Normally when I write a piece for your birthday, I talk about you – how proud I am of you, how awe-inspiring you are, and how excited I am to see the amazing things you choose to do with your limitless talents, ever-growing abilities, and intellect… I tell you how breathtakingly gorgeous and mind-blowingly extraordinary you are. This is a special birthday, however. The next time I celebrate your birthday, you will be an adult… and before you begin this year – the last year of what the law considers to be your childhood (you gon’ always be my baby lol) – I wanted to make sure you know how important your presence has been in my life. You may never truly comprehend the impact you’ve had on me, but I don’t know what I would ever do without you.
It doesn’t feel like it’s in a quite so distant past that I found out about you, but it was literally a lifetime ago. Your lifetime. It was a Thursday – June 3, 1999 – when we walked into the county clinic, your father and I. When we left that clinic, the only proof I had of your existence was on a tiny slip of paper and in the tears stained to my cheeks… Nothing about my body had changed. I was still just a “slim-thick” little 16-year-old girl trying to figure out a way to let it sink in that when I touched the flat surface of my belly, somewhere just below the surface, you were there. I didn’t know a thing about real responsibility, yet there was a life – your life – growing inside me. I walked into the clinic that day as a child myself, but I walked out of the clinic a mother – your mother.
I was terrified. If I’m being honest, I was disappointed. Maybe a bit devastated. Every time I touched the skin that covered the space you occupied within my body, I felt guilt. I felt shame. I felt heartbreak. Not because you were in there, but because I felt like you deserved so much more than I could give you. I felt like had already failed you. I had nothing. Just 5 months and 1 day before, I had been walking into the DMV getting my driver’s license. I walked out of that DMV feeling my first real wave of autonomy – I had the freedom of the road all to myself! Not long after that, I had been walking into Arby’s getting my first shit-job. I walked out of that restaurant feeling like an adult – I had my own money, could take care of myself! Yet after walking out of that clinic, there I was – sitting in your father’s car in the parking lot of the county clinic, feeling like the smallest child and trying to figure out how in the hell I would ever be able to have enough for you… or be enough for you.
Your father, from the moment they confirmed the pregnancy, was ridiculously excited about you. He promised me we could do it. He promised me he’d be there every step of the way. He promised me that no matter what, he would take care of me – and more importantly, he would always take care of you. All promises he kept without exception. Even so, as I rode in silence with tears streaming down my face all the way home, I wondered what kind of mother I could possibly be to you when realistically I had barely experienced life at all.
All I knew was that I had 7.5 months to figure it out…
I assure you, I did not figure it out during those 7.5 months. You finally arrived 10 days late and the moment I touched you on that first Sunday morning in February of 2000 – the moment I felt your heartbeat on my chest, heard your voice – something inside of me exploded. I was overwhelmed. All I could do was cry. You had only been as real as the motion I could feel inside the new bump on my body and the outline of skeletal images I could barely see on the ultrasound screen. You had only been as real as my own imagination, but in that moment the realization of you became a weight around my heart that has never lifted. I was 17 years old, the same as you are now… halfway through my junior year of high school and I was holding someone else’s life in my hands – a life I was now responsible for. Holding you, running my fingers along the skin over your spine, rolling my thumb back and forth across the bottom of your tiny little foot, breathing you in so deeply, I never felt so fragile. So vulnerable. So afraid.
But I also never felt so strong. So determined. So in love. I was shattered in the most beautiful way and the pieces of me were slowly reconnected by the energy I could feel in the deepest part of me every time even the thought of you crossed my mind. You would wrap your entire hand around my pinky and I will never forget how tightly you’d hold on. I knew that no matter what the future held, it would always be on me to make sure you were safe and that your needs were met. It would always be up to me to know you were okay. Every decision I made from that point forward was with the knowledge that it would impact you in some way. I always felt like I needed to be the best of the best in everything – to make you proud, to show you what type of woman you came from, to make sure that when you grew up, you would know that in your blood ran strength, resiliency, and capability.
I needed you to know that you were raised being encouraged to think freely, to be independent, to love yourself, to care enough to have an interest in others, to challenge the status quo, to never allow the judgments of others to intimidate or deter you, and not to be judgmental yourself.
Here I am 17 years later and I am realizing that I never really did figure it out. I did the best I knew how at every given point, but I’ve always been that same terrified 16-year-old that walked out of the clinic that day. It was impossible to know if what I was doing was what I should be doing. It was excruciating to never be sure of anything and to always wonder if you had enough love, enough guidance, enough support – if we had done well enough with you. I was never really confident in whether I made the right choices and never totally positive that I was good at being your mom, at finding that balance.
I needed my life to reflect what I felt I owed you. I wanted you to know that education is important so even though I couldn’t finish high school, I scored among the highest on my G.E.D. and I fought my way through college with my name placed on the President’s List or Dean’s List every semester, earning awards, graduating with honors. I wanted you to know that you can be anything and you never have to settle so even though it was difficult, I worked a full time and part time job while building my own business. I wanted you to know you were important so even if I would be late for a school event, I did my best to get there. I wanted you to know that your dreams, no matter what path you take, are never out of reach so I never stopped reaching for mine no matter how painful or difficult or seemingly impossible it felt. No matter how many times I failed, matter how embarrassing it became, I kept pressing – so you could see me pressing.
I want you to know that the things I achieved in my life, I may have never achieved if it weren’t for you. When I walked into that clinic that day, I put a ‘period’ on the end of a sentence that had been running in my story for four years – a messy sentence, one laced with mistakes and consequences, pain and regret, apathy and self-destruction. I walked out of that clinic knowing I had to be more – for you. I had to care about me – for you. I sacrificed a lot to give you the best I had in me, but I hope you know that you are the reason the best existed within me to begin with. Everything I sacrificed for you, I never would have had if it weren’t for you… so in all honesty, I never gave up anything that would have been possible if you hadn’t come along.
You made me better. You gave me purpose. It was only because of the beating of your heart that I had a reason to live. You saved me from myself and for that, I will always be grateful. Briyana, you are most certainly and without a doubt the best thing that ever happened to my world. And I know that coming into my world the way you did made yours a little harder, but I am so proud of the woman you’ve become. I knew nothing when I heard you cry for the first time, but I knew that I would spend my life trying to keep your tears from falling trying to make your world spin the way you needed it to. It was because of my love for you that I learned, so that I could teach you to be better than me. Much to my surprise, over the following 17 years, you would teach me far more than you could ever learn from me.
Navigating the years that bridge adolescence and adulthood is hard. I did everything I could to keep you from becoming me instead of recognizing who you are. It took me too long to understand that you were never going to be me. You are incredible. Insightful. Witty. Sarcastic. You’re intelligent. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Deep. You’re like me, but you aren’t me. You’re the best of what I could instill in you combined with the greatness of your unique self. I feel privileged to be a part of your journey. I hope my presence will help you along the way as you become your best self… as you build a life that someday, a little person – an extension of you – will be proud of, even though you’ll wonder about that incessantly. I hope that what you’ve seen in me will help you choose your path and create a space for yourself in this world in which you will always be enough – even if only just for you.
Above all, know that I am always here for you and I am – and will always be – proud of you. You made me a mom and being your mom was one of the greatest gifts I ever received. Here are 17 bits of wisdom and pieces of advice that I hope you’ll carry with you throughout your life:
- Believe from within. Don’t let anyone force their truth on you – not even me. Everyone will want to give you their god, their religion, their belief. The truth is what you’ll find inside yourself. Trust in the necessity of Universal balance. Call it reaping what you sow. Call it karma. Either way, no matter what system of belief you develop over the course of your life, the Universe – on a fundamental level – will always bring about balance. You will attract the energy you emit. Be positive. Be thoughtful. Be just. Be patient. Expect your energy to come back to you. Expect greatness.
- You are powerful. Take the world by storm and make sure no one can miss your magic. Hold your head up. Look people in the eye. Be clear. Be direct. Be confident. Be assertive. Be unapologetically you.
- Choose people carefully. Love hard. Be vulnerable. Try not to need people to understand you. They rarely will. You have to be okay with that.
- Change is good. It is often painful. Confusing. Hard to adjust to. But change can be good. Don’t be afraid of it and don’t shy away from it. You cannot grow without it.
- Some people will never see you as you are, no matter how much of yourself you show to them. Because of this, be careful of who you welcome into your life and don’t be afraid to let people go. Pay close attention to your intentions – your motives. Know that no matter how much you try not to disappoint people, you won’t avoid causing disappointment. Know that no matter how hard you try not to hurt people, you won’t always avoid causing pain. Be aware of your intentions – knowing you meant well is sometimes all you can do in those situations. Never let anyone cause you to question who you know you are because of what they think of you.
- Dream. Dream BIG. Dream OFTEN. Dream WILDLY. And know that no matter where your dreams take you, you owe nothing to anyone. Likewise, no one owes anything to you.
- Read. Read voraciously. Use your mind. Explore other worlds through your imagination. Read every kind of literature. And not just on a screen. Sit down with a book in your hands. Turn the pages. Absorb the words. No matter what you do or how busy you become, expose yourself to a new genre or a new author at least every month.
- You have undiscovered worlds behind your eyes. Write. Every. Day. Keep a journal. I can’t even adequately emphasize the value of being able to go back and have an honest look at past versions of yourself through revisiting your own thoughts – some of which, after a few years, you won’t even agree with or relate to anymore. But you’ll remember. And it will keep you grounded. Writing will always be the best method of calming your inner madness.
- Accept yourself. Practice self-care. I love the way you love you. Please always love yourself that way. Also, love yourself enough to ask for help when you need it.
- Live your life on purpose, but live your life with purpose as well. It’s great to have fun, but make sure you are constantly and perpetually aware of your path, your goals… everything you do should either support your purpose or not detract from it. Sometimes, you won’t be able to give yourself a reason to do something or a reason not to do that thing. If it isn’t harmful to yourself or others and can’t affect the realization of your goals, go for it. Experience is a great teacher.
- Let people be people. They are just as human as you are. Accept people. Love them because they’re different. The world can be cruel. Give people a break. Likewise, give yourself a break. It’s great to have high expectations, but leave a little room for error. No one ever stops making mistakes. It’s just part of the human experience.
- Never waste time on regret. You’re human. Even when you think a situation can’t go wrong, sometimes you will fuck up anyway. Accountability is healthy. If you know you fucked up, then you learned something. I was taught that forgiving others is the most important thing you can do. It’s not. Forgive yourself. Whether anyone else forgives you or not, forgive yourself. THAT is most important. We are all imperfect. We are all flawed. There are times when no matter what you do to make things right, someone else will still want you to suffer for your mistakes. Process it. Accept it. Move on.
- Chase nothing in life but your own happiness. And don’t try to be too strong; don’t try to always be strong. It will wear you down; it can make you weak. Learn to recognize when you’ve had enough and if you need to let people down because they’re too much to carry, don’t feel bad about putting yourself first. Your happiness and your peace are completely in your own hands.
- Find your passion and create a life out of it. Let your passions drive your ambitions. Let your ambitions lead your decisions.
- Too much of anything is bad so always practice moderation. Never forget that. You’ll know when you need a break from something; listen to your inner voice. Sometimes you’ll even need a break from people, and that’s okay. Never feel guilty for needing time away from your normal routine. Always handle your responsibilities, but when you need a break, take a break.
- Find beauty in everything. You may have to look a little harder in certain places, but always find the beauty. It’s there.
- When all else fails, breathe. Life goes on. Tomorrow is always a new day. No matter how bad a situation looks, there will come a day when you will look back and realize it’s never quite as bad as it seems. The sun always comes out to dry up the rain.