself, and I got exactly what I wanted. 

Once people found out I cut my own hair, I started getting requests to cut theirs. Sometimes I declined, but over the course of the past few years, I’ve cut the hair of your Babcia, your Uncle Ian, your great-great Aunt Stella (with the direction, “Don’t make me look like a teenager, I wanna look like an old lady.”), two co-workers on “Awkward,” and one at the ADVANCE Program for Young Scholars. But I’m always scared to cut other people’s hair because it undercuts the very reason I’ve taken to cutting my own: limiting the opportunity for disappointment. 

There have certainly been missteps in my hair history, Puffbutt. Sometimes I cut the bangs too short or the back’s a little uneven or there was the time I wanted to bleach out a white streak so I could look like Rogue from X-Men and let’s just say it didn’t go as planned. But when I messed up, I had no one to blame but myself. I wasn’t mad at someone else for letting me down. I think one of the things I hate most in the world is feeling disappointed by someone I trusted. 

Hoover, I hope you’ve realized by now that this is not really an entire post dedicated to convincing you to take personal control over your hair’s destiny.

But it IS a post dedicated to convincing you to take control over your own.

What I have learned, or maybe what I’m constantly learning, is that things that really matter to you rarely matter quite as much to anyone else. This is not necessarily because other people suck — it’s just that they have their own list of “most important things,” and, to be fair, a lot of their stuff probably isn’t on yours. 

So if something really matters to you, you have to be prepared to do it yourself. What this means is that you can’t be lazy! Or, if you are, you have no right to complain about anything. You’re in the autonomy stage of development anyway now, so I know I’m just telling you things you already know. You’re a big kid and you are capable of doing anything you want by yourself, SO WHAT IF YOU GET FOOD ALL OVER YOUR FACE AND THE TABLE AND THE FLOOR IN THE PROCESS, MOM?

I guess what I’m saying is, don’t ever lose this side of yourself. Don’t delegate your life away, bro. Not only will you be happier, I promise your relationships will be stronger if you don’t set people up for failure by asking other people to do things that you know, in your heart of hearts, you should take care of yourself.

Maybe the best life advice I ever got was posed as a question in the mythology class I took at Youngstown State (go Penguins) when I was in high school; we were talking about Joseph Campbell, and the professor asked, “Are you the hero of your story, or are you waiting to be saved?”

Be your own hero, kid. Pick up those scissors, snip off those bangs, and take your place among the Gilgameshes of the world. Or, you know, whatever it is that your thing is. 

And now, I gotta go wash this red out of my hair. 

I love you and miss you and am sure I’ll see you soon. 

xoxo,

Aunt Vera

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A birthday addendum.

Hoover, you ever heard of a hangover?

You may remember my list of birthday advice from when you had your very first ever birthday. There is something very important I need to add, which is:

Once you hit the drinking age, DO NOT EVER book a flight for the day after your birthday party. This is the most useful  advice I will ever give you and boyohboy do I wish someone had given it to me. Moving is difficult right now, flying in three hours seems vaguely unfathomable. Learn from my mistakes, kid, okay?

By the by, per your dad’s instructions, I had a mojito for you last night. It was delicious. You’ll like them one day. 

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In other news, I’m 25 now, and as you can see, this is gonna be an age of great new wisdom. 

xoxo,

your pained Aunt Vuh

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A lesson in silence.

Hoover, for the past few months, I haven’t had a lot to say.

There’s a post I tried writing to you several times, but it just never amounted to much. Advice ideas have come and gone without feeling like knock-outs. Friends will reference Advice to Baby Hoover from time to time and I always feel a pang of guilt, like I’ve been negligent, like I haven’t expressed recently how you’re my favorite person in the world, and if I’m not doing that, WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?

I mean, we’ve spent a lot of quality time together the past few months…

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But just because I will join your parents in rolling trucks back and forth with you for hours on end and reading that poorly-written “How Does a Dinosaur Go to School?” book ad nauseum doesn’t mean I’m allowed to stop giving you life advice, does it? 

No it does not. 

But I don’t want to give you bad advice, and I don’t want to give you lame advice, so I’ve opted instead to give you no advice. And when I actually thought about that, I had a small advice breakthrough, which is:

If you don’t have anything smart to say, stay quiet.

This is a variation on an adage you’ll hear throughout your life that goes something to the tune of how it’s better to say nothing and have people think you’re a dumb-butt  than say something stupid and prove that you are.  I think it’s more than that. If you say something dumb and people know it’s dumb, then no harm, no foul, feel free to bust out your bedazzler to give your dunce cap a little personality. But more important than your questionable fashion statement, the idea of withholding speech when you have nothing to say is a matter of civic responsibility. Yes it is, buddy boy! Sometimes people talk nonsense, and other people listen. This is the problem. 

You ever heard the phrase “Primum non nocere”? Probs not, unless Dr. Seuss slipped it into “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.” It means “First, do no harm” and is supposed to be the mantra doctors go by when dealing with patients. I think it’s a pretty good rule for the art of speaking too. Even if you’re not intentionally contributing harmful words to the world (although you’re obviously too sweet to ever have a mean streak — except when you bite your mom, which you should maybe work on), you can cause harm by saying dumb things if you’re saying them to people who THINK you’re smart. There are a handful of people whose word I will take on pretty much anything because I trust them that much. And part of that trust is trusting that they’re going to guide me in the right direction when I have a question, need help, whatever. But WHAT IF, when I called your dad to ask him the difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth, he didn’t really know but just kind of made some stuff up to make it sound like he did? Then, little man, I could have messed up my retirement planning and where would I be in 40 years? You might have to support me! I know it would be your great joy to take care of me in my old age, but come on, I don’t want to make you do that. Anyway, the point is, as a basic rule, people count on other people to know what they’re talking about when they talk. Especially people who are important in their lives. 

And this, boyo, is why I didn’t give you advice the past few months. It may shock you to hear, since I’m one of the most put-together people you know (mostly you know other babies, so the competition isn’t too hard), that recently I’ve been kind of meandering in my life. Pondering the big questions of what I should be writing, where I should be living, what kind of cookie really is my favorite, etc. And if I didn’t feel like I had a solid grasp on my existence, how could I possibly be trusted to give you advice about yours? You’ll be relieved to hear that I’ve since figured out the answers to most of the big questions (still working on the cookie thing), and in fact, I think you’re really gonna like what I’ve got up my sleeve. But the point is, for a while there, it was my duty to not tell you things that I couldn’t be certain weren’t wrong. 

Although you are pretty good at not listening to what you don’t want to hear. 

Anyway, I’ve got a little caveat for you, Puffbutt, so take your fingers outta your ears real quick and listen up. This is advice I only want you to start taking once you’ve mastered speaking at all. Currently I want you to keep babbling as much as you want because there is absolutely nothing cuter in the world than when you say “Vuh” and look at me and if I died right now I’d want to be buried with a tape deck and recording of you saying that on a loop.

Yeah, I know you don’t know what a tape deck is, but roll with me here anyway. 

xoxo,

Aunt Vuh

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Honestly, Hoover. HONESTLY.

Hoover, what do you know about Honest Abe? 

I mean, he’s never gonna be your favorite president, OBVIOUSLY, because you kind of got stuck with having to claim Herbert Hoover as your favorite president from before you were born. To be honest, I can’t tell you much about Herbert Hoover. The only time I remember taking US History, it was taught to me by a football coach who assured us that if George Washington played the game he’d have been a great QB (I’m sure we’ve talked about this favorite formative memory of mine), so I guess what I’m saying is that no one’s ever expected much from me on the US history front. Or the world history front, really. Had a coach for that one too. We watched Divorce Court a lot in class, then sometimes at 11 I’d have him turn on Jeopardy (you know how good I am at getting people to do what I want), but class ended at like, 11:20 or something, so it was always before the final answer. Ugh, you know?

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Presidents. Honest Abe. Luckily the reason I brought up him up is right there in his name, so I don’t need to have a real wealth of presidential knowledge to get this going.

So: word is he was pretty honest. And people seem to like that about him. Today I’m here to encourage you to get into the honesty game because I want people to like you too.  

I’d say I know a fair amount of at least somewhat dishonest folk, but I like to believe that that’s just because I have bad taste in people and not because I’ve chosen a profession where connivers thrive. (This is called lying to yourself, Puffbutt — we’ll talk some other time.) Now, look, I’m happy to report that this advice is not coming to you off of some specific incident, but more of an extended period of mulling over the pros of having an honest disposition. And now I offer you five good reasons why you should aspire to earn the moniker Honest Hoover from your pals around the playgroup (other than that being like a super rad cool-sounding nickname to have, obvi).

1. People don’t trust liars.

Duh, right? Once people catch you being dishonest, their opinion of you changes. Sure, you can still be close, but there’ll always be a piece of them — even if it’s small — that doesn’t entirely trust you. When I know someone is distorting the truth to me, I don’t call them out on it (because confrontation, ick) but I file it away in my mental vault and I know to be a little wary about certain areas with them in the future. It’s a bummer that some of my favorite people have a mental sticky note attached to them, and since you’re my MOST favorite person, I don’t want you to become one of them. 

2. Respect.

Sometimes, Hooves, it is very hard to tell the truth. Either because you know the other person doesn’t want to hear what you have to say, or you really don’t want to say what you have to say. Do it anyway. People respect integrity. It’s weird that people respect it so much but are often so lax about it, but truly, you never hear someone say with disdain in their voice, “Ugh, he’s so honest, I can’t stand that in a person.” At least, like, not people who are mentally well-balanced and socially well-adjusted and stuff. Also, as important, you’ll have self-respect if you can give an honest answer in a time when it would be easier to lie. Character-building stuff, kiddo, I’m telling ya. Added bonus — there’s nothing better than getting to have smug points that you don’t do something unlikeable that other people you know do. 

3. Tangles, man.

I know you’re behind on any literature that doesn’t come in board book form:

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But one day you’ll hear of Sir Walter Scott and his famous line, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Lies can get you in deep, bro. You tell one, you gotta tell another to cover up that one, things escalate, your life gets complicated, next thing you know you’re considering upping your fake boyfriend to fake fiancee and wondering how big of a proposal story you need to come up with to make the whole thing buyable and explain why you don’t have a ring. (Look, this only happened to me once, but the guy who would not leave me alone eventually moved on and I got to go back to being relaxingly single both in real life and my imagination.) This was a relatively harmless (although kind of stressful to me at the time) version of what I’m talking about, but imagine how messy things get when people not only lie upon lies, but then have to get other people involved to try to corroborate their lies? Whole political administrations have been brought down because of these things, baby boy! (I couldn’t tell you any specifically, because you know my thing with history — but I’m sure it’s happened.) Woof, Hoover. No gracias, not for us.

4. Checks and balances.

This one’s easy. Wanting to be an honest person can become a great “check yourself before you wreck yourself” system. When you find yourself on the precipice of doing something that you know you’re going to have to lie about later, RED ALERT, DUDE. You probably shouldn’t be doing it. If more people considered this before they engaged in shady activity, my oh my what a different world we’d live in. 

5. Vanity.

Obviously, this one’s the most important. Your nose is really cute the way it is, and I know you haven’t seen Pinocchio yet, but word from that movie is that lying makes your schnoz grow straight out of your face.  Even though I’m not a doctor, I’d say that PROBABLY that’s not really going to happen — but you never know, you know? And are you really willing to risk messing up this delightfully well-proportioned visage? 

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I didn’t think so. 

Now, before I send you off into your world of soft pants and indeterminate sticky things on your hands, I want to clarify that we’re not talking about white lies here. Like if you get a bad haircut and you know it and we know it, but we tell you it looks great to make you feel better about yourself, that’s just being a kind soul. Some people would disagree with me on that and believe in brutal honesty — but I’m a softy who has a hard time with “brutal” anything. However, if you decide when you grow up that you want to be a brutally honest fellow, I’ll respect that and just make sure I never ask you any questions that I don’t want the answers to. Deal? 

Now go be a rampant truth-teller, little man. And say hi to the ‘rents for me, would you? 

xoxo,

A.V.

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Girl talk.

Hoover, it’s Valentine’s Day. 

Since you’re a whole 15 months old and still not reading (what’s up with that, bro?), I don’t know if you actually read the card I gave you this morning. 

Today’s lesson is easy: be nice to all the girls in your life, but be nicest to the ones you’re related to. ‘Cause, Puffbutt, the romantic ladies will come and go, but you’re super stuck with us.

Like even more stuck than those puffs and Cheerios constantly are to the seat of your pants. Which is saying something.

Happy Valentine’s Day, cutie.

xoxo,

A.V.

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On advice itself.

Hoover, you know I’m infallible, right?

I’ve realized that you’ve never asked for my credentials for giving you advice. I appreciate your blind trust but want to make sure you grow up a discerning young man. So for the sake of thoroughness, and to dismiss any potential naysayers who may one day happen upon these notes to you, I thought maybe I’d give you a quick sampling of a few important accomplishments in my life. 

—Heart Award, Hidden Valley 4-H Camp, Waktins Glen, New York (2000) [the 4-H motto: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living.”]

—Poet Laureate, Thomas J. Rusk Middle School, Nacogdoches, Texas (2003)

—undefeated cake eating contest champion, ADVANCE Program for Young Scholars, Natchitoches, Louisiana (2009-2011)

Since this last one is definitely the most impressive, I offer you photographic proof, taken after my first victory:image

(The contest measures speed, not volume, so the trick is just to be able to swallow a piece of cake without chewing. Also, that was the summer we were really into bandanas.)

I trust these things speak for themselves in terms of communicating that I am highly accomplished in many areas, and therefore obviously have the authority to advise others such as yourself on a breadth of topics.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to business. 

There’s this episode of The West Wing (I’m pretty sure I’ve promised you before that we’ll watch it all one day) that centers around the idea of “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet.” Bartlet’s the prez, and the idea is he does better work when he’s actually being true to his natural instincts instead of trying to do what he thinks people want. I don’t think anyone rational would argue with this concept. I’ve adopted this motto and when I find myself in conflict with people about what I’m supposed to be doing (with my day, my life, whatever), I say, “Let Herbert Be Herbert.”

And yet, even though the rational should understand this in theory, in practice they so often don’t. People can be such dumbs. 

The version of this mantra that is bandied about frequently in my apartment is “You do you.” (You’ll meet my friend Lauren one day, sometimes she is tortured/TREATED with endless pictures of you.) One of us will come home from something or get off a phone call and start complaining about people interfering with our lives and inevitably the conversation becomes, “I just wanna be like, ‘You do you, let me do me.’” 

It is very hard for some people to let other people (usually ones they care about) do what they want. It’s a protective thing, which, while well-intentioned, can be totally infuriating. 

Let’s take you for a sec, Puffbutt. Here are two of the reigning qualities of your personality:

1. Loves trucks.

2. Thumbs-middle-to-down on holidays. 

These are things we accept about you, we embrace them, because trying to get you to do anything other than what you want or be anyone other than who you are is never gonna end well for any of us. So personally, I love that our Christmas photo together looks like this:

Because it so captures who we both are. 

What I’m getting at here is neither deep nor particularly original, but it’s such an important thing I need you to understand. You do you, bro. Let Puffbutt be Puffbutt. We’ve established that I’m an infallible source of wisdom for you and obviously want you to follow all the advice I ever give, but if you’re like, “Look, Aunt Vera, I’m gonna listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving because I freakin’ feel like it” or “I hate birthday parties so stop telling me I need to be excited about having one,” I’m gonna have to suck it up.

Let’s make a pact right now. I will never try to run your life if you promise not to let anyone else run your life either. Look, if I show up for your 2nd birthday party and you’ve got track marks on your arm, I’m gonna break this pact because that’s a problem, but barring such a turn of events, I’m gonna trust you. You have such defined likes and dislikes, you so know what you want, I never want to make you miserable by getting in your way. Your gut is ever-growing; let’s both trust it. 

John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors and his book “The Winter of Our Discontent” contains one of my favorite lines ever: “You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.” Preach, dude. 

I’m not giving you free license to never listen to other people. That is certainly a recipe for failure and definitely your parents will not be happy with me for that. I’m saying listen to people — like really listen, don’t just pretend to while silently reciting the lyrics to 2Pac’s “Only God Can Judge Me” in your head — but if you know deep down inside your jelly little belly, even if you can’t express why, that what they’re telling will not work for you, then you say, “Thank you but my aunt says no thank you, take it up with her.” And I will sort them out for you. 

For now, you keep ignoring everything around you that isn’t truck-shaped as long as it makes you happy, even though the rest of us are like, “Dude, they have four wheels and they roll, WE GET IT.”

And I’ll keep competitively shoving my face into piles of cake when my best friends and I decide we have nothing better to do.

One love, little giant.

xoxo,

A.V.

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Remember, remember, the 14th of November.

Hoover, we have something important to talk about today.

IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY, DUDE.

While we all know nothing gives you more pleasure than refusing to express joy:

I want to impress upon you the importance of being excited about your birthday. Because here’s the thing. Aside from it being cool to celebrate that you exist, your birthday is the one time a year where you get to make EVERYTHING about you and nobody can judge you. I know you’re thinking that everything is always about you, but the unfortunate secret I have to fill you in on is that as you get older, that gets less and less true. Sometimes I’ll go, like, DAYS without being coddled. Cruel and unusual, right? Trust me, it’s THE WORST. But, nonetheless, I always look forward to the time of year when I age because, you know, it’s a personal holiday, what could be better? 

So, since you’ve never done the birthday thing before, aside from the day you were actually born, which I think was pretty traumatic and you probably don’t want to talk about, I thought I’d give you some pieces of birthday advice to get you through your very first birthday season. 

10 Birthday Rules:

1. Celebrate often. I believe in having at least two birthday parties to ensure that everyone you want around will be able to celebrate with you at least once. Bonus points to anyone who shows up to more than one event. 

2. Demand that the people you want to celebrate with you actually do. People are busy and lives are complicated and all that, but really, if there is one time when you get to hold the people you love to a higher standard, it’s your birthday. Am I right? Like, SORRY I LOVE YOU, MY FAVORITE PEOPLE, BUT MY BIRTHDAY PARTY WON’T BE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU THERE. I think it’s totally fair. You are fantastic at being demanding, so this shouldn’t be too hard.

3. Don’t celebrate before your birthday. Look, this one is probably controversial, but I just think having a birthday party before it’s actually your birthday is kind of like lying because you haven’t actually accomplished the task of aging yet. All things in their time, you know what I’m saying? 

4.  Always have a friend at the party who’ll hold you back when you get a little too wild. 

5. Ice cream cake, man. Trust me on this one. 

6. This one takes a bit of planning, but try to get a job where you can have your birthday off. There is nothing like not working on your birthday. (Alternatively, just commit to skipping work/school on your birthday — I mean, come on, you’ve earned the day to yourself.)

7. Spend some time on your birthday taking stock of what the last year of your life has been like. New Year’s in an arbitrary time to make resolutions, if you have goals or changes you want to make in your life, why wouldn’t you start at the new year of you? You don’t have to be like Lord Byron and write an intense poem like “On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year” about it, but, you know, just ruminate for a hot minute on what you want the next year of your life to be.

8. Maybe it’ll be this year, maybe it’ll be another year, at some point you’re gonna get birthday presents you’re not that into. Be excited anyway. Someone spent at least five minutes thinking of what to get you, and that’s five minutes they could have been trolling Twitter or solving world hunger. Respect that. 

9. And on that note, when it comes to presents, remember you’ve already got everything you need: 

10. Your birthday season’s only over when you say it’s over.

You with me on all this?

I’m feeling like it’s nap time (mine, not yours) so I’ll leave you here. See you at your party next week, my favorite 1-Year-Old. Study up on these rules until then!

xo,

Aunt Vera

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Issues: Every Body’s Got ‘Em!

Hoover, let’s talk about your bod.

You’re a big baby. I don’t mean that in a mean way, like you’re whiney and cry too much, I mean in actual size, you’re long and girthy. I think we all get a lot of conversation and comedy mileage out of the fact that you could probably pass for a baby twice your age. When we last hung out, you were 7 months old and the most adorable armful of a tiny giant:

The thing is though, I know one day it’s going to be inappropriate to constantly talk about you in terms of how much you weigh and what clothing size you’re wearing. One day I will not be able to joke about your baby muffin top and thunder thighs. Because one day, you’re gonna have body issues. 

If you ever meet someone who convincingly tells you they’ve never had body issues, grab a hold of their coattails because those lying skills are gonna take them to infinity and beyond (like maybe the White House or something). Too fat, too skinny, too short, too tall, too much hair, not enough hair, big hips, no hips, thighs, arms, feet, noses, teeth, any body part you have can be the wrong size or shape, and oh, will they be.  

But my advice to you today is about moving past whatever body issues you may develop. Not that you’ll be able to not have any, don’t be ridiculous, Hooves. I mean, there are ways to massage them for yourself to make them seem less big. The ones I can offer you are:

1. Turn Your Insides Out

They say it’s what’s on the inside that matters and I believe that. I don’t mean your feelings and if you’re a good person or not. I mean literally your internal organs. Does your body work the way it should? Mostly mine does. I have a little hole in my heart (I think all writers must) that they tell me is benign, and my left ear has an incurable case of In-Flight Radio Syndrome (others would call it a dysfunctional eustachian tube, but I think my name is more descriptive for something that makes my ear feel like it’s always in an airplane). As far as I know, those are pretty much the biggest actual body problems I’ve got right now, so maybe I should stop worrying about my stomach that will, let’s face it, never be flat. And your body works too, pretty well, in fact, I mean you’re already standing and walking and stuff, so really, it’s doing its job and we should be excited about that.

2. Nobody Likes Models Anyway

This one’s simple. Do you want to be the person that everyone is jealously trash-talking behind their back? No you don’t! You want to have a body of the people, you want thighs that are gonna put others at ease. Whatever body part you’re insecure about may be making other people feel better about themselves; your belly is a straight-up gift to humanity, and don’t you forget it.

3. You Have a Lot of Other Good Qualities

I work hard, I choose to see the good in people, and I know all the words to both Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”. I think these are things that people care more about than the size of my upper arms. Your good qualities include your pensive nature, your appreciation of the finer things in life (like Raffi on repeat), and how much you clearly love being my best friend. As long as we continue to lead with these winning traits, we’ll be fine in life. 

4. You Have a Lot of Other Horrible Qualities

I’m terrible at responding to emails. I need constant attention or I start to worry nobody likes me. “Look Who’s Talking” has been one of my favorite movies since I was 6. These are issues that need fixing more immediately than any I have with my body. You, of course, are utterly perfect and have not a one horrible quality…some might say that you are occasionally grumpy, but they are just maligners and they shall get their comeuppance. I mean seriously, who would ever believe that this face could grump?

5. Remember That You’re an Idiot

98% of my body issues are 100% in my head. No one would care about my giant ribcage if I stopped talking about it. In fact, I’m pretty sure no one DOES care about it, even though I WON’T stop talking about it. So if/when you one day start to feel insecure about any part of your body, remember that you’re a big-big dum-dum. And if you’re not able to convince yourself you’re being an idiot, call me up and I’ll knock some sense into your cute skull. Deal?

Alright, Herbert Junior, that’s all for now. I hope you find this list helpful. I love you more than anything and I’ll see you tonight! You better still be awake and ready to party hardy when my plane lands.

xo,

Aunt Vera 

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Don’t wait until your wedding day.

Hoover, it’s Father’s Day this weekend. I’m going to assume you can figure out from the name what Father’s Day is — I mean, you’re pretty brawny at this point, but I think you’ve got some brains too. Your first Father’s Day will be fun, you’re going to spend it in a car with your dad, mom, Uncle Ian, and dogs on the way to a rented house where we’re doing a family vacation next week. I’ll be joining you guys on Tuesday, so you have some mad snuggles and iPhone selfies to look forward to, kid.  

Anyway, you and your dad were pretty cute together when I saw you a few weeks ago, even though you made it clear to him in no uncertain terms that you are not a fan of avocado.

 

But today, I want to tell you a story about me and mine. 

I was 16 or 17 and alone at home with Dad. I couldn’t tell you if there was music playing, but I have to imagine there was, through the speaker system my dad had gotten your dad to set up in the house. We were standing in the kitchen, by the sink, completely ordinarily. I’m sure I was in an emo band t-shirt, he was probably in either black jeans (Lee 32/34) or “loungewear” (his word to feel classy while day-wearing pajamas), our respective staples. And as we talked about nothing consequential — I actually have a vague feeling that maybe we weren’t even talking, maybe we were just passing each other by — he took hold of me and started to dance.

This wasn’t a movie musical moment, there wasn’t polish or grace, it was just a hug that swayed and spun in a circle a little. But I was 16 or 17, and incredibly awkward with shows of affection, and didn’t know why this was happening, but certainly knew I wanted it to end. I resisted, tried to pull away, and I think he held on tighter for a moment, and I struggled more, and he let me go. 

This is pretty indicative of who we were then. 

As I got my space back, he said, “Don’t wait until your wedding day.” For what, I asked. To dance with your father, he said. You might be disappointed. I don’t dance in public. Then he walked into the living room, and I wondered if he was serious, and maybe a little bit if I had hurt his feelings, and was he really not going to dance with me when I got married?

He won’t, Chubs. Within a year or two of that odd moment on the kitchen’s yellow linoleum, I was tripping as I stepped down from the pulpit where I gave his eulogy, still lacking polish, grace, and now a father to dance with me on my wedding day. 

So this is one of the most important pieces of advice I will ever give you. Right now I need you to sit up, take whatever toy you’re gnawing on out of your mouth, stop thinking about boobs for a minute, and listen to me. 

Love your parents, let them be dorks, and let them love you. This is going to be one of the toughest tasks you’ll ever embark on, especially when you’re a teenager. But life is made of little unimportant moments, ones you don’t take photos of, ones that don’t have crowds, ones you’ll mostly forget. Don’t wait for the big ones — the wedding days — to be your parents’ kid.

Let this—

—be okay whenever, forever. 

I know that you’re rolling your adorable little eyes right now. I get it, I do. You think your parents are cheesy, and you think I’m cheesy, and you don’t understand why I would be encouraging you to let your dad keep calling you Sweetheart in public for as many years as he wants. (I don’t think you have to worry that he’s still going to do it once you’ve like, hit puberty, but you never know, dude.) But luckily for me, you can barely make coherent sounds right now, let alone words, so I get to keep talking and you don’t get to argue.  

All I’m trying to say is that in whatever way your parents ever try to be sweet or affectionate or show how much they dig you, let them. Because as embarrassing or uncomfortable as it may make you, if one day they couldn’t do it, you’d miss it. Trust me. 

So if your mom — or dad, for that matter — ever wants to dance with you in the kitchen, you’ll get in the most trouble of your life with me if I find out you passed the offer up. 

That’s all for now. I’ll see you in a couple days, my dear babyface.

xo,

Aunt Vera