african american mother daughter

Dear Daughter,

For days now, we’ve been putting our shoes where they belong as soon as we walk into our home. It’s a tiny step toward the life I want for us both: a life of clean, free space. Neatness will become our habit, then our lifestyle.  For now, it’s just an annoyance that makes you huff like a teenage me. It’s ok. We’re both learning that it’s not just about stuff.

Clearing your house or your spirit is as easy or as difficult as putting things in their proper place (you’ll come to know this as perspective) and letting go of that which doesn’t belong.  On the way to clarity, chaos may hypnotize you into submission. What’s the point, you’ll wonder, as you collect more junk you confuse with joy.  This is just how I am, you’ll think. Love it or leave me alone.

But we are a company-keeping people and alone shouldn’t last forever. We don’t clean to evade judgment, but to avoid harm. I’m not talking white glove clean; nobody’s perfect. The people who love you will step over your clutter, but you don’t want anyone to stumble over the big things that are out of place or hurt themselves on the things that become dangerous when we refuse to let them go.  

If your fascination with toys in our donation bag is any indication, it’s not easy to outgrow the things you love.  It’s time to let Tickle Me Elmo go—again. You were just a baby when he was your favorite; you’d squeeze him then sit on his vibrating belly while he laughed hysterically. You loved the feeling more than the doll (dolls were never your thing), which is why you eventually lost interest in him. I was more than happy to put him in the donate pile.

But it’s hard with the ones you love most. We live in a small community; long after you’ve moved on, you may see Tickle Me Elmo in the arms of every kid you know. Perhaps you’ll have regrets. Perhaps you’ll wonder how things could have been had you resigned yourself to muted vibration.

It may be more complicated than that. Maybe you had one Elmo-hating friend. He’s silly, she’d said when you were still holding on. You can do so much better, she repeated until your hands were empty and Elmo became her favorite thing to sleep with. This is what we call "thirst." Don’t let it dissuade you. When things are hard, remember your truth. If Elmo was working for you, you’d still be sitting on top of that one-trick toy.

There are some things you’ll have to let go because you lack the skill or space to keep them. Remember those small beads you loved to throw? By the time you’re mature enough for them, they may be lost. Maybe you’ll find them again. Maybe you won’t. If I was a believer in The Secret, this is where I’d tell you that there will always some other gift around the corner, especially if your space is clear. But who am I to tell a Black girl that she’ll never experience lack? Who am I to lie and say that your arms will never ache with empty-- that loneliness won’t settle over you like frost? In cold times, I hope you’ll remember that you have yourself, even if you won’t always have me.

That’s the place this metaphor won’t stretch. Losing me will have nothing to do with your clutter, spirit or space. You will lose me before you’re ready to let me go and you’ll never be ready. You should know that you could not have loved me better, that regret won’t bring me back. You should know that I won’t be thinking about the time you said I wasn’t a nice girl, your teenage choices or adult paths. You should know that being closer to me could not have kept me here, that even if you lived in the crease of my elbow, my body would still expire. But memory doesn’t expire; every laugh and every kiss are yours to keep for as long as you breathe and you should hope that when you stop breathing, we will see each other again. We’ll be in some form that I can’t even imagine right now because your mommy is a mess, still tracking the dust of her father’s grave.

Maybe these lessons won’t stick. Daughters don’t always believe mothers and mothers don’t always live out their own lessons. Maybe I will pass my messiness down to you with the inevitability of high cholesterol or cancer. Should you find yourself a mess like me, I hope you’ll remember where you put your shoes. They’re what you’ll need to stand up, move on, and find your way.

Love,

Mommy