Deidre’s message for her firstborn daughter is about always showing up and giving grace, about finding our strength in our love.
If ever you find yourself expecting, unprepared and undone like I was, nineteen and alone enough to notice, keep your daughter.
When I was expecting you, people came around with the hulls of loving words they meant to say, and they offered more questions than answers, “Are you going to keep her? But what will you do? How will you manage?”
Acquaintances will make calls and show up on doorsteps with condolence casseroles instead of shower gifts. They will ask you to give abstinence talks to warn the children about the dangers of having children. Give the talks. Don’t give the talks. Either way, be gracious in your response.
Be gentler with them than they are with you. They don’t yet know that you will be okay, but you will be okay.
Strangers will offer to take her off your hands before your body heals. Hold your daughter tighter. Do not believe them when they say you are not enough. They have no idea how much you are.
When you were four, we changed your last name to pull you inside our margins. It didn’t change you. It didn’t change us. It was paper. It was ink.
People will act like paper and ink are everything, emphasizing certificates and signatures as though we are prized dog breeds who need to prove their lineage to have value. You had value before you were born. No need to take the time to prove the given.
Love is the only medicine.
Before you lived, my head raged. I felt a deadly war in my bones most days. But I got up for you and keep getting up for you, moment after moment after moment, inch by inch, sensing twin recoveries, health pushing up and up and up through every layer of stubborn dermis. You taught my skin to breathe, my lungs how to really fill up, my heart how to steady itself even while lodged between uncertain days.
They said love was the sickness that brought me there, but love is never a sickness. It is the only medicine. It is every cure.
You became every love I’d ever known: every sum, every difference, all my products, and any dividends.
I’ve known easier paths where nuclear people advertise themselves in Christmas cards. People trust you with babies when you’re thirty-something as though you’re a guarantee. I am thirty-five now, but I am still no guarantee. I wake up, and I get up. I keep getting up for you, your brother, your sister. I steady myself, blink hard to clear the sleep from my tired eyes, and I put one foot in front of the other—just like I did when I was nineteen.
It’s answering the door and keeping answering the door. This is all there is to it. It’s staying put instead of running. It’s rescuing each other again and again.
I want you to bring cakes.
I have several wants for you.
I want you to know the weight of your words and to never put more weight on someone who is carrying enough already.
I want you to be a servant, not a judge, asking others, “What can I do for you?” not “How could you do this?”
I want you to bring cakes, not casseroles.
I want you to pour grace on people as though it may save them because it will save them.
I want desperately for you to remember how valuable and loved you are and have always been.
I want you to live with breathing skin, full lungs, and a steady heart.
I want you to be braver than I was when I was nineteen, braver than I am now at thirty-five.
I want you to be the kind of woman who answers doors and sets an extra place at the table because no one in this world should miss out on the chance of knowing you deeply and hanging onto you forever.
I want you to be this kind of woman because I plan on knocking on your door forever, hoping you’ll keep setting me a place at the table.
I’ll stare at you across that crowded table, barely blinking—barely breathing, really—just filled to the brim with gratitude at being your very mother and being so lucky to have you within arms’ reach all the years.
Deidre Price, mama of three and lit Ph.D., is the author of Lie/Lay/Lain: The Body in Tenses. Her most recent work appears in Boxcar Poetry Review and The Penwood Review. She serves as Professor of English at Northwest Florida State College, is Managing Editor of the Blackwater Review, and is the creator of Rogue Homilies, a faith-based literary and multimedia magazine.