The Found Essay: Letter from a Mother to a Daughter*
“My dear girl, the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don’t interrupt to say: “You said the same thing a minute ago.” Just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep. When I don’t want to take a bath, don’t be mad and don’t embarrass me. Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just a girl? When you see how ignorant I am when it comes to new technology, give me the time to learn and don’t look at me that way. Remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately, getting dressed, combing your hair, and dealing with life’s issues every day. The day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If I occasionally lose track of what we’re talking about, give me the time to remember, and if I can’t, don’t be nervous, impatient, or arrogant. Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you. And when my old, tired legs don’t let me move as quickly as before, give me your hand the same way that I offered mine to you when you first walked. When those days come, don’t feel sad—just be with me, and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love. I’ll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared. With a big smile and the huge love I’ve always had for you, I just want to say, I love you, my darling daughter.”
Nicci and her mother with the Paris Lights behind them…
I remember the day I became a mother. No, not the day she first saw light with her own eyes, but the day when my singular mind expanded to the “knowing” of her existence. My world got bigger that day. I was surprised by my body’s sudden shift to shouting this news at me. I wasn’t expecting to be “expecting.” Ever. Several smart doctors agreed that I was unable to carry a child in my own body. As a lover of children, I thought that maybe when I was older and more settled, I would find one to adopt.
But, this Moment of Knowing became the most intimately visceral revolution of my life.
I was happy. I was afraid. I was unprepared for the enormous responsibility of another human being. I was also a young soldier on active duty in a curious place called Virginia. There are so many stories about being a mother to Nicci, but I’ve chosen this one for today.
I waited a long time to see my daughter’s face and knew the exact moment of her conception. When she was finally pulled from her comfortable home inside of me, she was almost 4 weeks late. 3 weeks and 3 days, to be exact. At 3:33 pm on a Thursday afternoon in October, she was forced from me.
But, let’s go back to that Day of Knowing.
I was content with my new duty station. Surrounded by wonderful people who loved life and appreciated laughter, they had immediately taken my young-PFC-self under their wings, each helped me make a home in a strange place far away from my native Texas. After only a few short weeks, I was already an active part of the operation known as DPTMS, the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization, and Security, on the outskirts of the post in a section of old army barracks that creaked with every step, echoed every cough, and vibrated consistently with laughter. We were a motley combination of active duty, retired military, and civilians fused together focused on a peacetime mission of preparation and safety.
Each morning, my work day began with a visit to my immediate neighbors, the sergeants in the Operations Department, for a cup of coffee and a chat. It was 7:00 a.m. when we reported for work. Our day had already included a brisk early morning exercise formation where we spent 45 minutes doing the basics: running 2 miles, push-ups, sit-ups, getting sweaty. I was in the best shape of my life, fresh out of training, my body was firm and strong. A perfect incubator.
I walked up to my new friend, Sergeant Jerry Bowen, already at his desk smiling at me. I was the only female active duty personnel in the Directorate, so the guys loved to give me shit. “What took you so long, PFC?” The left side of his mouth curled up in a smile. “You ready for some ‘joe’?” I nodded and smiled, walked over to the coffee pot, poured a cup of coffee, and returned to his desk. The rest of the sergeants in the room were already discussing issues of the day as I sat down to join in. Sipping my coffee for a short while, I then stood up to get a warm-up.
That’s when the world began to spin and fade to dark.
Jerry was standing over me in the dimly lit break room as I opened my eyes. I’d never fainted before and was slightly shaken to find myself in another room with no warning, no transition from my initial quest for hot coffee and this strange moment staring up at Jerry’s concerned face. Confused and embarrassed, I asked – What had just happened?
Jerry told me that as I rose to refill my coffee, my legs buckled underneath me and I fell into a puddle on the floor. He had carried me into the break room, laid me on the couch and splashed cold water on my face after checking to see if I was dead. Someone had been called and they were on the way. My head was still spinning, eyes unfocused, mind confused when a young woman arrived dressed in BDUs (the Army’s name for our daily camouflage uniforms) carrying a large case. She did some basic stuff, asked a few questions, then said I seemed okay, but as she left, ordered me to come into the clinic before lunch.
Back at Jerry’s desk I was the center of attention, everyone talking at me, joking with me, hypothesizing about my “episode.” It was with a tone of humor that he blurted out, “Maybe you’re pregnant.” More laughter and jokes from the group while I absorbed that thought. Maybe I was what? I was a newlywed, but had been in training for the entire length of my marriage. Our life together as a married couple had just started, living in a tiny house, our focus had been on settling in, not expanding our family. I thought of the past couple of days, putting pieces together, tying bits to make a tapestry of understanding built of moments I’d overlooked. It was possible, in fact probable, but only a few days had passed since the day she became alive inside me, secretly plotting to change my life forever. How could these symptoms start so soon?
The weeks that followed brought discomfort and joy. Happy to have an opportunity to be a mother, apprehensive about my body’s ability to do so, conscious of my shifting world perspective, and filled with an acute curiosity about the life growing inside of me, I began to view myself as more than one person. Each moment was filled with the Knowing that I would be responsible for the life of another, that somehow, my own small life was now expanded to include endless possibilities. The ever-present pulsing questions of who this person inside me would become.
The truth is, my world shifted on its axis that day. North became south, east became west. I never looked back. Knowing her has been the greatest part of this earthly adventure. Life as her mother has given me a reason to be a better person, to try harder, to aim higher, to keep going. I’ve never wanted to disappoint her, so I pushed for one more mile, one more notch, ever reaching for the perch just a bit higher than where I stood.
She made me a better person by being my daughter. She chose me and I’ve loved every single minute of it. I simply would not be who I am without her presence in my life, and for that I’m so very grateful. Just by being, she gave me a new life.
My daughter is now the same age as I when I had this Awakening. We’ve already traveled very different paths, making contrasting choices leading to altered outcomes, while remaining close but distinctive. She looks like me, talks with her hands like I do, values laughter and friends in the same way as I, and has a flair for adventure just like her mom. She’s polished and pretty, outspoken and smart, driven and organized. We are alike and yet each unique. I’m thrilled that she’s her own person and sets a high bar. Her brilliance shines like a diamond and she’s unafraid to share herself with the world. I admire her, have always respected her, and in some ways tried to be more like her. One day my youth will completely fade along with my memory but one thing will remain constant – I will always be proud to have known her longer than anyone else on earth.
*Essay courtesy Spring In The Air, a company known for growing/shipping the most amazing, longest lasting roses available in the US, and voted the highest rated roses by Amazon customers.