For My Mother’s Birthday: What I Know Now

Today is mother dearest’s birthday. Two days ago, I picked up a glorious little book from Half Price Books — What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self edited by Ellyn Spragins. This book contains a series of letters from some of the world’s greatest women (i.e. former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, and many more) to their younger selves. One particular letter struck me as especially relevant for this time in life for both my mother and me, as I’m about to be shipped off to D.C. (finally!) in a month. So, in honor of my mother’s birthday today, I want to share this letter because it contains words that I know mommy dearest would like to tell me but just might not be able to form on her own.

The below letter is written by Maya Angelou (born with the name Marguerite Johnson) to her younger self at a time when she decided to leave home. At the time, she was unmarried and just had her son after finishing high school — “she had found a job, a room with cooking privileges down the hall, and a landlady who would baby-sit.” My current condition isn’t quite so challenging but this letter is still very appropriate nonetheless.

Dear Marguerite,

You’re itching to be on your own. You don’t want anybody telling you what time you have to be in at night or how to raise your baby. You’re going to leave your mother’s big comfortable house and she won’t stop you, because she knows you too well.

But listen to what she says:

“When you walk out of my door, don’t let anybody raise you — you’ve been raised.

You know right from wrong.

In every relationship you make, you’ll have to show readiness to adjust and make adaptations.

Remember, you can always come home.”

You will go home again when the world knocks you down — or when you fall down in full view of the world. But only for two or three weeks at a time. Your mother will pamper you and feed you your favorite meal of red beans and rice. You’ll make a practice of going home so she can liberate you again — one of the greatest gifts along with nurturing your courage, that she will give you.

Be courageous, but not foolhardy.

Walk proud as you are,





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