This being the week leading up to Mother’s Day, I decided to spend it focusing on the mothers in my life. I only have one that I call my own, but there are several other mothers who matter to me. I started with a letter to my grandma, and then wrote one for my daughter. Today’s letter is to my mom.
I’ve been saving this letter for last because I knew it would be hardest to write. Hardest because as comfortable as I am on the keyboard, I still haven’t quite figured out an appropriate way to express the gratitude due you. I’m going to try anyway.
Having been on both ends of one, I think it’s accurate to say that mother/daughter relationships are the most complex kind. They begin so beautifully. When first that fleshy pink bundle is placed in a mother’s arms there comes with her the promise of pigtails and tea parties and recitals of one kind or another. Next comes what seems like all-too-brief a span of time when she trusts you implicitly–a time when you are her everything. But then under cover of the everyday there come changes, subtle at first, a slow fade to territory uncharted. And then the next thing you know there are doors that slam and words that sting and an inherent bewilderment as to what ever happened.
I told you I hated you. I screamed it from the top of my lungs because I meant it to hurt that much. I remember where I was and where you were and the look on your face when I said it. It brings me tears all these years later. I wonder if you even remember it, or if it just blends into a slew of ugly words I spat out in anger when I was a girl wild. Whether you remember or not I want to say that I’m so sorry for ever speaking something so far from the truth.
I know what you would say if you were sitting opposite me. Your own eyes would fill and you would tell me it’s okay, assuming you could choke the words out. You’d tell me it’s okay because you knew then and you know still that it’s hard being a teenage girl and you understand that those words were an outpouring of pubescent hormonal imbalances, not an actual reflection of my heart’s deepest declaration.
We’ve come a long way since then, haven’t we?
So much of who I’ve become is tangled up in who you are. I hope that falls like a compliment. It’s meant to be one because I rather like who I am. (Thank you for that, by the way). We’re not one of those mother/daughter pairs in which the end of one is indecipherable from the beginning of the next. No, we two have our distinct differences. I’m thankful for them; they demonstrate a creative God. He used your strengths to inspire me. You modeled for me a generosity of spirit and fierce familial love that I hope have been woven into the tapestry of my soul. He used your more vulnerable moments, too. I watched you suffer some of the deepest kind of pain and took from those experiences a steel resolve that has served me well when I’ve had to call upon it. I wouldn’t be who I am, were it not for the moments I watched and learned from who you were.
Because you are my mom, I never once second-guessed my place. I have a confidence that comes only from knowing the favor of an Almighty God and the love of my parents. Ours was not an either/or kind of family, it was a with/and kind. We grew together not at the expense of a member excluded, but under the firm belief that all would be fiercely protected, encouraged and claimed. All would be deeply loved. And we were. We are.
I think that now that I’m a mother the thing I most hope to hear one day from my own daughters is a sincere thank you for doing the best I knew how to do. I have not always done right by them but it’s not for lack of trying–it’s for lack of knowing. I wonder, then, if I could say anything that would mean more to you than this: I know that you emptied yourself into me. I know that you loved me the best way that you knew to love and you led me the best way that you knew to lead and you gave me everything you had to give. I thank you for it. I love you for it.