You will come of age with our young nation
We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you
And you’ll blow us all away
Yeah, you’ll blow us all away
– “Dear Theodosia” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. from Hamilton
Dear Young Lady,
Even though I saw you today for the first time in months, I see you all the time. I see you in children younger than you who walk the halls in pleated skirts. I see you strolling to school in West Baltimore, three feet tall, holding hands with a momma. I see you in the squeegee kids and their drive and lack of couth balanced out by their wide smiles. I see you when I pass a house with windows that’s among a row of vacants. I see you in red hair dye and abandoned binders and an old card you wrote me. I see you in faces and hear you in songs and imagine you turning on your heels so gracefully like when “Yip” is playing. When you texted me on Mother’s Day, my heart grew three sizes. You told me you knew I’d be a mother soon and that I’d sort of been one to you–I’ll take it.
When you told me what’s going on in your life, I hope you know I heard you. And that time you said you wondered what it’d be like if you grew up with parents like mine, I never stopped hearing that. When you smiled big enough that I could see the new tooth you’ve got poking through your gum, I was reminded that you are still a child. That although you just unloaded a set of stories most wise and well-supported adults couldn’t persevere through, you can’t vote or drive or buy a lottery ticket.
Those times I catch myself saying something like “Slow-close cabinets are a life saver,” you and your presence in my life, are among the factors that help me stay in check. You wouldn’t know this but you help me see my minutia and how trivial it can be. When you rattle off even a few of the things your mom has put you through, I lose my breath. And I get it back when I see in your face that you know you deserve so much more. More than someone who spelled your name wrong the day you were born or left you to raise yourself or doesn’t call or stops sending you money for food.
I asked you how you picture your life in September and you said you cannot do that. Not where you’ll be living or where you’ll start 10th grade. What pops into my head is that although you can’t imagine what three months away will look like, I can see what I hope for you in twenty years. And so I’m asking myself, is this something that growing up in a good family grants you? The ability to see the future? The agency to create it? The vision of the steps to get to a goal? So I try to keep my face neutral but I know the answers are yes, yes, yes, and yes. If only I could touch my pointer to yours and zap you with some of what I’ve got. If only I could stare you in the eyes and transmit how I imagine you as a happy, successful adult. If only we could enter some alternative universe where your name on your birth certificate matched the name you’ve always used and all the other good things, or just reasonable things, that followed that first act.
Young Lady, I will probably keep writing you letters I can’t show you. And to you, I will reveal a fraction of what I say in these. I try not to scare you when I tell you how much you’ve taught me and how amazed I am and how strongly I feel about your future. I’ll be seeing you…