Letters to My Daughtersby Mary Matalin
In Letters to My Daughters, famed political consultant and TV personality Mary Matalin shares the moral, ethical, and occasionally comic life lessons gleaned from her mother's experiences and her own. These intimate, personal letters range from the spiritual to the practical, from giving life to accepting death, from civic to personal responsibility, from looking and feeling good to dealing with those pesky boys, and more.
Here's a sampling of the mother wisdom found in these pages:
Crying is not a weakness; it's cathartic and cleansing. People who live life with the fullest commitment tend to cry a lot. It's a healthy expression of deep emotions. I don't like or trust people who don't or can't cry.
When I tell you I understand what you're going through, it's not just because I remember what it felt like to be a teenage girl whose body is being hijacked by hormones against her will. It's because I'm a fifty-something whose body is being hijacked by hormones against her will at this very moment. And if you don't believe me, just ask your father.
I believe in my heart of hearts that a life without faith is unanchored and unfulfilling. Without it, you're just wandering in the desert. You experience deeply that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts -- and the singing is damn good.
Ma had a complex philosophy of sex, which I heard almost every day from age ten. "Boys would screw a snake if it would lay still long enough." Let's flash forward forty years and allow your mother to give you a twenty-first-century take on boys and S-E-X: "Boys would screw a snake if it would lay still long enough."...And the men in Washington think that's a compliment.
A deep sense of loyalty can help you overcome almost any bump in the road. The disloyal may advantage themselves in some work situations, but their gains will be temporary, fleeting. They will fail their institutions, their colleagues, and worst of all, themselves.
Filled with warmth, common sense, a belief in the values that keep families strong, and her trademark sense of humor, Mary Matalin's letters will inspire, guide, entertain, and inform. They're the perfect companion for any mother looking for a smart, sensible fellow traveler on the road to raising good daughters.
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Read an Excerpt
IN THE BEGINNING
The Humphrevilles joined us for a vacation with their nine-month-old. Georgie gurgles, swiggles, and smiles a lot. You two cannot leave him alone. You sit cross-legged on the floor with him or at his feet when he's in the stroller, displaying a patience and attention span normally reserved only for Hilary Duff movies. You repeatedly respond to the baby's infectious squeals of delight by stroking his cottony, coppery wisps of hair.
I'm amazed and amused at the endless extent to which "Carrot Head," as Emma calls him, enraptures you both. At your instinctive gentle touch, your untrained but pitch-perfect cooing and aahing, your drop-everything concerned caresses when Georgie appears anywhere near crying.
Where does this come from? Your innate mother knowledge? Your automatic maternal touch? It certainly doesn't come from me. I never liked or wanted kids. I remember babysitting only once, and that was under parental duress when Dad and Ma wanted to go out with my uncle Joe and aunt Mary Ann, who had four towheads spaced less than two years apart. Aunt Mar knew me well enough to have them all asleep before I got there. One of my best friends when I was young was one of nine; never did any of the many little ones engage even my passing attention. I had no dolls or desire for any except Patti Playpal, because she was a giant three feet tall, not a doll at all, but sized to be a real imaginary friend!
The me-first, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar culture of my teens confirmed my early conviction that kids were not for me. Then came college, the chaos of campaigns, career chasing, and never-ending adventures. I surrounded myself with a circle of friends equally uninterested in procreating. In my last and deepest campaign immersion, plastered prominently behind by desk was the poster that read, "Oops, I Forgot to Have Kids," like I cared, which I didn't. The only nag of concern, and it was recessed very deeply in the back of my mind, came when Barbara Bush addressed the Wellesley grads in 1990. I was thirty-seven years old and had reached my all-time professional political apex as the Bush/Quayle deputy campaign manager. Really, it was more than professional: I was blindly passionate about politics in general, George Herbert Walker Bush, specifically. I was completely fulfilled.
Nonetheless, Mrs. Bush broke into my frenetic, totally self-absorbed, purposeful psyche when she told these young women that "at the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent." In the haze of time, I've come to call this precise moment my awakening. But in real life, real time, few moments are precise, and awakenings are more like gently stirring currents than jolting lightning bolts.
Maybe Mrs. Bush's speech focused me because it came from the most fulfilled, satisfied, complete woman I had ever known. With all she had done, seen, and produced, she ranked her family first. I found this disconcerting, disquieting because making a family was not even on my radar screen. It simply hadn't occurred to me that anything could be better than what I was doing. She made me stop and think that there might be some merit to settling down for some people -- but not me. I didn't change my ways. Not when we lost the '92 Bush reelection campaign, which derailed me from any career track I might have been on; not when my biological clock chimed forty; not when I married.
At least, nothing consciously changed, but the seed Mrs. Bush unwittingly planted in the back of my thick head must have been setting its own roots. Within five months of marrying, I was pregnant -- accidentally. Believe me, girls, no fast-paced forty-one-year-old gets pregnant unintentionally. Some force beyond my ken was at work.
Still, my first reaction was horror, shock, disbelief, incredulity. For maybe, oh, twenty minutes. Then I was sledgehammered between the eyes and I took a full-fledged fall into ecstasy. Daddy and I were obsessed, overjoyed; we'd been touched by a miracle. And then I miscarried. Daddy drove in alone with his despair to pick me up at the hospital. We retreated to the mountain house, where we couldn't bring ourselves to leave the loft. We drank a lot of red wine, weeping and wallowing in what seemed to us a singular sorrow.
Don't ever discount miscarriages as insignificant, passing events. I was stunned at the insensitivity of the many who, in one way or another, expressed a dismissive and obligatory sympathy, as if I'd passed a kidney stone! As if the teeny tiny pulsing heart inside me had never beaten. Only other parents who miscarried had an inkling of our painful reality.
As your pregnancies will reveal to you, (1) you know almost instantly that your body is not alone, and (2) your love for that bud, that speck is primal, protective, pervasive, and possessive. When that all-encompassing obsession with another being -- baby -- is suddenly, unexpectedly, inexplicably ended with no being, no baby, well, girls, suffice to say, it is not a nonevent. Pregnancy, new life, is poignant from the first precious second. Even a joyful birth doesn't erase the pain of an earlier miscarriage.
I'm recounting this sorry episode here to encourage your heartfelt empathy toward miscarrying mothers. I pray you will never need it for yourselves.
I had to discover my baby love later in life and first through grief. But you, beloved bambinas, are blessed to have so automatic and authentic a baby love so early. Your natural affections remind me of my mom. She couldn't get enough of babies, any baby. She remained entranced for hours -- playing "Itsy-Bitsy Spider" and peekaboo, making funny faces, rocking, singing -- happily lost in some magic maternal world. In the days before endless food scares and the vogue for vegetarianism, she would put me, Aunt Renie, and Uncle Stevie in the middle of a blanket on the floor, give us each a piece of raw bacon, and watch us gnaw and squish and spread greasy goo all over our delighted selves. (We kids gag at this memory!)
Ma's undiluted, superstrength mother love only came gushing out of me when you two came into my world. So, little pleases me more than watching it flow so naturally and abundantly from you at so budding an age, knowing you already know the blessing of babies.
Maybe it's your prodigious baby lust or a passing phase (I hope not), but talking about babies is one of your favorite pastimes. I answer all your questions, no matter how advanced. You have all the facts, but the feelings associated with motherhood can never be adequately described; you can only live it. Of course, the most indescribable of experiences is actually having a baby -- growing a baby inside you and coaxing it out of your own body.
If motherhood is in your future, you will, as all women do, have your own unique birthings, and as unique to you as they will be, birthing will catapult you into the universe of Motherland, where understanding is immediate. All mothers love to tell and hear birthing stories over and over and over. Sipping our wine as the iridescent red Tuscan sun set, Georgie's mom and I detailed ours at such length and with such graphic language that your father had to leave the patio. He harks back to that generation when men didn't share in such recounting; it was unheard of for them to be present for the actual birth! In old movies you'll see the expectant fathers pacing like caged animals around the waiting rooms, grasping a handful of cigars for dear life, barely concealing their "unmanly" anxiety. Today expectant fathers make movies in the delivery room! Your dad made the leap into this century by being in the room when you each were born, but he didn't stray one inch from the head of the bed. He said he wanted to steer clear of the "action end."
His natural, limitless hyperactivity combined with inconsolable concern about me and his baby made him as close to crazy in my first sweaty contractions as I've ever seen. He was so bad during the throes of the worst stages of my labor with Matty that I asked if they would give him an epidural! My epidural was heavy, so my labor was light. I respect women who go for "natural" births, but I told my doctor I didn't consider pain natural: load me up!
I'll spare you the blow-by-blows. Matty was out in three pushes; Emma, one and a half. I was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of relief, exuberance, and a thousand other emotions I can't ever describe.
Daddy went wild, abandoned his post for the "action end" and screamed, "It's a baby! It's a baby!" Even through my fog of joy and drugs, I was dimly aware of the reaction from the doctor and nurses to this curious outburst. As in, "What were you expecting? A puppy?" Daddy continued to yip around like a puppy himself until he was handed each of you. He became instantly as still as you have never and will never see him outside of this special situation, immobilized by joy and fear over your tiny newness.
Later, at each birth, the girls -- Aunt Renie, Maria, Jill, Gracie -- came up with red wine and champagne. When Emma was born, two-year-old Matty came up into our bed, her expression of awe and love captured by Aunt Gracie, the official photo chronicler of all cool events. Most touching to me -- and I'll never forget it -- was that none of my girlfriends had given birth, yet they each cooed over each of you as if they had just delivered you. We were totally tapped into the miracle and each other.
Also unforgettable is the fact that only Aunt Renie knew what to do and what was going on -- from how to nurse to how not to panic over your first poops, which I thought were hot tar!
I have relived countless times and reveled in every precious minute of those hours preceding and following your births. They are such a deep part of me that I don't know if I could share them even if I could describe them. But equally gratifying are the moments I remember here: the first time you met your dad, your aunts, your sister. The only thing even remotely as beautiful as your births was how you created a family.
For all time, you are the greatest joy.
Copyright © 2004 by Mary Matalin
Meet the Author
Mary Matalin served as assistant to President George W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney. She hosted CNN's Crossfire, was founding cohost of Equal Time, and recently starred in Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney's K Street. She also co-authored with her husband, James Carville, the bestselling All's Fair: Love, War, and Running for President. She and Carville reside in Virginia with their daughters, Matalin "Matty" Carville and Emerson Normand Carville, as well as three dogs, four cats, two hamsters, and two turtles (two of which coincidentally are ingredients in her husband's gumbo). At PTA meetings, she is known to remind people that she is an expert on children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, having married one in 1993.
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This audio book was not something I would have picked out myself. It was sent to me by a girlfriend so I took the time to listen. I have heard my husband talk about this ¿politically opposite¿ husband and wife team many times and admired their ability to make a life together when they work on such opposite sides of the political fence. Listening to this compilation of thoughts and desires from Mary Matalin to her daughters brought back things my mother try to pound into my head as a teenager. From the bittersweet happenings in a teenager¿s life to the everyday down-to-earth, get-it-right thoughts on life, these letters provides the basics every child needs to grown up right. They tell about the fears of being a mother and the hopes to ¿get it right¿ for your child. They provide insights into the fact that just because a mother is now over 21, she can and does remember what it was like to be 8 or 10 or 16. Ms Matalin tells about her own family background and some of their hopes, dreams and family tragedies. She shares with the listener some of those wonderful growing up stories that happen in every family and the same stories that are told and retold and handed down through the generations. If you are looking for a good way to talk to your daughters ¿ or sons for that matter ¿ grab a copy of this audio book and go for it.
Mary gives no holes barred advice to her girls on all things important. Smart, funny and sensitive.