September 17, 2012 10:43 AM

Happy Birthday, Samantha Sunshine!

sam.jpgTo my daughter Samantha,

You are 43 today!

You were my firstborn. Now that you are a mother yourself, you know that being first is part blessing, part burden. I hope you've arrived at the conclusion that you wouldn't trade the blessings for anything.

For six years you were my only child. Now there's a passage of motherhood you will never experience. For six years, you were my best and brightest hope for the future. We did everything together-you, your dad, and I-peace marches, camping trips, Ocean City, biking down the George Washington Parkway, visiting the Smithsonian. Then in San Francisco, riding cable cars, hiking Angel Island, visiting Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf, putting quarters in the Human Jukebox.

You began changing my life from the day we knew you existed. Every mother wants to do things perfectly. And with my background, I was even more driven. My yearning to learn how to do this new job well drew me to read from the get-go -which was how I ended up reading an obscure book on natural childbirth and deciding to go for it.

However, in 1969 Washington, DC, this was still uncharted territory. And so on your birth day September 17, 1969 at George Washington University Hospital, I ended up in the harsh stainless steel delivery/operating room, shaved and coated with iodine, flat on my back on a gurney with my wrists strapped down (!) and my feet in stirrups. Your dad, who'd fought to remain by my side, had to dress like all the doctors and nurses in the room -green surgical gear and shower cap, so only his eyes were showing.

Actually, though I used no anesthetic, there turned out to be not much natural about that day.

Then, to my dismay, they refused to let us nurse or bond -as I had read was best -but whisked away my perfectly healthy baby for the mandatory 12 hours observation in an isolette in the nursery. I was not allowed to get out of bed even to go to the bathroom during those 12 hours. Your dad had to leave when visiting hours were over at 8, and I lay there all night long, wired from adrenaline, begging to see my baby.

Standard operating procedure in 1969 - so in this area, we've definitely come a long way, baby.

When the doctor came to see me next morning, he asked on his way out if there was anything else I wanted. I said I wanted to leave. In those days having a baby meant five days in the hospital, but I was insistent. And so the minute the nurse finally brought you to me I wrapped you up tight and took you home.

There, we reverently laid you in the middle of our bed, and your dad, Grams, Uncle Joe and I just lay encircling, marveling at the wonder of you.

I put you to bed that night in a beautiful antique green Jenny Lind crib in your room -which I had decorated with yellow gingham curtains and a happy ducky mobile. I didn't know much about being a mom, didn't know that we needed to be closer. As other babies came, I figured it out, little by little - so 6 years laterJasmine was in a bassinet in our bedroom, and 15 years later Josh was in the bassinet beside our bed, and then finally with Matt I figured out that it was quite nice to sleep with your baby all night.

But I didn't know better when you were born. I'm sorry we missed that.

When you were a few weeks old, I took a needle and pierced your ears. That was how it was done in those days -they didn't have shops in the mall with piercing guns. I'm not saying that as an excuse, but for historical context. I'd never met a baby with pierced ears. In my own desire to stand out from the crowd (I already had my first tattoo) and my first-time-mommyish desire to have you be an extension of me, I hurt you. I'm sorry.

But while sometimes my trying to give you what I thought was best turned out in hindsight to be pretty weird, sometimes it was for good. I had come across La Leche literature and decided to nurse you exclusively for six months. In those days that was unheard of. At your six week check-up Dr. Kelly gave me instructions for starting you on cereal. At three months, pureed fruit and vegetables, and finally at six months meats. It was then that I looked him in the eye and told him you'd never had a thing but breast milk! I'm glad some good came of my anti-establishment nature.

And we were definitely the hippie family. I made your clothes, embroidering them with hippie flower motifs and sewing patches with cannabis sativa leaves or women's liberation symbols on the pockets. With your unusual look - including the tiny gold hoops in your ears -you won $25 in a baby photo contest. That was a lot of money then.

And God - even though I didn't know him then - continued to use you as an instrument of change in my life. Wanting to be a good mother, and realizing how little I knew, I read everything I could find about being a mom. Publishing was different then. There weren't as many books to choose from and they weren't as friendly.

But I came across a book by Maria Montessori called The Absorbent Mind. As I read it and watched you grow, I saw that everything this woman observed about children was true.

That's how I decided to become a Montessori teacher. And so when you were one, I went back to college and you went to daycare. The second year you were old enough to go to a Montessori school in Alexandria, where we lived. The third year, I was accepted into the Montessori Institute in DC and I put you in Midtown Montessori -an inner city school where almost all the students came from below poverty level and where you were one of only a couple white kids in the school. You were the child of my idealism - or maybe I should say ideology. I had already bought you a black baby doll, much to the dismay of your dad's family. The school choice seemed like a much better guarantee you would grow up free of prejudice.

Instead, you were pretty scared -at least until you made friends with Penny, who was as dark as you were light. For two years - because the following year I taught at the school - you were best friends.

Sometimes we rode into DC during morning commute on my bike, which had a little seat for you right behind me. Funny how fearless you are when you're young. I would never dream of taking that kind of risk now.

Even in the very beginning, Samantha, it was clear God was watching out for and protecting you.

And then we moved to San Francisco - at first in the foggy Sunset District at 19th and Taraval Streets, right on the trolley line and less than two miles from the beach. Then with a little help from your grandfather, your dad and I bought a railroad flat in the Mission district (mostly Hispanic) on 28th between Dolores and Guerrero for next to nothing - 28,000 in 1974. It was a wreck, but we went to work fixing it up.

Jasmine was born in the front bedroom. You had friends lined up on our front steps to see the baby - I think you were happy and proud. But shortly after Jasmine's birth, things began to change. Your dad's company - which had moved us out to California - closed its office in San Francisco. One of our best friends died of melanoma at 23. But worst of all, your dad and I were introduced to cocaine and I became addicted.

So much sadness resulted from my drug problem, Samantha. I am so sorry for my moral weakness and for the damage I did to you and your dad. I am especially sorry for leaving you behind, as that must have hurt so much. Please know that it had nothing to do with your own worth. You deserved a mother who cared about you more than herself. I so regret that I wasn't that mother then.

I thank God that a year later when your dad demanded I take you that I did. That was one of those moments when I now see God was looking out for you - for both of us. And while I know I wasn't a fit mother for several more years, I am glad that I was able to hang onto my children. I am so sorry for all the immoral and dangerous situations I dragged you through. I am sorry I was neglectful and self-centered, that I didn't communicate to you - or didn't even comprehend - what a treasure you are and how deserving of greater love and protection you than what you received.

I can only thank God for making up the difference. How mightily he has demonstrated his love in seeing us through those terrible times.

Then there was my learning to be sober and to live a day at a time - requiring many adjustments on your part. And still I put myself first - going to meetings all the time and carrying on with a series of insignificant others.

Then my New Age search, and your brush with Christianity which I "rescued " you from. Remember when I wouldn't allow you to go to Marin Covenant's teen Bible study because I though Christians were ignorant and their beliefs primitive? It seems you were actually way ahead of the game. I wish I'd had a more open mind.

It seemed all you wanted was to be normal. And here you had a mom in tight clothes cruising around in a snappy red Kharman Ghia which was always running out of gas. And the parade of boyfriends - ending with the crazy guy with a "Let's Get Physical" T-shirt and purple and white track shorts. Yeah, baby!

Thank you for accepting Tripp and letting him be a second father to you. I know it was hard to balance your love for your father and your love for Tripp, but you have done a wonderful job. And that has made Tripp's life and our marriage all the richer.

I'm sorry we ran away to get married and you weren't there. I didn't realize how much that might hurt you. It would still be many years before I would mature to the point of being able to understand how other people felt about things. I was still completely self-absorbed. If you needed a new winter jacket and you picked out one I liked more than my own, I would try for hours to manipulate you into taking my old one so I could have the new. Remember that? I'm sorry.

I know it's only by the grace of God that anything good ever came of my life. Now what hurts is being capable of loving others and so regretting how far short I fell when you were young. But God has graciously allowed me to see my own children entering parenthood in a better state than I - and that has brought some healing.

For you are a wonderful mother, Samantha! I am so proud of you. So grateful to see how God could take the stinking mess I made and use it like compost to produce something good and wholesome. The way you have lived your life has redeemed those years.

You've shown wisdom in picking a wonderful husband - well, even if God orchestrated that when you met in fifth grade, you had to choose to go along with the plan! Kip has been the most wonderful husband and dad a girl's parents could hope for.

Like me, you had to learn some things about mothering that you missed because of my own inadequate mothering - which I missed because of my mother's inadequate mothering. But doesn't it give you so much hope to see that progress is made in each generation and that you and I are both raising transitional families - where half my 12 children and all of your six grew up in Christian homes from birth?

We have been fortunate, haven't we? Fortunate to have found God - who forgives our sin and allows others to heal from the damage we have done. I don't mean to be presumptuous. It's only because I've made peace with my own past ("You meant it for harm, but God meant it for good." Genesis 50:20) that I have confidence that God has somehow used even the worst of our past together to shape you into the woman he has already used to do so much good.

One of your triumphs has been your ability to forgive. I am grateful we never brushed anything under the rug and that we have shared the freedom to remember our lives together - the good times and the bad. While there is sometimes sadness in those memories, I've never felt that you wanted to punish me further but that you truly understand what it means to be lost, then found.

Still I wish it hadn't happened that way. I'm sorry I didn't give you the best, because you certainly did deserve it. Thank you for giving your best to your own husband and children - as well as to your church, your community and your friends .


Today you are mother of six, including one adopted, which represents your steadfast
and obedient heart. Your older sons are beginning to leave and just as we shared simultaneous pregnancies, we are sharing the tears that come naturally in this season of motherhood. We have forged a friendship I never would have dreamed possible when you had so much to forgive.

I am so proud you are my daughter! I love you and always will!



Posted in Family | Permalink


What an amazing story. I'm reminded also of St. Paul talking about how God brings glory through our weaknesses. God bless you for your open-eyed humility and Samantha's blessed ability to forgive. Thank you for sharing a truly God-directed journey.

Posted by: Denise | September 17, 2012 1:35 PM

Sniff, sniff! Very touching...thank you for sharing such a personal part of your life!

Posted by: Darleen | September 17, 2012 6:31 PM

What a beautiful and very moving letter to your eldest child.

Posted by: Patricia | September 18, 2012 9:10 AM

I don't know... I'm not sure why this is something to be shared with the public.

Posted by: Robert | September 18, 2012 10:10 AM

What a beautiful story of redemption, Barbara. How real and powerful and transforming is grace - If we seek, it, open ourselves up to it, and live the obedience of faith.

Both you and your daughter are amazing women!

Posted by: Sherry Weddell | September 18, 2012 10:25 AM

Thank you Barbara for sharing this humbly and honestly from the recesses of your heart!

Happy Birthday Samantha! Your beautiful example encourages many adult daughters , by the grace of God, to forgive their mothers. "Lo, I make all things new."

Posted by: Judy | September 18, 2012 10:40 AM

Dear Barbara, What BEAUTIFUL touching letter. I knew you had had a troubled life, but I guess I didn't realize just how terrible it was. I am ALWAYS AMAZED at how Our Heavenly Father takes care of us when we have no idea what is happening. I am so Thankful to God for loving you and caring for you and bringing you and Tripp to this time in your lives.You have a beautiful family and have been such a witness as to what can happen when one turns their life over the Jesus. BUT the AMAZING THING is we think we find JESUS when all along He is walking beside us and guiding our foot steps even if they do take side tracks. What an AWESOME GOD WE HAVE. I pray that one day Jasmine will be able to come to you and healing will take place. May our Precious Lord continue to watch over you and trip and all of the family. The best thing about all this is that one day our Family and your Family will sit and feet of Jesus and enjoy the Grand Feast He has prepare for all His Children..Thak you for shareing and May God Bless you and Keep you in HIs loveing care.....With much love Becky

Posted by: Rebeca Wold | September 18, 2012 11:41 AM

Absolutely beautiful, Barbara.

(late) Happy Birthday, Samantha!

Barbara, as always, I love the honesty and wisdom in this. Isn't it so amazing what God has done your and Samantha's lives?!!!

I liked this so well that I read it out loud to my teenage child, both as an example of how God works all things to his glory and our good, and to reinforce what I've been telling them--no parent is perfect, we're all human and make mistakes.

Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

Posted by: von | September 18, 2012 3:32 PM

I'm stunned -- and delightfully so! God is very, very good. Happy birthday, Samantha!

Posted by: Genevieve | September 18, 2012 4:01 PM

Robert, this is what writers do. They make themselves vulnerable so that other people can be encouraged and find hope in their own lives. As Kafka said, writing is like an icepick, to break open the glaciers within our hearts (my paraphrase)

Posted by: Barbara | September 18, 2012 4:16 PM

Some times I struggle with the big mistakes I have made with raising my oldest daughter who is just 9. But i have hope that even in my mistakes God will turn those into good. Thank you for sharing your story. It encouraged me.

You have an amazing daughter. Happy B'day, Samantha!!

Posted by: tereza crump | September 24, 2012 10:02 PM

Barbara, I loved this article. Reminds of so much I went through with Alison, and how she has turned out so beautifully in spite of my weirdness. The birth story was similar to my first birth, and fortunately for Alison, she was my second, born at home and snuggled close with never a crib at all. But I cringe when I think of some of the situations I allowed with her as I dragged her around the world. But for God's (then unknown) intervention, I might have lost her many times.
Thank you for writing; it also reminds me that Alison and Samantha are now very good friends across the miles!

Posted by: Tenney | October 12, 2012 12:15 PM

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