I am still warm from holding you during your midnight feeding. My skin smells like your skin. I looked down at your hair, so thick and dark at birth, just beginning to grow back. For weeks it fell where you lay, covering the sheets and our clothes—tiny reminders of you everywhere. I could sit and hold you and simply watch your hair grow.
That is how much joy is contained in these days. We are tethered together, you and I, never more than a few minutes or a few miles apart. I stare into your bright eyes, wondering at the thoughts forming behind them, still a mystery.
Thinking of these moments, which I know are fleeting, I wanted to write a letter to you as a teenage girl. It is also to me as the mother I will be then.
Perhaps you and I will have a great relationship. We will read this together and laugh over coffee. Or, if you are anything like the headstrong, stubborn, and independent woman I am, you may be battling with me, and I with you. That often seems the way of mothers and daughters, at least for a time.
As I watched your sleeping face against my chest tonight, I thought of how I will fail you. I don’t know the ways yet, but I know that we cannot escape it. My failures may cut you deeply. I will hurt you, and you me. Those hurts and failures might become something hard between us, stretching long the tether which is now so short.
That is precisely why I write.
Even if you and I are in a war, large or small, I want you to know that I love you. So much that I want to pick you back up from your crib and hold you close. I want my skin so always smell of yours. I want to watch your hair grow and your breath move in and out. I want to count each and every eyelash, only to begin again. I want to be the first thing you see when you wake up and the first one each day to see your dimple when you smile.
This may be so hard to imagine when you are a teenager. I will remember all the hard lessons I learned at your age and be tempted to spare you the pain and trouble it took me to learn them. I will want to have a voice in your life, even as you want to find your own.
If we are struggling against one another, I want to remind us both of these moments in the night when the whole house was still and we were content to stare into each other’s eyes. I will know your thoughts no better when I look into your eyes as a young woman. I cannot know them unless you speak them. Will you please share them with me?
I promise to listen just as seriously as I do now, when you coo and sing such important thoughts with your tiny, furrowed brow. Even if we do not always agree, please keep talking. I will do my very best to listen and to value your words and not to say things like “I told you so” and “if only you had listened” or anything else that sounds condescending or prideful.
Can I tell you a secret?
Despite best preparation, parenting hits you like the gale of a hurricane, sweeping you right up into it. I am simply doing my best, but there are days when I am only carried along by prayer. Days when I wonder how I got here, and feel not so very capable of parenting an infant, much less a teenage daughter.
Not so very long ago, I was a teenage girl. I thought then that I knew it all, but with each passing year I realize how little I actually know. I think this is the kind of humility and wisdom that comes with age. Maybe this will be your experience too. Maybe you will grow older and realize this same thing and be swept one day into the hurricane of motherhood and know exactly what I mean.
My mother and I battled when I was a teenager, as I fought for independence and imagined her somehow my enemy rather than my champion. I see now that in each little act, she was telling me I was loved: When she put curlers in my hair and I fought because I wanted it straight. When she steered me toward the stores with clothes that would fit and I only wanted unflattering men’s pants. When she tried to help me with homework and I said no because I wanted to do it myself.
Now I see all the I love you’s that I could not see then. Now I know how much my mother truly has always been my champion. Now we share daily phone calls and shopping trips where we still may not like the same clothes. The truth is that I truly am independent, and in my independence I have realized how interdependent we are, my mother and I.
I have dreams and hopes for how our relationship will be when you read this letter. I cannot wait to see the young woman that God will make you to be. I hope in some small way He uses me to shape you—not just through hard times and mistakes, the way I tend to learn best. May you be a quicker learn than I am.
I hope that we do read this together, you and I, and that we can think of the time when you were so small that you slept in the crook of my arm and we both woke with joy to see the other’s face. I will remember and you will only imagine a memory, but let it be sweet for us both.
Whatever our relationship is like, whatever hurts we both may have caused or faced, know this: my love for you has not diminished. This is a forever love, deeper than I ever could have imagined. You, my teenage daughter, are beautiful and you are loved.
And now I must go, for you are stirring in your crib and I long to hold you in my arms. We are tethered by love, you and I, now and then. Daughter, I cherish you.
[If you liked this post, you might like my Confessions from a Breastfeeding Mother.]