The Twenty-Third Letter: SURVIVOR


Dear Daughters,

I subscribe to a gorgeous quarterly literary journal and a bimonthly professional writing magazine. I love when they come in the mail. I feel their smooth covers and flip through the pages, pretending that I will sit down with a cup of tea and breathe them in.

But I don’t. I don’t read them. Seriously, barely ever. Maybe just an article here or there, a poem here or there.

Because, let’s face it: sometimes the beautiful thing is not the fun thing. And my time feels so limited in this season that, well, my sanity requires the fun thing.

And sometimes, sometimes the fun thing is reading an article about Taylor Swift in Vanity Fair on commercial breaks during the season premiere of SURVIVOR.

I’m serious. That’s what I did last Thursday afternoon while you were having quiet time.

A mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.

This mom’s gotta watch SURVIVOR.

Obviously, I am not the target demographic for reality television (or, I should point out, anything to do with Taylor Swift). Our only TV is downstairs in the basement and doesn’t have cable but rather one of those digital converter boxes. It barely picks up anything. I’m overly educated–there are more graduate degrees in our family than children. I’m a left-leaning moderate and hold my tongue when it comes to political discourse. I’m a creatively liturgical orthodox believer who thinks living out my faith means loving people. All people. So the “cast” of SURVIVOR does not typically consist of my peers.

In fact, I’m pretty oblivious to what’s going on in the media these days. I’m not sure I’d recognize a Taylor Swift song on the radio. And I didn’t even know the newest season of SURVIVOR had started this week until your Uncle Stephen asked me if I’d watched the premiere.

He’s my fellow fan and the only other person in my peer group who admits to watching the show. I’ve told him that when I finally make it on SURVIVOR, he gets to be my family member who comes to visit me. (For the record, your dad would be the most likely to help me win a challenge because he is a beast physically and mentally, but Stephen is a fan. And that’s worth something, I think.)

Stephen is the only person I can joke with about “when I’m on Survivor” because he knows that I am kidding. And also half serious. Or maybe ¾ serious.

Because I really love Survivor and I would totally go on the show in a HEARTBEAT.

You will probably not believe this about me, because by the time you are old enough to read this letter, I will also be old and frail and SURVIVOR will only be a strange part of cultural history. Okay, I won’t be frail, but like I said, I’m not a typical fan of the show.

Mostly, I’m fascinated by SURVIVOR on a sociological level.

I’m even fascinated by the fact that I’m fascinated by it.

I suppose that I spend most of every show wondering how impossibly I’d behave in similar situations. Would I even be recognizable to myself? I think about what I would do or not do for a million dollars. I think about what I would do with the winnings. I think about the causes we’re invested in, the institutions that need support, the nonprofits that need to make budgets. Could I be nice to the flagrant misogynists and arrogant beauties and incompetent smarties that get cast every season for the sake of a million dollars?

And I think about the myriad reasons I could never be cast. I’m not clichéd enough, for one thing. Not annoyingly Christian enough, not a physical specimen who can scoot up coconut trees, not confrontational enough, not enough driven by money, not annoying enough, not with a compelling enough back story. I’m also too tall for a girl and not busty nor athletic enough. I’m probably not mean enough. Or sarcastic enough. (Your father might beg to differ on that last point.)

And once I told my college roommate that I wanted to be on SURVIVOR someday and she said to me, unironically, “You do realize that those people have to survive, don’t you?”


I don’t like to be uncomfortable or dirty. I fear urinary tract infections any time I am even slightly dehydrated. I’m prone to tears when I’m stressed out. I overanalyze what people are saying or not saying. I’m sensitive.

But you know what?

I’m also tougher than I think.

Since that first difficult pregnancy with the all-day sickness that just wouldn’t quit, followed by the unmedicated labor and delivery that just wouldn’t quit, followed by the breastfeeding struggles that just wouldn’t quit, I kept saying, in each moment, this must be the most difficult moment. But it never was. Every one of those moments prepared me for the next one. I was strong enough to make it through.

And then there came motherhood. There was this child who was sucking my energy and my life, and I can really say that at that time, I wasn’t sure it was survivable. But it was.

And then there was a miscarriage, and I wasn’t sure it was survivable. But it was.

And then there was a high risk pregnancy with so much, so much sickness, and so much psychological pain, and I wasn’t sure it was survivable. But it was.

And then there was delivery number two, which wasn’t supposed to be unmedicated, but it was, and I wasn’t sure it was survivable, but it was.

And every moment that seemed unsurvivable was survived.

Because I was tougher than I thought I was.

Because I am tougher than I think I am.

And you, girls, are tougher than you think.

You are tougher than you think.

So much tougher.

So go watch some SURVIVOR and know that you would kick some serious butt if you were on that show.


Your Momma

PS The early seasons are the best ones.