I’m Dani Ward,

and I do lots of things.

A strong legacy.

Mom,

You know how you always say that a letter is better than a gift, because it’s something you can read over and over again through the years? Well, I thought that maybe I’d make my letter to you public, so other people can enjoy how awesome you are, too.

This would have been posted on Mother’s Day, had Michael and I not gotten the plague from hades. But I know you understand. That’s one of the great things about you, and a trait that I’m really glad you passed down to me. Understanding things. Rather, taking the time to understand. It’s the practice of taking that time that you have modeled and passed down.

As I think you know (because I didn’t get my scary intuition from nowhere!) I’ve been thinking through my childhood, rethinking a lot of things, analyzing — as I am wont to do. I thought you might enjoy some of my memories.

To this day, one of my earliest memories is the two of us, standing in front of the bathroom sink in the house in Luray (was I standing on a step stool?), with you blow-drying my hair and us singing/howling “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog” at the tops of our lungs. We weren’t very silly very often, but I loved the times that we were.

In Tennessee, the first time you let me wash the dishes by myself. I probably made more of a mess than I did cleaning it up, but I remember how proud I felt that was allowed to wash the dishes by myself! I think we were having tacos that night, because that was also the night that you first asked me to shred the lettuce — because my hands were so small, I could get the lettuce smaller than you or Dad could. At least, that’s what you told me. And I had a lot of fun with it.

You always told us that “home” was when we were all together. Probably because of how often we moved when I was little. And while places still hold dear memories, that teaching has helped make transitions so much easier as an adult – because it’s the people, not the places themselves, that are important and that make for a home. That’s probably what has made this past move the easiest yet on me emotionally — because suddenly you and Dad, Jay and Jen and Chris, Paige and Lindsey and Doug and Jes and so many others are suddenly close by. That’s what makes this home, not the building itself or the fact that my stuff is here.

In third grade, when my teacher bullied me, you stood up for me. You never excused the things I did that were wrong, but you took up for me with her when I couldn’t stand up for myself. You were on my side. You’ve always been on my side.

My sixteenth birthday — you were so determined to make the party everything I could ever want. You got my cake made — and were horrified that it was black and white. So you stopped at Hallmark and bought me a Peanuts figurine to put on the cake to make it more colorful…only to discover that one of your students had swiped his finger across my name on the cake. I thought something was horribly, horribly wrong when you called me so seriously from my room to survey the cake. I thought it was hilarious, and loved the figurine you got me. That was probably the best birthday I ever had. We packed the house out with people, and you even let my friends bring their drumsets, guitars, basses, and amps. I believe your words were, “We’re so quiet the rest of the time — let’s give the neighbors something to talk about!”

When I started homeschooling, you let me pick out the dog that I wanted to adopt at the shelter. Even when time and time again, the dogs that I picked were either too aggressive to be adopted out or they were going to grow to be far too large for our house, you kept letting me pick. And when I finally picked a scrawny Pomeranian/Chihuahua/Terrier mix that looked like a half-drowned fox, you didn’t like her — but you adopted her anyway. Granted, you weren’t the one who had to house train her :) But you supported me. And Peanut has been such a great part of the family ever since.

When I finally was able to tell you about being sexually assaulted, you listened to me. You were the only person at the time who would listen to me, who didn’t tell me that God was testing (or punishing) me, or that I asked for it, or any such nonsense. And you didn’t just listen to me, you helped make sure I could get away from my abuser without fear of repercussion.

You and Dad have been a great example to me of consistency and respect in marriage. Your daily notes to one another that I read every day for 21 years have impacted me greatly — nothing was too big or too small to talk to each other about. And you always, always sign every note with “all my love.” In spite of annoyances, the daily grind, pressures of life, in joy and in sorrow, Dad “sure does love you” and you always give him “all your love.” That’s powerful.

You’ve been incredibly supportive of my passions my entire life. The piano you bought for Jay that I fell in love with, paying for lessons for almost ten years for me. Even letting me take voice lessons off and on. You helped me push forward with my writing all through junior high and high school. And you were utterly bewildered when I chose to major in art — but we bonded in a way we hadn’t been able to before, because suddenly I had the vocabulary to talk about your profession knowledgeably. You’ve had invaluable insight into my design projects ever since my first design class.

You actually instilled in me a sense of self-respect — I think that’s something we both struggle with, but you taught me repeatedly over my life to respect myself on my own merit as a human being. You told me how smart and creative I was as often — and probably more often — than you told me how beautiful I was. You answered every question I ever had as a child — which, considering how many questions I have as an adult, I’m sure was a daunting and exhausting task. You read to me every chance you had. You sang to me and with me — that must be where I learned to calm myself down by singing to myself. You bought me scores upon scores of books, nurturing my love of stories and reading and analyzing what I read and saw and heard. When I got the notion that I shouldn’t go to college because I thought that surely I’d get married soon, you talked sense into me about the importance of education and being able to support myself financially apart from a man (whether that support was necessary as an unmarried woman, in a family dynamic where more than one income was required, or in the event that my husband were to be disabled or dead).

You taught me how to respectfully have discussions, even hard discussions in which there is more than one strongly held opinion. You helped me develop reasoning skills while constantly reinforcing that people are more important than hypotheticals.

I’m not saying we haven’t butted heads. We definitely have. A lot. A whole lot. I know we have our disagreements, some small and some large.

But at the end of the day, you have been my biggest fan. Probably the single greatest influence of my life. Even now as I am finding my own way as an adult apart from your authority, I find myself still seeking and valuing your input. You are so full of love, common sense, and kindness. And I hope that one day, I am at least half the woman that you are today.

I love you with all of my heart. And I am so, so thankful to belong to you and Dad.

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