mothers and daughters


Thing Two. Shout your love, and be specific.

Years ago, I was sitting in a class at BYU one afternoon. The guest lecturer, Stephen R. Covey, was there with his daughter, Maria. These were virtually the first (very loud) words out of his mouth that day: “I love my daughter Maria!” We all jumped. Not kidding. It was like he was shouting it to the winds. No, that’s not accurate:  it was like he was shouting it to the planet Neptune.

Volume aside, though, what I walked away with that day were two things. One, if you love a child, then why not make it known? The look on Maria’s face made me smile. I swear she was thinking, “Oh gosh, here we go again.” But no one in that lecture hall could have doubted Covey’s affection for the girl sharing the microphone with her dad.

I have never proclaimed my love that loudly before. But there is one thing I do at a softer volume, and it’s no less sincere for not being audible to anyone but the girl in question. I identify something I love (and this works as well with boys as it does with girls), and I articulate it. Example: “How beautiful your hands are. I love your hands.”

The trick with this: a) you’ve got to feel it deep down, for real, and b) you’ve got to time it right.  Moments like these require a certain . . . openness, for lack of a better word.

But back to hands.  I LOVE my daughters’ hands, both sets! (Two girls, four hands altogether.) They both have their dad’s hands–elegantly shaped, long fingers. And both girls use their hands expressively–to help me see what they’re thinking or feeling.  Hand-love, spoken aloud:  easy-breezy.

Try this. Give yourself twenty seconds, and identify just one thing you absolutely adore about a daughter (or daughters!).  Then determine how and when you’re going to express that.

Take-away number two.  Noticing what you love about a daughter and articulating it not only for yourself but more particularly for her makes it more real. I believe this. The petals’ hands would always be their hands whether or not I ever happened to notice their beauty. But the second I tell one of them out loud how lovely their hands are, the realness of what I’ve just put into words registers somewhere inside me, in a place where love seems to deepen and brighten for having become said and not just felt.  Likewise, inside the heart of the child who receives that little gift packaged in words, the belief that they are indeed worthy of notice and affection is strengthened, maybe just enough to combat a negative message–from somewhere else–preparing to hit its mark.

Covey shouting his love for his daughter. I’m smiling right now, not just because I can remember exactly what his voice sounded like but also because, on Maria’s face, you could so clearly see that, while she’d heard this enough times to make her want to roll her eyes, she believed it.

(For the record:  the two sets of hands in the photo belong to Miss Lavender and Miss Primrose, whose hands I also adore.)

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Millay holding camera_9653

Thing one. Take the Teenage Girl In Your Life with you when you do something kind for someone else.

So I grab Miss Zinnia the other day, and I tell her we’re going to visit Miss Rosa (not her real name), who lives up the street a few blocks. “I’m going to take her some soup,” I say, “and I want you to come with me.”

She’s reluctant at first. She doesn’t know Miss Rosa (naturally I’ve given her a flower name), who is a woman of mature years and who lives in a flat the size of a shoebox. But to her credit, Miss Zinnia puts on a jacket, a scarf, and the red felt hat (very Edwardian) she recently acquired, and off we go, with me toting both the bowl of soup and Miss Zinnia.

As a matter of courtesy, I asked Miss Rosa beforehand if I could translate for the two of them, and when we arrive and exchange the requisite two-cheek kisses, I suggest we commence chatting–that she and my Zinnia jump into the business of getting to know each other.

At first it’s a bit awkward for Miss Zinnia, but with me mediating the langauge gap and asking for additional help with Miss Rosa’s fond Catalan phrases and metaphors (Catalan is a wonderfully metaphorical language, from what I’ve been able to observe), the two take the first steps toward friendship.

And what do you know? They both love herbal tea with notes of fruit and flowers, Miss Zinnia lighting up when she talks about the infusion (what they call herbal teas here) she got at Christmas, a special “brew” called Kalahari, named for the African desert. And they both love movie musicals. When Miss Rosa mentions Singin’ In The Rain, Miss Zinnia’s all-time favorite, Miss Zinnia smiles so warmly I wonder if we’ll need to turn off the little space heater Miss Rosa has placed near us, to keep us warm.

And it goes on like this for the better part of an hour, though eventually the discussion turns (as it often does) to Miss Rosa’s thoughts on the Catalan secessionist movement and other sundry themes a tad bit too politically charged for Miss Zinnia, particularly as they find expression in Miss Rosa’s colorful language . . .

When we kiss Miss Rosa goodbye and leave her flat, Miss Zinnia links her arm with mine, and on our way home, I say, “We made her day.” And Miss Zinnia, feeling reflective, acknowledges that this might indeed be true. “This was the right thing to do this afternoon,” I tell her.  “And,” I add, “the soup’ll be perfect for her dinner!”

I think about what the visit looked like from where Miss Zinnia was sitting: the oddly delightful, slightly intimidating combination of age and youthful verve that is Miss Rosa. Her arthritis continually pesky, she uses braces to walk. But that doesn’t stop her from holding forth on the theme of Franco’s catastrophic oppression of the Catalans during what she views as his reign of terror, for example.  She is nothing if not a character.

I notice that Miss Zinnia’s attitude has shifted. Before our walk to Miss Rosa’s small flat, she was nervous. Afterwards, she understands that her efforts to make another woman–one whom age has not been kind to–feel just the slightest bit happier on a Sunday afternoon have worked. You could see it on Miss Rosa’s face.

I decide immediately that taking a girl in a red felt hat (or any kind of hat) along to visit the Miss Rosas in my life can be brilliant. Why, you wonder?–because now, Miss Zinnia has a Miss Rosa in her life, too, and that simple fact will resonate with her into adulthood and beyond.


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I have a little Valentine’s Day tradition. I call it “Six Reasons Why,” and it involves two girls, Miss Lavender and Miss Zinnia, and a dozen roses.

It’s easy, really. I write a note to each girl, telling her why she is more beautiful than the six roses I am presenting her with. A dozen roses, six for each girl. On Valentine’s morning, when they wake up (the girls, not the roses), there are the reasons. And the flowers.

I’m already thinking of my reasons, one of my favorite tasks of the year.

Do you have any petals in your home?–any girls who are more beautiful, even, than perfect flowers? If so, why not write a note? And tell her why!

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