A Mother’s Heartfelt Note of Love

The handwritten note was as comforting and reassuring as an angel’s wing.

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Posted in , Jun 24, 2022

Illustration by Kim Johnson

Everything seemed to change for me when I entered high school. There were 790 people in my freshman class alone, and I never saw a single person I knew from middle school. At home I was just as lonely. My older brother was a senior, consumed with future decisions about college or military life. My little brother didn’t want anything to do with me, “a girl.” My older sister was outgoing and never without her friends. They all fit in, I thought, coming in the door after another bad day at school. Why can’t I?

Mom was there waiting for me. “Karole, your bedroom’s a disaster. Why can’t you keep it clean?”

The last thing I needed was criticism from my mother. Clean your room. Finish your dinner. Clean the dishes. What had happened to the mother who used to snuggle with me on the couch, reading to me, loving me with complete acceptance? Who thought everything I did was wonderful? I didn’t bother trying to explain my misery. It was easier to sit with my tight-lipped moodiness, holed up in my bedroom, like I did every afternoon.

Clearing off some space, I sat down at my desk and pulled out my math textbook. Yet another thing I wasn’t good at anymore. My grades had slipped along with my confidence. I turned to a fresh page in my notebook and started working out the first problem. Almost immediately, I saw I’d made a mistake. Wrong again! I thought. You can’t do anything right! I tore the paper out of my notebook, balled it up in my fist and threw it at the wastepaper basket. The ball landed on the floor. I heard my mother’s voice in my head. Why can’t you keep your room clean?

By the time I finished my homework, the floor was littered with crumpled paper. It gave me a kind of satisfaction to see the mess I’d made. Like it was proof of all my flaws. I lifted the bedspread and kicked the papers under the bed. This became a habit. Every time I looked at those crumpled balls, I reminded myself what a failure I was. But my unhappiness stayed hidden away, just like those mistakes. With my face a mask of indifference, no one knew what I was really feeling. Who would want to listen?

One day, I came home to an empty house. It was a relief not to be met with Mom’s latest complaint. Nothing I do is right in her eyes, I thought. Or anyone else’s, including mine.

I trudged up to my bedroom as usual. When I opened the door, I froze. It was neat as a pin. Mom had obviously decided to clean it herself. I was surprised to see the clean floor underneath my bed. All the crumpled papers had disappeared. Except one. A single sheet lay in plain view, the creases smoothed out but still visible. One of my dumb attempts at a math problem. How could my mother have missed it? I picked up the sheet and turned it over.

I recognized Mom’s perfect handwriting at once: “Dear Karole, I am very critical of myself, and I have found that I have also been very critical of you lately. For that, I am truly sorry. Just know from now on, I only expect that you are to be your same, sweet self. Love, Mom.”

I sat down at my desk and read the note again. A weight seemed to lift from me. It was replaced by something as soft and comforting as an angel’s wing. As reassuring as Mom reading to me on the couch as a little girl. I saw that Mom still loved me the same way, and she wanted me to love myself too. Mom had been honest with me, and I owed her the same.

When she got home, I found the confidence to let down my guard and talk to her about how I felt. She and my father teamed up to offer some ideas that might help, like joining after-school clubs. They reminded me of things I was good at. Things I’d forgotten. Most of all, they listened to all I had bottled up inside.

It seemed like everything changed in high school, not the least of which was me. But one heartfelt note set the stage for the rest of my teenage years. My mother had found a way to tell me—and for me to hear—that she still loved me, no matter what.

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