It was a along-ago friend, who years ago told me of his efforts to write letters to his very young son, that made me think about writing love letters to my daughter. Like moving beyond a “baby book,” or carrying on past the cutesy infant and toddler years, the point was to write letters to her, tell her story, and ours.
The former friend and I parted ways long ago, but I am grateful that he planted this seed. And so was born the sweet habit of letter-writing I began when our daughter was very little.
In fact, the first letter I wrote to her is dated near her two-months-old mark. In it, I mention the friend and his “charming idea” of writing letters to her, and that I wish I had thought of it sooner. I include that “I am not clear-headed these days” as she was only two months old and not yet sleeping through the night, but wanted to let her “know what’s going on in our lives and in the world” as she grows up. Of note, I address her dad as “Daddy,” as we had yet to evolve into “Papa.”
In this, her first letter, I inform her that I write from our cabin – her second trip up the mountain in Arizona — and that I am less worried about her this time around as we drive along a primitive, bumpy road and higher in altitude. To my surprise, I offer up more details than I remembered ever doing, such as what she was paying attention to; what pregnancy and labor and delivery were like (the former mostly romantic, the latter unfun); how we are getting to know each other; and how much I loved breastfeeding her, laying with her, talking with her, bathing with her, and more. Then she cries and I have to go and say so. Funny, and real, and awesome.
I peruse the folder full of letters — so far 28, plus holiday and birthday cards that I made for her — and find valid attempts to keep up as often as possible, albeit many months in between. But remembering to write, as well as finding the time and energy, was challenging while raising a child — at least it was for me. Furthermore, how much would my daughter want to read at length? I am relieved to find that I have haven’t overdone it, but pleased to find that there is abundance and detail.
I say, for example, that at four months “I just love this age,” because she rolls over like a “pro” and is trying to crawl and sit up. This makes me remember how much she drooled. It was obnoxious. Kids and drool. What the hell? Who knew?
At seven months old, we have returned from a trip to visit family. Her great grandfather had died from Alzheimers, and her step-grandfather was dying of cancer. On the other hand, she weighed over 17 pounds, was 26 inches long, sucked her thumbs and fingers, and her “poops are good.”
I go on, commenting on various things, from how much love we have for her, to hardships, death, love, her interests and growth, work, caregiving, and so much more.
I remember being so tired, looking forward to breaks, but then I am glad to find these thoughts: “Being your mother and you being my daughter is an amazing experience for both of us. We learn together everyday. Just when both of us think that we can be apart — we can’t. We are hooked on each other. And I just love the shit out of you, my little light, my little gem. We are quite a family. Write to you soon.”
Sometimes I recall the fatigue and how hard I felt like I was on myself and others, but these letters remind me that was hardly the truth. Yes, I was tired very often, but there is mostly joy and fun, and the busyness of parenthood, business ownership, and caregiving.
I write, “You are hiding under your desk, under which you barely fit, and I know it, and you want me to ‘count to 10 and find me all over the place.’ You do this ALL of the time: You want us to find you even though you ‘hiding’ right in front of us very obviously.”
At the end, a note: “As usual, didn’t finish [the letter]. Oh well. I still think about you all time.”
One day, I notice, she wants to count on her toes all of the things we did that day. Looks like “we rode bikes; collected dead leaves on a screwdriver for Papa; we collected red leaves for Mama to paint; we climbed trees; we flipped rocks and found worms — dead, one not; we watched cartoons; [she] ate two strawberries from [my] plants; took naps; ate food; ate Tootsie Rolls; pottied; took bath. By now [she] had no more toes and had to use [her] fingers to count.” I end with, “It was an awesome bath.” And it sounds like it was a super fun day.
More stuff: healing, growing, busyness; singing, reading, spelling; travel hopes and dreams and want to get her a passport. By the end of her third year, I admit that “I am also very interested in keeping you home and not sending you to school. I would have to break your creative spirit; you know how and what you want to learn. I am excited for our future.” Our path to unschooling had begun. Cool.
We name a thrift store plastic horse “Chaka Kahn,” concurring that it is better that “Pickles” or “Biggles.” We meet a girl name Ireland. She discovers Gorillaz, Wolfmother, and ZZ Top. She likes boots and tutus. One day she applied black makeup under her eyes and she looked like Alice Cooper. She falls in love with swimming and horses. We start to make plans for fulltime travel in a tiny RV. Great-grandma has died from dementia, and her grandmother has a new boyfriend. Santa is bigtime. Abundant stuffed animals are extended family, dinosaurs are awesome, my iPad is completely stolen by her and becomes her own, and eventually she discovers Xbox and her gaming life. She likes the cat. She chooses long hair. She leans toward Asian languages, not romance languages. We all love music. She and her “Papa are close buddies and tricksters/pranksters.” She is “a killer reader.” Blue is her favorite color.
We continue to move around, finding our right spot, which is really just slow travel to us. As she grows, we share playlists and conversation as we drive around. Business is good; she is an equestrian. I miss travel, a backpack, and passport, but rhythm, routine, and grounding take precedent. She discovers comedy and sarcasm. New friends, new paths. A pandemic happens. We choose the Pacific Northwest to continue to raise her — for dark skies, solitude, wilderness, hiking, glacial lakes and cold rivers, and mountains. She is tall, smart, kind, loving, open-minded, and funny. We value time spent together. Family first. We are close.
The most recent Letter to Luna I write this month, the beginning of 2022. “Happy New Year!” I write. “The world has been complaining about terrible 2020s and 2021s, and I understand — pandemic, election, climate change, etc — but our months and years continue to be healthy and abundant, and I, therefore, am grateful.” She has lots of friends; she loves winter, cold and dark. She likes hoodies with her favorite themes on them: creatures from Wings of Fire, characters from Steven Universe and Percy Jackson, and memes. We talk and hug. We all spend time together, but also apart in our creative endeavors. It is quite amazing.
And I say, “I love you, girl. You are awesome,” and I mean that. Motherhood has grounded me, filled me spiritually, emphasized a closeness with my husband that can only come from raising a child together, raising a family, with new inside jokes and stories. Motherhood shaped and honed our values, my values, validating and encouraging a life lived more purposefully.
I am so glad that I wrote these love letters. It will be a continuing endeavor. What a wealth of information, a reflection of love and abundance, hardship and change, the experience of being human. I hope it is something that encourages others to do, for the rewards are great. The gift of this child, the gift of writing, of love, of sharing. Pure joy.