"Let me know it for you" : A letter to my mother


My mom almost died after giving birth to me. I sometimes wonder if this was a kind of cosmic prophesy as if to warn my mom, "this one is going to be the source of many gray hairs.”

In fact, my mom more or less expressed this during our family’s birthday tradition that has been dubbed The Circle of Love over the years. The Circle of Love is as wonderful and corny as it sounds - everyone goes around and shares what he or she loves about the birthday person. On my 24th birthday, my mom revealed that she loves me because I am “her biggest challenge”. We all laughed because this isn’t your typical love-circle material. She went on to explain that she admires my spontaneity and risk-taking even though it has often tested her as a parent.

The first series of Sheila-Induced Gray Hairs were probably a result of my strong inclination to wander off as a young child. According to my mom, I required constant monitoring in the grocery store; otherwise I’d be down the aisle and out the door in seconds flat. When I was two, I disappeared at a summer concert at the CSU lagoon. On the verge of panic, my parents had an entire search party of friends looking for me, frantically scanning the water and crowd for a small blond child. When Bill Kneeland finally found me thirty minutes later, I was dancing behind the stage without a care in the world. Apparently “separation” and “anxiety” were not in my childhood vocabulary.

Then came the beloved adolescent years. During my junior year of high school, I decided that I was pretty much an adult and did not need something as ludicrous as a curfew and rules. It was all so cruel and unfair! In my seventeen-year-old spirit of self-righteous entitlement, I decided that I should be able to do whatever the hell I wanted, when I wanted. And if my parents would ask, I would tell them the truth - “Why no, in fact I am not spending the night at Emily’s, we will be going to a kegger in the mountains!”

I was going to revolutionize the entire adolescent/parent relationship! It was going to be awesome! This lasted approximately one week. My brother somehow got word of my brilliant plan and called me from college. I remember the conversation well. “Sheese, what are you thinking? Listen, Mom and Dad probably know what we’re doing on some level, but like to pretend they don’t. Let’s not take that away from them.” Seemed like reasonable logic to me, so I went back to ‘staying at Emily’s’.

(It should be noted that when my siblings and I laugh about these stories now, my mom sits back and wryly observes, “Well it’s all behind me and it’s all ahead of you...so good luck”).

Then there was the semester I studied abroad in Italy and was notoriously bad about calling home to check in. When we did talk, my mom jokingly asked if I could at least pretend to be a little homesick. I told her I would think about it. Then there was my very spontaneous decision to move to Guatemala (AKA Sheila-Induced Gray Hair Period #97).

I was recently laughing with my brother about ‘the biggest challenge’ comment and he replied, “Well you do know why, right? It’s because you two are so much alike.” And he’s right. We are both strong-willed and quite feisty when necessary. We both come across as somewhat reserved upon first introduction, but are very goofy and out-spoken around good friends and family. According to my sister, we also share a total inability to hide our true feelings. Unfortunately, I did not inherit my mom’s ability to conserve money or keep track of important items such as keys and checks.


I can only hope I also share my mom’s ability to love deeply.

Not only has my mom been there to chase me down grocery aisles throughout the years, she has also been with me through my hardest times. In between Italy and Guatemala, I was dealing with the loss of a couple major relationships and felt myself ‘touching the center of my own sorrow’ for the first time in my life. She sat with me during a time of great pain without trying to ‘hide it, or fade it, or fix it’.

During that time, which I can now lightly refer to as The Dark Period, she told me something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life: “Sheila, I realize that at this moment it is impossible for you to know it’s going to be alright…but let me know it for you”.

It was one of those moments that I glimpsed the incredibly deep love a mother has for her children; a selfless, all-encompassing love that I will not fully understand until I am a parent myself. The kind of love that inspires you to get “get up after the night of grief and despair weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.”

Following The Dark Period, I reverted back to old patterns and decided to do what I do best - wander off for a while. First to Bakersfield, California of all places to live with my brother and Cameron for a month, then to Portland for a month to live with four guys I’d never met (naturally). Then I decided what I really wanted to do was move to a Spanish-speaking country for a while (the obvious next step, don’t you think?). My mom flew out to Portland to help me drive back. We loaded up my 1990 Toyota Corolla with all of my earthly possessions and started our drive back to Colorado.

Our trip began with me getting super turned around and driving the wrong direction over the Hawthorne Bridge - another one of those cosmic signs from the universe about the adventure to follow.

I clearly remember the look on my mom’s face when she realized my road bike was inches from flying off the back of my car and meeting its death on the snowy interstate outside of Boise. I also recall both of us casually dismissing the “Next Fuel in 100 miles” road sign in the middle of nowhere Wyoming. And I definitely remember us breathing a huge sigh of relief when we finally reached the exit ramp and coasted on fumes into the station. We laughed to the point of tears at the thought of my dad’s reaction - it drives him crazy when my mom lets the tank get so low. Then there was the three hours it took to drive 45 miles on sheer black ice somewhere between Rock Springs and Rawlings, Wyoming.

However, my most vivid memories of the trip were the hours of conversation we shared. It was one of those times in life when you further realize that your parents are actually (warning - this may come as a shock)…real people. They have hopes, fears and disappointments. They have dreams, both realized and unrealized. I asked her about marriage, about her growing up. I asked her to describe her three children as if she were sharing with a stranger.

I loved the answers. I loved that she was willing to risk more gray hairs to help me drive home. I love that I have a mother who has fed me in so many ways in my life, and usually before feeding herself. I love that she has taught me to ‘see beauty in this life, everyday, even when it’s not pretty and source my own life from its presence’.

Sheila Dunn