Seven years ago, one summer night in Johannesburg, I was
packing up my jewelry box, and sorting through what I was going to keep or give
away. We were scheduled to put everything in a moving container the following
day, one that would meet us in Sacramento in two months. I found my bauble
bracelet at the bottom, a string of large green beads, the color of a Granny
Smith apple. I kept the bracelet because Alicia gave it to me the year we left
the USA, on Mother’s Day.
“This is how I see you,” she said. “And I got an employee’s
discount.” We laughed together about this. It was on sale at Claire’s, where
she worked, so an employee discount made this a great deal.
At first, I didn’t like the bracelet, maybe because it bothered
me that Alicia, my only daughter, saw me as an apple-green-colored-bauble-wearing
woman. Did I snap my gum and wear pants that were too tight, as well? In
fairness, I probably would have bought my only daughter a gold necklace with a
locket on the end, where she could put tiny pictures and keep them by her
heart. I would have loved to receive that kind of present at her age, but I know
now the gift would not be her at all.
Alicia, as a daughter is a gift from God. When she was born,
she represented the union I had with Mario—a beautiful baby girl we loved and
treasured. She was genuinely the most beautiful baby girl, and easy to have
around. As she grew, she clung to me, especially when she was sick. She
learned to color inside the lines, identify the alphabet, read, write, do long
division, and put puzzles together, all at our kitchen table. She cooked meals
that were beautiful, including lasagna that tasted better than an Italian
restaurant. She learned how to play the piano and sing harmonies. In her teens,
she fell in and out of love. She made friends with the wrong people, and then
the best people I had ever met. She had a habit of accidentally breaking my
heart; she had a habit of breaking my heart on purpose. She was a magnet for
friends, and traveled everywhere with her own posse. By the time we moved to
South Africa, she was independent, headstrong, and vibrantly filled with every
kind of life.
Even with all of her magnetic beauty, Alicia and I often struggled
to feel understood by each other. I saw Alicia as a beautiful, wild unicorn, glittering
but unreachable. I was the mother she ran from. I wanted a close relationship, one where
she came to me for advice. Once she reached adulthood, I longed to have the
friendship I had with my own mother, or at least our version of it. I wanted us
to have deep conversations over coffee, or to join a book club together.
In actuality, Alicia and I were good with each other until
something set us off. Both of us had so many hidden trip wires, so many
unresolved issues, and we often fought more than either of us wanted. When it was
time to build relationship and friendship, there were always plenty of friends around,
and events they attended together. I was admittedly jealous of the fact that
her friends were the ones who she would seek out first for advice, direction, and
comfort—especially during heartbreak. I yearned to be needed this way.
After years of ups and downs, I stopped trying to convince my daughter how our relationship should be and started listening to her more,
without offering advice. It was clear she didn’t want advice from me—she just
wanted...me. About seven years ago, I made a conscious decision to take better care
of my own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Alicia and I started
relating to each other as adults—still mother and daughter, but adults—and maintained
open communication. If I showed up, loved her and was proud of her, that was
enough for Alicia. It was easy to do, especially after she became a mother. She
easily interacted with her children in a way that made them feel confident and
loved. She was warm, affectionate, organized, and nurturing.
Soon, I started to see what the rest of the world saw:
Alicia has genuinely one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known. She’s able to
do so many things. Clearly organized and gifted, she started her own business—something
I didn’t know the first thing about—and earned a reputation as a conscientious,
energetic, motivated, and well-liked business owner. When the Camp Fire hit
Paradise, Alicia shared her house with several displaced friends, and
volunteered her cleaning services to the Benevolent Elks in Chico—who later contracted
her company. She’s a strong member of her community and family.
I look at this synopsis, a five-minute read that I wrote to
sum up the most complicated, intricate relationship that any woman can have:
one between mother and daughter. Alicia is thirty-two years old today, and I
can still feel the warmth of her head on my shoulder when she was an infant. In
our mother-daughter dance, we’ve always tried to connect, even if we miss a
beat or two. Through the years, with our history of ups and downs, we’ve
reached a place where we know each other’s rhythms.
So, that summer night in Johannesburg, when I was packing up
my things, I held the apple-green-baubled bracelet in my hands and thought of
Alicia. I knew that soon (very, very soon) I would move back to California be
near my baby who gave this to me. I never, ever considered throwing the
bracelet away, because it came from my only daughter—the girl who sees me in
I love you, Alicia. You are truly my treasured only
daughter. Thank you for being you.