A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – no.9 “Be a Sponge”

Dear daughter,

By now I have probably taken you to see the rural area where I grew up. Life is different there — my childhood looked a lot different from yours. There weren’t a lot of opportunities out there but I was very fortunate because grandpa had the means for us to travel, take classes, and just get out of the area occasionally. I knew there was a whole world out there and many of the people I grew up with never saw that. I’m not trying to put anyone down — I had a great childhood there. I just knew when it was time for me to leave.

Whenever grandpa made opportunities available for me outside of our rural area, he always told me to be a sponge and just absorb everything I can. He specifically said this before I left for my exchange year in Denmark. After spending some time abroad, I knew exactly what he meant and I was thankful for his advice. I took in as much as I could while I was in Denmark and it affected me greatly — it affects me to this day. Seeing a different way of life made me want to improve my own. 

So now I’m saying the same to you — be a sponge. You undoubtedly will have many different experiences growing up and I’m happy that we live in a diverse area with many opportunities. Definitely take advantage of that. Who knows where life will take you.

By the way, I am also secretly hoping you will get the chance to study abroad. It is absolutely life-changing.



A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no.8 “Your Body is Only Yours” and “Ambitions and Dreams”

Dear strong and beautiful daughter,

Your body is yours — not god’s, not society’s, not your family’s, not the government’s, and not your partner’s. It is only yours.

Say “no” whenever you need to. Say “yes” whenever you want to. 

When I was younger, there were times I wanted to say “no” but didn’t. I didn’t want to hurt anyone or have someone see me as a bitch or tease. The feeling of regret is simply not worth it. If you don’t feel confident or comfortable with a situation, say “no”. 

Don’t feel afraid to say “yes” either. Try new things and learn what you like.

Set your own standards. You don’t have to live up to anyone else’s expectations.

The most important thing is that you’re happy and healthy, and that looks different for everyone.





My ambitious daughter with dreams and goals,

Pursue the things you love even if there’s a lot of work involved.

They say if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life, but I’ve learned that’s not quite how it works. To be able to do something you love, you usually have to work pretty hard to get to that position.

Here’s the thing — you only get this one short life. There’s nothing after it, so you really have everything to live for. Pursue the things you love. Set big goals. Be ambitious. This is your time.

There’s one very important lesson I’ve learned from working as an artist and writer:

It is more important to be different than good.

There are millions of people that are good in any given field, but you have to find a way to stand out from them. You are smart and unique and I’m sure you will find a way to make your work your own, which leads to another lesson:

Don’t compare yourself to others.

If you do your best and let your passion shine through, I’m sure you will get far in life. Find what you love and find a way to make it work for you. I will be rooting for you every step of the way.

I’ve done a lot of things in my life and here is a formula I tend to follow:

  1. Stay organized. When you’re an adult, no one is going to keep track of your life for you. Write it down and then follow through and do it. Stay on top of the things you need to do.
  2. Take risks. You’re not going to grow if you don’t let go of your doubts and try something new or go for something bigger. It’s the only way to move forward.
  3. Pursue your passions. You only live once so why the hell not? Fuck those who say you can’t. You are the one in control of your life.

A lot of this formula came from grandma and grandpa — especially the organization part. Your grandparents were successful people. I am grateful for the things they taught me, but of course, I had to put my own spin on it as well.

Now it’s your turn. I’m showing what I do but I want you to put your own spin on it, too. Take what you want; leave what you don’t. Find out what turns your dreams into goals and your goals into accomplishments.

I can’t wait to see all the things you do when you get older. I spend a lot of time wondering what you will be interested in. It’s so exciting to watch you grow!



A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – no.7 “Be Prepared” and “Gratitude”

Dear daughter,

Here are some fun facts about living in Toledo:

We average 180 days of sunshine a year.

We average about three feet of snow each winter.

On average, we have 124 days with precipitation a year. 

As you know, it’s hard to think of averages when you live in a place where the weather changes so frequently and drastically. You — being the smart Toledo girl you are — know to dress in layers and to be prepared for anything. 

You can apply this readiness to any area of your life. 

Who can you lean on when you’re struggling?

Who can you call in an emergency?

You know I’m an anxious person. So always having a plan seems to help me sleep better at night.

Thinking of my car and driving always makes me nervous so I always keep my car in good repair and renew my AAA membership.

That sort of thing, too. Think of what’s important in your daily life and what you would do if it’s gone.

I will help you as much as I can and we will always be here for you. And pack your cardigan.




To my somewhat spoiled daughter,

It’s time to talk about gratitude.

Humans are meant to help each other out. You never have to go it alone so show the people who assist you that you appreciate them.

If someone gives you a gift, it means they were thinking of you and spent their time and money on you — which is more important than the gift itself. Smile and say thank you.

We may not have a lot of money but so far you’ve had a very fortunate life. Life’s situations are fragile and full of surprises, so it may not always be that way. Live in the moment and be grateful for all that you have.



A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – no.6 “Mental Health”

I have been struggling with my mental health issues lately, so I feel this letter is really important.


Dear daughter,

I have lived with schizoaffective disorder most of my life. Recovery and treatment have taught me to ask for help when I need it.

I hesitated to ask for help for my mental health issues when I was younger, but when I finally asked grandma and grandpa for help, they were right there and with treatment, life got a lot better. I wish I would have addressed my problems sooner. If you ever need help, I will be there for you, too.

I also had a destructive secret as a teenager and young adult — I was struggling with an eating disorder. What started out as skipping meals sometimes as a teen turned into a daily cycle of binging and fasting. Then when I got older I abused diet pills and laxatives. 

As you know me today, I’m no longer obsessed with restrictive diets or weight. In fact, I’ve gained a lot of weight with years of taking medications for schizoaffective disorder. My eating disorder is easier to cope with now that my other mental health issues have been addressed. I’m not saying things are perfect — just easier.

Food still causes me anxiety. I’m a picky eater often scared to eat at other people’s houses or restaurants I don’t know. I tend to eat the same foods over and over again. Sometimes I feel like these behaviors are the “leftovers” of my eating disorder and I really don’t know if they will ever change. Dad and I hope that you don’t inherit these habits.

I never want you to go down the same road I did. Always speak up if you are not feeling well — physically or emotionally. I understand how hard it is, but you really aren’t alone. We all need help sometimes and know that help is available. You don’t have to suffer. I will always support you and help you in any way I can. 

Every day you see me take pills for schizoaffective disorder; I will be taking pills for the rest of my life. It might sound discouraging, but I feel it is a small price to pay to live with fewer symptoms. Just like everyone else, my mental health symptoms are exasperated with stress, so it’s important that we all know our limits and when to say “no”. 

Unfortunately, considering your genetics, you are predisposed to mental health issues, but you should know by now that it’s not the end of the world. I’ve had a lot of success and happiness in my life despite having a serious mental illness. You are a part of that.

Take care of yourself mentally and physically. I will always be here for you.


A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – no.5 “Limitations” and “Death”

Tonight I picked up my four-year-old from daycare after she had class pictures. She announced that her photos were “damn pretty”.

You’re damn right, girl.


Here are two more letters.


To my adorable daughter,

You’re four years old and in the third percentile for height and weight. At 30 lbs and 36 inches tall, the growth charts put you on track for being 4’ 11” when you’re full grown. Daddy is 5’ 5” and I’m 5’ 0” so you were never meant to be big. In fact, you’re going to be very small.

We were at the grocery store a couple of days ago and I tried to get a bottle of root beer off the top shelf. It came crashing down, burst open, and root beer went everywhere. There were several witnesses and I was pretty embarrassed. I couldn’t leave the store fast enough. Most of the time I enjoy being short, but at that moment it really sucked.

Everyone has limitations of some kind and like I said, I normally enjoy being short. Sometimes I even think I’m cute short; it’s a part of who I am. 

I hope you will also view your short stature as cute, too, and just another part of who you are. You can’t change it, so own it. Oh, and always ask for help in the grocery store. 




Dear daughter,

I feel like death is a complicated subject when it shouldn’t be. It’s our feelings surrounding death that make things complicated. 

I am scared of death, which is natural, but I’m not worried about where I’m going in the afterlife. I’m scared because there’s so much I want to do in life; will I get to do all of those things? Will I have spent enough time with my loved ones?

I recognize my worries are pretty pointless because when you’re dead you’re not aware of your goals and wants anyway. Death is only sad to those still living.

The belief in souls, heaven, and hell really makes the idea of death murky. I have a simpler explanation. Humans are a part of nature — another speck in the universe — and death is just a part of our life cycle. We return to the earth which we’ve always been a part of. 

Instead of worrying about death, it’s better to concentrate on enjoying yourself now. Your time could be up at any time, so live your life to the fullest. 

My beautiful daughter — I am really enjoying the time I am spending with you right now, and that’s all that really matters.



A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – no.4 “Sex”

Dear daughter,

Sex is a complicated subject and will be an ongoing conversation for us. I want to arm you with as much information as possible at a young age — hopefully before you are sexually active. I want you to feel comfortable asking questions or for help obtaining birth control.

When I was in high school, sex ed wasn’t even offered. At that time, the state of Ohio required that any sex-ed programs be abstinence-only, which meant they could only teach that sex is only acceptable after marriage. Important topics like consent, contraception, and sexual orientation were never addressed. I hope these strict and ridiculous rules are not in place when you are in school.

I benefited greatly from having an older sister who taught me what she could.

Here are my thoughts on sex. You’re only four years old as I write this, but I’ve made a list of the things I want to tell you.

  1. There’s nothing special about being a virgin.
  2. It’s okay to masturbate. It’s good to know your body and what you like.
  3. Be safe. Use condoms.
  4. Birth control is readily available. Use it. Don’t take your chances.
  5. Always make sure everything is consensual and nobody’s getting hurt — physically or emotionally.
  6. Say no when you need to.
  7. Say yes when you want to.
  8. Don’t be embarrassed about the things you like.
  9. Don’t be afraid to tell your partner what you like. 
  10. Marriage is not necessary. 
  11. There’s nothing wrong with casual sex.
  12. There’s nothing wrong with the type of people you are attracted to.
  13. Don’t ever be ashamed of your body. You’re beautiful and our bodies are amazing.
  14. Don’t listen to other people’s rules and expectations. Make your own.

This list will probably grow as time goes on. Please don’t ever be afraid to come to me if you need help or have questions.




What would you add to my list?

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – no.3 “Religion” and “Small Acts of Kindness”

Two more letters addressing religion and small acts of kindness —


Dear daughter,

Religion is a very significant part of our past that will hopefully lose its grasp on our future. 

Religion is in place to keep a select few in power while keeping the masses in control. It’s a system of fantastical beliefs designed to rule by fear. 

It provides explanations rooted in fables for those with a fear of the unknown. Science has provided many answers to our questions, but religion ignores the facts out of fear of losing power.

Different religions claim they are the true faith — the one that’s right — but the most noticeable difference between religions is geographic location. It’s something you grow up with. Is someone going to hell just because they were born in a different part of the world?

You can poke holes through religious stories all day, but there are just some people not willing to consider verifiable evidence. Ignorance is the enemy of progress.

I’m not going to tell you what to believe, but growing up I hope I will have taught you the importance of skepticism in your everyday life. If something is true, there will be evidence.

We have friends and family who practice a religion, and while it’s frustrating to think about, I am not going to turn my back on them. We choose not to infringe on each other’s beliefs. In fact, we usually avoid the topic altogether. 

Religion has caused a lot of pain and suffering throughout history, yet for some people, it provides comfort.

Learn as much as you can about the world and people around you, but do it from a place of empathy. Deep down we are all just humans with the same basic needs.




Dear daughter, 

For the past week, daddy has been blowing up a balloon every day to surprise you when you come home from daycare in the afternoon. The latex balloons have white dinosaurs on them and come in several different colors. He has been at work for a few hours by the time you get home from daycare, but he loves hearing about your excitement. Every day there’s a new balloon in a different color waiting for you. The pack of balloons probably cost us a couple of bucks but the smile on your face is priceless.

(Also, at this time you don’t know it’s daddy blowing up the balloons. It’s just a happy mystery.)

Small acts of kindness go a long way. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to show a person that they’re important to you. This is good because we don’t have a lot of money; daddy is very good at finding meaningful gifts. 

If you are grateful that someone is in your life, show them. Life is short and our relationships with others are what get us through.




A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – no.2 “Help Others” and “Follow Your Own Path”

Happy Halloween! My husband, the magician, and daughter, the kitty witch:

Here are the next two letters in my series, A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter.


Dear daughter,

It’s important to help others and your community. You can try to save the world, but please realize there are people in need right here in your hometown. Big causes are important, but neighbors need to help neighbors. Wherever you are, people are meant to help other people. We are all connected through our basic needs and wants. Always remember we are more alike than different. 

We don’t help others in god’s name — we don’t do it in anyone’s name. Some religions use charity to prey on the vulnerable, but it’s important to treat others with respect. Practice empathy. Life is fragile and we could easily be in someone else’s shoes. 

We help others because we’re good humans, and that’s what good humans do.




To my daughter with so much potential,

I am so excited to one day see the person you’ll become with interests and passions that make you uniquely you.

Explore and try new things, but if you don’t know what you want to do when you graduate high school, that’s okay. You have time. I wanted to be a mother and writer and I didn’t figure that out until I was in my 30’s. The 18-year-old me could have never predicted what the 30-year-old me would want even though I thought it all figured out by my high school graduation. I was kind of crushed when things didn’t go as planned. There were definitely unexpected twists and turns but I’m happy where I’m at. 

As far as finding a partner, dad and I followed a pretty traditional path. We dated for a couple of years, got married, and a few years later had you. We also went to college and bought a house before you came along.

Please don’t feel like you have to follow in our footsteps. You don’t have to be interested in the same things as others in our family. Do what makes you happy. You can have a fulfilling life without a spouse or children. You don’t have to buy a house. Education is important but there are other options than just a traditional college.

Life is short so make the most of it. You don’t have to live up to someone else’s expectations. Set your own goals and milestones and make your life your own. Don’t let anything hold you back.



A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter no.1 “Be Proud” and “Indoctrination”

This pandemic has been hard on all of us. I’m going a little stir crazy, but on the bright side, I’ve had plenty of time to write and have been working on several projects.

One project is a collection of letters to my daughter — things I would like her to learn from her secular childhood. Most of the letters are intended for her to read as a teenager and many include stories from her life today as a four-year-old as well as stories from my childhood. 

I would really like to share these letters with you and I plan on posting one or two of them weekly among other posts.

The first two are called, “Be Proud of Where You’re From” and “I Don’t Believe in Indoctrination” with an introduction letter.


My sweet girl,

As I begin to write these letters, you are just barely four years old, but you already have so many questions. I’m doing my best to be clear and forthcoming in my answers. I never want to see your curiosity fade. Never shy away from asking questions. You’re learning as much as you can about the world around you and I only want to encourage your enthusiasm and quest for knowledge, which I hope will continue for a lifetime. Stay inquisitive as your interests and passions unfold.

I’m excited to see the person you will become.




Dear daughter,

When I first went to college, I was occasionally called “fresh off the farm” due to my country accent. I actually worked pretty hard at trying to sound like I was from the city or suburbs. One word where my accent was particularly noticeable was “again”. I would pronounce it “ah-gee-an”. I didn’t even realize I was putting a whole extra syllable in it until it was pointed out to me. I practiced saying “again” over and over and my accent became less noticeable. I now think it’s pretty sad that I was self-conscious of how I spoke and I regret ever trying to change it.

Meanwhile, I had a professor from Mississippi who had lived in Ohio for decades and still had a thick Southern accent. He didn’t care. It was a part of him and even kind of charming. I should have followed his example. 

Today, I am proud of where I’m from and I know I can’t help how I speak. Now I consider it an endearing part of who I am — just like my professor from Mississippi. 

I know as a teen and young adult you will probably want to get the hell out of Ohio — I know I did. And that’s okay. You are free to explore and I encourage you to go.

Our ancestors were some of the first settlers to the Great Black Swamp of Northwest Ohio and our family has lived here for generations. This is my home and I hope you feel that way, too — whether you settle down here or not. I hope you will have many good memories to carry with you as you find your place in this world.

Wherever you end up, please always be proud of who you are and where you’re from. You will always be welcome here.




Dear daughter,

By now you know that I’m an atheist and that’s something that’s very important to me. It reminds me to live life to the fullest, focus on my recovery from mental illness, and see the world through a humanist lens. Basically, it’s intertwined with every aspect of my life.

I will never force you to be like me. I don’t believe in indoctrination. I hope by now I have instilled in you the value of verifiable evidence and empathy, but you are free to explore the world however you would like. I want you to learn as much as you can. 

Always be skeptical and make informed decisions, but your beliefs are yours to define.