At the start of my senior year in high school my class went on a retreat. Parents were asked to write letters to their kids. We were surprised with them and allowed to read them in the quiet after meditation and prayer. Some people had one letter. Others had many. I had two. Two very different, very impactful letters. One letter was from Mom and the other was from Dad. Over a decade of more life changes than I can even remember, I still find comfort and strength in them. I keep them safe and tucked away but occasionally, when desire strikes or when I’m feeling down, I take them out and read them again.
One of my favorite parts of these letters is that, without consulting one another, they both wrote “Snooty Booty” somewhere on the envelope. It’s a name my brother gave me when I was being a typical grouchy asshole teenager on a road trip we took once. They still call me that on occasion. I remember reading Mom’s letter first and seeing “Snooty Booty” on the front and laughing. By the time I got to Dad’s letter I was an absolute emotional mess and when I saw “Snootie Bootie” written on the inside of the envelope I laughed like a deranged lunatic. Not exactly something to be encouraged in a quiet room full of people but it was worth it.
I’ve always loved that my parents each wrote me a letter, even before they divorced. They separated not long after my graduation. I think if they’d written together it would have been strange to read now. When I saw the two envelopes I expected them to be similar. Ar first thought maybe they both had written out of a feeling of obligation. I was wrong thankfully. They both put a lot of thought into their writing. The letters sum up who they are as individuals, as parents, and our respective relationships so well.
In my Mom’s letter, she talks about watching me grow up. Over five pages of beautifully written script, she writes of love in ways that only a mother can. She talks about watching me grow. Remembers my chubby baby face and knobby kneed preteen awkwardness. She jokes about me knowing how to make her nervous as I prepared for college and had more boys coming around. (Woo buddy! I definitely didn’t take it any easier on her after that either. Sorry Mom!) Now that I’m a Mom myself, one line in particular really stands out as I read it, “I hold moments of you like snapshots in my head.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my children smile or laugh or even cry when I’ve said to myself, “Ah! This is one to hold on to! Keep this memory close and don’t let it go!” I guess I get that from her. She writes about moving into the next phase of life and says that she’ll always be here for me as “Mom” but also as a friend. I’m glad she was right. She really is my best friend.
Dad’s letter is different. I always laugh when I read the lines, “I thought about getting all sappy and waxing nostalgic about you growing up. Not for me. I figured your Mom would do enough if that.” Like I said, the letters reflect who they are. Dad instead focuses on the future. He encourages me to take chances, to fly as high and as far as I can. He says to face challenges head on and to never stop dreaming. He tells me to be true to myself. Dad reminds me that some of the most rewarding experiences are some of the most difficult to go through. As he closes his letter he says, “I’ve encouraged you to fly but understand you can always come home.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to “come home” to my parents even if it’s just a short phone call. I pray that my children feel like they can come home when the time comes for them to leave the nest.
For me, one of the beautiful parts of these letters is that they are still relevant to me all these years later. My life has changed so dramatically since I was 17. I am not the same person I was, although the person I am now was starting to take shape then. My parents aren’t the same people they were then either. Our family has expanded exponentially. Yet the messages of love and encouragement still resonate. I believe that it’s because a parent’s love is undying and unyielding. It weathers all storms.
As parents we struggle sometimes with fears that we’re not enough. We worry that we’re screwing up our kids. We worry about a thousand things that, in hindsight, are often unimportant. I have to remind myself often that what matters most is that we love our children deeply and without reservation. That we encourage them and tell them how proud we are of them and give them a safe place to return to. Not a safe place as in a home necessarily, but by being available to them. Over the years my parents have provided me with home by their phone calls and hugs and so much more. I can only hope that when the time comes for my babies to fly I’ll be able to hold onto all the snapshots I have in my mind of their lives and be there for them when they need to come home.