Letter To My Imaginary Children

by Rae Pagliarulo
Originally Published: 
A colored drawing of a family on a beach and ocean behind them

Dear Invisible Son and Nonexistent Daughter,

Look. I’m not sure I’m cut out for this. I’m just going to say that right out of the gate. When I was a little kid and I learned about where babies came from, I said to my mom, “I’ll never push a watermelon out of my coochie!” She laughed a laugh that said, “You’ll change your mind when you’re older.” So far, I haven’t. I’m 32.

The reason I’m writing to you now is simple—when I’m older (specifically, when I’m my mom’s age), I want adult children. I want to sit at the head of a table and have my grown, splendid progeny serve me birthday cake and say I don’t look a day over 10 years younger than I actually am. I want to have Sunday brunch with you, Daughter, and see my habits playing out in your hands, the look on my face echoed in your voice. I want you, Son, to help me plant flowers in the patch of dirt out front of the house because you know I’ve got a black thumb, but I still want beauty around me.

I’ll have to start soon, if I want you two later. Future Me is in love with you already, sinking into our shared existence like a worn-in recliner. Future Me has also gone totally grey and looks fabulous, kind of like Ellen Burstyn, but with a wardrobe like Diane Keaton and a voice like Kathleen Turner. Future Me is sure, beyond belief, that this—finding you, bringing you home—was the right thing to do. But Present Me is still on the fence. And I’m asking you to forgive both of us for that.

Right now, I know I can’t do it alone. I know that, for me, you two can only come after I have a partner, someone I can lean my whole weight on without fear that they will fall. I know that without a strong maternal instinct, running like a relentless motor inside me, I will need someone else to share the effort. I won’t make it up the hill with only my own inertia. I envy women with that kind of strength.

I am scared, and almost totally sure, that I’m missing the mommy gene, but it’s entirely possible that the acquisition of someone with a daddy gene (is there such a thing?) might help me cobble some things together, something that might distantly resemble nurturing. I have faith that I will find him eventually—some days more so than others. You know how that goes.

I also know that for as much as I love my routines, my relatively stable life, I am still plagued with this constant restlessness. One time, I drove to Canada because I felt like it. Sometimes I overfeed the cat and don’t come home. I spend my free time alone, swimming in solitude, writing or reading or floating around in a pool of melancholy for no reason at all. I love it. I’m terribly selfish—I can afford to be.

It’s going to be hard to give up silence. It’s going to be hard to give up my mental space to your needs and desires. I’m not ready to concede any of it, and you deserve absolutely nothing less. I promise I’ll get there. But I might slip. I might forget, once you’re here, that I’m no longer moving through this world alone, and I might get angry that you need me all the time. Forgive me when it happens. It will almost definitely happen. Often.

I’m sorry I’m not ready for you yet. I’m sorry I’m single and bored and that my maternal instinct is as revved up as a hand-cranked eggbeater. I’m sorry that, for a while after you come, it’s going to be tough for me to adjust. I’m sorry for how moody I get, how badly I hide my feelings of jealousy and disgust, how I can’t keep a secret to save my life, how I embellish my stories unnecessarily, how I get bitchy and snap when I’ve hit my limit for social interaction, how I procrastinate, how impatient I can be, how huffy and righteous and obsessive.

I’m sorry that, simply because Future Me has a clear vision for her life, Present Me will be your mother. I swear to God that I will do my very best. And I fully expect that on many days, my best will be nowhere near good enough. I also promise that there will be good moments. That I will teach you about love and silliness and forgiveness. That I can help you with bullies and depression and dressing for your age and conduct at rock concerts and cursing creatively and drinking and flirting and self-hate and lip gloss and David Sedaris and irony.

The longer I write this letter to you, this psychic letter of apology, the more it sounds like a hate letter to myself. A letter of condemnation, the judging, tsk-ing part of me confirming what I’ve spent years trying to erase: I will never be good enough. The truth is, I feel like so many people are better than me at almost everything. But better is just different with a shitty attitude. Jesus, I’m not even your mother yet, and already I feel inadequate compared to the other mothers I have yet to encounter.

Why don’t I just tell myself what I would tell you two if you came to me feeling shitty and not good enough? Everyone is good at different things. Someone famous once said that comparison is the thief of joy, so get over it and go be good at something all on your own, without creating an imaginary contest you’re sure to lose. You are not only good enough, you are more than the universe ever dreamed of. Keep your eyes off the competition because the game is fake and there is no finish line and every day that you simply show up to your life is an epic, glitter-covered, explosive, neon-lit WIN.

Did that help you? Am I doing a good job here? I should get back to what I was doing. There’s another thing I’m bad at—staying on task. Get ready for that one.

I promise that there are a lot of things I’m good at, and I will be as patient and kind as I can be when I teach them to you. I won’t yell at you when you cut the onion or butternut squash or fennel bulb wrong. (Those are tough ones.) I’ll tell you the secret to great stone soup and perfectly roasted potatoes. I’ll show you how to make your room look like West Elm on an IKEA budget. I’ll show you how to cast on and knit a scarf, how to avoid looking lost (even when you are), how to start a conversation with a total stranger, how to eat alone in a restaurant without looking too sad, how to give thoughtful, critical, kind feedback, how to write your name in cursive, how to train a rat to run a cardboard box maze, and how to apply liquid eyeliner flawlessly. I’ll teach you that reading is sexy, and listening is better than talking, and honesty is necessary, and fear is inevitable. I’ll teach you that the only way out is through.

Trust me. It won’t always be perfect. It won’t always be fun. We will screw up royally and sometimes, while we are busy cleaning up our horrible messes, we will only make them worse. But someday—I don’t know quite when, but someday—one of you will be spooning sunny hollandaise over poached eggs, and the other will be pressing warm tulip bulbs into the soft, fragrant earth, and the present and the future will merge, and we will be something new, something imaginary that somehow became real. And no matter what I keep telling myself, no matter how much I don’t believe it right now, when it happens…I’ll be ready.

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