The Letters Between Us
Editorial Note: Jennifer Dukes Lee and her 11-year-old daughter Lydia enjoy passing notes back and forth. Today, they are writing to each other in this space, opening a window into their world.
You brushed up against me in the kitchen last night, when you were browning hamburger and I was chopping garden radishes.
Right then, I remembered all the times we’ve melted into each other over your eleven years on earth: in the nursery rocker; nestled in your tiny hospital bed that week when you were so sick; in a dark movie theatre when our hands reached for the same box of Milk Duds; on a shore in Haiti, with our legs stretched out together, while we watched the moon rise over the sea; countless nights under your quilt, debating who loved who more. (All the way to Jupiter and back, babe.)
You always seemed so small next to me.
But now? I turn around, and you are this little woman at the stove, stirring. The steam rose from a boiling pot on the stovetop; you swiped your forehead with the back of your hand.
I blinked my eyes, and that’s how fast you traveled from Goodnight Moon to Good Luck Charlie, to good home cooking in our kitchen. Good gracious, girl, you’ve grown up.
You asked for the salt, and your voice was so small, and I think that’s God’s way of making this growing-up thing easier on a mama. He’s kept your voice little, to let me know that you’re still my baby. I handed you the salt shaker, and I kept my mouth shut, because you might have rolled your eyes if I said then what I'm going to tell you now:
Daughter, I hope you’ll never get too old to ask me for something. It won't always be for the salt, or for me to turn the light back on, or to scratch your back. But I hope you’ll never stop asking for a bit of advice. For another prayer.
I wonder if you’ll remember too much of what I did wrong. That’s one of a parent's worst fears, you know. That her child will grow up remembering the awful parts—those times when we raised the voice too loud, set the jaw too hard. I’d be devastated if the worst moments drowned out the best ones.
Daughter, I hope that you’ve heard, above all else, the love. I pray that my heart spoke loudest.
I also pray this: In a world where people are unfriended with the click of a mouse, I hope you know you’ll never get de-loved in this house. You’re loved because of who you are, not because of what grade you get, what college accepts you, what job you land.
And if you ever want to know for sure? Come back and slip your sweet self next to me, like you did when I held you in my arms, when I rocked you in the nursing chair, when we made supper in a hot Iowa kitchen on a night in July. I’ll tell you, again and again until I can't tell you any more, that you can trust in God’s love, and you can also trust in mine.
p.s. I love you to Jupiter and back—times fifty!
* * * * *
Let me ease your worries. We all make mistakes. I don’t remember the mistakes we’ve both made because I think the good of this world always surpasses the bad.
I remember you for the chocolate-chip waffles and peanut butter toast.
For the prayers before bed.
For the times you came to my soccer games to cheer me on.
For help with sheep chores in the morning.
For studying with me for all those extra-hard science tests.
Let me sum it all up in five words: For the love you give.
As your daughter, I expect things from you. I look to you for comfort and encouragement. If I’m sad or just need to talk, you’re my go-to girl.
In your letter to me, you talked about sharing space. Just a few minutes ago, we were in the garden. I was pulling weeds, and you were harvesting lettuce. I love to work together with you like that. I held up my hands, caked in dirt. You held out the hose, and I rinsed off my hands in the ice-cold water. Then you aimed the hose at my mud-splattered feet. I let out a shriek, and we both laughed.
These are moments I will treasure forever.
You love me— the me with all my quirks. The me who loves to randomly break into song. And you know the verses to all my silly songs. You love the "me" who once nearly liquefied a PopTart in the microwave. (Hey, how was I supposed to know it only needed to be in there for fifteen seconds—not three minutes?)
So, thank you, Mom. For everything.
p.s. Jupiter? That’s so lame. I love you to Saturn and back—times infinity! (You know how I always have to have the last word!)
Image by Tim Miller. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.