To My 25 Year Old Daughter on her Engagement
I believe the happiest day of my life was the day you were born. I had given up a son for adoption in college, and his absence haunted me. I didn’t decorate your room or choose a layette set because I’d had a miscarriage the previous year and was afraid of losing another baby.
On the way to the hospital, your father, being the oldest, said it’s best to have a boy first. I disagreed — thinking of Aunt Marilyn who’s been capably “in charge” since she was five — and I got you! Your father’s heart melted at the sight of your angelic face, and he never mentioned the “boy thing” again.
Like Aunt Marilyn, you’ve spent most of your young life “in charge”. Gloria Steinam wrote, “a childhood is a luxury not everyone has been able to afford”, and few of the women in our family have had a childhood.
As a young bride, Great-grandma Ricketts travelled to Texas from Tennessee, after her town was levelled in the Civil War, only to lose her husband and son to smallpox. The family was almost burned alive in their small shack by the Ku Klux Klan because they thought Aunt Pearl, who was born after her father’s death, was illegitimate.
After that terrible scene, my grandma Addie who was ten, was farmed out as a live-in maid. Addie lost her husband, a fireman, when my mom was seven. The older children quit school, as she had, to support the family. Aunt Marilyn ran our household each time mother had a bout of depression, and you raised your sister and brother while I was trying to be everything a feminist mother could aspire to be.
Well, that didn’t work out for any of us, and you missed out on a carefree childhood. The penalty for my poor judgement was the lack of a smile on your youthful, but world-weary face. Temple Grandin, the animal behaviorist, said that pups playing is the closest animals come to experiencing joy. I believe that’s true for us, too. Sheer joy is derived from a childhood of playing, dreaming, and counting the clouds instead of chores.
It’s never too late to have the childhood you always wanted. I hope you find this joy in your new life. To be happy is what I always aspired to, but I should have found that most etherial pleasure in the playful eyes of my children. You say you want no children for many reasons, including our bad gene pool. I don’t blame you, but I remind you, that gene pool brought me the happiest day of my life, and you.
With eternal love,
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