05/08/2015 06:40 pm ET Updated May 08, 2016

Mama Love Letters, or the Beauty of the Napkin Note


It's 10 p.m. and I'm packing my first grader's lunch for school. After squeezing the yogurt into the bento box just so the lid can snap shut -- I seriously buy a specific yogurt so this works, because, UGH, let's make this harder -- I can't forget the pièce de résistance.

"Dear Zoe,

Happy Wednesday! I hope your day is full of joy, fun learning, and you raise your hand when you have questions or answers. Be kind always.

I love you,


Napkin note. Check.

Meh. Maybe today's was a little... generic? She'll appreciate it, though. Maybe. What if she needs a boost? A mid-day pick-me-up smile just to give her that oomph into the rest of the day? Perhaps. What if the girls are telling her again that the Sunbutter in her faux PBJ is stinky and she needs a moment of Zen? Possibly. Whether she does or does not is not my brain's battle to fight. I'm just going to make sure it's there.


I'm a big believer that school lunch isn't just about what's between the bread -- my mom taught me that. Tradition or bust, in the napkin note we trust.


I remember them well. Unfolding the plastic on my cream cheese and jelly sandwich, I wondered what mom had to say that day. "Don't forget to tell Mrs. Greenwood I can chaperone the Sesame Place trip!" "Good luck on your social studies test!" Plenty of Mom-I-already-know-that-you don't have to-tell-me-twice stuff (although, she probably did need to). But a lot of times, her suggestions and penned gestures weren't super specific.

"You're special, your my little girl," "I love you to the moon and back," "Always remember to treat everyone nicely," etc. There was A LOT of that -- often quoting a made-up song she'd sing to me before bed. In the earliest of grades, I coveted that kind of adoration once the middle of the day came. As I got older and puberty was striking my peers and me left and right, I would secretly read the note between my hands or put in my pocket to read in the bathroom -- no peering, judgmental tween/teen eyes allowed. God forbid I'd deal with that brand of mockery and wrath during those years. I couldn't deny I cared for those mama notes or attempt apathy. I'd be defenseless in their eyes. It's EXACTLY when and why I needed those napkins the most. The "hang in there" and the "be your kind self" musings mattered. They always mattered. She knew it mattered too.

What wrecks me now is that I'm not sure I have thanked her enough for all of those notes. Those mama memos made a huge difference in my day -- a boost to the heart at times when I needed it the most. They served as a simple reminder to know I had a team behind me -- not physically next to me during my day, but that my family was always with me in spirit, and mom quietly leading the cheer squad. Loud and proud. The powerful stuff needed in an elementary kid's arsenal.

They say that when you have children, you begin wearing your heart on the outside of your body. Every accomplishment, every heartache, every high and low your child experiences, you feel it times ten.

Like her napkin notes, my mom has always put her heart out on full display. I imagine if she played poker, she'd be exceedingly awful. This heart-wearing though -- open, exposed -- I am not sure I've ever realized its depth or weight until I too became a mom. The trick to withholding that parental anxiety from your child and showcasing the courage, encouraging the joy... now that's something. That's more than something. That's a true gift. Mom nailed it.

I see it now. I get it. All of it. ALL OF THE FEELINGS. Where's that napkin?


I open up the front zippered pocket of my daughter's backpack. It's Friday, and Lord knows what Little Miss Collector has going on in there. To my surprise, I find a napkin from days earlier.

"Zoe, did you mean to keep this? You can throw them out when you finish your lunch, you know?"

"No, Mom. I want to keep that one. I liked what you said."

It's working. It's working!

Mom, I can't thank you enough.