September 14, 2007

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

A letter to Emily

Once in a childhood, a girl encounters a cool babysitter. She has a funky wardrobe and a fabulous nail polish collection. She lets you stay up past your bedtime and play with her hair—even if your French-braid attempt results in a tangled disaster.

For me, this was Aunt Kathy. She could draw bubble letters and turn cartwheels with ease. And she told terrific bedtime stories, carving suspenseful plotlines around Care Bear characters.

In her honor, I vowed to become a cool babysitter. Julie Andrews nurtured my ambition. I resolved to be one part Mary Poppins, one part Fraulein Maria: gliding down banisters, serving spoonfuls of sugar and providing musical comfort during thunderstorms.

So when Aunt Jan went into labor on Thanksgiving of 1990, delivering my first maternal cousin, I was thrilled. We gathered around the fireplace at Grandma’s house, praying for the baby’s safe arrival.

“We’ll love it no matter what,” I declared with an 8-year-old’s earnestness, “even if it has a third foot.”

The subject of that prayer was a round baby named Emily. She took a while to talk and sprout hair, but she soon demonstrated all that I needed: functional ears and a fertile imagination. When we slept over at Grandma’s, I told her stories about Queen Cleopatra and St. Rose of Lima, painting my heroines with plenty of color.

Emily attended my soccer games, greeted me with hugs and picked up my clarinet when I graduated from band. She grew up in a blink, transforming into a beautiful teenager with a quick sense of humor, a gracious demeanor and a sharp fashion sense.

Emily slept over at my first apartment, and we stayed up late talking about boys and eating cookie dough. The next day, I styled her hair and drove her to Target, where we donned silly accessories and asked random shoppers to photograph us.

Last fall when I called to see if she passed her driving test, Emily asked me to be her confirmation sponsor. That night I began brainstorming the advice I could share with her.

I remember the trials of adolescence in painful detail. Crying to the dermatologist. Arguing with Mom in the fitting room. Curfews and crushes and Cosmo quizzes.

It seems even harder for teens today, who have to deal with bald Britney, imprisoned Paris and the ubiquitous digital camera.

So here are my thoughts:

Dear Emily,

I know how much you want to be pretty and popular. I did, too. As a teenager, I engaged in a relentless pursuit of perfection. Yet all the hairspray in the world couldn’t hold everything in place. Some days, my life felt as chaotic as my bedroom, the pitiful pathway of Hurricane Christina.

Here’s my advice to you: Focus on character more than achievement or appearance. When you are kind to others, your virtue will shine through, lighting up your face.

Be kind to yourself, too. God has amazing plans for your life that will unfold according to his infinite wisdom and perfect timing. So if the picture looks foggy now and if progress feels slow, be patient.

I see that you can laugh at yourself, and I’m glad. Humility is holiness, and laughter is its echo. Never take yourself too seriously.

This month you’ll be confirmed in your Catholic faith, the greatest gift you can carry along during those bumpy high-school years. Let it be your guide.

In the meantime, don’t try to be That Girl. Just work at being you. Because God exceeded my prayer 17 years ago: You are absolutely perfect.

— Christina

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. E-mail her at†

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