Exponent II Classics: To My Daughter
To My Daughter
Vol. 12, No. 4 (1986)
May 24, 1986
This is a cherished moment, this being here with you, to remember with you the significance of our being together as parents and daughters. Looking at you so mature and beautiful here tonight pushes the mind back a dozen years or so to a time that you wouldn’t remember, a time when instead of sitting next to us, you could only lie there next to us in bed, trying to focus those big, wondering eyes on this vast old world. Your interest then went more for formula than fashions, and chewing on that little fist seemed to solve almost every problem. Almost. There were other ends to consider, and believe me, we changed a lot of diapers.
But we really didn’t mind. The fight against our own weariness or the discomfort of cold floors—none of that hurt so much as the sound of genuine need or the cold note of fear in your cry in the dark of night. Only when you become a parent yourself will you begin to understand the upsurge of absolute love and the incomprehensible unselfishness that reaches out to that pitiful cry from the cradle. When you become a mother, you will know something of what the Savior meant when He spoke of being born of the water, of the spirit, and of the blood of sacrifice.
In your beauty tonight, you look a little different than you did when you put your cereal bowl on top of your head. As you rub in the mousse and styling lotions now, I cannot help but remember the mush that used to drizzle down over your ears or the way those lovely cheeks that now you touch so expertly with blush used to be smeared so thickly with chocolate from the frosting spoon. And as I look at those carefully groomed hands folded nicely in your lap, I remember that these were once little pudgy hammers mashing peas into green splotches all around your dish.
Sometimes I think that it would be wonderful to return to those simple days before you were a complex, complicated teenager: when you entertained us from your highchair by humming along with the tunes on the radio or in exact pitch with variable sounds of the food mixer. Do you remember bathing in the kitchen sink? Or getting drinks in your toys cups out of the toilet? Remember how excited you were when , just after you learned to walk, we buckled on your new, white patent leather shoes, and you marched around all day Sunday, head down, your eyes on your feet, watching each shiny left an right flash in front of you? The world was similar then.
Oh, it had its pains: countless skinned knees and elbows, cut fingers, and the ubiquitous “I-got-a-blood!”s that seemed to consume Band-aids by the gross. Yes, and those gut-wrenching flying trips to the emergency room with your little face white with pain and fear and us trying at once to assure ourselves and comfort you—knowing through the terror of it all that in the end, you would be all right.
I guess that we’ve always known that you would be all right, from the time you were blessed in sacrament meeting and the brethren dutifully bounced you between them while you bawled and screeched at the strangeness of it all. From that first blessing, I guess that we have sensed that you would indeed be all right. We certainly sensed it when half a dozen years ago—give or take a few—we watched you step down into the warm waters of the baptismal font. Even at a mature eight years old, you seemed so small and fragile—almost like you would float away or dissolve under the significant weight of the serious covenant that you were undertaking. But then you always did want to grow up FAST. And so you did.
You front teeth have come out and grown back in again. And you don’t run everywhere you go quite like you used to. Skipping and charging up the street have been replaced with saunters and grace or, if absolutely necessary, genteel trots. And instead of carrying a square-shaped, Mickey Mouse lunch pail out the door, you pick up an apple on the way through the kitchen to the school bus and say, “No, this is all I need.”
And there are other changes too: The first time that you spontaneously bore your testimony in church you almost had to stand on the bench to be seen above the heads of the seated congregation. Clearly you were touched by something but could only express it in a familiar litany of “…and I am thankful for…” Now, when you stand—straight, lovely—and, with the worn-edged copy of your own scriptures in hand, say, “I know this Church is true…,” you have become for us the fulfillment of the heart-turned, iron-hard tie that Malachi promised that Elijah would bring. To look into your eyes and see the tears of testimony well up and over, to cry with you because of the testimony of Christ—Ah! In that shared experiences is a taste of the celestial kingdom.
So you are precious—to us and to God. A precious jewel not yet finished or fully fashioned for your final mission.
If we get a little white-knuckled about these teen years, you will understand, we hope. That nasal, adolescent, male voice on the other end of the telephone line may belong to the neatest person in pimpledom, but until we have taken the measure of his character, any boy is a threat. And when two or three of the scragglies slouch up onto the doorstep and ask for you, I want to shout, “Over my dead body, fellows,” and bolt the door. It is you who has the good sense to be both gracious—and unavailable.
We are grateful for your good sense, and for your patience. Remember, we didn’t get any more test drives in preparation to raise you than you did to be our daughter. Whatever we do together, we do for the first time, every time. So if we make mistakes, if we are wrong (and we might be—maybe—once), hang in there with us because there will be many times (and I can promise you this) when it will look like we are wrong, and we won’t be. It may well be a time when there are really no good reasons for what we are asking, whether it is for you not to go, and you want to “really bad” or perhaps for you to go, and you don’t want to “really bad.” And in spite of the Whys? And How comes?, we can’t give good reasons is the one that God promise: the whisperings of that still small voice that quietly says, “She shouldn’t go.”
Of course there will come a time when you must go away from us. Oh, it will be hard when you leave us. Watching you go off, waving goodbye from the airplane walkway or through the car window leaves an ache in the heart that no prescription can reach—a longing to sit next to you again, to laugh with you, to cry with you—that never entirely goes away.
Only the gospel makes it bearable. For alongside the ache is the wonderful assurance again that you will indeed be all right, that indeed all that you do will be right, and good. Those are the thoughts that fill the heart with gratitude: knowing that you are prepared. That is what we have worked and hoped and pleaded and prayed for: that you might, like Zion herself, arise, shine, and put on your beautiful clothes; that in you own homes, as David said, “Our daughters may be as cornerstones, polished after the similitude of a palace.” (Ps. 144:12)
Neal Lambert, who teaches English at Brigham Young University and will soon be serving as a mission president in North Carolina, read the preceding letter at a celebration of young womanhood recently held in the Boston, Massachusetts, stake center.
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