A Letter to My Daughter: A Legacy of Unconditional Love From Your Great Grandmother
April 4, 2021
Yesterday we were together for much of the day. I mixed up the time of your volleyball practice, and we showed up at the park without any practice. You were already dressed in your volleyball clothes, the shorts and the jacket that are your favorite. You looked like an anime volleyball character, and I know that is part of the reason why you love volleyball. I love that you love volleyball, because it is important to move your body and realize our bodies are special places that our spirit lives and to care for that place. We had a wonderful day instead wandering around the old park that I grew up. You climbed the big hill and wandered around the woods there. This community is safe. This is where I grew up. I didn’t worry about you, and the others around the park because I knew they were there with their families doing much of the same thing. Spending time together in a place that they know belongs to them. Indeed this earth belongs to all of us creatures, and that is why I was picking up trash yesterday. Wasn’t that such a big bag of trash we gathered? Thank you for showing me all the pieces of plastic littering the earth.
Yesterday we talked several times and I told you stories. I told you the story of how really sick you were when you were a baby. And the three distinct times when the doctors asked me, do you want to continue? And each time, I put my hand over you through the skin overlying my womb, or through the isolette and said – yes, please continue. I’m the only mommy she has, if I don’t fight for her life alongside her – who will? You are older now and the stories I told you yesterday were brief and matter of fact. Those times were hard for me, but I was already a woman physician grown and graduated. You were small and fighting for each breathe, each moment and each day. I promised you while you were in the neonatal intensive care unit a full and loving life. And that is the life you have. It’s what you call the “bubble” mommy and daddy created for you. And like the isolette that they put you in as a premature baby, that is the “bubble” of community, family and love that we surround and protect you.
But I forgot to tell you something yesterday, and I am typing it here before I forget. I may read it to you later, or maybe you will wander onto the blog to read it later. I know sometimes you come to check to see what your mother the silly Dr. Plastic Picker writes about sometimes. This I won’t tell you for a little bit because I don’t want to be too melodramatic. Sometimes these stories we tell, need to be given in small bits and pieces as even wonderful stories can be overwhelming.
When we were over at your grandmother’s house, my mother’s house, for the first time in over a year – we walked by the ancestral alter at the house. We were more focused on you giving your grandfather the first hug that he has received from you in over a year. But I forgot to point out the ancestral alter and the picture of my grandmother, your maternal great grandmother. It’s one of the few pictures my mother has of her mother. Our family lights incense there and leaves symbolic gifts of rice and food to her spirit. She lives there, in the spiritual and literal sense with us still.
You have to remember our stories, even if you do not choose to continue formally what our family has done for generations which is to honor our ancestors. You have to remember and to keep in your heart that the woman in the picture, your maternal great grandmother, loved your grandmother unconditionally. Your grandmother, my mother, loved me unconditionally. And I love you, unconditionally. Each of us as women have had traumas and challenges, and life has not been easy especially for your great grandmother as a rural woman in South Vietnam with six children and a husband long dead after the colonial war with the French. But somehow, loving our daughters has made them stronger and allowed each generation of women in our family to gain strength.
Our culture was originally a matriarchal culture before we were colonized by the Chinese who brought the idea that boys were better than girls. I think we still are a matriarchal culture, because what is culture but the traditions of a people? This is why what you do at school and who you are, is celebrated by your grandmother so much. Next time we go over to your grandmother’s house, I will show you the picture of your maternal great grandmother and tell you what each object on the alter means. And did you know that the name you carry, which is Thao actually means together with Hieu – Hieu Thao means filial piety, faith in your family. I forgot to tell you that. But in our family it is not the children who honor the elders, it is the mothers who honor their daughters.
I love you, unconditionally.
Your mother who has the same name.