A Letter to My Daughters as You Turn Ten

Dear Girls,

Last year I wrote you a letter about how we failed you as a country. How we should have done more to protect you from the overabundance of gun violence in this world. How you should not have to live through “lock-down drills” in which your principal bangs on your classroom door and tries to lure you into the line of his imaginary gunfire. You were nine. These things were impossible for me to imagine.

This year, so much and so little has changed all at once. You are ten, and in every way you have grown more than I have expected. You have boyfriends now, little boys who tell you that you are pretty and buy you bracelets and necklaces to prove it. You don’t want toys for Christmas anymore, preferring instead clothes, earrings, and pretty-smelling body spray. Also, our shared history has started to reveal itself to you. You say things like “I used to think you were a bad mother…” followed by a very specific example of when I was. I no longer have to protect you from gun violence only, the web under which I need to hold you now has grown larger and less secure: boys, peer pressure, bad memories and sadness have all tried to sneak their way in.

Every year, as much as you grow and change, I’d like to think I do as well. I learn something new about how to be a mother, how to parent you, or how to love you in a new light. But this year, the lessons were hard. This year, I had to parent you through grief: yours and mine. This year has been a year of loss. For all of us.

We lost Grandma Gigi, the woman who lived just to love you.  At almost 80 years old, she watched you three or four days a week for most of your life. She taught you to do puzzles, to play Solitaire, and to hold a special place in your soft hearts for “old ladies.” On her death bed she said to me “Oh, Amye, you don’t know how much I wanted to see those girls grow up.” It was and remains to be the single most painful thing anyone has ever said to me. Those words have strung themselves together in a little bow around my heart and squeeze hard enough to break it most days. This first year without her has been like finding my way through the darkness with only a match.

We lost Hope. You were too young to remember the Obama elections, still I bought you shirts that read “My mama’s for Obama” and posted pictures of you wearing them on Facebook without your consent. But this year, this cycle, you were able to participate. I bought you Hillary shirts in which she was made to look like Rosie the Riveter, and you wore them proudly. It was fun for you, to root for a girl. You had no idea of the struggle behind those words. Your elementary school became a hotbed of political conflict. Everyday you came home with a new story about a new friend with whom you were upset because he/she told you they were supporting Trump. You couldn’t wrap your nine-year-old brain around it. “BUT, he wants to kick all of the Mexicans out,” you would decree in shock and anger. I lacked the ability to explain it. I didn’t understand it myself. But we held fast to the idea that Hillary would win. I baked Stromboli and vowed to let you stay up to watch the results. You were in bed by ten. I cried myself to sleep wondering how I would explain to you that someone filled with such hate could be chosen by so many. Trump’s America will be the very opposite of Obama’s America, and I realize now how lucky I’ve been to have raised you in the latter.

My mother was 20 years old when her father died, and I often wonder-now that I’m a parent-how she managed to keep the ship floating in the wake of all that grief. How her sadness didn’t just overwhelm her, pull her under the surface and hold her there for a long while. But she didn’t sink. She kept swimming, kept moving, and she and we survived. Each day I have to learn to swim all over again. What once came so naturally to me-moving forward, moving on, moving… has become difficult. I smile for you, shove the pain of losing my grandmother and the shame and disappointment I feel for my country into a black box inside of me and I struggle to inch forward against the current.

There has also been some good. Everyone is healthy and my heart is full when the entire family is together. You have grown into amazing individuals with different outlooks on life and the world. I’m so proud to hear from your teachers that you’re excelling. I’m so proud to see you question the world around you. I published my book! The thing that pulled me from you in every way for the previous five years was finally a reality! We also saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. It took me thirty-eight years to get there, it took you nine. I stood on that coastline, closed my eyes, and breathed the salty air deep into my lungs. I had waited and wanted to see California my whole life. And there we were. In that moment, there was hope.

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Here is what I know to be true: I love you more with each day. I love you differently than I once did. I love you in spite of yourselves, sometimes. I love you enough to give my life to protect yours. I love you in ways I never thought I could. I love you enough to keep swimming for you-every day. But, most importantly, I love you enough to teach you to swim for yourselves. There will be hope again. There will be paths forward. You and I will find them together. In the darkness, I will be your match.

Love,

Mommy