Dear Penelope

On March 2nd, 2015 my best friend a baby. It is her first baby, and she’s my first friend to have a baby so, you guys, it’s a pretty big deal for me.

I have known this friend since I was eight years old.

We’ve gone through a lot together, which shouldn’t be that impressive. A twenty-year friendship should go through a lot, otherwise we’d be a pretty boring individuals. However, so much has happened in twenty years, I’ve probably forgotten more than I remember. Try as I might, I keep feeling like there’s a story I’m missing or time I’ve just completely erased.

And that is why I’m writing about her today.

Her name is Jen. Her daughter is named Penelope.

Here we go.

Dear Penelope,

Hello. Welcome. You can’t read yet. Nor do you really understand the concept of other human beings but here you are. Your mom can give this to you when you can read and/or you do understand the concept of other human beings. Or maybe she won’t because she’ll deem this “inappropriate” (It’ll be interesting to see what kind of mother your mom will be. I have zero guesses. Eh, that’s not true.) Either way, whether you stumble upon this when you kermaffle your mom’s crazy friend Ali (Kermaffle is what I imagine the future Google would be called) or whether your mom gives this to you in a sealed envelope for when you venture off to college, I’m glad you’re reading this, and I hope you enjoy.

You should know that this is more for me and your mom than it is for you. That’s right, I’m using you as a pawn, Penelope. Don’t take that from me! You are more than someone’s pawn!

First life lesson given. CHECK.

I’m sure over time you will come across a few of these stories on nights that I come to visit, when you stay up to hear your mom and me laughing and drinking wine in the kitchen. Or maybe I’ll even tell you a few while we are waiting in line for Dole Whips at Disneyland. Will you like Dole Whips, Penelope? You should like Dole Whips.

Life lesson #2. CHECK.

Nonetheless, it’ll be nice to have all these stories in one place, for you to look back on from time to time. May this letter serve as a reminder that your mother was once a child too. And an angsty teen. And a fascinating adult. And then you came along and ruined everything.

Just kidding. That’s a joke. LEARN TO TAKE A JOKE, PENELOPE.

Lesson 3.

I met your mom when I was eight years old. Her first memory of me was when I was in the children’s choir during a Christmas Eve Mass at a small Catholic church we both apparently attended. I carried in a flag. I think she did too. We didn’t become real friends, though, until Mrs. Flynn’s class in third grade. I think we got to sit next to each other. I don’t remember a formal hand shake or anything, but that’s where we met. It should go without saying, but ask you mom for clarification on everything I say in this letter, Penelope. Her mind is a steel trap.

Your mom was boy-crazy from the get-go. I think I was too. She collected Winnie The Pooh and little Bear trinkets. One time for my birthday she gave me a bear trinket that was dressed in Dutch Girl apparel. Because I’m Dutch. We clearly had a very deep connection from the start.

In Mrs. Flynn’s class, your mom and I loved getting these giant cardboard boxes that we could wrap around our desk to “concentrate” during reading time. We were also privy to these headphones that were used to block out sound. Again, we really wanted to concentrate. When we used these cardboard boxes we would knock back and forth to each other in what we deemed a top secret code. One knock meant “yes,” two knocks meant “no” and so on. Sixteen knocks meant we were sorry. It was a completely inefficient system, Penelope. I hope when you come up with a top secret code with your friends that you avoid systematic knocking and find something that gets straight to the point. I can’t tell you how many times your mother and I  lost count of our stupid cardboard knocks, having to start again and again, on the contraptions we were supposed to be using to concentrate. Plus we always had those headphones on so it’s not like we could hear the knocks so… like… what the fuck?

Op, I dropped my first f-bomb. Your mom is definitely not giving you this letter to now.

To be fair, I think swear words are given too much power when they’re censored. In my opinion, it’s not about whether or not you swear that makes you a good person. It’s about whether or not you use the harsh words to hurt people. When you’re an adult, Penelope, say fuck as much as you want. Just don’t make a habit of calling someone a fucker. That’s not nice.

Lesson 4. BOOM.

Man, I am nailing this whole lesson thing.

Story 1 that your mom and I still talk about: Your mom’s first big crush was a boy named Matt. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a crush on him too. Matt was a catch. He was cute and tall and smart and his name was Matt. Your mother wanted to tell him she liked him and I stupidly told her to go for it. It was bad advice. She wrote him a love letter about how she liked staring at him through the reflection of her computer screen in the computer lab. It was super embarrassing. She gave it to him. Nothing happened, at least I don’t think anything did. Matt, probably being nice, just ignored it as to not embarrass anybody. (Told you, Matt = Catch.) But we cringed about that note for years.

Story 2: Your mom was scared of spiders and believed that an evil guy named Leroy lived in her basement walls. Those two facts made slumber parties hilarious for me.

As you will find in your many friendships, PJ, your mother and I have had our share of falling ins and falling outs with each other. It is amazing that your mother and I have lasted as long as we have (but once you reach the 20 mark I think it’s safe to say we’re pretty much stuck with each other), but that length of time doesn’t come without a few “less close” times. The first less close time was fourth grade, a mere one year after our friendship blossomed with knocks and cardboard and Matt’s computer screen reflection.

(Also side note, years later I had a WAY MORE embarrassing run in with Matt that totally blows your mother’s third grade letter out of the water. It was right after my freshman year of college. I was home for the summer. I had a brief few days where I actually called Matt up to hang out. This young man was still tall, smart, and cute. We did hang. I made a move via text message. He politely said he didn’t feel that way about me and then we never spoke again. He’s married now. So yeah, Penelope, I’ll make sure to give you tit for tat with these stories. I won’t embarrass your mom without also embarrassing me too.)

Fourth grade your mother and I had different teachers. When you’re ten that’s as good a reason as any to end a friendship. We didn’t talk as much. We had our own separate recess friends. Things were not looking good. I found out years later, (and your mom may need to correct this) that a big reason for the fall out was because I got the cooler teacher that year and your mom thought my teacher parents pulled strings to make that happen while she was stuck with the less cool teacher. This logic had flaws on two levels, Penelope. 1. My parents never pulled teacher strings unless it was to not have me in a class with a teacher I knew well outside of school (teachers are all friends with each other and some teachers I knew better by their first name) and 2. even if they DID pull teacher strings, that makes zero sense to then be mad at me for an entire year. But I digress. The moral of this story is that friendships can withstand the yo-yo of close/not close timed. Life is long and things don’t always end, as you will see later in this letter. The other lesson here? Don’t shut out a friend because of an assumption. If someone is your friend and that friend makes you angry, try to fix it over giving up.

Lesson 5.

But alas, somehow your mother and I made it through the adversity of fourth grade separation and rekindled in our fifth grade year.

Story 3: One time your Aunt Megan invited us to a tea party in your grandparent’s living room and your mother and I decided to dress up as two old fat ladies with curlers in our hair and red blush all over our faces. There’s an infamous picture somewhere of that time. I would say it’s blackmail worthy, but I love that photo and don’t care who sees it. Neither does your mom. It’s awesome.

Your Aunt Megan was a lot younger (six years younger) and we had a habit of making her do our bidding whenever she wanted to play with us. (Mind you, this was before she was a foot taller than everyone.) I remember one time we talked her into going downstairs and asking your grandma for ice cream. Your grandma was not happy with us. We did not get ice cream.

You’re going to be the oldest in your family, PJ, just like your mom. I myself am the youngest of two brothers and I cannot tell you enough how important my older siblings approval was to me growing up (and, quite honestly, how important their approval is to me today). Remember the power you have, Penelope, as the oldest. You have just as much say in shaping who your siblings are as your parents do. Be kind to your siblings, even when they drive you crazy. Nine times out of ten, they’re just trying to impress you anyway. Give them your wisdom, your thoughts, your humor. Don’t force them to get you ice cream.

Lesson 6.

Your mother and I were locker partners in the sixth grade. We decorated our locker with Spice Girls and Lance Bass (nailed it!) photos. We went to two NSYNC concerts together, one time we even went in a limo and it was badass. Your mom had her first ever boyfriend in my best buddy John. At the time I had two best friends, so your mom and I settled on calling each other our “BF with a V.” (Best Friend with a Vagina.) That way both John (my BF with a P) and Jen (my BF with a V) could share the best friend title from me. It made both close friendships fair.

Your mom had nicer handwriting than me and was prettier than me and was smarter than me in middle school. I was louder and funnier. We were a nice balance, with a few fights here and there, but nothing noteworthy. She was once Al Boreland for Halloween. She was the one to tell me Santa Claus wasn’t real. She lied to me about when she got her first period. I constantly had her check my math homework. She supported my Ben Affleck obsession. We both loved Christmas. We never fought over boys. We had an inside joke about Josie and the Pussycats but I swear to God, Penelope, I have never actually seen that movie in it’s entirety.

I always felt like your mother made me more ladylike and that I made her more rebellious. It was in middle school that I think we started doing New Years together. We would just sit in her basement with Leroy and the spiders and watch the ball drop. Every time I think of New Years, I think of your mom.

That’s a great friendship, PJ. I hope you model your middle school friendships off of one like that. Girls have a tendency to be both super mean and then super nice to each other. It’s manipulative and gross. I tell you now, Penelope, it’s not worth it. It’s better to be nice to your girl friends and play off each other’s strengths. It’s better to confide in each other than to compete. The world is a better place when girls are Pro-Girl.

And if you instead turn out to be a “mean girl” Penelope, I will never ever introduce you to your Hollywood crush or give you cool clothes. And yes, by the time you’re twelve I’m certain I will be able to do both, easy. Mark my words.

One of the saddest days for me growing up was learning that your mom was going to a different high school than me. She got accepted into the prestigious IB Program over at Niwot High School (I told you she was smarter than me), and I was continuing on to Longmont High School. Looking back, the fact that we shared so many experiences in high school despite being at different ones shows how strong our bond was.

Don’t give up on your friends, Penelope. Even if they go to a different school.

Lesson 7.

To deviate a little from the timeline, (we’re at high school now for those playing at home) I wanted to take a moment to talk a little about your mom’s strength. Because while all of this was happening, (the NSYNC concerts, the boy crushing, the inside joke where we invented the phrase “Doodie Buttons”) your mom was also going through your grandmother’s cancer diagnosis.

Part of me glazes over this time, (Did she first get in in sixth grade? Or was it closer to high school?) because I think I was too young and immature to really understand the gravity of the situation. While your grandmother went through her cancer treatments, I felt it was my duty to keep things light between me and your mother. I wanted to take her mind off of the stuff going on at home. I almost regret that technique now, Penelope. Because your mom must’ve been so lonely. She must’ve felt besides herself with what was happening to her and her family.

Your family is lucky. Your grandmother survived two separate diagnosis of breast cancer and now she is a healthy and happy grandma for you to love. But that didn’t come without a cost.

Your mother grew up a lot faster than me because of your grandmother’s cancer. She had to. Like I said before, being the oldest is a huge responsibility. Your mom had to be strong for her sister and for her dad and be mature and all those things. I don’t know what it’s like to have to do that, but I do know the toll it took on her. So if there ever comes a time that you’re mad at your mom or you’re frustrated and you think that she “just doesn’t get you GAHHHHHH,” I ask you, dear Penelope, to cut your mom some fucking slack, okay? I’ve seen her stern and tough and quiet. I’ve felt her cold vibes from time to time, knowing that she’s maybe angry or mad or disappointed in me. I almost feel like I was her practice child, especially when the ratio of our maturity levels got so skewed at that time. It took me years to realize this, but that occasional rigidness that your mother projects is actually a sign of her unbelievable strength. It’s strength I hope you get someday when shit gets rough. It’s strength I’ve developed in my own little way as I came to my own personal challenges and crossroads.

PJ, I’d rather you be a strong-ass bitch from time to time than be some immature, weeping willow always.

Lesson 8.

For the most part, high school was a blast for me. Unsure if it treated your mom as kindly. Ask her about it sometime. Regardless, your mom was a huge part of my great high school experience. She did my hair for every school dance and special event. She was in a movie I made with John and her pigtail buns and sassy shirt really date her. She had boyfriends. Some I didn’t like. Some were fine. Some I liked after they broke up. But mostly I didn’t like them. Your grandmother called her tofu. Ask your mom why. Her IB Program was ridiculously hard. I did AP classes and theater. She was in show choir briefly. I drove a white Honda Civic a and she drove a fancy red Eclipse with a sunroof that I thought that was way cooler than my Honda until I found out that her car was basically a red plastic death trap. We both got in car accidents. We were both bad drivers.

Always wear a seatbelt, Penelope. And don’t drive distracted. Or drunk.


Story 4: The night before her junior prom, your mother broke up with her lame-ass boyfriend so at the last minute I rounded up John and my high school boyfriend to be her date and prom group. I borrowed one of your mom’s dresses and we ate at the Macaroni Grill. Since my boyfriend and I didn’t go to your mom’s school we couldn’t go to the dance but John and Jen had a great time together. I remember that night fondly.

When I turned 18, I gathered twenty or so friends to dress in formal attire and hang out at Denver’s world famous Casa Bonita. It’s an official historic landmark now, Penelope, so I highly recommend you do the same for your 18th birthday. It was all the rage.

I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of stuff here, and there’s certainly stuff I’m deliberately leaving out. Your teens are a very hormonal, angsty, boy-crazy time (or girl crazy, whatever floats your boat) and I’m not sure your mom would appreciate me divulging too much to you of some of those, um, “maturing” times. Some personal things need to remain personal. That said, if you ever have questions regarding the Big 3 (Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol), I would totally advise you to talk to your mom and not be scared about it. She has and will continue to have great insight for you, and will always love you no matter what. And if after that you still want to talk more, or need a second opinion, or just want another adult besides your mom to talk to during those times, feel free to give me Zonge, (what I think the future will surely call phone calls) I’m good for it.

Story 5: Your mom and I created a list of things that constitute a good friend. They include: A good friend will always tie your shoe, hold your hair back when you vomit and a good friend always know where your silverware is. I don’t know how it started, but I invite you to create your own standards with friendship, if only because it’s fun. Friends shouldn’t worship the ground you walk on, but they should have your back (or your hair or your shoelaces or your silverware) no matter what.

Story 6: Your mother and I had the tamest senior trip ever. While it was a lot of fun, all we did was drive to Breckenridge for a weekend, stay in a hotel, see a movie and go shopping. Blame your grandparents. I do. We could’ve gone to California with boys but NOOOOOO. Your senior trip should be way more exciting. I’m sure your mom will see to it for you. And if she doesn’t, call me and I’ll make sure you have a good one.

Next up for your mom and me was college. Your mother went to the University of Colorado while I went out of state to Arizona State University.

I am now going to dive in to the darker times of your mom’s and my friendship, Penelope. I think it’s important in this letter to acknowledge both the good and the bad, because I think it’s bullshit to sugar coat things for “youths.” Friendships, on occasion, are hard work. (To quote Tom Hanks from A League Of Their Own “It’s suppose to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great. “)

If we thought fourth grade was a bad falling out, then college was the a bad falling out, mixed in with a “I don’t even know you anymore” and topped with a solid “you’re dead to me” “I’m never speaking to you again” and “Why were we even friends to begin with?”

It was pretty horrible.

Not college, I mean. College was a wonderful, eye-opening, coming-of-age time that I wish everyone could experience. It’s the first time being on your own, it’s the first time you’re completely in charge, and it’s the first time you learn that the world is big and imperfect. You can be anything you want to be, PJ. And college is that first real exploration on what that thing is. It’s a wonderful journey.

But sometimes that journey is yours, and yours alone.

In the beginning of our college years, your mother and I drove each other crazy. We didn’t understand our choices, we couldn’t relate to our experiences, we were short with each other, ignored each other, and lectured each other. Both of us had more wisdom than the other and it got to a point of such frustration that we eventually reached radio silence.

It was a very, very painful time.

I thought I lost my best friend.

In hindsight, I think we needed that time apart. After being friends for so long, our relationship had almost reached a sisterhood/safety status. Perhaps college was a time to get rid of that security blanket we had developed with each other. We both needed to spread our wings, and we both needed to do it without feeling judged by each other, without constantly wondering if we approved.

But I missed a lot of her life then, PJ. I think we didn’t speak for about two and a half years. I missed her graduation. I missed her birthdays and our New Years celebrations. I missed the growth of her romantic relationships and she missed the growth of mine.

I wish I could tell you that the time apart didn’t come from a place of anger and that it was only from a place of much needed reflection and growth. But that’s a lie. It was from place of anger. I spent a lot of that time mad at your mom, as I’m sure she was pretty mad at me back. I spent a lot of time convincing myself that I didn’t need her, that I outgrew her, and that she certainly didn’t care about me anyways. I really believed she was going to be my childhood friend that fell into the abyss of other childhood friends I had, and I convinced myself that I was okay with that.

Time is funny.

Your mom reached out to me during Christmas break my senior year of college, I think it was. She might remember this differently, but we met at Chili’s in Longmont and had a very formal-eggshelly conversation. We never really apologized or dove into what the driving-force was that tore us apart. Instead we talked about Christmas. She told me she was getting married. I told her congrats. I cried in my car.

Everything is heightened when you go to college, Penelope. Everything seems so fucking important and end all, be all and all that. The truth is, there’s no such thing as an end all, be all. You’re going to have a lot of people come in and out of your life, PJ, including me. Some people may stay a while. Others may come and go. Some will only be a blip but will impact you forever. And some will overstay their welcome without ever so much as leaving a dent.

I don’t even remember what your mother and I specifically fought about during that radio silence time. I don’t remember how things got fixed and how we went from that tense Chili’s meeting to picking up right where we left off. I think, quite simply, there came a time when we just wanted to be friends again, and we went from there.

Friendships take work. Sometimes that work means letting go and seeing if that friend comes back. Sometimes it means having a period of stiff, tense conversations until a trust is built back up for you to truly be yourself again. Sometimes it’s learning to shut your mouth about sensitive topics and sometimes it’s about fully believing that your friend’s love is unconditional. Sometimes it’s just time.

I’m glad we’ve never apologized. We had nothing to apologize for. 16 knocks are so hard to do anyway.

Story 7: After college, I moved to Chicago to pursue comedy and your mother visited me there. It was the first time she ever came to visit me at a new place I lived and I was stoked as hell. I took her sight-seeing, and made her watch improv comedy, and made her eat deep dish pizza, and made her drink too much probably and it was a blast. I think about that time fondly. It meant a lot to me that she visited. Chicago was such a lonely place for me and having her there made me appreciate it more.

You can live any place in the world, PJ. But if you don’t surround yourself with people you love, you’re going to be miserable and it won’t be the location’s fault. Look for quality friends wherever you go, and you will always have family in the place you live.

Lesson 10.

Adulthood is super fun. I wish they told me that when I was a kid. I’m not saying you should race to being an adult, because it goes without saying that childhood is pretty great too. You get toys and your imagination and you get to join Girl Scouts and pretend to be drunk on apple juice at one of the Girl Scout meetings only to have your troupe leader keep you after for a stern talking to about apple juice and it’s many important uses. You get to have slumber parties where you stay up all night and you get to eat junk food. You get to make a math video called Super 6 where you and your best friend are super heroes using the number 6 as your super power. You get to go to the pool in the summer and you get to run around outside and get dirty and you get to discover John Hughes films all on your own.

But once that time has past, there is so much to look forward to in adulthood, Penelope! When you’re an adult, you get to have hobbies and dreams and you get to have dinner parties and beer and you get to decide when you go to sleep at night.

Story 8: Whenever your mom and I meet up, we always have a Chinese Dinner and we always order it at the Royal Wok. We get egg drop soup, and crap won-tons and sesame chicken and noodles and I don’t know why because I don’t think we eat Chinese food very often except for then.

Story 9: Your mom helped me invent the best dinner party game EVER called Chopped Night. It is based off an old TV show that you probably will never watch. But here’s how you play: Everyone coming to the party must bring three secret food ingredients. One must be a starch or a veggie, one must be a protein, and one must be a wild card. Once everyone arrives with their food, we draw numbers on who goes first, second, and so on. Then whoever goes first randomly selects three of the secret ingredients and has thirty minutes to cook an appetizer-type food with those ingredients. After thirty minutes, we all eat, judge, rate and then the next person goes. CHOPPED NIGHT is the best. Your mom is a very good competitor. She usually places in the top two.

Story 10: Also, since your mother and I are long-distance, we invented a form of communicating called voice-mailing. Find details about it here:

I was in your mom’s wedding. We’ve done lots of late night karaoke using wooden spoons and her TV screen. Your mom used to have dogs that she loved and I loved giving her gifts that had to do with those dogs. When I briefly lived home before moving to LA, your mom would join me for trivia nights at a local bar. We have drank approximately 437,854 cups of tea while talking to each other. I have listened to both exciting, wonderful stories, and also have heard moments where your mom was terribly sad.  One time when I was getting really obsessed with my body image your mom printed out a bunch of pictures of morbidely obese stomachs and gave them to me so I could check myself before I wrecked myself.  We’ve done green face masks, gone to get pedicures and she’s helped me make t-shirts for Christmas gifts. I’ve asked her for many rides to and from the airport. We once spent a night vomiting tequila and corn chips. We used to take pride in being friends that didn’t hug that often, but if I were to be honest, Penelope, I hope you’re a hugger. It feels weird that I don’t hug your mom but now it’s like a thing so I just let it go.

I remember how excited she was when she got her first teaching job. I remember being excited to tell her about my first time being on TV. I helped your mom pick out the wedding dress she wore when she married your dad. She knows my exact plan for my bachelorette party should I ever have one.

I remember when your mom told me about you. It’s crazy to think you’re here now, that phone call seems so long ago. I was one of the first people she told. I like knowing that I was one of the first. It makes me feel like I’ve known you a little longer than everyone else and thus means I get to have a special bond with you because I’ve known you longer. You going to like me a lot, Penelope. I look really good in hats.

While your mom was pregnant with you, she and your dad came to visit me and Zach in LA. (I hope you don’t call him “Uncle Zach”, Penelope. I mean, do what you want, but seriously, just Zach will do. Same with me. Call me Ali.) I again showed your mom my new home and showed her the TV show I worked on and then we went to Disneyland. I remember watching your mom and dad buy you a Tigger toy. They were so excited to meet you. I was super paranoid and didn’t let your mom ride Space Mountain or Star Tours. I KEPT YOU SAFE Penelope. You’re welcome. It was a really fun visit. I can’t wait for you to come on the next one.

Side note: your dad is going to be a total sucker. He loves you so very, very much and seems so gentle and nurturing and loving that if you play your cards right, you may get a “yes” from him every time you want something. It’s a delicate balance. Remember, with great power, comes great responsibility.

Lesson 11. Spiderman quote 1.

And now you’re here!

Mind you, this doesn’t mean that your mom and I will cease to have more crazy stories, anecdotes, and memories. It just means I probably won’t have to write you a letter about it because now you’ll be around and experience them with us. It’ll be weird, but I’ll accept you as a third wheel, I guess.

Seriously, Penelope, don’t take that crap from me. When you can talk proudly march up to me and say, “No, Ali, you’re now the third wheel!” I will cry but I will have brought it on myself. And then we will high five and then I’ll take you to get your first tattoo.

It should go without saying, but I am very proud of your mother. And I think you should be too.

Before I leave you, here are a last few lessons for you. Take what you will from them.

Lesson 12: If you and a girlfriend are trying to decide whether to watch When Harry Met Sally or You’ve Got Mail and you decide to take a remote control and flip it because you don’t have a coin, all you have to do is assign buttons up to one movie (“When Harry Met Sally”) and no buttons to the other (“You’ve Got Mail”) and then flip the remote WITHOUT CALLING IT. JUST SEE WHERE IT LANDS AND THEN THAT IS YOUR ANSWER. Calling it (“buttons” or “no buttons”) does nothing, it just confuses you and does not help you reach a movie decision. Or, when all else fails, just pick When Harry Met Sally because it’s the better movie.

Lesson 13: Like yourself, you’re going to be with you for the rest of your life.

Lesson 14: If you have brown hair and your best friend has blonde hair, it is totally okay if your friend somehow gets to be Dorothy in the group Halloween costume of Wizard of Oz. Being a scarecrow is fun too.

Lesson 15: When deciding on your friends, might I suggest you find the ones that have big hearts, common sense and weird tendencies? Life is more fun when you embrace the island of misfit toys.

Lesson 16: Your mom was in labor for a long, freaking time. As far as I’m concerned, you owe her everything.

Lesson 17: Always end on Pirates.



–  One L

“Hi… it’s me.” – the beginning of every voicemail your mom leaves me.


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