ENG 100—Fundamentals of Composition
Jacqueline Myers, Instructor
Assignment: Write a personal essay of choice.
The Gift to My Daughter
I've done a lot of things wrong as a mother. I've made many mistakes in the raising of my children, but there are a few things I know I did well, and this is one. I read to my daughter. I read to her before she could walk or talk. I read to her when it was naptime and when it was bedtime. I read to her during the difficult, hot, California summer afternoons. I read to her for the pleasure and joy of hearing stories come to life, spoken by a voice of love. I read to her because that was my best, my gift of love to her.
In the daily drudgery of raising young children–meal preparation, laundry, cleaning and care giving–there is an ideal that women hold themselves to. We tell ourselves we can't be perfect, yet we will not accept any less than that. We watch each other in the stores, judging not only the mother’s behavior but the behavior of the children, too. We evaluate each other’s homes when we visit and criticize their condition when we have left. We know who the "bad" ones are and think "that will not be me.”
Like many first-time moms, I took my responsibility very seriously, sometimes too seriously. This was an important job, and I was going to do it well. I wanted to be good, very good, even the best, though I was in a world without any training. I offered myself no time to hone my skills and no mercy for my inabilities. Maintaining a facade of perfection is very stressful, and early motherhood can be very isolating and lonely when we limit our vulnerability and pretend to parent without mistakes.
I have always loved to read. It was my own pleasure from an early age, so it was purely selfish on my part to have her join me. Reading had been my escape, and it continued to be so now. I did not consider this a part of my mothering duties. But I was fortunate; she loved the written and spoken word as much as I did. I never gave her the gift of loving to read. I didn't inspire her; she was born with this desire herself. This was a common bond and a strong passion we shared. We matched perfectly in this love.
We shared worlds that came alive in stories from the books I held while she sat so still with her small hands in her lap, so as not to disturb the moment. She instinctively knew the quiet needed to set the stage. We snuggled deep into the old, comfortable easy chair that I had read in as a young girl, its wide back curving around us, holding us close. This favorite chair was our magic carpet, taking us where the Pokey Little Puppy lived and where the Saggy Baggy Elephant tromped about. Everything from the day was left behind while we traveled as comrades together to Dr. Seuss's mythical land or to Sesame Street. We explored forests, jungles, and farms; the nonsense worlds became normal places for us. Our characters had the same looks and the same voices in each of our minds. They were alive to us and brought us comfort and pleasure as we joined them in their adventures. I was not reading to her; we were reading together, while the parentchild world went on around us. We were safe together in the chair and in the stories.
As she grew older, we outgrew the chair but not out of our love of reading together. I read The Secret Garden to her while lying on the floor, snuggled close with our heads on pillows. The ceiling fan whirled overhead to cool the hot room, as though we were really in India. By the time the main character, Sarah, was settled in the English moor, discovering the garden, I had given real English accents to the main characters and a cockney lilt to the maids’ voices. It took all summer to read the book that we never wanted to end. She has this book now, and all the others, waiting to be read again to another child.
When we talk as adults now, she tells me these are some of her favorite childhood memories. The time we spent and the voices of the people and places we saw together hold us like our old chair. Those times of listening and waiting while each page turned and the story progressed became our union of love, protecting us temporarily from my motherhood anxiety. She did not see me as I saw myself, lacking abilities and skills. She saw me through eyes of love. While I required perfection from myself and from her, refusing to be judged by my peers as anything less than the best, she loved me without judgment. All my stressed-out efforts to be the best mom I could be did not matter to her, because we had this precious and magical time together.
"Love covers a multitude of sins . . . ”
I have had a hard time forgiving myself for the bad times; I remember too well my harshness and intensity toward her. And though she remembers this too, the good times have outshone all in her eyes. She has chosen to love me instead for my selfish gift of reading, a gift that blessed us both. And so, forgiveness, too, is an amazing gift that has come full circle in our exchange of love. Through her, I have been able to see my good and am redeemed, and I have a confidence about myself as a mother that I don't think I would have if I had not made my mistakes. Mothers place value on the things that often don’t matter in the end or even in the moment. My greatest gift to her was simple and effortless. What mattered most were our gifts of love to each other as a mother and a daughter.