To my daughter,
This is your last week of primary school. I couldn’t let it go by without writing to you. It’s what I do to process my thoughts and feelings; to line things up in my mind until they make sense and form some sort of pattern; to express what sometimes cannot be said clearly and fully.
Words can also be gifts, and today this letter is my gift to you.
Before I had you, before I even felt the urge to have a child, I would observe parents and their lives full of stationery kits and uniform woes and camps and sports fixtures, and I dreaded it all. How wonderful to be free of all that, I would think. How awful to have your identity subsumed by the demands of children. How ghastly to have your entire life altered by little people.
And then I had you, and everything I thought I knew about motherhood and identity and love and children was blown into a million little pieces. A new empire grew in its place. An empire ruled by one little girl who ripped my heart out, wrapped herself around it, and alternately broke and renewed it, gloriously and repeatedly.
Parenthood is the terrifying and ecstatic union of love and hate, joy and sorrow, bravery and fear. It is a love that turns me into a wild lioness when you have been hurt or under threat. As your protector, I am fierce. Motherhood makes me mighty.
And yet, I stand defenceless. My love for you is what makes me weak. For to love this deeply is to risk, and to be vulnerable. If I lost you, I would lose everything.
Immeasurable joy, immeasurable fear. You brought both, and I embraced them.
When you turned five and your first day of school approached, I wept with a violence that shocked me. I wept for the loss of your babyhood and toddler years; I wept for the babies I had lost through miscarriage before and after having you. I wept (in joy and sadness) for the moving away I knew would come as you found your feet. As I watched your gorgeous, uncertain little face on that first day as you listened to your teacher’s welcome, I understood something: This is it. This is parenthood. The constant letting go. The little griefs. The necessary losses.
But over these primary school years I have come to understand something else about parenthood: The gains. The unimagined joy. The immense grace involved in watching your children grow, letting them be who they are, and ultimately, little by little, letting them go.
At this time of year, with awards ceremonies and prizegivings and end of year celebrations, social media has been awash with pictures of kids with trophies, or performing at concerts, or holding artwork and school reports. Doing stuff. Winning. Achieving. Proud parents are posting everywhere, and I totally get it. I do it too. You’ve achieved a great deal at primary school and you enter your intermediate years with a solid foundation and great potential.
But I want to tell you what I am most proud of.
I am most proud of the section in your school reports where your teachers have written general comments about you. There are words that have come up time and time again: Integrity. Empathy. Kindness. Humour. Resilience. Honesty. Yes, I know, I start crying every time and you roll your eyes and groan. But you have no idea how happy those words make me. These are the things that really matter, my darling. Not perfect grades and trophies and certificates. Intellectual and sporting and artistic achievement is fabulous, and judging by your primary years I have no doubt you will demonstrate this as you move through intermediate and high school. But emotional intelligence, self-awareness, integrity, resilience, the ability to really see and care for others: these are the things you need for a happy life; a life truly worth living.
I look at myself in the mirror, and I think: You’re doing OK. She’s a great kid (most of the time). You’ve made some mistakes, but what parent doesn’t? And I realise one more thing about parenthood: Your children often turn out to be better people than you. And you are so damn grateful for that.
Today as we were walking, you suddenly lept over to me, threw your arms around me, and said, “I love you, Mum. So much.” Then off you skipped again, towards your friends, towards your next adventure.
And my final understanding about parenthood (at least for now) came: Let your children be free, and they will always come back, time and again, back and forth, in and out, like an accordion, or an invisible thread. Not tethered, not bound…but connected. Sometimes loosely, sometimes tightly. The trick is to gently let go sometimes, when the time is right, and trust that the connection will remain.
My gorgeous girl, always know you are welcome in my arms and in my world. There will always be room for you. I will always come when you call. I will be there, just out of sight, giving you space, letting you be, trying desperately not to embarrass you. I promise.
Now go and do you. Because you are your own person, and you are truly fantastic.
P.s. Get off that device this minute, stop answering back young lady, tidy your room because it looks like a tip, for God’s sake FLUSH, don’t you dare roll your eyes at me, and do your teeth. NOW.