Claim Yourselves: A Letter To My Daughters

by Lara Dotson-Renta
Originally Published: 

Your faces smile sweetly at me now, and you want me to be with you at every turn. The way in which your little bodies rest on mine and seek the contours of my hand seems vastly ordinary now; it is at times difficult to define where you end and I begin, we are so intertwined with one another.

When I first became a mother this was disorienting to me. I was horrified trying to understand who I was and what I had become, as the independence I had fiercely protected gave way to a need and being needed, to a compromise in how I saw my body and myself. Babies don’t negotiate, and you were no exception. I became both more and less of who I thought I was. You remade me in your image before you were born, and we have been dancing ever since, my girls and I.

But you will not always need me this way, and someday sooner than I can imagine you will not seek the comfort of my body and my voice as a buffer between you and the world. You will push me away to make your own path, to figure out who you are without me, maybe without each other, though my greatest hope is that you and your sisters hold on to each other through life, for nobody will share your past, your parents or your memories the way you will with each other. This impending separation hurts me in my marrow, but my job is to arm you for it, to prepare you to wage battle with the world, but most of all with yourselves.

I hope that someday when you search, and find yourselves lost between who you want to be and who you are, or what you thought you should be but haven’t grasped, you will know somewhere within yourself the entirety of who you are. I want you to be whole, even when you are broken, even when the days squeeze you empty and consume your nights. I want to remind you of who you are when I cannot or should not be there. Because there will be moments when you cannot breathe. There will be moments that are both too long and too short, with no before and no after. It is there that I hope you will find me, but most importantly that you will find you.

You are my daughters, my loves and my blood. But you are not mine. You belong to you, and you must claim yourselves every day. You do this in small ways. Look up and let your eyes own and embrace your space. Speak firmly and say your name with tenacity and tenderness. Love your body—the one that you use to kick your legs higher and higher on the swing—for it is your home, and yours alone, a refuge and a space to which nobody else is entitled. As girls you will often be asked to show your body or cover it up, to slow it down or make it go faster than you intend, to feel pleasure and to refrain. You will be asked to do and be impossible things, to be a woman younger than you are already. Please don’t let your inner voice, the one that knows you best, be overruled by “they” and “she” and “him.”

The voices, from people who matter and from those who don’t, may threaten to make your flesh, the one you carry and that carries you, seem alien and ugly, or beautiful and all encompassing, a “thing” to be harnessed and adorned, as if your body were you and not your vessel. Even at your strongest, you won’t be able to ignore all of it. You are human. But in the shadows, in the quiet whispering of your thoughts, remember that the only voice that decides worth is yours.

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