“Hi,” I whisper about as loudly as I can whisper into the phone, my hands crisscrossing over each other and in between your feet so you can’t jump off the cubbies and onto the floor. “I just wanted to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day, and…” I trail off, realizing you really might jump, that there are things more important than the voicemail I’m trying to leave because I can never not multitask. Things more important than a phone call when my sister and I raised each other. Things more important than a phone call because right now, I need to be raising you.
I spend my days watching defiant terror light up your eyes, the way lightning dances across the sky, cutting into the darkness of the night. I watch your desire to be stubborn locked in a stalemate with the fear you don’t want to admit that you feel. I’ve never seen myself in the eyes of a child like I see myself in you.
I know how this story ends, but I want to rewrite it. I want to cut the last scene and add my own before the credits roll. I know what they might say about you, but they don’t have to. I know who you could grow up to be, but that doesn’t have to be the way things go. Just because it’s always been a certain way doesn’t mean it always has to be. And maybe it’s the raging storm that clouds the windows to my soul, or maybe it’s the cocktail of stubbornness and fear that most men don’t have the strength to drink, but I feel personally responsible for the ending of your story. As sunrises melt into sunsets, I feel that it’s just as important to protect you from the future as it is to shield you from the present. So I do. So I will.
The shadow of your past follows you around even at night, even when the sun doesn’t give us the grace of showing its face at all. But still, there are days — days where I can almost believe that you could be a little girl like other little girls. Play with Barbies without taking their arms and legs off. Play house in a way that doesn’t require arms-length supervision.
And I see it, I see it too. Just the other day, I remember the joy that radiated off of you as you snuck from beside me to into the corner of the counter, making sure I knew which unicorn pictures you were about to color. Standing on a rolling chair to grab your crayons and colored pencils; standing on a rolling chair as I take a chance and dare to say what I say about you. And that day, even if only for a moment, I could see it. The closest thing you’ve ever had to a mom and dad who love you, sitting at the picnic table in the sun and laughing because even the way you’re copying the melange of letters and syllables that escape my lips is typical of something a little girl your age would do. Soaking up the sun and watching you show off as you color your unicorns. Giving in to your bossy self because who doesn’t want to sing out of tune and push their little girl on the swing, watching your shadow melt away just a little as it’s replaced by the girl I know you could be.
And I’ll be honest, your mood is volatile enough to give any self-respecting weather man a run for his money. The way your demons possess you is almost Biblical. I watch the memory of your mother’s boyfriend flip the switch and cut off the light in your eyes. When you look at me, I know you don’t see me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. I have to breathe, I have to remember that sometimes we just have to let trauma’s home video run its course, from previews approved for general audiences to acknowledgements at the end. I hate this movie but I know it’ll always be on the shelf. I can’t stand it, but I know you didn’t ask to be the actress in this feature film that we can’t seem to get rid of, no matter how many times we drive over the disk.
But beauty lies not in the absence of darkness but in the presence of the light that pierces it, millions of little moments, faraway stars, window markers and earthworms in the rain. The way your eyes light up when you’re inviting your friends to pet your roly poly’s; the way you ask every single one of your stuffed animals where they want to sleep; the joy that radiates off of you as you look lovingly upon creatures that most of us would rather step on.
And that’s the girl I still know when you’re staging a 2021 remake of your very own home video, when the lights turn off and the house goes dark and you aren’t in control anymore. She is a part of you. She’s the terror that grips you when you’re running in your socks outside in the cold and all you want is to feel happy and free. She’s the rage that controls you when you ball up your little fists, swinging and kicking and screaming at an enemy that I can’t even see. She’s the pain that cripples you as you play the most grotesque version of show and tell I’ve ever seen, spelling out what he did to you even though you barely know all of your letters. She’s still you.
She’s still you because when the credits roll, your face is the reservoir that feeds a saltwater river as you scream for your mother and collapse onto me. I watch memories run like electricity through your body, looking for the quickest way from the sky to the ground. She’s still you because later, we’ll walk and the sky will unleash its own armada of saltless tears upon us, but when I ask if you want to turn around you shake your head and silently reach for my hand instead. No matter how powerful the storm, you always come back. Even when the wind threatens to knock me over, I still know you. I’ll always know you.
And you know me; the way my emotions dance with my eyes, the way I love the book of Numbers, the reason I want you to eat your dinner even though we both know I’m just as picky as you. It’s something, to be known by a child. A double-edged sword unless you take the time to learn them the way they’ve memorized you. Until you do.
But knowing you has shown me that romantic love is not an essential ingredient for healing. As I brush your hair and watch it grow in, it’s plain to see that love in the absence of expectation is what we need in order to recover. I’m a teacher, but you’ve taught me that Sleeping Beauty didn’t even need her prince to open her eyes to the world. You need a mother; I need my best friend. This knowledge gives me hope. It gives me peace. My name and what it might have been, respectively.
You’re far from perfect, but I hope you know that perfection isn’t a prerequisite for a mother’s love. I hope you know that you don’t have to be flawless to earn what most children are freely given. I hope you know that unbreakable love does exist, love that does not waver, love that does not abandon — the love of the One who knew you before you knew you. The love of God.
You’re far from perfect, but I hope you’ll always know that you’re enough. That God doesn’t make mistakes. That you find beauty in all of His creation. That it’s true, you could be one of those girls on Lyell, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. That someone will come along and make sure that isn’t the ending to your story.
I was born to be a mother but still, I’ve never been so protective of anybody. I’m a taurus in sign and in personality but I’ve never been so sure of anything. I know who I am, know my intelligence but I’ve never known anything like this.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. From God to Moses. From Moses to stone. From stone to paper. From paper to reader. From me to you, love always. Daughter.