I can see it now.
You’re on a date with your future spouse. You’re talking about your respective childhoods and comparing notes. You’re talking about memories and the things that annoyed you most.
I want to tell you to quit picking at your nails, but I’m going to let that go. I’ve long ago learned to pick my battles. And I know that it’s one of your telltale signs of being nervous, of being around someone you’re not completely comfortable with yet. I want to tell you to just be yourself, that you’re perfect just the way you are, no need to be insecure. Instead, I’m holding my breath. Listening and waiting for what you will say about your childhood.
You see, I tried the very best I could, honey. And I feel that some days you got what was left of me.
I’d come home from work tired, frustrated, and with very little patience. When I knew your brother was going to be hungry soon and felt the pressure to get dinner on the table, I’d turn down your request to play Barbies so I could instead get supper going. I’d decline your dance party invitations in the kitchen so I could go ahead and get baths started and catch up on some laundry.
But I hope you won’t remember that. I hope instead you’ll remember the days I did those things. That you’ll recount for your future spouse the nights we cranked up the music on the radio. The nights I spun you around and around and we danced like no one was watching. I hope you’ll remember the nights we had picnics on the living room floor for supper and watched a movie or the nights I let you go without a bath when we had nowhere to go the next day.
Although I loved you and your brother dearly with my whole entire heart, I yelled at you too much. More than I like to admit. It was probably worse for you, being the oldest and a girl. We butted heads more often than your brother and I did. You pressed my buttons and I sometimes reacted. It was a painful process for me to learn how to tame your spirit without breaking it. I always knew you’d do great things in life, it’s just that I wasn’t always prepared for how to handle your strong will.
But I hope you tell him how loved and safe you felt. How your parents taught you boundaries and set rules for you. I’ll hope you’ll tell him how wonderful your mom’s hugs were and how you always felt all was right with the world when you were snuggling with her in bed at night. I hope you’ll remember the whispered I love yous and that you tell him you never ever doubted that.
There were so many times I failed you. The time I forgot to turn your book order in by the deadline, or when I had to go to work when you were sick and find someone else to watch you. The nights of pure exhaustion when I let you watch the iPad for way too long. Let’s not forget the nights where there was no time to prepare a healthy meal and you ate a dinner that came from a drive-thru.
I hope you’ll explain to him instead how hard your mom worked providing for your family, at work, and at home. How when you were sick, she’d come home from work and hold you in her lap, rubbing your back and “cancel” the rest of the evening, ordering in pizza instead. How even the nights she was exhausted, she always made sure your needs were met, your bellies were full, your skin smelling of Johnson & Johnson soap.
You see, my precious daughter, I loved you so, so much and I still do. I was not perfect, but I showed up every day and I tried. Oh, I tried so hard.
There were a million mistakes I made and a million more I have still yet to make. But without a doubt, you and your brother were the best things that ever happened to me.
And I was tough on you, but only because I wanted you to be prepared for what lay waiting out there for you. The world is sometimes tough on women, and I wanted you to have the skills that you needed to navigate that world as a strong, smart, confident person.
Everything I did for you, hoped for you, gave to you . . . was out of love.
And that, my dear, is the way I hope you’ll remember me.
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