Monday, March 23, 2009

A Letter To My Children

by Nicki Salcedo

If you had to write a letter to your children what would you say? What if you had to write a letter to your parents? Or someone who wronged you? Writing a letter is a great way to practice first person point-of-view, delve deep into a character's psyche, or express emotions with immediacy. Who would you write to?

A letter to my children on the occasion of my daughter's 5th birthday

I don’t trust memoir. It always rings false. The idea that my life might hold someone’s interest is unlikely, but there might be snippets, short eras that can entrance like fiction. Ironically, I always wished my mother had chronicled her life. I always thought my father’s mother might have been healed by telling her secrets. Or his. Those before me were not raised to glorify their tragedies or jinx their hopes and dreams. If their curse was to be silenced, then our curse is to expose too much. My words, pictures, moving images will also be lost, but not for lack of being told. My stories will be lost because they are being told in a forest dense and electronic. A silence made of white noise.

I am writing to you, my children, so you can know a little about me.

Where I'm From

I was born on an island called Jamaica. For the first two years of my life, I…I don’t know what. I don’t remember. If this were memoir, I would say something about the scent of hibiscus or the quiet heat of the night and the opposing coolness rising from the tiled floor. I would tell you that when I heard a helicopter or airplane, I would run to my Vava, my grandfather, and it was the only time I would let him hold me. But those are not my memories. Those are someone else’s.

What I knew of Jamaica I learned in America. Jamaica was food. Jamaica was accents my friends could detect, but I could not. To my friends, my parents’ voices were spicy, rapid, and strange. To me, my parents sounded like air. If their voices had a flavor it would have been water.

If Jamaicans were in the news or in sports, my family paid attention. We were proud of gold medals. We noted news stories of Jamaicans rising to positions of prominence in America and in the world. Even a singsong commercial from the tourism board would cause my family to pause. We would watch an idealized version of a land that was no longer ours.

(the view of the sea from the mountains in Jamaica)
I often wondered why my parents left an island where they had maids, servants, and a nice house overlooking the capital city. They were not wealthy, but they were comfortable. I wondered what I would have been like if I sounded like my parents. If I could remember. If I had grown up on that island. Why they left is not my story to tell, but I know that they left with a sense that by leaving they could give their children, my sisters and I, different and possibly better opportunities.

As a young child in America, I had many friends who were born in places like Korea, Cuba, and India. We all felt the same. Wholly American and yet different enough to not quite belong. I have recognized my own limbo and yearning to belong in the words of authors like Maxine Hong Kingston and Sandra Cisneros. It did not matter to me if they were Jamaican, just that we, inwardly, were the same.

Who I am

Americans are dreamers.
It is for this reason that I write my letter to you today. Dreaming is who we are, but I was never one of those girls who dreamed of being married or imagined having babies. When I was growing up, I did all of my dreaming for fictional characters. Characters I read in books, and eventually characters I created.

I love happily ever after. I love romance. I love that dreaming is ingrained into the culture of this country. For me dreaming is imagining new stories.

But now I have to dream a little dream for you.

I dream that you will understand that you are not the center of the universe, but on a small blue planet in the corner and the rest are burning bright red to white-hot. I dream that you will one day be able to take care of yourself, your family, and your world. I dream that you won’t look to anyone else to take care of you. As your mother, that is my job. If I have done it well, no one else need take care of you save your father. His wisdom is different, maybe even greater, but he leaves the writing to me.

This is what you need to know about me. I believe that laughter and desolation are roommates. I smile at strangers. I get mad at those I love best. I am wrong sometimes. I still don’t think of myself as a mother. I like laughing. I accept anger. I like being around people who are different from me. I like science fiction and the Bible. I like football and poetry.

I have fallen in love and gotten married. I have had the happiest of days. I given birth to three babies, and miscarried another. I have had the most desolate of days curled up in bed, the room pungent with the smell of blood and also the sweet scent of amniotic fluid.
I’ll never be done. I’m learning every day like you are learning.

Are the things I’m telling you really me? I don’t know. I worry that you may never really know me because I will filter all that I am into fiction. I write because it makes me happy. Even when I write about sad things it improves my spirit. Ask me. Talk to me. I will try to tell what you want to know when you need to know it.

My wish for you

I wish my grandmother could have told me her story. My flippant American girl ways irritated her. When I asked her about her life, she would cry. I don’t know my grandmother’s story, but I imagine she was filled with shame for events sixty years forgotten, but not forgotten by her.

I still want my mother to write me a letter. I want to hear her happy stories and stories about her dreams, even if they were deferred.

I wish you many things: struggle and heartache and happiness. They are unavoidable.

I would tell you that I love you, but you know this. I wash behind your ears. I clip your toenails. I wish I cleaned better or cooked better, but I don’t. I only know how to share books with you. Sometimes we look at a bunny looking at the moon and back, and you get the idea. There is no end to this, and that is something to rejoice in. Your stories and mine together make a new story. And so it will be with your children.

I am so thankful that my parents took a risk and changed their world for me. Enjoy what has been given to you. Everyday the world is changing just a little for you.

With love from your mother,
Nicki Salcedo


Nicki Salcedo said...

Most random accidental reference to 1) a movie and 2) a poem in this blog. Let me know if you find them.

Send me your contact info if you'd like to participate in a project about writing letters to your loved ones.

Thanks for stopping by!

Jennifer said...

Nicki, your posts as always beautiful and wise and thought provoking. They nudge me to thinking in a way that always whatever comments come to mind seem meandering and in need of processing.

I've been trying to write something which is something which is about the stories we tell our children, especially those of us who are immigrants or children of immigrants. Don't want to say more about that project, but "dreams" was extremely evocative for me.

My son Aiden is now at the age in which I can see him start to stand back and interpret his parents more as people. He's begun to explain what we are to other people in ways that sometimes surprise me.
On KC, he tells his friends, "My daddy makes robots." The other day he told his friend, "My mommy is really smart, and that's because she read lots of books when she was young. She even read them at night, by flashlight, and her mom didn't know. That's why her eyes are bad now."

I can see him starting to construct a picture of what we are, based on the little things I reveal about my past and his own observations and theories.

I think a lot of immigrants, like my own parents, don't leave their stories because they want to put them behind them, and because they come on the premise that this is the place in which the past doesn't matter, it only matters what you do once you're here. That's what freedom means to them. But we need those stories, and feel bereft of them, as we feel cheated from a heritage we don't understand.

Jennifer said...

The beginning of my comment got a little mangled, as did my chat with you -- sorry about that. Blame the Great Firewall. (I'm in China.)

Nicki Salcedo said...

I love having friends in Asia. Midnight to me, is noon the next day to you. Jen, your comments are thought provoking. Mine now will be meandering... I will blame my brain, not the Great Firewall.

I would one day like to tackle "my immigrant" story. It would not be memoir because my life has been too happy and normal. But Aiden has to trust you and KC to be "reliable narrators." How many of the stories we heard from our ancestors are the truth? How many are closer to fiction?

The story I'm working on now is about a young girl obsessed with finding out the truth about her grandmother. But what if there is no one truth?

I wonder if writing is in my blood or if it is a product listening to my parents stories. Good and bad.

My critique partner Marilyn blogged on March 11, 2009 about listening to people and find food for writing thought!

I'm also pondering the idea of a stranger's story vs a story from your mother's story. The same words can have different meanings. Oh, I'm about to make my brain hurt! So sleepy, but now I have an idea for a scene in my book.

Thanks, Jen. Give your boys some kisses from me. :-)

Tami Brothers said...

As ever, WOW!!!

I started writing letters to my son when he was born. Just little things, like what was going on in the world and what he is like at that age. I never went into it like this, but I LOVE the idea. I never told him about me and I now know how wrong that is.

Even though I just did a letter for his birthday, I'm thinking I need to write another one.

Count me in for the letter writing idea. Just let me know what I need to do.

Great post, Nicki!!!


Nicki Salcedo said...

I'm working on two books this year. One is about a girl trying to find out about her grandmother. The second is about two friends exchanging letters, but the book only shows letters from one of them. Maybe it is too early in my career to be so experimental... :-)

Tami, thanks for the writing challenge on yesterday's blog post. I really want my Maggie entries to shine this year. You are my inspiration!

Today, really is my oldest birthday. With three kids, I've been waiting for her to turn 5 already. People see me in the grocery store and think I have a problem. Um, yeah... three small kids.

I tried to blog about something more craft related, but this letter kept bugging me. You might see my villains post in April :-) Sorry I'm a bad student! Thanks again, Tammy.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Wow Nicki. Your writing is always so evocative and powerful. With such a strong voice, WHY aren't you published yet???? I'll get to say, I knew her when.:)

Cyrano said...

You know, sharing time with you in Nancy knight's writing class has shown me that you are not only incredibly talented, but truly wise. The minute you opened your mouth and read the words and sentences that flow with what seems like effortless grace from your mind I knew you were truly gifted.
But now as I read your letter to your children I am even more awed by your talent.
I bow to you Nicki. You are and forever will be my idol and I do not give praise lightly. So believe me when I say, I aspire to write with as much beauty, feeling and passion as you do. When I grow up I want to be Nicki Salcedo.
Have a glorious day. Happy writing,

Chicki said...


Beautiful entry! Your children will treasure this forever.

I loved reading it because I didn't know anything about you beyond GRW. :)

Now, all that's left is to post a picture of your husband. Nancy let the cat out of the bag on Saturday ...

Susan May said...

Great post. You made me cry. I don't think until my kids read my book about Nick did they see me as a person who had feelings and worries. Because as child we live focused on ourselves it takes age for us to want to understand our parents as people. Love your writing Nicki.

J Perry Stone said...

Oh, Nicki. You have such a talent for expressing the things that can't be expressed--the senses I know I have, but that haven't bloomed into full awareness yet. And you do it with the perfect balance of cerebral and concrete images.

You're like English major heroin and I'm totally high off of this.

Here some of my favorites:

"My stories will be lost because they are being told in a forest dense and electronic. A silence made of white noise."


"To my friends, my parents’ voices were spicy, rapid, and strange. To me, my parents sounded like air. If their voices had a flavor it would have been water."


"I have recognized my own limbo and yearning to belong in the words of authors like Maxine Hong Kingston and Sandra Cisneros. It did not matter to me if they were Jamaican, just that we, inwardly, were the same."


" I believe that laughter and desolation are roommates. I smile at strangers. I am get mad at those I love best. "

All of those are MY heart's thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Nicki, what a stirring and beautiful post!

It's not too early in your career to be "experimental," not when you have the writing chops to bring tears to someone's eyes with a blog post! Just keep working at it and be patient.


PS Happy Bday to your little girl!

Nicki Salcedo said...

I just noticed my Tami/Tammy Freudian slip. Sorry, Tami.

Debbie, I’m rubber, you’re glue. Anything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you. Why aren’t YOU published yet? :)

Tamara, because you are a private person, I’m not going to call you out on why you are my inspiration. I like to be in the company of other amazing writers and friends. I believe I write better when I’m in Nancy’s class. She really is my muse, but so are most of my friends and the writers I know. Including you. Maybe you’ll recognize why I’m raising money for the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life this year…

Chicki, Nancy must have been thinking about her boyfriend when she made comments about my what’s-his-name. We are FB friends. You can see what he looks like there. Like all of my people, we are funny looking. P.S. I hope we’ll be competing against each other in the Maggies! Single Title, right? :)

Susan, I knew you would understand. The title “Mom” doesn’t always equal “person.” You family is so lucky to have you chronicling your journey. (Readers, please go get Susan’s book Nick’s New Heart about her experience with her son’s heart transplant)

JP, I fundamentally believe that we think and feel the same as others, but how we express those things is different. I think you have a wonderful story to tell you children. Maybe we should do a memoir time capsule workshop at M&M this year! Your thoughts are my hearts thoughts, too.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Tanya, my fear is that experimental secretly means undisciplined or lazy. You are my writing hero. A birthday is just another excuse for me to eat cake. Thanks for stopping by. We love you.

Abigail McKenley said...

Wow! What a moving post Nicki! An amazing letter to your children. I love your writing and I know that when your children read this it will bring tears to their eyes.

I'm going home in May to see my parents, would you mind if I showed this to them?


Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Nicki,

I'm so impressed with your insight and forward thinking. My father had Alzheimers prior to his death and I kicked myself 100 times for not taping some of the stories he told about his youth in N.C., plowing fields behind a mule and killing an alligator and dragging it home so his mother could cook it for dinner (during the Depression) Then my mother grew up in an orphanage in Colorago.
I would give a mint to have a letter from them telling me about their lives.

Count me in on writing letters to my kids. They deserve to know the me that they might not otherwise get a chance to see or get to know.


Nicki Salcedo said...

Abi, I would be honored if you shared with your parents. But don't tell me you are going home unless you are willing to bring back supplies for me:

Tamarind candy
6 liters Wray & Nephew's white over proof rum (for "cooking")
48 cans of ackee
The sunset
A mango
and the beach

I'll paypal you the $$$. :-) My mom just mentioned it is bun time, so I'll be spending my weekends watching do her magic in the kitchen for Easter.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Sandy, he did WHAT to an alligator? There couldn't be a better story to capture the vibrancy of his life, the perseverance of the time, and you have to admit it’s also a bit humorous! Our parents weren’t taught to tell their stories. Thank goodness we can tell ours.

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Gorgeous post, Nicki. As always you write with poetry, emotions evoked through the beauty of words.

I'm going to take a stab at your challenge, although I had to read twice to find them because I was distracted by what you had to say. : )

Dream a Little Dream was an 80s movie with Corey Haim. And that isn't even on the same plane as Lanston Hughes' poem Dream Deferred.

I get so excited about allusions.


Nicki Salcedo said...

Sally, you are the winner!

Dream a Little Dream (yes, I saw it in the theater) starred both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman!

Langston Hughes is also correct. I have my own theory for what happens to a dream deferred.

I was going to call you out in a minute. Or Anna S. If one of you didn't find the Coreys in my blog I was going to be depressed. Do you think I will have to tell my kids I don't take anything seriously? Or do you think they will be able to figure it out for themselves?

I will have a treat for you the next time we meet. We are kindred spirits. Allusions make me happy.

Anna Steffl said...

Must you twist my soul?

"I didn't say stop." Homer Simpson

Carol Burnside said...

Lovely post, Nicki. Lovely letter. Lovely idea. Truly. You touched me.

A few years ago, I sent my mother a spiral notebook and asked her to write about her life. She asked what I wanted to know. While I didn't express it in these words, I think I just wanted to know the person my mother is. The real person, not the mother person.

She wrote of things that were a relevation. Things I did not know, things that made me realize where my need to write came from. In sharing some of her life, she strengthened the familial bond.

When I was a young child, my granny (Mama's side) used to sit with me on her knee and tell stories of her childhood. She was one of 9 children and had been separated from her family for decades. I believe it was her way of keeping them alive in her heart. I can only remember snatches of them now, the flavor of them in my heart. I wish she'd written them down. The family hierarchy with an older child responsible for a younger child. Her eldest brother getting caught in a powerful eddy and drowning. Being forced into the cotton fields at the age of four just so the family could survive.

Reading your post today, I had a "Duh!" moment. Perhaps the reason I have stories waiting to be told today is in part because of her rich stories of her family, my family.

I think I'll go write a letter to my children.

Anonymous said...

This is Caroline...I hate blogger :) It never lets me sign in. Anyways, that was BEAUTIFUL, absolutely beautiful!
Thank you for inspiring me today!

Nicki Salcedo said...

Anna, yes. I must.

Carol, the spiral notebook is an amazing gift. Its not just for you, but a catharsis for your mom as well. Storytellers beget storytellers. It looks like you come from a long line of them.

Caroline, thanks for stopping by and all of your help developing the marketing materials for Petit Fours and Hot Tamales! You are one of us. Aren't photographers trying to tell a story, too. You'll leave a great legacy for your family as well.

Nicki Salcedo said...

I'm sending a shout out to my friend Elaine at who stopped by earlier! Thanks, Elaine.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Karen White stopped by today and was kind enough to share a snippet with me from her April release, "THE LOST HOURS"

"Every woman should have a daughter to tell her stories to. Otherwise, the lessons learned are as useless as spare buttons from a discarded shirt. And all that is left is a fading name and the shape of a nose or the color of hair. The men who write the history books will tell you the stories of battles and conquests. But the women will tell you the stories of people's hearts."

Obviously, I will be getting this book in April. Karen like (Tanya Michna) and many other writers are truly great mentors. Thanks you, Karen for giving us a sneak peek at your next novel!

More about Karen at

Dianna Love said...

Nicki -
As always, you have thought provoking posts. I love the idea of writing letters to your children. I had a friend once who was very distressed over her parent being terminally ill and knowing she only had about 3 months together (ended up being 4, but still...). Her mother had to spend most of that time in the hospital and they'd had a turbulent relationship. She didn't know what to talk about while together all that time.

I suggested she take a tape recorder and laptop, then ask her mother about her life as a child on and ask her things she (daughter) thinks about as a mother of two toddlers and ask her to pass her thoughts to her grandchildren just as if she were writing a letter to them.

She lived out of town, so we kept in touch through letters (I've never been much of a phone person). She seemed very at peace when her mother passed and told me she was happy they finally got to know each other. And that her children would know their grandmother's voice and life.

I think everyone should write letters that become a current journal. two cents (worth about that much) "g"

The Writers Canvas said...

I love this post from you, Nicki!!!! Very inspiring and heartwarming, and I never knew you were born in Jamaica :) I love that place - went there on my honeymoon.

Keep it up!


Marilyn Baron said...

Beautiful and inspiring post. I never thought of writing a letter to my children. It always seemed to be something you might do if you were going to die. But why not do it while you're still alive and lucid enough to write?

On the other hand, I have interviewed my father and have the entire story of his lif,e including his WWII journal of his experience as a Top Turret Gunner flying bombing raids in Europe. I have incorporated his experiences into two of my books. Neither has been published but I will keep trying because I would love to give him that tribute. I learned a lot of things abouthim I never knew before.

Apparently my father wanted to be a writer and he had written some stories that he still has. He thinks I inherited his talent so that makes me proud. Also, my mother always encouraged me to write when I was growing up and she is an extremely talented and creative person. I don't think I tell them enough how much they have influenced my life. So it could work both ways, writing to my children and to my parents.

Marilyn Baron

Linsey Lanier said...


Your posts make me cry. Both because they are poignant and because they are beautiful. Reading your words has been very therapeutic for me today. They take me to another place.

What wonderful thoughts to leave your children. My grandmother emigrated from Sweden and, like many of you, I often wish I'd known more about her. I envy those who have great stories from their parents and grandparents.

Many of the comments also brought tears. (Note to self: When Nicki blogs, get out the kleenex!)

Writing is definitely in your blood!

Lovely, inspiring post.

Oh. Haven't seen the movie, but "Dream a Little Dream of me" is a great tune from the '30s recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and later, Mama Elliot. One of my favorites.


Nicki Salcedo said...

Dianna, another one of my writing mentors! Thank you for sharing that story. I think it is good to write to loved ones (and even those you don't love anymore).

Thank you also for everything you have/are/will be contributing to Moonlight & Magnolias in October.

Elaine, your are the best. We'll be keeping an eye on your blog.

Marilyn, my letter could have easily been called "A letter to my parents." Every once in a while my mother reads something I wrote and says, "YOU wrote this?" Writing is more revealing, and I kid around too much in real life. Write a letter to your parents. We are never to old to thank them.

Linsey, don't cry. I make fun of cry babies. I also envy people who know their family history well. It is a great gift. I'll try to find that song, too.

Gannon Carr said...

Nicki, what a beautiful, heartwarming post! Your writing is lovely and soul-stirring. You, my dear, are destined to be published!

Thanks for sharing your letter.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Gannon, are you saying "it is your destiny" with a happy voice or a Darth Vader voice? Thanks for stopping my. We love can't wait to see you at Moonlight & Magnolias!

Gannon Carr said...

Definitely a happy voice. :) Can't wait for M&M!

CiCi Barnes said...

I'm a day late, but this moving article is just as poignant today as yesterday. Such a wonderful thing to do for your children.

When my mother had hip surgery, I took her place and went to the nursing home everyday to visit my grandmother. She didn't write me a letter, but she told me so many things about her childhood and days as a young lady, things I never knew before, and wouldn't take anything for now. It helped me know and appreciate her all the more.

My son had a writing assignment in high school and chose to interview his grandfather about his days on Okinawa during WWII. They bonded more during that time and my son had such a greater appreciation for his heritage.

We should all tell our stories to those we love and putting them on paper would help keep them alive.

Great post, Nicki.


Nicki Salcedo said...

Cici, it is never too late. I've been reading through some of my favorite posts from the group. Your son was so lucky to be able to do that. Learning about the past certainly changes your outlook for the future.

Ana Aragón said...

Nicki, as always, I'm overwhelmed by your talent and ability to put pictures into words.

I'd love to be included in your project. Most of my early writing as a new mother was about my children. I'm sure those words are stuck somewhere on a 5 inch floppy disk (you've probably never seen one!)

But I have a good memory. And I love to tell stories.

Muchísimas gracias!


Nicki Salcedo said...

Ana, I'm so old our first computer didn't even have a disk drive. Our second computer had a 5 inch floppy. I wrote my first fantasy novella at maybe 10 and saved it to that old beast. (Note to self: Add technology stories to my future letters).

I know you tell wonderful stories. Your children are lucky to have you.

Nicki Salcedo said...

I wanted to say hello to author Devon Gray who stopped by, but alas blogger thwarted her attempts to post a comment. Her new book "Playing for Keeps" is now available from The Wild Rose Press

Thanks, Devon for visiting Petit Fours and Hot Tamales!

Kym said...

Hey lady, love the blog. As always. One day I'll grow up and be a writer like you. Until then, I find your work inspiring and encouraging. Keep doing what you do. K

Nicki Salcedo said...

Kym, I know you are a writer. I'm just waiting for you to figure out that you are a writer. I've read another book by Elizabeth Berg "We are All Welcome Here." Can you tell that she is influencing me?

I would do anything to have your editing skills. You have really helped my garbled mess. Thank you.