Letter to my daughters

Dear girls,

Well, it’s the night before we start the big march in Selma, and there are a few things that I want to remember to share with you someday. I guess the eve of a long-anticipated event is as good as any, and I suppose that sometimes these things are the ones that help us examine our hearts.

A portion of our group met tonight for dinner, and we all discussed how strangely emotional we all feel. Rather than just plain excited, I guess you could say we’ve got some spiritual trepidation; for some on this march, it’s the culmination of a lifetime working for justice. For others, the march is in the middle of long, arcing journey. People are here working out their grief, their impatient optimism that someday justice will be served, their wishes and hopes that someday in the future, we’ll live together more peacefully, love each other more fully, and demand more equality for all our brothers and sisters.

Dave from Colorado asked me why I was marching. I suppose that you three are the truest answer I have. Fifty-four miles in a short way to go when I think about all my hopes for each of you, and wishes that the world that you someday inhabit, the one that I can barely imagine, will be more just, more compassionate, and more equal. And I want you to know that in my own small way that each step is my prayer for your lives; that your paths may be made a little straighter, that the mountains may be made a little lower for you.

Having children is a great leap of faith. In our case, the leap seemed slightly larger, or even unachievable. Through the years I’ve had a lot of naysayers cautioning me against having children, almost always delivered in tones of feigned concern about what will happen to children of a bi-racial marriage. How many people pretended that they were expressing care when they told me in no uncertain terms how awful our lives would be.

The racism that pretends to care is some of the most toxic, insidious stuff I’ve ever been exposed to in my life. It’s an ugliness that infects so many minds and hearts, and it feeds on fear. Fear of being labeled an outcast, or a stranger, or an outlier. Just stay with the group, it says. The unknown is necessarily harmful and horrid.

They were wrong.

And I knew they were wrong. In a thousand ways, these years of motherhood have shown me that my heart and my gut were right. You are each precious and loved beyond expression. There is no joy like being your mom. None at all.

Yet, being your mother is not my identity. It’s my hope that you’ll always know me a bit as an individual with my own tastes and interests and preferences. That I’m not just put on this earth to yell at you to pick up your underwear or remind you ten times to get your backpack or be your food source. It’s a temptation of modern motherhood, I think, to try to plan and create and orchestrate these magical childhoods where the mother is simply the conduit for making sure that you are enriched with activities and cocooned in optimal playdates and sitting in enviable schools. That unless I’m ferrying you to an activity or actively working on expanding your minds that I’m being selfish.

I hope what you learn from me, from me taking a week away from home to do this march, is that there are so many ways to be a good mother. And that a good mother sometimes nurtures her passions, sometimes does new things, sometimes travels, sometimes gets involved in things that are free-wheeling and big and potentially messy. And that her children benefit from seeing their mother as a woman with her own mind and her own concerns, of which her children’s daily routine is not always the center.

Dearest Miss H, you’re the one who made me a mother. I’ll never forget being in labor with you and listening to NPR coverage of the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. His last speech, talking about going to the mountaintop seemed apropos at the time. There’s a bit in there,

And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” 

And Dr. King goes on for a while, in his inimitable style, about the appeal of all the ages. He finally says:

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy….Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding.

And that’s how I feel about being your mother. I’m just grateful to be your mom. I love so much your intellectual ferocity. The other day we were discussing the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and you immediately asked if that was what started WWII. I was bowled over…but at the same time, not surprised. It’s been a joy to watch you go from soaking up facts to analytically applying lessons to new situations. I think that when you harness your mind to work for justice that you will be a force to be reckoned with. I treasure your large-heartedness, your intuition for caring.

Remember when I was pregnant with your baby sister and I really needed to go for a walk by myself in early labor? And you just snuck up on me and didn’t say a word, holding my hand quietly as we stopped for each contraction. That generosity of spirit and selfless care is something I’ll never forget, and I’m sure it’s something that will be treasured by so many people whose lives you touch. I admire your courage in new situations; I know that you tend to be a cautious observer and I see you saddling up every day in ways that are tough to make your world larger.

I can’t tell you how much I love you.

Darling B, you have a courage about you that I can only hope to emulate. Your sense of adventure and willingness to try, try again amaze me. I’d never met someone who would do the monkey bars until her hands bled until I saw you do it. Your fearlessness is incredible, and not just on the monkey bars. You are someone so attuned to others; I’m always riveted by how well you remember names and how connected you are with other people.

Your genuine care for others is such a great reminder to me to show it…you’re much more extroverted than I and you’ve taught me so many lessons there. I’ll never forget watching you march onto the playground like you owned it from the minute you could walk. What I’ll always treasure was a moment this year at the park when you were on the zipline and a little toddler wandered right in front of you, with no adults around. I thought I’d be watching a crash in slow motion. Instead, you deftly hopped off the zipline and held onto it just in time to avoid hitting that little one. Maybe someday you’ll win the Nobel Prize, but I won’t be prouder of you than I was at that moment, because I saw your heart in action in a way that made me understand your capabilities in a new way.

B., when I think of you, I think of joy. Your smile lights up a room and you prefer to travel by skipping. Even when you’re being a squirrel, I see how much happiness infuses every step. You also have a keen sense of justice. You know how feelings get hurt, and you know what makes them feel better. The combination of your fearlessness and your emotional intelligence is so beautiful to watch. I can’t express how much I love you.

Baby E., there’s still so much to be written for you. Whoever you are is at once so evident and so hidden. Your happy chatter and loving snuggles make you the sweetest little girl. In some ways, I’ve made my longest journey with you, right under my heart. I can’t wait to experience this march with you and to watch you grow up…to see how that dimpled smile and all that talk becomes the person that is waiting in the future. My strongest sense of you is the one of the two of us working together; you within me and later when we worked to get you born. I was amazed to meet you. I couldn’t believe that I had a little E., and the moment I saw you was so sharp and so poignant. I think this comic captures it best.

I love you girls more than you know. And I’m doing this march for you, and for me, to make me a better citizen and better mother.

With all my heart,

Mama

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