A Birthday Letter to My Children

Dear Ashlee, Daniel, and Adam:

I love each of you. You each bring me immeasurable joy. You each have traits that shock and amaze me. Ashlee, your ability to “cut through the crap” will serve you well as you grow into womanhood. Daniel, you are kind, loving, and sensitive. These traits will make you an incredible father. Adam, your fearlessness scares me and makes me jealous that I’m not as fearless as you. As your birthdays roll around this year, I wanted to let you all know I am glad that I am your Mom.

I got to spend my birthday with MeMaw. I knew on that day it would be the last time I would ever see her on my birthday. I was filled with pain and sorrow and joy. Grandma Ella was special to each of you, as she was to me. If you put her life in perspective, she was an extraordinary woman. She was the three worst things a person could be in Alabama when she was born in 1941: poor, black, and female.

She taught me some very valuable lessons about life and love. I want to share some of them with you: 

Never say no to love. Love comes in so many different forms. Grandma never flaunted her romantic relationships for the world to see, but she never hid the fact that she loved her children and her grandchildren with great abandon. She never rejected people for being gay or white or rich or poor or crazy. She always had a plate to feed hungry people. She always found a dollar to give, even when she didn’t have enough for herself. She loved everybody. She treated every single person like they were a child of God. Approach every aspect of your life with love. Sometimes people may hurt you, but often times they won’t. I’m not saying put yourself in a situation where you can physically or emotionally be hurt. There are times, too, when you must love someone enough to walk away.

Never think you are alone. I am here for you. If I can give it to you, I will. If I can’t, I will do everything in my power to help. Mama opened her doors to me, and let me come home when things got really awful for me. She never made me feel bad. She never made me feel like I had to beg or be ashamed. As your Mama, please know, you can always come home to me. You are not alone.

Never underestimate the power of prayer. Mama walked a groove in the floor in our apartment on Edgemont. She would walk and pray. We came to Montgomery with literally the clothes on our back. She prayed that God would bless her with nice dresses to wear to church. She had one dress when we came to Montgomery. She wore it every Sunday for 4 months. When she died, she had three closets filled with beautiful dresses, hats, shoes, and purses. She always believed in looking good to go see Jesus. She prayed to see each of her children graduate; we did. She prayed that we always had a roof over our heads and food in our bellies; we did. She prayed that we would have happy marriages and happy children… sometimes things don’t work out, but Miss Ella wanted the best for us all.

Never pass on a chance to laugh. Mama loved to laugh. She loved to make people laugh. She never let anything stop her from finding the humor in everything. Her favorite comedy bit of all time was that crazy parody video “We Miss Robert” by Ricky Smiley. She told me to see if I could find a spinning rim to put in her casket like they did in that video. She was dying, but able to find something funny. We must have laughed at 100 things over those 4 days. We laughed about 3 year old Ashlee going to my college graduation in a fancy dress and no underwear. We laughed about Daniel singing and dancing to his favorite song “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. We laughed about both the boys trying to put a stop to me and their Daddy getting married. We laughed that Adam told her on the phone, “Look, MeMaw, I’m busy. I can’t talk to you.” She thought that was hysterical. When I look back on the time I spent with her right before she died, I will always remember the laughter. Her favorite old school saying was, “Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.” She was right. So laugh, kids.

Your Grandmother was an amazing woman. She raised 4 kids of her own and 6 that were not hers. She loved music. She baked the best sweet potato pie and pound cake you ever put in your mouth. She’d whip your butt if you needed it. She’d hug you and wipe away your tears, if you needed it. She made us all feel like we were special. She was proud of each of us for different reasons.

When I close my eyes, I can see each of your little faces looking up at me the first time I held you. Each time, I thought my heart would burst from the love. Your Grandma Ella was there for each of your births. Ashlee, the way you took care of Mama during her cancer and while she was dying was a very heroic act. You were there the day she died. One day, I will die. I hope on that day, you will each be able to say what I say about my Mama: “She did the best she could with what she had, and I know more than anything; that lady loved me.”

 Happy Birthday, Babies!

Tangela Ekhoff is a wife, mom, stand up comic from Oklahoma. She holds a B.S. and M.Ed. from Auburn University. Tangela has worked as a teacher, publicist, and during the Great Recession, a maid. She wrote and produced a one woman show based on her experiences called "The Recession Maid Me Do It." She writes about her experiences in motherhood and comedy on her blog Homegirl on the Range. She has been featured in Woman's Day Magazine and the Tulsa World.

Photo Credit: Tangela Ekhoff

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