An Open Letter to my Mother

To the Woman who gave me everything I needed, these are all of the things I’ve never really said.


I’m thankful that I’m writing this while you are still on this earth to read it. It’s taken me some time to figure out where I wanted to start with what I wanted to say. When I was 20 and Dad died, I was really caught off guard and missed out on all of my opportunities to tell him what I wanted to tell him. And so much of what I want to say to him now I only learned in the years after he had passed away. But I still can’t read the few letters he wrote to me without instantly feeling hot tears pool in my eyes and deep pangs of regret and loss. I wonder if that’s just how life works. We learn and figure out what we feel and what’s important after it’s just a bit too late. I wonder if that makes grieving loss more difficult, because I grieve his loss and Gaylon’s so much differently. I was better prepared when Gaylon died, but that didn’t make the wound any less deep or any less lasting. The sadness I feel when I think about Gaylon is one dimensional; I miss him and wish he was still here. I have stories to tell him, and questions I want to ask him. But with my Father, the sadness is layered and complicated and filled with remorse and pity. I know now that this will never really heal.

I say all of that to emphasize that I didn’t want to miss out on my chance to try and sum up what it’s meant to be your daughter for 27 years. And I think you maybe know in your heart all of what is going to spill out in the next several paragraphs, but I still need to write it for you.

Me with Mom and me with Dad and Grandmother. Is it really any question I am my father's daughter?
Me with Mom and me with Dad and Grandmother. Is it really any question I am my father’s daughter?

All of this started when I began going through the boxes you sent back with us at Christmas a few weekends ago. All of the things (well, not ALL, just the first shipment) you’ve saved and collected over the years that you thought I might want one day. In typical Mom fashion, most if it is crap. 🙂 Old school work and things like that which I know are sentimental to you but useless to me. It wasn’t hard to part with any of that, but I’m happy you saved it for me. It was cute to look back and see school projects and assignments and come to the disappointing realization that my handwriting hasn’t really improved since elementary school.

I’ve always been hung up on this weird need for “heirlooms”. We come from such a small and uniquely orchestrated family that historical items from older relatives has always been a very important thing to me, but very sparse for the both of us. When I came into Rob’s family, I was overwhelmed by how much emphasis traditional southern families put on “things”. Rob’s mother has beautiful china from her great-great-grandmother and more family jewelry than you can shake a stick at (don’t you love that southern phrase?). There are pieces of furniture, paintings, silver; they even have a framed hand written letter from General James Wilkinson to Thomas Jefferson! Southern Families love their heirlooms and I admit, I am jealous of all of the family history and family items that Rob has grown up with. I don’t have any jewelry from either of my grandmother’s. I do have the small gold wedding band that was my great-great-grandmother’s which I wear on my left ring finger every day. I don’t have any silver or china or serving platters, and I cannot fill my house with peices of all that has come before me. But I realized as I was going through the boxes, that I do have heirlooms. I do have a history, a bread crumb path, that shows where I came from and who I was along the way.

I have things like this:


I found this in the box with everything from the day I was born. I didn’t know this existed until that moment. A calendar from my first year of life, I flipped through each month, reading all of the notes you wrote on certain days, and the little messages you wrote directly to me. I cried. I felt loved in a such a different way and something instantaneously changed in my heart. I wanted to be able to love someone like that one day too. And the adult version of me wanted to know you then. I wanted to hug you and tell you how fantastic of a job you were doing at being a new Mom and how lucky baby Danni was to have you. I find it so fascinating, that when given a distinct glimpse of your past, part of you aches to return to it in some way. To make it tangible, to make it right, to make it last.

I have things like this:

Note dated April 29.1991 and yes, that is my hair.
Note dated April 29.1991 and yes, that is my hair you saved in the bag with the note.

When I found this I cried more. I actually remember doing that and didn’t know you saved this keepsake. I am thankful that in that moment, you loved me and found me precious, and thought outside of that day to think that I would want to look back on it and know what you felt. I think this note sums up a lot about how you approached life and parenting. Sometimes you just have to laugh. As a fully formed adult, I admire your ability to put things into perspective like that. I’m not sure what I would do if I found my daughter cutting her hair; my gut tells me laughing wouldn’t be at the top of the list. But I can hope that one day I’ll understand what it means to love your child unconditionally and find humor in truly insignificant growing pains. And my hope is to know how to navigate all of those things with as much grace and nurturing selflessness as you did.

I have things like this:

Fuzzy's whisker is taped to the note.
Fuzzy’s whisker is taped to the note.

You packed my lunch every day until high school and every lunch contained a handwritten note. I found two lunch notes in the boxes, and I’m not sure how they survived and made it back home to be treasured like this, but it tendered me so deeply to find them. And it meant something to me everyday at that young age of course, to have a note from my Mom in my lunch. But it certainly means something to me now, to look back over those memories where I had a reminder every day that I was loved. I think of your daily emails to me now, as we are both at our jobs each day. I have grown to depend on those morning emails because no matter how old I get, I still need those reminders every day that I am loved; that I am your daughter.

Fuzzy and I, both at very young ages.

When I moved away from Texas in 2006, it was like wearing two masks. One the one hand, I was overjoyed that I was going to start this new life with who I knew to be my future husband. But on the other, I knew how deeply sad you were to be saying goodbye to me. I still have the card and the letter you gave me before we drove off. Definitely an heirloom that I keep tucked safely between pages of my memory scrap book. The next morning, after the first night spent at Rob’s parents house, I woke up and cried. Cried for my Mom. I would never not miss you, but I felt so unable to tell you because of how fragile you felt about it all. It would be several years before I came to terms with my decision in a way that gave me true peace when I thought about the wake it caused with you, with Gaylon and all of the things I left behind. I hope you know that every day I missed you and wished that the proverbial “cake and eat it too” philosophy could have been applied. Thank you for letting me go and giving me the freedom to find my happily ever after. It truly has been just that.

I am thankful for your sacrifice in every aspect of your life and mine. I was acutely aware from a very young age that money didn’t grow on trees, and yet, you seemed to provide for me over and over again. Almost in like a fish and loaves kind of way! Somehow you kept making things work to my advantage. I remember when I first realized the purpose of money and related it to things or status. I asked you if we were poor or rich? Your answer was always “Honey, we are rich in what truly matters”.  To this day I concentrate my focus on those words. I am a very rich woman in what truly matters and I have learned this from you. Your sacrifices for my betterment were endless. For instance, you spent your money and time so that I could do things like this:

A birthday pony in the front yard (multiple years in a row).
A birthday pony in the front yard (multiple years in a row).

And things like this:


And then later, the hobbies got bigger, more expensive, and more time consuming.

Like this:


And then this:

My 16 year old self with my first vehicle. 2001 Ford Ranger Edge. I will never forget the day you and Gaylon suprised me with it.
My 16 year old self with my first vehicle. 2001 Ford Ranger Edge. I will never forget the day you and Gaylon suprised me with it.

[ Just one question, WHY did you buy me that awful Elmo shirt?!]

Then this:

my VR-4
my VR-4

You must have thought I was crazy for wanting to get the VR-4. If you did, you never let me know though. You were behind me 100%, acting as a supportive mother and a bankroll. You had such faith in me that I knew what I was getting myself into and you never made me feel guilty for having it even though it came with a few upfront maintenance bills 🙂

Then, of course, there is this:

My Education from Auburn University
My Education from Auburn University

I think about the number of sleepless nights I must have caused you when I told you I wanted to transfer to Auburn to finish my degree. I remember you flat out saying you didn’t know how to make that work. But somehow, you did. Mom, I will never be able to repay you for that. I wish that I could, in some way, quantify all that you have done for me and all that you have given to me instead of yourself so that I may be happy. I wish I knew the dollar figure (well, probably I don’t) but I wish I could write you a check for whatever it is and give you back ten times the amount. Without a doubt, I owe all of where I am and who I am to you in some way.

Here we are at my wedding. I love this picture because you look so happy and you were so beautiful that day.

November 14th, 2009
November 14th, 2009

Mom, in many ways I also want to say I’m sorry. I think it’s so frustrating in a lot of ways that wisdom comes with age. Why can’t we just have the wisdom and experience from the start and save ourselves all the heartache and regret in the world? Reflection is such a healing thing, but at the same time, why couldn’t I have the perspective I have now when I was in middle school spending my spare time being annoyed at your attempts to embarrass me or yelling at you when you tried to sweetly wake me up for school? I guess everything is relative, but I wish I could go back and replace so many of those moments with love and respect and a hug.

I also admit that I haven’t been a very good communicator the last few years, and because of that, perhaps our relationship has suffered. I want to say I’m sorry for all the times I chose silence instead of conversation, or judgement instead of understanding. It took me awhile to get comfortable in my own skin and because I am often unwilling to admit when I am weak or failing, I compensate with overinflated pride and rigidity. And unfortunately, I project that onto those I love the most. The truth is, sometimes I will do just about anything to avoid being vulnerable. I’m not going to spend time analyzing why right now because that’s not what’s important, but I will spend time letting you know that I am making sincere efforts to be better. I am really trying to be a better communicator to you and with you and I hope that you can see it. I hope that it isn’t too late. I want our relationship to flourish and grow and get easier and safer and I promise to do and say all I can to cultivate that for us.

I want you to know that I am supremely happy for you and where you are at in your life. From the bottom of my heart, I am deeply grateful to God that you have found such joy. You absolutely deserve everything you want and I am thrilled that you are at a point in your life where you are doing exactly that! You are able to do as you please and you focus on what makes you happy and the rest falls away and becomes a feather in the wind. Keep living! You are inspiring to me.

Heirlooms. For so long I looked for treasures in all of the wrong places. I yearned for something meaningful to wear or display or show off, when all along, I’ve been surrounded by my identifiers.

The cookie jar you had in your childhood home.
The cookie jar you had in your childhood home.

Truthfully, there is no way I can say all that deserves to be said. There are hundreds more pictures I could share to sing your praises. There are more stories I could tell, and many that I’m sure I will learn as the years go on. But I feel safe now that I’ve had the chance to bare my vulnerable child-like heart. Because even now, as I get older, the child in me will always in some way feel like a child and want her Momma.

Thank you for being my Champion, my friend, my Mother. I love you all the days of my life.

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