To My (Maybe) Daughter
My dearest daughter,
I’m writing this to you at age 27, at which point I still don’t know how to change a diaper.
And I have to tell you right away, I live in a world where planes crash unexpectedly, and love doesn’t always win, and I eat pesticides for breakfast. My neighbors fight when they’re drunk and my friends have cancer and twelve-year-old students sell pot out of their lockers at school. I’m sorry darling, but this world is no place for a child.
I’m looking at a beautiful bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table that your potential daddy bought me three days ago and they’re wilted because I forgot to change the water. The sink is dirty and the recycling bin smells like sour milk and Coca-Cola. My home is no place for a child to grow.
But goodness, it would be so gorgeous to meet you. See, I know what your room colors will be, and I know your middle name. I know what font I’ll use on your birth announcement and I know you’ll be loved by more people than you’ll have time to meet. I just don’t know if we should, darling…
Because I don’t know how to change a diaper and planes are crashing down all around us and I just don’t know if I’ll remember to change the water in the flowers and sleep enough and pick you up from soccer practice and that’s so terrifying. I just don’t know if we should meet like this.
But darling, I think I would compliment you every day. Maybe 67 times in a row one morning. Maybe just once before you drift off to sleep.
I think I would let you give me manicures and always let you pick the color. Chartreuse and old lady pink and electric blue. Anything you want. I think I would put you in tap shoes before you could walk, but then I would fear that you would love it and that you would end up like me.
And you see darling, that’s really why I know we shouldn’t meet. Because I’ve made such a mess. Such a mess that I don’t want you to see or feel or crawl inside. Little girls shouldn’t grow up in their mommies’ messes. I have years of cleaning and sorting and scrubbing to do before my life will ever be good enough for you to walk around inside it.
See, I was told I was too chunky to play Kathy in Singin’ In The Rain (which is a movie you and I would watch over and over and over until Gene Kelly would be the only man you’d ever think was good enough for you) and because I had tap shoes on at age three, I always thought I’d be in Singin’ In The Rain. I didn’t know that someone could tell me no just because of what I looked like.
And my beautiful young daughter, that’s why I stopped eating.
I stopped eating so often that I would get really hungry. And when my mommy and daddy weren’t around, I would eat everything I could find to make sure I wasn’t hungry anymore. Hours of candy and toast with jelly and marshmallow fluff. Oreos and peanut butter and cheese on Ritz crackers. Things that I would be scared to bring in the house now. Things that I would be scared to introduce you to.
I’m sure that I would let you eat whatever you want, when you want to eat it because I would never want you to end up like me. Yes, I’m sure of it. We would eat when you want, what you want, how you want, so that you feel that food is abundant and available and never forbidden. You can eat anything at all and I will never say no. Unless it’s McDonald’s. Or non-organic lettuce. Or Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches.
I think I wouldn’t make dessert too often so you don’t get hooked like I did even though the recipe for chocolate cake from your great-grandmother will blow your mind on every birthday that you have. I think I would teach you how fun it is to walk, to play, to swim, to shoot hoops. I think I will always buy you clothes that will fit you and make you feel comfortable. I think I won’t keep any fashion magazines in the house. I think I will never insult myself in front of you so that you don’t think that it is something women do.
I think I would make a vow to never talk badly about myself in front of you. To never insult my body or my hair or my choices in front of you. But surely I’ll slip one day and you’ll learn that women are supposed to insult themselves and you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life because of my bad decisions.
That’s when I would start to fail.
I would start failing and never stop. Just like I start eating and never stop. I just would never stop failing and how could you ever forgive me for failing you?
Oh it’s true, I know we would have such fun shopping for mascara when you’re 40 and I finally let you put makeup on those beautiful long eyelashes you inherited from your grandmother. And I know we would tease your daddy about how little hair he has and we would re-decorate your room all leopard print and we would, of course, watch crime shows together right before bed.
But what if we didn’t? What if I was so bad at being your mother that you forgot all about me?
And what if we never got to know each other, and you ate soggy cereal and thought that I didn’t care, and you started to hate what you see in the mirror because I can’t get through to you in time to convince you that you’re perfect?
This is why we can’t meet, darling. Because the world is a terrible place and there will be drugs in the locker next to yours and your science teacher might like kiddy porn and the school lunches are made with terrible preservatives and you might not get the lead in the school play and a football player might break your heart or worse and why would I want to put you through that?
Your twenties will consist of credit card debt and student loans and dead end jobs and terrible men and multiple roach-infested apartments and you’ll push me away even though I want to help you and I won’t know where you are in the middle of the night or if you’re driving drunk or if you’re sleeping in a ditch on the side of the highway. I won’t know and then I can’t keep you safe and that’s my job and so many times in my life I didn’t get a job because of circumstances out of my control and this time I got a job that I really really wanted but it turns out I’m simply not cut out for it because I’m a terrible mother and I don’t know where you are and you’re 28 years old and I can’t protect you and I’ve failed.
I want to tell you darling, that if I’ve learned anything in my 27 years on this earth, it’s that no one else can make you happy unless you’re already happy inside. Isn’t that the funniest thing? I never would have thought it to be true until I got older and started thinking about the first time you and I would meet. See, where ever you are, there you are, yes, and if you’re not happy inside your own sweet body, how can you be happy if the circumstances around you continue to change? You must find the inner peace, the inner strength, the inner love within yourself before you can go around giving away all your peace and love to anybody else. You cannot rely on someone else to complete you, or make you happy, or heal your sadness. And goodness darling, I guess that means I can’t rely on you to complete me, or make me happy, or heal my sadness. That would be quite a job for you in all your tinyness and I’m smart enough to know that it just wouldn’t be fair.
And of course, of course, I know that I could bring you into this world and love the shit out of you, love you and do everything I can to make you happy, but when you leave me at 18, at 28, at 40, I’ll revert right back to my 27-year-old self who wasn’t quite happy inside before you came along. And without you I’ll fail miserably at managing my own life, facing my own fears, loving my own body that once housed you. And I can’t come to you for help because you’ll be raising your own tiny thing, and although I’ll want to give you advice and say, “No! Don’t have her, don’t do it, spend your life alone, tap dancing, avoiding food, figuring out how to be happy”, you’ll hate me for my advice and of course I’ll glue my lips shut and stay in the car while you register for strollers and bouncy chairs.
No, I simply cannot have you, because I know how happy you would make me and I think that I might smother you with compliments and hair barrettes. I think that I might brag about my professional manicurist who paints my nails chartreuse and old lady pink and electric blue and I think it would bring me great joy to brag. I think that I would teach you to tap dance in a little studio I’d have your daddy build for you with mirrors and lavender paint. I think that you would make the best Mother’s Day gifts. I think you would be able to change the world if you wanted to.
But we simply can’t darling, because I still haven’t changed the water in the flowers and I still haven’t quite figured out how to stop eating all the chocolate chips.
You know, your potential father always tells me to make my decisions based in love, never fear. Easier said than done, am I right? Yes, you’ll find he’s wise. Unfortunately, he makes so much sense sometimes that it drives me bonkers. But I mean seriously, I’m writing you this letter because I love you, and I’m pretty sure that we shouldn’t meet because I love you so much that I cannot bear to let you experience any pain or heartbreak or disappointment.
Which I suppose your potential father would say is actually a letter based in fear.
Which I suppose means I’ve made a mess in my head again and I won’t have time to sort it out until I get home from work on Friday and finish doing all the dishes I left from the week of stale sandwiches and bowls of sickening ice cream.
I suppose at the bottom of the sink I’ll find a blurry reflection of myself, huddled over the dirty sponge in a mess of fear and sadness that I am choosing not to meet you because I love you too much.
I suppose in my reflection I’ll see a face that would very much look like yours and cheeks that once got pinched by a loving aunt and eyelashes that I inherited from your grandmother.
I suppose I would want you to experience that loving pinch from your aunt and your grandmother in every sense of who she is and I suppose I would want all those people that I talked about to meet you and love you and join me in telling you how fucking amazing you are.
And I suppose that your potential daddy is right. There are a million and one reasons to avoid meeting you, based in fear.
The only reason, and I mean the ONLY reason I would say it’s acceptable for us to even consider meeting, is love.
So, we’ll see darling. I’m not saying it’s a yes. I’m saying that it’s a maybe. Don’t argue with me young lady, I said I’ll think about it. I have some cleaning up to do and some soul sorting and some flower water to change and the list goes on but I’m overwhelmed so I’ll stick with my maybe. And until I am in the right mind to make a decision, I ask your forgiveness for what happens between now and that potential meeting.
Because I love you and I already love my chartreuse manicure and your tiny feet and your laugh and it hurts my heart like crazy to think this world is too messy to keep me from ever hearing your laugh but out of fear, I must protect you from it and thus the cycle starts all over again and I’m so confused about what I want and what you might want and what sort of relationship we can even have in such a place where the planes are always crashing down.
But I would love the fucking shit out of you. So I’ll keep thinking on it.
You room colors would be baby turquoise and rich plum and your middle name would be my grandmother’s – Janet.
Holy shit darling, I love you more than you will ever comprehend,
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