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Pencil Dear Mom,

Happy birthday. I hope you are having a good day. I look forward to celebrating with you tonight, to the controlled chaos that will erupt around that old wooden table where everything happened and continues to happen - big conversations and big fights, Halloween parties, family dinners, and birthdays. All those birthdays.

Recently, I have been thinking about something else that happened at that table. Writing. I remember sitting there with you, going over every single paper I wrote, discussing the ideas and the sentences and the words. As I recall this oft-repeating ritual, I realize something: You were my very first and very best writing teacher. You taught me to write with heart and purpose and economy. And you taught me how to edit, how to wrestle with sentences, how to butcher them to bits and piece them back together.

Mom, today was Toddler's first parent-teacher conference at Preschool. Husband and I sat there, around a small child-sized table and listened. Her teachers told us about our girl. They told us some things we already knew: That she is social and happy and sometimes loses her words when she's frustrated. They told us that she has a big imagination. And then they told us something I didn't know and perhaps should have known: That she already has a correct pencil grip. At this little bit of information, I felt a stab of something. Whatever it was I felt, it wasn't that simple maternal pride at a milestone met. No. It was far more complicated than that.

And something simple occurred to me in that not-so-simple moment: My girl will write one day. And one day soon. And I will teach her all I know. I will sit with her at our own table. Together, we will excavate her sentences, her ideas, her stories. One day, I will give her this gift, this incomparable gift, you gave me.

A few months ago, I wrote you a letter on your wedding anniversary, a day we will all celebrate every year even though Dad is now gone. In that letter, I wrote something that was true then and is even truer today:

I realized something recently. Or maybe it’s something I’ve always known. That something? Children do not just inherit genes from their parents, but so much more. From you, I’ve inherited a phrase, a brilliant phrase, something I say to my girls all the time. I love you to pieces. I always loved when you said this to me, or wrote it on the white expanse of a birthday card. But I never thought about why you said it or why I loved it. I never understood the layers within these simple words. Now, I get it. I get what it is to love something, someone, so much that you feel like that something, that someone, under the sheer force of your affection, might break into bits, shred to little pieces. I know what it is to love something, someone, with dizzying, suffocating might. I know because this is how much I love my man and my girls.

And this is how much I love you. So much that your pain is -- in some complicated way -- my pain. That your happiness is mine too. That your pieces are my pieces.

Now I will unplug and pack up and go buy you a last minute birthday gift. The easier kind. It will be something predictable and practical. A scarf or a sweater or something else you don't need. But before I do that, I wanted to do this. I wanted to thank you for being a magical mother and an thoughtful teacher. For hovering over me while I learned how to grip a pencil and being there, always there, every day since.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you to pieces.

Insecurely and forever yours,


Why Kids?

I'm Write on Target!