Writing to My Girls

2007 was the year I began to write. I wrote to name things I had carried around inside for too long without voice being given to them. I wrote to tell myself my own story. It was also the year my oldest daughter graduated from high school and my youngest daughter turned one. I felt full of emotions, full of thoughts, full of stories, and writing helped me breathe and feel like I was holding onto myself.

I bought a journal for Katy and began writing to her daily as the time passed, walking towards her graduation. Telling her what I was noticing, what I was remembering, and what I was hoping for her helped me to stay present and connected to her. As I wrote, I realized that I was telling my story of her and reflecting back to her the story I was watching her live. Releasing her into the world to begin to her adult life felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest. And as wrote to release her, I rocked my youngest, washed out bottles, rinsed off pacifiers, and celebrated all of Elly’s “firsts.” Katy taught me I was enough, even though I couldn’t keep up with her academically. I learned that what she needed from me was my open arms finding her and pulling her close, my tears for her pain, and my tenacious hope for the road she was walking.

Three years later I bought another journal and wrote for Allison, marking her moments and feeling the difference between my two oldest girls–and how I mothered them. As I wrote, I could feel how I had changed and was changing. Allison’s journey through high school was different from Katy’s in nearly every way. Creative, passionate, extroverted, and burdened with a learning disability, my girl fought tenaciously for each passing grade. Everything was important to Allison —ticket stubs, Starbucks cups, the hanger used to break into the car one night, cards and notes, doodles done during a mountainside retreat. They all hung on her bedroom wall speaking things about her and what she held dear. Allison taught me to parent creatively. I learned from her that success is far more nuanced and far more complex than what seems obvious. She taught me that school can be the worst measurement of a child’s intellect and a poor predictor of the future. She needed my presence, my “yes” energy, and she brought the wild parts of my soul up to the surface and invited them to come play with her. As Allison was finishing high school, her sister Libby was finishing kindergarten. The juxtaposition of the two was ever before me as I wrote to release Al.

Last summer I bought my journal for Libby at Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon. It seemed a bit surreal even then that it was time to begin thinking about her senior year. COVID-19 had interrupted any sort of normal progression through high school for her. On August 12, just a little over a week after her 17th birthday, I wrote the first entry. Day one of her senior year was the first day her school returned to full attendance after 18 months of quarantine. The sheer magnitude of everyone being there surfaced something core to who Libby is—her empathic nature. She was overwhelmed, unsure, and exhausted as she walked in the door at the end of the day. 

Libby entered this world under terrifying and dramatic circumstances. Her Apgar score reflected something I have come back to again and again in thinking about what is most true about her. The only good news from that score was her heart, which was beating strong and steady. Everything else was a disaster–tone, color, reflex, and she wasn’t breathing. But her heart was strong. Lib has walked through the world heart forward from day one. She can read a room like no one else. She loves deeply and is fiercely loyal to her people.

Libby, short for Elizabeth Hope, is intricately tied to my own journey with hope; indeed, the process of carrying her in my womb began to teach me about the embodiment of hope. Hope is tender; hope is tenacious; hope is an ache inside and the energy to push through.

Hope is defiant in the face of death and rises from the ashes; hope is a threat to evil; and its creative nature manifests in unexpected beauty.

Libby’s high school journey has come to an end, and her journal is complete, the days marked and blessed by my reflections. Hope is surely her name. Releasing her surfaces my tears as I imagine all that she will bring to the kingdom God gives her.

For nearly all of my adult life I have been a mother. Figuring out who I was unfolded alongside figuring out who my children were—from the breathtaking news that I was pregnant, to the glorious moment when their cries signaled their entrances into this big world, to the milestone of watching them in cap and gown walk across the graduation stage. Mothering felt like a call to action, and I responded full of determination about what kind of mother I would be. My determination has been softened by my inevitable failures, the need for outside wisdom, relational ruptures that sometimes required slow and steady repair, and the felt sense of goodness when those repairs yielded greater intimacy. 

Writing to my girls has revealed we are each on our own “hero’s journey” with one another and in life.

DSC_0512Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer, and the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 34 years, she is mother to five kids and a pastor’s wife. She loves quiet mornings with hot coffee, rich conversations, and slowly savored meals at her favorite restaurants. She is awed that God chose her to mother four girls having grown up with no sisters. She writes about her life and her work here.