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Love Letters from Heather

by Heather Down about a year ago in children
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To my youngest daughter, Charity

To my youngest daughter:

Your brother might have caught my attention, but you sealed the deal. I knew the second I spotted your freckles, curly hair, and impish smile. You stole my heart instantly.

Do you remember the wooden rocking chair we had when we lived in Cookstown? Shortly after you all moved in, you were sitting on my lap, and I was rocking you. You looked up at me and said in your six-year-old voice, “I am going to look after you when you are old.” I thought this might be a good time to remind you of this promise since I am in my mid-50s. I am holding you to it…I should have gotten it in writing.

You are actually the youngest of six biological children your birth mother had. However, you must have the oldest soul because of your affinity with the elderly, even at a young age. There was an “adopt-a-Grandma” at church, and my heart still aches thinking about your reaction when she passed. You were maybe 12, and it was the first real death of someone you knew.

Then, in high school, when you worked at Harvey’s, you purposely took your lunch break to coincide with the arrival of that elderly couple who ate there daily. You would sit, eat, and chat with them. I never even knew their names. Do you remember them? I am sure they adored you and looked forward to seeing you. They even drove out to our house, 20 minutes away, to drop off a present for you!

All your volunteer hours were spent in the kitchen of Roberta Place, a long-term care facility. A facility that now has seen immeasurable tragedy—proof that even the tiniest of things can create the biggest impact, good OR bad. My heart aches for all the loss that has occurred there due to this insidious virus.

Although you wandered like Moses in the wilderness when it came to post-secondary education, you finally returned to your love—those who are aging. You became a personal support worker. I didn’t understand at first how much of an emotional toll it took on you. You didn’t talk much about the times you would go back to work and a favourite (or grumpy) client was no longer there. You wanted the system to be better, for care to be better, for people to be better.

You would leave the profession sometime after kid number two or three; I can’t remember. Recently I remarked, “Sure glad you aren’t a PSW right now.” Your response surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. “Actually, I wish I was. I feel guilty because now more than ever, they need good people looking after the elderly. I feel like I want to be helping.”

Nurturing is your superpower.

Remember when I cut my finger, washing a glass? The skin peeled back, exposing the white bone of the knuckle of my forefinger on my right hand. I pushed the skin back over the wound like I was pulling a blanket up over a bed and applied immediate pressure. I didn’t have access to a car, and I ended up calling you.

Even though you had an 18-month-old in tow, you took me to the nearest clinic (only to find out they wouldn’t triage), then to clinic number two where we were told that the doctor there would not do stitches (really?), and finally we ended up in emerg, where we probably should have gone in the first place.

We sat in minor exam for at least six hours. Poor Logan. I told you that you could leave, but you wouldn’t. Eight hours after you had picked me up, I was getting my tendon stitched back together by a student doctor (who may have been rather zealous, as that finger still can’t bend all the way—kind of like when you tighten the hinge on a kitchen cabinet too tightly). But I was fixed, and you made sure it happened.

Not that I have never been at the hospital with you! I can diagnose you better than your own GP. Honestly, I knew it was your gallbladder, then appendix long before any professional claimed it to be so. Told you that you weren’t going home when you presented with that pain. Straight into operating theatre! Please try to hang onto your remaining organs…you can’t afford to lose any more.

Thank you (I think) for letting me be present for the birth of your first child. It was during those 25 hours that I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God was a man. No woman would design such a horrible and sadistic system for delivering babies. Sorry I wasn’t much help. I had not gone through anything like this personally. We were all flying blind.

If I were to say you were an easy child, I would be struck by lightning. And, I owe you a mountain-full of apologies for all the times I lost my mind (and my temper) with you, even into your adulthood, even about things we have agreed never to mention for the sake of others. We have had some epic disagreements. But just as passionately as our squabbles, it cut me to the core to fall out with you.

You were strong willed. Still are. And, although that can cause friction, friction can start fire, and fire is essential for survival. Your determination is your greatest gift.

This year you have demonstrated the depths of your will in spades. You have decided to take better care of yourself. You have taken up running and improved both your physical and mental health. You inspired me into action. Although I am pleased for your accomplishments and proud of your resolve, I was also just as proud of you before you decided to do this. Remember, no matter what, you are enough. Real love is not measured in increments of achievement.

You are a good mom. Four children—FOUR! And you have had to advocate (aka fight) for all of your special-needs babies. I have no idea how you do it. I have seen the pain in your soul when you witness a challenge faced by one of your kids. You have discovered sometimes as a mom you have to be the vessel that secretly holds space for them when no one else will.

When you found your birth mom on Facebook…what a day. I always knew it would come eventually, and I understood it would be what we all needed to heal and move forward. I imagined I would be so cool with it. But imagination and reality can be two different beasts.

I have never told you this, and if I did a good job, this will be a big surprise as I was quietly holding space for you those days. This moment was not about me. It was beyond my comprehension that it would affect me like it did. I smiled and listened in your presence, but then would hide in my closet to cry. You never know how you will truly feel about something until it actually happens. Now that you have kids of your own, you will understand.

The lesson we learned from that time period is this: we don’t have to let people into our lives if we don’t want to. We are worthy of boundaries. YOU are worthy of boundaries.

I have seen you grow. You have learned to let go a lot more than you used to. You have become more discerning with your reactions about things that are out of your control. I have witnessed you shed resentments and not get so worked up about things. But most importantly, I appreciate that you have started to routinely give me your old iPhones when you upgrade. You wear this chill look well!

I could write about all the childhood memories, the good and the bad, the mean girls, the change of schools, the trips we took, the time you accidentally clobbered your sister in the head with a baseball bat, Christmases and camping…but here is the bottom line: you take care of others. When your friend had a house fire, you ran to her assistance. The family dinners at Christmas are at your house. You are the glue of this family, and you are very protective of me.

But remember: even eating too many carrots can make you sick! Besides others, you also need to take care of yourself. You deserve it.

If I can give you a little piece of advice, it would be this: know the difference between guilt and shame. This is something I am still working on. Guilt is an emotion about something you did that you want to change. It does not need to have a negative emotional charge. Shame, however, is feeling bad and worthless about something. Shame is a useless and debilitating emotion that simply makes people feel unworthy. When it creeps in, acknowledge it for what it is, but then choose to let it go.

Your name—Charity—literally means “love.”

You are incredibly awesome, and I love you so much. Like the good book says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and Charity. But the greatest of these is Charity.”

Your birth mom had the privilege of naming you, but I got the better end of the deal as I had the honour of watching you grow into your name.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Love,

Mom

PS. I will always be Switzerland when it comes to you and your sister. You might as well accept that I will never take sides.

PPS. We should never, ever go shopping together. We are bad influences on each other.

PPPS. When you complain about decisions other people are making, I will continue to say, “Not your problem. Let it go.”

children

About the author

Heather Down

I am an observer of life through the lens of middle age. Owner of an independent publishing house and a published author, I spend my time obsessing about all things communication. Follow me at Wintertickle Press.

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