The book of secrets …
I always wanted a daughter. Always.
And when my husband and I discovered our first baby was a girl I was overjoyed. Before she was even born I filled her bookshelf with my childhood favourites: Anne Shirley, the Bennett sisters, Charlotte and Wilbur, Milly Molly Mandy and Enid Blyton as far as the eye could see. During those long nights up with my baby daughter I couldn’t help but wonder who she was going to grow to be. And would we be close?
That was the big one. Would we be close?
Looking down at my baby girl, I wanted to be her rock, her confidante, the way Lorelai was for Rory in The Gilmore Girls. I wanted to be her safe place to fall, the way Marilla was for Anne at Green Gables. I wanted a relationship like the one I had with my own mum who was my biggest champion and is still the first person I call. Most of all, I wanted to get it right because one thing I did know – even as a new mum – is that close relationships (especially) with teens are ideally built when they’re small. It’s about laying strong foundations of love and respect and trust long before they turn thirteen.
Of course the relationship we dream of is not always the one we end up with despite our best intentions.
Maybe your relationship with your daughter or step-daughter isn’t what you want it to be? Maybe your daughter has started pulling away and you’re feeling shut out. Maybe you feel like somewhere along the way your connection has been lost. Maybe you’re such total opposites it takes your breath away.
One of the best tools I’ve used to keep the lines of communication open with my now-tween daughter is our shared journal.
I can still remember the first time she used it.
I found it on my bed. Well, that’s no entirely true. I found a notebook with a handmade post-it note stuck to the cover saying “PLEASE CHECK” complete with three exclamation marks. She was eight at the time.
When I sat on my bed and flipped the book open, I saw my darling girl’s beautiful, scrawly, pencilled handwriting and the word ‘Mum’ at the top. And then I could see all these sentences tumbling out of her head and onto that page. The things which I had no idea were – that night – knotting her up inside.
Despite the fact I’d bought my daughter this mother-daughter journal a year ago for the exact purpose of her being able to write to me about her concerns, I still thought, “I can’t believe she’s using the journal! “ Followed by, “I’m six-metres away. Why didn’t she just come and tell me?”
And then I remembered.
I remembered when I was 13 and my closest friends were shaving their legs and I really, really wanted to start shaving my legs too. So I waited until my mum was in the shower and then quickly knocked on the bathroom door and blurted out, “MUMIWANTTOSHAVEMYLEGS!”
It was all very Judy Blume.
I remembered the need to speak to my mum about boys or periods or razors without, you know, looking at her. Without having to meet her gaze. Without having her look at me and see how awkward and embarrassed and clumsy I felt.
And timing is everything.
That’s the other thing I remember.
As a tween and teen I felt too exhausted to unpack what went down at school the moment I walked in the door home at 4pm.
“How was school?” mum would ask.
“Fine,” I’d mumble.
No mention of my worries about my upcoming science test. Or that Brendan Windsor has no idea I was even alive. Or that I think I’m possibly the only person not invited to Megan B’s birthday party.
How was school? Fine.
It wasn’t until much later into the evening I’d start to uncoil and feel ready to revisit the soap opera that had unfolded in Modern History or French or P.E.
Thirty-five years later and nothing has changed. After school my daughter’s main focus is changing out of her uniform and finding out what’s for afternoon tea. The stories don’t start to spill out of her until those minutes after I’ve turned out her bedroom light. We sit in the dark together – me perched on the side of her bed – and we talk. Or she talks and I listen. Or I talk and she listens (every night she badgers me into telling her a story from my 70s and 80s childhood. “You rollerskated? What’s a Pool Pony? Who’s Kirk Cameron? Did you ever get in trouble in class? )
But in those moments in the dark she feels both loved and known and safe. But sometimes I think even saying your worries out loud feels too hard.
So, the letter.
What was she writing about? Well that would be telling. First rule of Fight Club: What’s discussed in the notebook stays in the notebook.
I re-read her question a few times, picked up a pen and wrote back to that eight-year-old sleeping down the hallway. I signed it off by saying, “I love that you wrote to me. Write to me again anytime.” And I placed the notebook on her bedside table to read when she woke in the morning.
At breakfast she said nothing but flashed me a knowing smile.
I love that she wrote me a letter.
I love that it gave me the chance to sit and really think about my answer as I wrote back to her.
And I love that for the rest of her life; she’ll have this notebook filled with my handwriting. My voice and hers. And our connection.
Last night my daughter wrote me a letter. The first of many, I can only hope.
FYI: The mother-daughter journal I bought my daughter can be found here. https://www.booktopia.com.au/stationery/just-between-us-meredith-jacobs/prod9780811868952.html?source=pla&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIsc-b8Pf-1QIV3AMqCh3e2wDKEAQYAyABEgJEuPD_BwE
Or you can make your own for the tween or teen in your life
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Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.