Today is Wednesday, November 16, 2016. Your 70th birthday. It’s morning still. The girls are off at school and I’m sitting alone at the kitchen island, listening to music, staring at this screen. Tears fill my eyes as I think of everything I want, and need, to say to you, and thank you for.
Let’s start with this picture. This glorious picture. I can take no credit for it. Tegan snapped this shot of you on election day. You’re not on Facebook (though we need to remedy that!) so you’re not part of Pantsuit Nation, but you’ve heard all of us girls talking about it and you put on this stunning suit to go cast a vote for Hillary. It just so happened that your new chairs were being delivered and voila, this beautiful shot. I look at this picture of you, Mom, and I smile. You are beautiful, Mom, like gorgeous, knock-out beautiful, but also beautiful in the more important sense of the word. Beautiful as in strong, as in good, as in bright.
Mom, you came over on election night. I insisted upon it. I wanted you there, by my side, when the first woman became president. I was so sure. I was so smug. I knew this would happen and the writer in me was conjuring the most poetic of scenes – me cozied up with my beautiful mom and sister and my beautiful girls too on this most historic of evenings. And it started off just as I imagined it would, with all of us crammed on the sea green couch, in good, giddy spirits, but quickly, the air left the room. Very early on, I was worried and so were you and we exchanged panicked glances. I kept saying over and over and over, unconsciously, “I’m going to throw up.”
We are reeling together, Mom. All of us Donnelley girls. And if there is the tiniest, slimmest silver lining to this horrific time it is that this is bringing us even closer, that we are talking about real things, real things that matter – to us as women and to us as people.
Mom, this past year has been both impossible and exquisite. Impossible because last December, you got sick. Mom, I remember that day with devastating clarity. You called with the news. I remember how my heart broke instantly into a million tiny pieces. The thought of losing you was probably the most devastating thing I’ve ever felt. But I was getting ahead of myself, catastrophizing as I’ve been known to do. Because we pulled together and lined up the best doctors and you weathered treatment like the champ you are. Still I cannot believe how strong you were and are, the grace you showed us girls in the face of darkness and uncertainty. I think of our chemo Tuesdays, how much we laughed, Mom, how much we talked. Those moments were hard and they were golden too.
And here you are. Today. Healthy. Literally more gorgeous than ever. An absolute inspiration.
Mom – [now the tears are really falling] – you are my greatest teacher. We have butted heads at times. You know this and I do, but we have always, always, respected each other, and profoundly, I think. I’ve always been amazed by you, how you came all the way from Kansas to this city of ours, how you and Dad loved each other fiercely and uniquely, how you raised the five of us girls to be good, thinking people.
And Mom, you taught me to write. You did. I’ve had wonderful teachers since, but you were the first to sit with me, to go sentence by sentence, to show me how to put words together, to create simple beauty and impact. It was you. And now this is what I do, what I love doing, and I am thankful, Mom. Know that. Recently, I sat with Big Girl and did this. We went through something she’d written and we talked about words and sentences and I felt it, that full-circle meaning and affection. It was magic, Mom.
I know you are not a birthday person, Mom. And I’ve inherited that from you. I know you don’t love the attention, but you deserve it every bit of it, especially today. And I know you don’t love that I’m announcing to the world that you are 70 but screw it, Mom, this is something to shout from the rooftops. You’ve earned it. And, plus, you look not a day over 60. Today we will celebrate you and this amazing day and you have no choice but to let us, Mom.
[Sobbing now.] Mom, thank you. For raising me:
to be fierce and to fight.
to play soccer on an all boys’ team in middle school and to be the only girl in the jazz band.
to be strong and sure and to speak up.
to write clearly and to think bigly (had to).
to love – and to lose – with all of my heart
to raise strong, sweet girls
to find my own place and forge my own path
I love you, Mom. I can’t say that enough. I won’t stop saying it. I’m proud to be your daughter and I can’t wait to celebrate YOU tonight.
Happy birthday to my hero and the most beautiful woman I know.
Here’s to many, many more.