It's a wonderful life, and here are some instructions for it

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Sunday, March 06, 2016

My sister Karen had a baby last week, the first of my siblings to bring a living, breathing human being into existence. Baby Emily also made my parents grandparents for the first time, and me an aunt.  This tiny little person, in the course of 48 hours, showed me what everyone means when they talk about the miracle of life. 

While I logically understood this concept, the spiritual meaning hit me as I witnessed my own sister have the experience. My own sister, who used to sleep on a twin bed next to me and accuse me of trying to suffocate her in the middle of the night to stop her snores. Who taught me pretty much every basic life skill one needs before the eighth grade. Who, as a second grader, helped me to box up all of our doll "clothes" (old baby sleepers, chewed up rattles, and stained bibs that our mom let us play with rather than tossing), wrap them in the Sunday paper funnies, and walk them to Elm School as a contribution to our kindergarten teacher's baby shower. (Damage control kicked in when our mom received a thank you note for the "generous gift" from Mrs. Pomeroy.)

For our family and friends, the world sort of stopped last week as soon as my sister, mom and brother-in-law took up their post at a San Francisco hospital. For hours and hours, the rest of their family and friends states (and countries) away were obsessively checking their phones for updates on whether this new little person had entered the world. I was sitting in a Nashville Marriott at 1 AM texting my mom and sisters for updates (the conversations were pretty much: "[Baby Face Emoji]? [Baby Face Emoji]? [Baby Bottle Emoji]?" or "[Grandma Emoji]?") 

It was the strangest feeling to see a picture of my beautiful niece for the first time, a mix of joy and overwhelming love for this tiny person with so much potential. I couldn't stop looking at the picture and weirdly crying happy tears. She's not even a week old and already has legions of fans who love her and want her to have everything her parents could ever hope for her life. I cannot wait to meet her, hold her, and teach her everything I know (and someday pass down to her this beautiful Dolce and Gabbana dress that I plan to purchase next year... just bringing it full circle, folks). Years ago, a friend gave me a printout called "Life's Instructions" that I loved and still have taped inside the door of my armoire as a reminder. I will give it to beautiful, brilliant Emily once she learns to read next year. Here it is typed up for your reading pleasure: 

Life's Instructions 
  1. Have a firm handshake.
  2. Look people in the eye.
  3. Sing in the shower.
  4. Own a great stereo system (and play music you love often).
  5. If in a fight, hit first and hit hard. [Note to Emily: I lost every fight to your mom because she follows this rule. So does Aunt Patty.]
  6. Keep secrets.
  7. Never give up on anybody. Miracles happen every day. 
  8. Always accept an outstretched hand.
  9. Be brave. Even if you're not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference.
  10. Whistle. [Note to Emily: I still cannot do this but seem to have turned out OK.]
  11. Avoid sarcastic remarks.
  12. Choose your life's mate carefully. From this one decision will come 90% of all your happiness or misery.
  13. Make it a habit to do nice things for people who will never find out. [Note to Emily: Grandma Mary does this all the time.]
  14. Lend only those books you never care to see again. [Note to Emily: After you're through the children's classics stage, I will buy you a Kindle.]
  15. Never deprive someone of hope; it might be all they have.
  16. When playing games with children, let them win. [Note to Emily: Grandpa Paul does not believe this rule, which is why no one likes to play Monopoly with him. Or Connect Four. Or Sorry. Really, Family Game Night just never took off at the Kelly house.]
  17. Give people a second chance, but not a third.
  18. Be romantic.
  19. Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know. [Note to Emily: Your mom, both of your grandmothers, and your late great grandmothers internalized this rule and were wildly popular for that reason.]
  20. Loosen up. Relax. Except for rare life-and-death matters, nothing is as important as it first seems.
  21. Don't allow the phone to interrupt important moments. It's there for our convenience, not the caller's.
  22. Be a good loser.
  23. Be a good winner.
  24. Think twice before burdening a friend with a secret.
  25. When someone hugs you, let them be the first to let go. [Note to Emily: This makes almost everyone in the Kelly family incredibly uncomfortable.]
  26. Be modest. A lot was accomplished before you were born. [Note to Emily: This is very true, but there's still curing cancer that needs to be done and I'm putting that on you.]
  27. Keep it simple.
  28. Beware of the person who has nothing to lose.
  29. Don't burn bridges. You'll be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river.
  30. Live your life so that your epitaph could read, No Regrets.
  31. Be bold and courageous. When you look back on life, you'll regret the things you didn't do more than the ones you did. [Note to Emily: However, I would be remiss not to mention that Grandma Mary is a believer in calculated risks. Jump in with both feet, but always wear a life jacket.]
  32. Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them. 
  33. Remember no one makes it alone. Have a grateful heart and be quick to acknowledge those who helped you.
  34. Take charge of your attitude. Don't let someone else choose it for you.
  35. Visit friends and relatives when they are in the hospital; you need only to stay a few minutes.
  36. Begin each day with some of your favorite music.
  37. Once in a while, take the scenic route.
  38. Send a lot of Valentine's cards. Sign them, 'Someone who thinks you're terrific.'
  39. Answer the phone with enthusiasm and energy in your voice. 
  40. Keep a note pad and pencil on your bed-side table. Million-dollar ideas sometimes strike at 3 am.
  41. Show respect for everyone who works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.
  42. Send your loved ones flowers. Think of a reason later. [Note to Emily: This is a photo of your great grandmother with flowers your mom sent to her just to be sweet. Your great grandmother asked me to take this photo so we could show your mom how pretty they were. I didn't know it at the time, but the day I took this photo was the last time I saw her before she passed away.]
  43. Make someone's day by paying the toll for the car behind you. [Note to Emily: This is an old list, and tolls are automated these days. I suggest doing this for the person behind you in line for coffee, or taking a homeless person to McDonald's like Grandpa Paul likes to do.]
  44. Become someone's hero. 
  45. Marry only for love.
  46. Count your blessings.
  47. Compliment the meal when you're a guest in someone's home.
  48. Wave at the children on a school bus. [Note to Emily: Your mom and I used to sit in the seat  that faced directly out the rear of our parent's 1986 Crown Victoria station wagon and wave at everyone while simultaneously doing impressions of Nickelodeon's 'Ask Ashley' and ignoring Grandpa Paul.]
  49. Remember that 80% of the success in any job is based on your ability to deal with people.
  50. Don't expect life to be fair.
  51. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up. 

(Please let me know if there is anything else that The World's Greatest Aunt should add to this list to help Emily have the most amazing life possible...)
11 comments on "It's a wonderful life, and here are some instructions for it"
  1. Congrat Auntie Colleen :)

    These instructions are so lovely, heartwarming, funny and sweet, and of course, wise!

    and may I add: Love and respect animals; be an avid reader; and be an avid traveler if possible, the world is vast and immensely interesting, we need to see it and experience it on our own.

    Love the pictures here,they warm ones heart :)


    1. Thank you so much, Echo! You are absolutely right about the additions. Especially about reading, it is so important to be a lifelong student whether or not you are formally in school! Really appreciate your thoughts as always :) Hope you have a great rest of the week!

  2. This post made me tear up! It is so beautiful and you're going to be an amazing Aunt! Hugs, Kait

    1. Thanks so much for your sweet comment, Kait! Glad you enjoyed the list as much as I do! :-)

  3. How wonderful, Colleen! I know you will love being an aunt to Emily and all the little ones who are yet to come!

    I loved every word on your list of life's instructions, but must admit that I still struggle with some of them (I'm looking at you, #20!). On the other hand, #10 couldn't be easier -- you just put your lips together and blow! :D

    1. Ivanka, thank you for your comment! I LOL'ed at your struggle (and am also still working on #20 myself...) But disagree on #10, has never worked! And after reviewing this, I think I'd also add one about gratitude and taking the time to tell the positive people in your life how much you appreciate them - and on that note, I really appreciate your continued support reading and providing your thoughts on these posts. It is so encouraging, especially in those moments when I doubt myself and think: "Is this stupid? Are the haters right? Should I quit?" And, your recommendations have helped me so many times. (Ahem, True Cost changed my life.)

    2. As hard as it is to resist the temptation, try not to doubt yourself or have negative thoughts about what you do. We all slip up sometimes but if you surround yourself with people who love you enough to be honest with you, you'll be able to bounce ideas off them in order to get open feedback. Those are the people to trust. (It seems that you've got this part covered though!) The haters are not worth your time, so don't be shy and tell them to take a hike. Life's too short! <3

  4. Such a beautiful post. Congratulations Aunt Colleen! By the way, I had an Aunt Colleen, and she happened to be my favorite. This list is awesome and your comments are hilarious. Thank for that wisdom and humor. I think I will have to read that list several more times. There are plenty I need to work on (I'm not a graceful loser, haven't sent Valentine cards since elementary school, and it never occurs to me to sing in the shower, etc.) but not a single one I disagree with.

    1. Thank you so much Jill! So glad to hear your Aunt Colleen was fabulous, I hope to live up to her name :) And, really happy that you love the list as much as I do - they are all so true. (I'm with you on not being a graceful loser... and may have burned a couple bridges back in the day.) Hope you have a great rest of the week, have been enjoying your posts and jealous of life in ATX! :)

  5. Congratulations Colleen on becoming an aunt! I somehow missed this post earlier so only now commenting. :)

    I am very lucky to be an aunt myself - my niece is now four years old and my nephew will soon turn one. Best job in the world I think! You get to experience a lot of the fun things about being a parent without having to carry the day-to-day responsibility of actually bringing up a child! Not having kids myself I have the time to spoil them a little and do some fun things together. Sometimes it's going to a park nearby, sometimes a visit to a castle or even an amusement park. Big part of being an aunt is also taking care of your sister - remember to take the new mummy out too every once in a while! :)

    Emily is getting a great list of advice, I would add only one: Always keep a bottle of bubbly in the fridge. Sometimes a Tuesday is a cause for celebration.

    Many happy fun moments to all your family!

    BR, Marieliisapii (@ig)

    P.S. If it has not happened already, be prepared - new aunties have a great risk of turning into one of those people showing cute photos of kids to whomever might be interested...

    1. Mari, thank you so much for this thoughtful comment! Your niece and nephew sound like they are lucky to have you as their fun aunt! It is so true that it is the best job in the world - and that I need to take care of my sister too :) Your "P.S." made me laugh - I've already turned into that new auntie haha! And, my fridge right now has four bottles of Prosecco, how did I miss that piece of advice?! Hope you have a great rest of the week!