Dear older daughter,
Don’t ever change. Wear two tutus at a time, wiggle your loose teeth with your tongue, scratch your tushy with your toothbrush, make up songs for the Monarchs, build pyramids from my pillows, eat the fried chickpeas with your filthy fingers, bob your butt to Beyoncé, cross your eyes, draw on the walls, fuck with my face creams, demand I help you and hug you and hold you and kiss you and go away and give you love or room to breathe or grow, because blink your eyes and it’s all going to end anyway. I’ve brought you into a dirty world, darling, a world determined to make you self-conscious about your purest expressions and instincts — your singing, your dancing, your imagination, your appetites — and, by the time you’re in your teens, shut you up, shut me out, shut you down, wax you, bleach you, button you up, and stuff you in a box like Barbie.
Change everything. Your open heart is my abject terror. Every morning at school drop-off I pray in the playground: God protect my baby from bullies, bitches, the NRA. Until you are eighteen, I will assume every man we pass on a park bench is a predator. Your youth, your inability to distinguish the kind from the creepy, to whiff ketamine in the kool aid, exists in direct correlation to my insomnia. The sooner you grow cynical the sounder I will sleep.
I’ll confess: last month, when I found you talking into the Cup of Caterpillars, my first thought was: dumb girl. The caterpillar can’t hear you. I later learned that before becoming butterflies, caterpillars turn into soupy goop. These icky little worms literally liquidate and melt before metamorphosis. It’s not cute inside that cocoon, it’s a holocaust.
I wonder if it was a coincidence, that the night the Cup Of Caterpillars arrived off Amazon, you crawled out of bed in your bear pajamas, came out to the kitchen where I was washing dishes and said: “When you’re old I’ll protect you like you protected your daddy when he was dying.”
What was I thinking, bringing you into this earth: rising sea levels, right to bear arms, lockdown drills?
The next week I stood behind you and watched with bated breath until, finally, your butterfly flew out of the ball jar, and flitted, swiftly, over Bedford Avenue.
Happily Ever After is sex toys, serotonin and a crumpled wedding dress in the honeymoon suite at the W Hotel. Do not let Walt Disney or the fertility doctor or the dumbass behind the Cartier counter tell you otherwise. Rom-coms and Dick and Jane books are designed to make you believe that your biology renders love irrelevant, your uterus a ticking time bomb and your sole purpose to procreate. Diamonds and babies are blessings but crawling inside another man’s chrysalis in the hopes of holding or wearing them will not end well for you. Remember: any relationship that is transactional cannot possibly be rooted in truth and beauty.
Last week I read a letter my father wrote when he was a few years older than I am now. He had recently been diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer. He didn’t know how much longer he was going to live. A 9-to-5, suit-and-tie real estate guy, his newfound illness sent him spiraling into self-reflection. He expressed interest in slowing down, taking a pottery class, walking in the woods.
The first time I was pregnant, a woman I know lost three children and both parents in a fire on Christmas Eve. Six months after you were born, twenty children were killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting. That same month, when the power went out during Hurricane Sandy, seven nurses and six doctors carried 20 preemies from the NICU down nine flights of pitch black stairs, each one swaddled in blankets, manually squeezing oxygen into their lungs. Not one infant was injured on the way. When a friend celebrates their birthday, I tell them that Buddhists say human birth is so rare it’s akin to a turtle adrift at sea that only surfaces every hundred years — and that at the precise moment it comes up for air, pokes its head through a random ring floating by. I say this not to remind them, but to remind myself: if you are alive, you are lucky. My father died twenty years later in a hospital cot in New York City overlooking the East River. There was a blizzard that night. He never did take a pottery class.
When I was a little girl, my mom and I watched Brooke Shields walk across broken glass on Circus Of The Stars. Her right foot was bleeding. Years later I heard that as soon as the camera cut she started crying. But I barely noticed the blood. I was blinded by Brooke, by her sparkly skirt and sequined bra, her terrified trot over those glossy shards of shattered glass laid out like an elegant exploded mirror. The second time I got my period my Dad was driving me to tennis camp. I was twelve. Too scared to ask him to pull over so I could retrieve a tampon from the trunk, I sat in a pool of my own blood until we arrived at the airport.
Once inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar creates a whole new set of cells that bond together to become the butterfly. All the information was already there at birth. I can’t help what you inherited. In choosing to make you I chose to release you. Until I understood this I understood nothing.
Forget everything I said earlier. You’re not dumb. Believing those bugs have ears is brilliant. I once sat next to a movie director at a wedding who told me imagination is his religion. Child, your awe is now the altar where I’ll always worship. Here’s what I haven’t told you: I also had a caterpillar. I was in first grade. The afternoon it became a butterfly I asked my mom to help prepare its food. At school my teacher typed out instructions and pinned them to my backpack (three tablespoons sugar to one cup water, use an eyedropper to squirt onto cotton ball), but it was windy on the walk home and they blew away.
Instead, my mom dumped a cup of sugar water directly into the jar and the force of the rushing liquid broke the butterfly into bits. Wings, antennae, abdomen. Little pieces of a puzzle, light as rice paper, too precious and tiny to be put back together. By the time I was seven, my mother had lost her parents, her sister, her third baby. She came from a generation of women taught to cope with pain — not heal from it — women fluent in the language of lack, nourished by bitter herbs, the bread of affliction, bowls of tears at the seder table. Generations of mothers and daughters barefoot and bleeding on beds of broken glass, clutching, in clenched fists, the splintered shards of fractured sorrow. I was raised to believe this was my lineage. But it doesn’t have to be yours. Don’t you see the symmetry? Will you tell your sister? That my butterfly drowned so that yours could fly?
Molly Rosen Guy is the former Creative Director of Stone Fox Bride, author of Love, Lust and Weddings for the Wild at Heart (Random House, 2017), a Contributing Editor at Vogue and the founder of the Brooklyn Writers Collective. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her daughters, and is working on her second book, a memoir about her dad called Blood and Diamonds.