DEAR DAUGHTER: A LETTER TO THE MOTHERLESS

She came up to me with her purse on her shoulder: Mama, she said, I want to go on a date.

If you know her, you can imagine the voice—the strong "t" sound at the end of want, the monotone dictation, conflicted by a sweet high tone. I oblige (gleefully).

We walked downtown, got three macarons to share and pulled out the blocks she packed in her purse. I started to affirm her—she doesn't understand really what I am saying today, but I do. And something in my heart tells me that her heart gets it, too. 

"Baby, you know that you are so loved by Mama?" 
"Daughter, you are so fun to spend time with." 
"Sister, you are so helpful. You are such a big girl. I am so proud of you. I enjoy you so much." 

More seasoned parents than I have warned against the "self-esteem" movement. I get it. Don't over-congratulate your kid on things that don't need be praised. But my gut says, screw it—every single thing she does is magic and she needs to know it. 

In high school, my psychology teacher gave us an assignment where we asked our parents what we were like as babies and toddlers. I still don't understand the purpose of the assignment—it felt like a cruel joke. All I remember was the feeling of dread met with the inevitable answer: you were awful. High-tempered. Crazy. Scary. The list goes on, and I cannot remember most of it. My dad answered completely different, from a place of kindness—according to him I was a quiet girl, shy, afraid of people. So I'm really not sure who I was then. But I get glimpses and can put pieces together based on the girls I have now.

Maybe I was a high-tempered, angry little girl. That's ok. We call it spirited, strong, passionate, and assertive (none are negative) in S. It's the fire in me that energizes me against injustice and unfairness. Yes, it gets me in trouble sometimes, but I am not afraid of the fire in my soul. 

Maybe I was quiet and reserved—praise the Lord for the gentleness in me. It's taught me to listen well and to hold dear all kinds of people; to be slow to judge the battles others maybe facing, and to not withhold the glory of grace from anyone, no matter how differently they fit the mold. 

Having the girls has awakened me to this seemingly widening gap of what I've lacked my whole life, really. A mom. My mom. She wasn't all bad—just...mostly. She was kind of like Ms. Hannigan in Annie. She was cruel (I am unafraid to say this anymore). Her punishments bizarre and not disciplines of teaching but rather tortures to ruin; she wanted to let no good thing flourish around her in me, as it pained her to see me grow. She was destructive to my life—making me tell teachers it was my fault I was late to school, covering her mistakes, making me call voice teachers for her to say I didn't want lessons anymore (when the truth was the cost of booze outweighed them in priority). It was a gnarly road. And I live with it, still. 

But as we walk down Main Street, her little hand in my guiding one, I'm amazed at how lucky I am to be hers. How lucky I am that she's mine. That she is all that is strong and gentle and thoughtful and fierce—all the dichotomies that come with toddler-hood. I get the front row seat. And as I enjoy, I am rewriting my own narrative.