February 15, 2017

A Love Letter to my Daughter.

There is no one I love quite the way I love you.

I love your brother fiercely; I feel the connection between him and I viscerally. It’s a deep and tangled love, ancient and braided, as if he’s always been with me. But it is a different love. You are surprise and sunshine. You are new, your layers waiting to be discovered.

At the same time, you are twined deeply to me, echoing back through generations of mothers and daughters, the innate dysfunctions and the earthly, body-driven love. Right now, just for this moment, you are still mine and I am always yours.

I am in awe of your amazing girl body.

I don’t remember my own. Not from the inside. I can envision old photographs for a brief spell, showing the outlines of myself—long and lanky. On my bike, dashing through sprinklers, climbing brown-barked trees, plucking blueberries with my fingertips. But I can’t remember what it feels like from the inside, to belong to myself so completely, so un-self consciously.

I wish I could remember this body that still lies wrapped somewhere within my now-body, cells buried in layers, the archaeological strata of my skin.

You occupy your own body. You haven’t left yourself. I see it in the way you kick a soccer ball, sled down a snow-crusted hill, or the way you stand naked while getting dressed, at home in your skin as if you remember you were born in it, in a way I’ve long forgotten.

Your girl body is sacred, ever-changing.

When you were a baby, time tumbled like honey. Now it goes full throttle. You are teaching yourself to read—words that were blurs of black just a few months ago are becoming jewels you can string together to create something that glistens and dangles.

You are so full of light. When you were still in my belly, you were slippery. And so unlike your brother—with him, I felt his will, his fierce fetal opinions, his snuggle-puppy-spark, his boyness. With you, I felt only a subtle sense of lightness. A smudge of sunshine. At the time, it felt like you were barely there—now I understand that I was feeling your glee, your love, your light.

Already, at five, you are beginning to pull away. It’s subtle—most wouldn’t notice it. But I do. I notice it. At bedtime, you’ll tell me, “I’m too warm. No more snuggles,” and I draw my arms back. This is what daughters do, what children do—this is my job. To let you go. But it still stings, it still startles.

The other day I had this moment: I was standing in the kitchen, you were thumbing through a book, your brother was reading football stats out loud. Earlier, I’d been irritable. Parenting is not easy on introverts, and I was craving quiet. But for a moment, I stepped outside of myself, outside of time, outside of the mundaneness of the day and of thoughts like, “Who knew parenting is mostly trying to convince little people to do things they don’t want to do? Like sleep or eat or stop screaming?”

And I saw the sweet softness of your faces. How alike they are, and how subtly different. I saw your immense golden beauty and felt my heart balloon, my eyes go damp. I felt the unbearable buoyancy of it all.

This is what I wanted. This is parenthood, this is the sweet witnessing of another person’s becoming, and it is the most beautiful, breaking, blessed thing I can imagine. And how often I sleepwalk through it. How much I want to be awake. And how much self-love and care it takes to be present for it. To fill the dwindling reserves of patience. To attach so deeply to someone who is changing all the time.

And you are changing.

My sweet girl, I pray that you keep yourself. That you don’t forget to be amazed by your own body and mind, in all the ways you’re learning now and all the ways you have yet to learn. That your luminosity both radiates out into the world, and wells within you. That the light I felt even when you were still curled inside me warms you and those around you in the same way I am now so deeply warmed.


Author: Lynn Shattuck

Image: London Scout/Unsplash

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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