MOMMYHOOD: Letters to my daughter

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Years ago, when I was going through all the hoops to get confirmed in the Catholic religion, I remember a distinct moment that made an incredible impact on me. It was during a religious retreat, and unbeknownst to us, our parents were asked to write a letter to us. We were given our letters near the end of our retreat and asked to find a quiet, private corner to read them.

Not only was the fact my mother actually wrote a letter to me was surprising, but how well written, poignant, inspiring and moving it was. To give you a little context, my mother and father did not go to school to learn English. They learned it as they lived life here as Italian immigrants. They were very self conscious of writing in English. Add to that the fact that the rocky, early teen years of an 8th grader were not good to the relationship between my mother and I, and you can see why this letter made a mark on me that lasted a lifetime. I still have it saved in my "pre-teen box of goodies" I'm saving for my daughter. I saved this box of "stuff" because I wanted her to know my history- that I was 10, 11, 12, too. It's a concept most children don't completely understand. I thought if I saved my kitten-and-rainbow-sticker covered journals and share them with her over the next few years, she may understand that I get what she is going through. I was there, and I survived. So will she. And I can be there for her.

And there are other things I 've been saving. The letter from my mother moved me so much, I decided to start a tradition. I did not want my daughter to just have one letter. I wanted her to have a lot of them, I wanted them to help her and guide her even when I am not around any more. So every birthday, I have written her a letter-from when she was 1 on up. Sometimes I talk about some milestones she has accomplished, the qualities I see in her that are awesome, some things she needs to work on, advice that happens to be top of mind, observations about our family and life in general. I let the moment move me, and I document.

And lately, I have taken to documenting funny conversations or even a milestone that we have had as a family. I have also wanted to tell her things that maybe she won't understand now, but will someday. The day we moved out of our first house where she was born, I became very introspective. I found some dry cleaner paper off a wire hanger the movers left behind. As I sat in the empty house, I wrote her a letter right on that crumpled hanger paper with a sharpie. She was only 4, and didn't understand what a big move this was for all of us. I felt the need to document it and cherish it, and save it for her for when she was older. And now I have taken to documenting other things.

For example, we recently had a funny conversation in the car, and it was one of those things you wish you could just bottle and be able to go back to. My daughter is 10 now, and the preteen years are starting with the gas pedal all the way down. And during this conversation, my tomboy girl admitted liking a boy in her class. In telling me about her feelings, she said the most unique, funny, charming things about it, I just felt compelled to remember it. And I wanted her to look back and remember it, too. I want her to know that she is charming, funny and innocent. That she looks at life with a pragmatism and humor that I only wish I had at her age. I sat down that afternoon and wrote down the conversation so we would remember it someday with some giggles, adding all those qualities I just mentioned in the letter.

It's all just going so fast, and if we don't document our milestones, our feelings, our changes, our growth together as a family, how will we remember it? How can we share it? This is my way of doing it. And saying you don't have time is true. You don't. That's the whole point.

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