My mother died when I was 18 years old. We were just beginning to know each other as adults, finally leaving behind the drama of my adolescence and the tedium of childhood. On the cusp of now turning 36, there is so much my mother didn't get to see me do. In the years since she died I have graduated college, seen my name in print as a journalist, earned a masters degree, gotten married, published a book and given birth to two daughters, all without her here to witness.
Now that I'm in my 30s I have more of an understanding than ever about what it means to be a daughter, and here's what I wish I could tell my mother.
You knew me so much better than I ever gave you credit for. In those last years before you were gone, I tried to conceal everything from the pain of boyfriend break-ups to how I felt about your cancer, but you always saw right through me. Sometimes it seemed like you knew what I was feeling before I even did. And even though I often pretended that you were wrong, it secretly made me feel good that you were right.
I thought you were so much cooler than I ever let on. I know I cringed when you would sometimes turn up the music and dance in the living room, but it was only because I was too insecure to actually join you. I know I told you occasionally that your outfits were weird, but really, I admired your audacious style and flair for the dramatic. And sometimes I thought it was annoying that we literally couldn't get through a trip to the grocery store without you making a new friend along the way, but I was just jealous of your ability to be so open with people.
Whenever I've been in doubt about something I've wanted to accomplish, I've been able to conquer my fear because of how much you believed in me. I remember the way I could just glance in your direction, and with one quick approving nod from you I'd feel able to tackle anything that seemed scary or overwhelming. You always made me feel like you'd be there to catch my fall, and more importantly, that I wouldn't fall in the first place. Even after you were gone, your confidence in me remained. Sometimes I still think I can see you nodding at me.
I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate the healthy body image you fostered in me. I know I felt embarrassed when you walked around naked sometimes, or that I thought it was a little weird that you practically threw a party when I got my first period, but now I realize that you were teaching me that my body is never something to be ashamed of, and for that I'm impossibly grateful.
It's the simple things you did that stand out more than the big ones. Sure, you threw me a surprise party with a limo full of my friends when I turned 15, but it was the nights when you sleepily sat up in bed at 1 a.m. willing to listen to a poem I'd just written that really mattered.
I appreciate that you were never just a mom. You had a full life before me, and you didn't let go of it after I was born. I know I wrote that letter once in 10th grade that said that all you liked to do was play tennis and have lunch with your girlfriends, but I can see now that you were more than that. You didn't give up on the things you loved (not just tennis, but painting and traveling and design) when you had me, and that choice has been inspiring to me now that I'm a mother myself.
Even though you weren't here to guide me into motherhood, you still taught me everything I need to know. It's because of you that I bake every week with my girls, letting them sift flour, measure out ingredients and taste-test along the way. It's because of you that I've convinced them that there are fairies living in our bathroom, and that our dining room table is always covered in glitter. It's because of you that I take the time to squat down and really listen to what my little girls have to say. You taught me that magic outweighs the mess, that women who cook together can create anything and that listening, really listening, is one of the highest forms of love.
Now that I'm in my thirties, I know that our bond is unbreakable. Even though you've been gone for half of my life, I can still feel your love. And now that I'm a mother myself, I know just how much time and energy and sacrifice it took to give it to me. Thank you, Mom. I miss you more than I can say.
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