A LOVE LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER

by Jordan Ariel © 2007

An hour before you were born, I stood outside the labor and delivery room in the hallway of the second floor of the hospital, looking out to the street below. People were driving, walking, having conversations, living their lives as though it was a day like any other. I stood terrified, filled with a lifelong relationship with anxiety but denying its existence through a kind of humorous machisma. Tears slowly fell down my face as I wondered whether I had enough courage to go forward. Your biological mother, my lover Hannah, labored with her small body to bring you into this world, to our arms and hearts, and into your life, your legacy. I was paralyzed with fear. The other day you were telling me a story about a party. The gathering was held to celebrate the college graduation of your roommate and her mother was hosting the party in a suburban East Bay community. You described this woman, your friend's mother, as a cold woman, frigid. A true bitch, you said. You'd never met anyone like her. You described your attempts to approach her, your smile and warmth, your manners, your openness, your repeated attempts to find something in her with which to connect, but eventually failed. I heard the sadness and anger in your words. And later, you described the gratitude you had for us, your family, your life. As you said, "I had never experienced my life, my upbringing, my family, as 'alternative', until that day." I grabbed you in an embrace, kissing your cheeks and hair in the same way I have for twenty-four years, hoping to bring some comfort, hoping to bring my love to you as I would a gift, over and over again. Later I thought about it and realized, as parents, we should feel lucky that that day was a first for you, after twenty-something years, that we must have done something right. Because, my beloved girl, yes, in the beginning, you were a wild idea, an experiment. There is something so arrogant about the idea that some of us feel we are so special that we can change the course of history for ourselves or anyone else. We didn't set out to be pioneers, but pioneers never do, do they? It was 1982 and our biological clocks were ticking. The fact that we were women in love in a world where many would rather we disappear, live a

life of longing and deprivation, be incarcerated, institutionalized or delivered to hell in a handbasket, didn't stop us from wanting what women have wanted throughout history - a child of our own. Hannah was older than me, and so we agreed that she would go first and I would follow. Artificial insemination was still very new, sperm banks still in their formative years. I can't remember how but we found a Berkeley doctor, a funny old man in his early 70s, who would help any woman get pregnant through donor insemination. His donors were UC Berkeley pre-med students that were paid for their generous offerings. Very little paperwork was required, very little was discussed. The only requirement Hannah had was that the donor be Jewish, an easy enough one for the doctor to satisfy. Holding hands, we patiently sat in Dr. X's waiting room on that fateful day, and looked around at the men in the room for any clues that they might be our future child's father. Some might think us brave, others stupid or crazy, but we were giddy with anticipation. In the exam room, where I held your mother's hand for a simple procedure not unlike a pelvic exam, we laughed at our brazenness, embraced our willingness to step off a cliff into unknown territory, and tried to memorize that moment to tell you many years ahead. Looking back, we were so naive, so young, so full of hope, love and good intentions, we could have fueled the dreams of many with the energy of our wild endeavor. When the doctor called after the ultrasound to tell us that you were healthy and a girl, we both cried. We screamed with the zeal and enthusiasm of young children. As you know now, your mother would have been a fabulous mother to a boy, but I wasn't sure about myself. My relationship with my father was so tortured, so full of pain and love, potential and disappointment, that I feared I would find some sly way to abandon you if you were a boy. I thank God today that I didn't have that chance. It is hard enough that our own patterns of parenting are born of our own parents and revealed in our relationship with our children. I remember one night when you were three. I am ashamed but tell it again here as a prayer of gratitude to you for continuing to teach me about love and continuity. You were never a good sleeper when you were little, remember? You would rail against the dark, against the effort it took to calm yourself, against the predictability of rest. It was four in the morning and you

cried out for us. Your mother had already been up a couple of times to feed you, change you, listen to you and try to comfort you. All the books had said to let you cry, to close the door, sit down outside the door and wait until you put yourself to sleep. We tried to do that, many times, we tried everything. You had even started a new trick of crying so much that you started vomiting which, of course, got our attention. So now, it was my turn. You had just converted from your crib to your little girl bed. You could walk in and stand next to our bed, which scared the hell out of us. Tonight, though, you beckoned from your bed. I came into the dark room and stood in the middle of the room, at first quietly, while you talked about your sweet little life. I was so tired and then, angry at you. It felt personal. Out of the quiet, I screamed. I screamed at you to stop, I screamed until you were shocked to silence. As I stood there, shaking with memories of my father's stern, harsh and impatient voice rising in my throat, I burst out crying. I reached for you, to hold you in my arms. Sitting together on your little girl bed, we both cried and I asked for your forgiveness, both to you and quietly to myself. Rocking together, time passed. Your little hand reached up to my cheek and patted me. You said, "It's OK, Annie. You can sleep now. Let's sleep together." Words you had heard from us for years, words you'd offered your stuffed animals as they struggled to sleep in your care. My beloved sweet girl, the reluctant healer. When you graduated from college, you were very specific about the kind of party you wanted. You wanted it to be held in your childhood home and you wanted the walls to be filled with the framed art pieces you had created in the last two years of your fine arts education. You designed and printed your invitations. In the text you wrote for the show, the celebration, you laid out the journey you had taken in your work. You saw your abstract watercolors as an engagement with organic form, an acknowledgement of the evolution between material and form, birthing something uniquely mysterious and yet familiar. It was brilliant and so accurate. I was awestruck at your young wisdom and confidence. Since I had started my own journey at your age as a visual artist, I was filled with my own memories, a jealousy of your youth, an immense immeasurable pride and love, and a sense of wonder at your life, where will it take you now?

Remember all those weekends when you came to stay with me and we sat on the back porch and did art together -- t-Shirts, hand towels, photography, easter eggs, collages, drawings and more drawings. And your mother, a gifted landscaper and lover of nature. Remember when she would take you into her greenhouse and show you every single plant? How you rolled your eyes and told me, 'how could anybody remember all those long names', and your middle name, Tivona, meaning 'nature' in Hebrew. Your mother and I never really had any plans for you: you were an open book, you were our way of participating in the greater human experiment of family, parenting, legacy. Everything about you was a gift and yet, at your graduation, I felt given back to in a very unexpected way. I saw myself in you. I saw both of us in you. For me, without the biology, without the everyday life over the years, without the traditions and framework of this world as we know it. I just never expected that. Over a year ago, after five months of travel throughout Southeast Asia with your friend, Cassie, I flew over to meet you in Bangkok. It hadn't been planned but an opportunity presented itself, and we took it. Cassie was leaving in two days to go back to the States and then Africa for the Peace Corps; you and I would head to the beach and spend some R&R time together. You had had some tough time in your travels, some extraordinary, but others more challenging and I was ready to listen. When we arrived at the hotel in Kraki, you nearly cried when you saw the bathtub and a television, rare luxuries on your long journey. For a few nights, we just sat in our room with a bottle of wine, surreally watching 'American Idol' and talking about everything that came up for you, now that there was time to unwind. One night when we were in bed in the dark, you started talking about the pain and struggle you witnessed in Cambodia. You started to cry. This was one of the first chapters in your young life where you were confronted face-to-face with the harsh realities of our world, with it's pain and injustice -- and it hurt you deeply. You said to me, "What am I going to do, Lynnie? I'm not strong enough to change the world. What will happen to all of us?" Your tears brought back so much of my own pain during the Vietnam years, and the disillusionment and anger I felt later within the feminist and gay rights struggles, and finally my current skepticism and distance I've taken from

most of the political debate today. I rolled over in bed and held you while you cried. I tried to tell you that you will do whatever your heart guides you to do, that I was proud that you felt the pain of others. I tried to tell you that there will always be pain and human suffering in the world, and that each of us has to navigate our own relationship to it. Each of us can mmake choices that honor our passion, our love and forgiveness for human frailty, and our commitment to stay open to each of our own gifts as they are revealed to us. You are an artist. Your gift will look different, and it hadn't been revealed yet. I told you that you didn't have to change the world right now. Right now, you needed rest. When your sobbing started to soften, you fell asleep. Later as I laid next to you in our big bed with all that mosquito netting, in the middle of a country I barely knew, I listened to the tropical sounds of Thailand alongside your breathing and was filled with a rare sense of contentment and mystery that was exhilarating. It is now a year later and today is my wedding, the second in my life. You were there for the first one too, do you remember? You were five, and you were the shy ringbearer. It was 1989 and I was marrying Christine, another beautiful woman that you grew to love as well. Your mother held your hand during the ceremony as you hugged her legs and peeked at me from across our community circle. Today, I marry my sweet gentleman and friend of eight years, Eric. Upstairs before the ceremony, you are giggling with excitement and joy. Susannah, my New Zealand niece, is here too and the two of you are enjoying each other's company, like sisters, I imagine. As talented, young, independent women in the arts, your friends are not getting married yet, so I watch you both bask in the newness of such an old tradition. You fuss over my dress, over the bouquet, over the event details, stepping away every now and then to rehearse the song you will sing with your mother in our ceremony. Eric and I had talked with you about including you and his son in a part of our vows that asked for your support and love in this new journey of ours, and you said yes you would. Eric and you have had your issues, but you have come to a peaceful place with it, with him. You are ready for this next part of my path, to be there yet again, as I wade through this journey we call our lives.

No one can prepare another person for moments of astute clarity and peace, those enlightened seeds of bliss that spill into our consciousness, but when the four of us stood together today, up in front of our community, and those words were spoken, I was witness to one of those brief moments. Your eyes locked with mine, both filled with tears, and then, it was gone. It was as though all those years of loving you, caring for you, embracing your wonder and fear, listening and talking about small animals, plants, art, rivers, boys, pain, growth, fashion, love, justice and injustice came rushing into that one moment to remind me that we are only as human as our ability to love unconditionally. The moment took my breath away, and then just as quickly as it came, it left. Overwhelmed with a serenity and love still being revealed to me, I turned back to my soon-to-be new husband as he and I began to carve our own path forward. When your mother and I stepped off that cliff twenty-four years ago to take part in this big and scary experiment that is our lives, this wild journey of parenting outside the law of averages, of changing the world with love, I could never have prepared myself for what actually happened. My beloved sweet girl, thank you for every day that we've had together. You are the gift I asked for in that paralyzed moment at the hospital, that one hour before you were born. And so much more, my sweet.