One day in 2003, when I was in 6th grade, my mum put a letter in my lunchbox with some advice on it. “Don’t be quick to judge the girls at school – it’s up to you to look for something good in each one.”
My mum, Stephanie Skylar, was the Executive VP and Director of Marketing for Chief Super Market Inc., a local grocery chain in Lima, Ohio. She worked long and difficult hours and was looking for a way to stay connected to me. As an 11-year-old learning how to navigate the scary waters of female friendships, this written encouragement instantly helped give me confidence.
After that first letter, we agreed upon the rules of our project. My mum would write a letter each night (sometimes pre-writing a few if she was going to be out-of-town) and I would keep the notes safely inside a Skechers’ shoebox. Throughout the year, I collected over 100 ‘lunchbox letters,’ filled with my mum’s wisdom that would guide me through my adolescence and into my adulthood.
More than a decade later, when I was completing my masters project at Ohio University, I created a website showcasing all of the letters in chronological order and paired it with my commentary. These are some of my favourites:
Here’s a picture of my mum and me in 2003 on the left, and again in 2016 on the right.
This is the shoebox I kept the letters in. We decorated it with a “seal of approval” and our signatures, proving our dedication to the project.
“Don’t be quick to judge the girls at school — it’s up to you to look for something good in each one.”
“Compliment each girl in your class you want to get to know better. Think of something that would make you feel good and say something that important to each girl. Be the observer and see what happens. I don’t think you’ll see overnight results, but keep looking.”
“Try not to let the teasing girls get to you. Those girls are always going to be jealous of your accomplishments.”
“Don’t condemn or criticise.”
“Keep a journal of milestones in your life so you’ll have good memories of growing up — especially in this house.”
“Persevere — keep asking and you’ll get what you want. It took a while to get your day with dad — but you did it. Those pictures are priceless.”
“Cooperate with your parents — it will get you more privileges in the end.”
“Remember we are a strong family and we’ll make the right decisions because we stick together!”
“When the going gets tough — the tough get going!”
“Love as hard and strong as you can — even if it means loving someone so much you get paralysed with fear if something bad happens to them.”
“Count your blessings — not your troubles.”
“I know I said this before in a lunchbox letter, but when one door closes another opens. The hard part is to think about the opportunities of that new open door — and not obsess about what’s closing.”
“Don’t put too much stock in [AOL] messenger conversations — there’s no substitute for being in person.”
“Stay as confident as you can while you tread through your teenage years — it will be hard because everyone will try to steal your confidence (except your parents) — so you’ll have to be strong.”
“Know when to spill your guts — know when to keep your mouth shut and learn how to tell the difference in these situations.”
“Travel and see the world — it will make you appreciate coming home again.”
“Eat fruits and veggies every day and live a healthy long life.”
“Don’t criticise others unless you are willing to be criticised yourself.”
“YOU CAN control your moods!”
“Don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs — but you can always dye your hair and eat gummy bears!”
“Do your best and buzz in at Quiz Bowl — I think it’s better to guess than not to answer — at least if you’re right you’d get credit. I’m proud of you for being on this team.”
“Be open to different opinions — absorb what someone else is saying — then debate it. You never know, you might be able to learn from someone else.”
“Remember to stay quiet when you’re grumpy. Dad and I are always here to listen to you. Have a sense of humour about stuff going on.”
“When asking guys to do a chore or help out — Be specific — what, where, when etc… That way you’ll expect it to be done and you won’t feel compelled to step in and do it yourself.”
“Stick by your mum, even if she’s really OLD! HA :)”
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