Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Letter to My Daughter On Her Seventh Birthday

My Dearest Elsbeth,
Today you turn seven years old! I have been thinking about what I would write to you in this letter for weeks now.  This is the first year I will give you the letter to read for yourself and probably the last year I will post it here; it is very bittersweet.  So much about being a mother is the sweetest love I have ever known edged in a pain so intensely beautiful there aren't words that can describe it, just a groaning of the heart.

 I write you these letters to remind you of yourself, and how you were as a child as much as I do to describe my experience of being your mother so that one day, when you are grown, you will perhaps have greater clarity into questions that may arise about our lives.  This is very important to me: story keeping. It is an ancient tradition, alive as long as men and something very sacred.  My father, your Pappy Don, is the story keeper for his family.  This is not a communal decision that arose, but a gift that presents itself to our hearts.  A desire to keep the stories alive and pass them down.  Your Grandma Sugar is a story keeper and so am I and I believe you will be one day as well because you are starting out just like I did as a child.  With a passion to hear the stories of where we came from and who we are and as much as you want to know, you want to share them with people.  It makes me very glad because that is part of the gift, passing them on to the next generation for safe-keeping.

The past year has been such an adventure for you.  It is our last year on Guam, and we are all very sad to leave this beautiful island.  I often wonder what memories you will take from this place.  Will it be hours spent playing in crystal blue water or swimming among sea turtles and fish made of all the colors of the rainbow?  Will you remember climbing coconut trees like a monkey child and running topless through our yard like Mowgli with a pair of mongrel dogs in your wake as the tropical breeze blew through your waist-length hair?  Or will it be the countless geckos you have caught and made into pets or commissioned as "gnat catchers" and released into our bathrooms?  Will it be the friends you have grown to love so deeply, your first experience with best friends, girlfriends?  The kind that share secrets and giggle in the night during sleepovers.  I imagine that all of these memories will blend into a plumeria scented, tepid water lapping at your ankles, breeze through your hair, patchwork of memories that you will hold dearly forever.  Flashes of blinding sunlight against laughter and toothless smiles.

This year has not been without its share of pain though.  At the beginning of summer all of the Hayes ladies took a MAC flight home to visit our stateside family and what an adventure it was.  I wanted you both to experience the quintessential American summer that I knew growing up, full of swimming at the town pool, ice cream trucks, camp fires, riding horses, sleepovers at Grandmas, and funnel cakes and rides at the fair.  We did it all and then some.  This was the first year that you were big enough to ride the adult rides at the fair and we Rode. Them. All.  I am forever astounded by your fearlessness.  I was 13 years old before I could be convinced to get on a roller coaster and that was only because cute boys were there and I was peer-pressured!  You were dragging me to stand in mile-long lines for rides that to this day strike fear in my heart, perhaps not so much now for the adrenaline rush that they elicit but for my assuredness of the sobriety of the operators.  But I did it for you.  I rode every gut twisting, hair pin turn taking, scream causing one of them.  Even the graviton which was the first big ride I ever rode and on your first time, I was with you.  It felt like some strange, carnie right of passage that I was there with you.  And you loved it.  The look of elation on your face was only increased when you saw two pre teen boys sitting indian style, parallel to the ground.  You were so impressed, I thought you might try it yourself.  It was all I could do to throw a protective arm over you and yell at you to stay flat!  As you were having the thrill of your life to loud, very inappropriate hip-hop music, I was trying not to throw up all over everyone.  Apparently, when you become a 33 year old mother, spinning in very fast circles is no longer the fun it once was.

After two wonderful months home with our family, it was time to return to Guam.  We said goodbye and you felt the pain that you will most likely know for much of your life.  The pain of goodbye.  It is something I am well-aquainted with and as much as I wish you never had to feel it, I know you will know its pain again and again because this is the life we chose and the one into which you were born.  I know you didn't ask for it, but I can tell you from my personal experience with countless transitions to new places, schools and friends, that when you are grown, you will realize that it was one of the best things that could have happened to you because it will cause you to be resilient.  You will become someone who knows how to make friends easily, someone who can appreciate the culture and mannerisms of a new place and who will take a piece of each place with her in her heart every time she leaves it for a new destination.  It's funny how the heart can be in more than one place at a time.  As we said our farewells with tears in our eyes, we left a piece of ourselves there, until the next time we returned.

Yesterday your pet rabbit died.  I found her in her cage, dead, before I had to pick you up from school. I felt such sadness, for you and your sister, but for the loss of Cupcake as well.  I loved her dearly too.  I didn't know how to tell you because this was our first experience with death.  I thought about dealing with her before you and your sister got home but I decided against that because I knew it would help bring closure for you to see her for yourselves and to be part of the process of burying her.  I prayed for the right words to ease the pain that I knew this would cause you.  When I told you, you rushed in to see her body.  You immediately started looking for a place to point the finger of blame, somewhere to direct your anger because it was overwhelming your precious, six year old heart.  You settled on me and you were so angry with me.  You said she died because of something I had fed her, something I had done.  And even though I knew your anger was only a result of the grief you felt, it still hurt me more than I anticipated because I was sad too.  I tried to hold you and comfort you but you shrugged my hands angrily off of your shoulders and told me not to touch you.  But I wouldn't leave you.  You try so hard to hold it all together.  Never showing weakness, rarely shedding a tear, you are always so strong.  In that way you are very much like your father, and if our thirteen years together has taught me anything about him (and now you) it is that your kind of hearts need someone who wears their heart on their sleeve (like me) to gently extract the feelings within, to help you let it all out so it doesn't stay bottled up inside forever and turn into a poison of bitterness.

So I stayed by your side and I let you be angry, and eventually the anger ran out and in its place was a deep sadness as a river of tears broke through and you let me take you on my lap and hold you.  I told you it was OK to feel sad and to cry, that it only showed how much love was in your heart and it didn't mean you were weak.  And we cried together over the loss of our friend and we pet her body and said lovely things about her life.  We chose a christmas blanket to wrap her in and we made a headstone out of a large piece of coral rock as your father dug a tiny grave in the garden.  All this time your sister was making "Worm Soup" in a large flower pot filled partially with dirt which she "stirred" with a stick.  She provides us such comic relief in times when it is greatly needed.  When I told you what she was doing you laughed through your tear soaked eyelashes and began to realize how life has its eternal way of going on despite whatever circumstances befall us.  It is our choice how we deal with the circumstances that matters.  We placed cupcake in the ground and you asked us to play taps, so we did. It was a sadly beautiful moment, one which  I knew held a deeper meaning than what appeared on the surface.

You are such a precious child, a gift to this world. And now seven years after you came into it, your will is as strong as ever, if not stronger.  Oh child, the battles we have had.  You have a will the likes of which I have never seen.  You are relentless, tireless and single-minded to the point of a fault.  But!  I tell you in those moments when you let me in, when you are broken enough to hear my counsel, I tell you what a gift this will of yours can be if only you allow God to be master of it.  It took me so many years and so much heartbreak before I let Him, but I promise you life is so much better this way.  Your will can be your greatest asset if you use its power for good.  I liken the analogies to a super power often times when I talk to you about it, because it's almost like that, when you learn to control it, you can accomplish just about anything you desire.  My prayers for you lately consist of pleading with God to keep you from the mistakes I made, that He would allow your will be broken before you become a teenager.  But if not, and if you must make some of my mistakes that he would keep you safe, just as he did with me.

You are something of a Tom boy these days and remind me of a long-haired version of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, which is one of my favorite books.  You've lost so many teeth that you speak with quite a lisp.  As a matter of fact, you pulled your second front tooth out yesterday morning after spending a long time with your father the night before wiggling it, and pushing and pulling and wrenching it in various ways.  I have no stomach for that stuff and you found it hilarious to sit on me and twist it back and forth as it dangled by a bloody thread.  When you were five you wanted to be a dentist for mermaids when you grew up, now you want to be a marine biologist who is also a veterinarian because you love ALL creatures, those in the water, and those out of it.  Maybe you can be their dentist too.  You do have excellent care-giving skills, rushing to the aid of anyone who becomes injured.  You are always calm and level0headed in those situations, even when there is blood.  Even when the blood is your own.  You amaze me, and I wish I could take credit for that, but I'm afraid that came from your father.

Elsbeth, you are beautiful.  Every year you grow more beautiful.  I don't often remark on your physical beauty because I don't want that to be the focus of your life.  I know our culture and other people will put enough emphasis and priority there without my help.  I have always reminded you and your sister that true beauty reveals itself in kindness, and in love.  Those are the marks of a beautiful woman, not the way she looks.  But you are beautiful! I saw you standing in the hallway the other day, your hair pulled over one shoulder and laying in golden waves on your chest, you looked at me with those chestnut colored doe eyes and standing on those coltish legs of yours, and you took my breath away.  A friend of mine who is a photographer asked us to do a mother and daughter photo shoot a few months ago and you were so excited.  I was amazed at what a natural model you were and what a vision of beauty you were standing in the dusky sunlight with flowers in your hair.  Your beauty itself will be its own superpower one day, and you will be very accountable for how you use that power.  Use it for good and righteous purposes.  Use it as a light to shine in the darkness.

My daughter.  My love.  My first born.  Every year I tell you this and every year I will continue to tell you.  It was you that gave this tree roots.  You changed me from a girl into a woman.  You made me a mother, a gift so precious it's love has been extolled since time immortal.  I love you so fiercely and so dearly, and I promise you this: whatever storms come to us in this life, I will be by your side and I will let you be angry until you are ready not to be and then I will hold you in my lap no matter how tall you grow and I will smooth your hair and help you pull the other feelings from your heart.

I love you forever,