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Giving, and receiving, a gift of words

I created this gift for my grandmother for Christmas, featuring handwriting of her daughter, my mother, who passed away almost 20 years ago.

By Nicole Minier

“It’s been a long journey, but I think I’m finally coming to understand what motherhood is like. NOT EASY.”

A letter written by my mother 20 years ago came to me at just the right time. It was a couple weeks before Christmas, I had just finished cooking dinner while the kids ran around the house like chickens with their heads chopped off, jumping, screaming, fighting with each other. I thought I was going to pull my hair out.

If my mom were still around, I probably would have called her to complain — but I can’t.

My mom passed away when I was 7 years old. All my memories of her were when I was a child — baking cookies and building snowmen in the front yard, making crafts at the kitchen table and reading stories.

When I was a kid, I only saw her as the fun mom that she was, I never knew how she was as an adult. I never got the chance — until recently.

Just before Christmas I saw something neat on Pinterest — jewelry that has a person’s handwriting engraved in it. I immediately thought of my grandma and how much she says she loves my mom’s handwriting — and how much she loves jewelry (she has a whole jewelry closet).

I called her up and tricked her into bringing over some of my mom’s handwriting. I had no idea what all she had, but when my grandma told me she was a packrat, I probably should have believed her. She brought two huge bags of letters and notes written by both my mom and myself when I was a little girl.

The night my grandma brought the letters over was a night that I was almost at my wits end with all of the ruckus in the house. I was trying to get the kids fed dinner before she came over to babysit so I could cover a basketball game while my husband worked — my nerves were strung a little thin after a couple hundred, “I don’t like that dinner” and “Can I download this game on my iPad” comments from the kids.

I got home after the game, put the loud, little monsters to bed and started reading the letters my mom had written — many of which were about parenthood — I couldn’t believe it. It was like she was speaking to me through notes she had written 20 years ago.

“I complain about the many times I hear ‘mom’ throughout the day, but what if I could never hear their voice again? When I hug my girls at night, sometimes I think of that, and I hug a little tighter.”

When she wrote that, she had no idea that she had it backward — I would be the one who wouldn’t be able to say “mom” to her anymore.

Our youngest, Nora, 2, and Daniel, 7, sound like broken records saying “mom” and “mommy” at least 1,409 times every night. It makes me crazy sometimes — but I probably made my mom crazy doing the exact same thing.

I knew my mom as a child, but the night I sat down to read those old letters, I met my mom as a mother myself.

She wrote about my sister and me like we were her world — even if we did annoy her a little.

“Really, they have given me the reason to stop and answer, ‘why is the sky so blue?’ Everything is a new wonder to them. Like when their eyes open wide on an elevator ride, I get an excuse to go ‘whee’ with them, and be a kid again too!”

Probably one of the most interesting letters she wrote was about the lullaby tape I listened to as a child. My aunt bought me a CD with the same songs on it when my son was born, and now my daughter listens to the same songs every night at bedtime.

I remembered the music from when I was a child, but I had no idea how much those songs meant to my mother, and I’ve been playing them for my kids for years now.

“Ten years from now when I listen to this tape, I will have memory flashes of early motherhood with my daughter — reminders of endless diaper changes, baby blankets and the smell of her skin after a bath. I’ll remember the way she fit ‘just right’ in my arms,” she wrote. “When the music played, our eyes would lock and the magic began. Many times Nicole would fall asleep after the third song, but I would stay with her all the way until the end of the tape. It was our time — something the two of us would share.”

What I love about her notes, though, was that she didn’t always share about the joys of parenthood, but the difficulties too.

“I think late one night my mother laid in bed and set a curse on me. She said, ‘I hope you have a daughter just like you one day,’” she wrote. “Sometimes when Nicole and I are arguing, my mother’s curse rings through my ears. It probably wasn’t easy for her being a mother. Now that I’m a mother myself, I’m seeing what my childhood must have been like through my mother’s eyes.”

And now, I’m doing the same, only in a more unusual way.

The final letter written by my mother wasn’t delivered by her, but from one of my grandmas to the other — a note she wrote for her mom in case anything ever happened to her.

My mom wrote the letter long before she was sick and even a few years before my little sister was born. The note was to her mom, telling her she had no regrets about her life and in the final paragraph spoke of me, “Oh yeah, tell her how great we were and how much we loved her.”

She signed the letter with one last heart-renching phrase, “See ya in Heaven.”

I thought I was making a Christmas gift for my grandmother — I hadn’t realized that she would be giving me the best gift — those letters. There was no way I could just pick one word to have engraved on the jewelry, so I made my grandma a different Christmas present. I took bits and pieces from some of her letters and put them on a canvas with her picture (see photo). Of course, I won the award for the most sentimental gift, as my grandma was totally shocked when she opened her gift.

“My daughters have been my job. Being a mother is the best job God could have given me,” Mom wrote. “We are raising our kids with one finger crossed and the other wrapped around our child’s hearts.”

Nicole Minier is editor of the Churubusco News, a publication of KPC Media Group. Her mother passed away days after being diagnosed with leukemia in 1998.

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