My 21st: A Letter From My Mama

By Melissa Fern


“Dear Daughter,

21. Wow. Now, there’s a number to celebrate.

How can it be that the little girl who 

  • Filled the fish tank with Cheerios, just to see if they’d float there too…
  • Woke Pam up at 3 a.m., just to see if Preston could play…
  • Wore shin guards as armor & strapped a plastic sword to her waist, just to be Zena, Warrior Princess…
  • Rode butt naked on the back of a mini electric quad, just because there was no time for the putting on of pants…
  • Stuffed kitties into Lego buckets, doll beds & baby strollers just because she was convinced they liked it…
  • Who would sneak into Bubby’s room to get his Beanie Babies, just because hers needed new friends…
  • Played with imaginary Dino”soys”, just because they were lonely and needed someone to be their friend.
  • Who drew chalk flowers and kitties all over the drive way, just because they gray didn’t look so pretty.
  • Who sat all alone in the front pew of an empty sanctuary just because she was talkin’ to God…
  • Who didn’t want training wheels on her bike, just because Bubby and Preston and Brandon didn’t have them. “Just teach me to ride, Mommy.”
  • Who would set up a little table and tea sets, gather all her teddy bears, baby dolls and stuffed animals, and have snack time, just because you should eat with your friends everyday…
  • Who yanked her little hand out of mine and ran to the end of the driveway and said, “Listen Mommy” and pointed across the street to the neighbors house, just because she was certain she heard “a baby kitty crying!” … And sure enough, hiding under pine straw a baby kitty was crying! And was immediately rescued by little 3 year old arms, murmmering, “Its OK kitty” and she named him Tommy.
  • Who found great joy in wearing no pants and minimal foot wear, just because they were not comfy and just “git in me way.”
  • Who “saved” worms on sidewalks and driveways after the rain, just because “me don’t want the sun to hurt them.”
  • Who would sit in the hallway outside Bubby’s door when he didn’t want to be bothered with her, just because “me can still hear him… me just like to be with him.”
  • Who wasn’t intimidated by deep water when she couldn’t swim well… a Big Ten campus… a boys hockey team… a jump from an airplane… or a genetic blood test…

How can it be, that my girl – whom I could go on & on about with so many precious memories of… has already grown into this amazing 21 year old woman?! How? Some days I have such a hard time letting go of my “little girl” because in my mind – you are still her. And then – other days… I smile at this incredible young woman blooming right before my eyes! Such a beauty!

I see those memories of you, in who you are becoming and I am so proud of you! Once, a little girl – Now: 

  • A researcher… filling the fish tank with Cheerios! And now- discovering MORE!
  • A friend… who is there – at all hours of the day or night.
  • An adventurer… no training wheels needed… just go for it! Living life loud.
  • A warrior … who knows how to arm herself for “war”, just like Zena… Confident.
  • A fashionista… who, thank God, wears pants, albeit stretchy, comfy pants!… and still knows how to look fabulous!
  • A kitty whisperer… who still knows what they like.
  • A kind soul… who understands everyone needs a friend.
  • Who takes kindness to the next level… compassion… and reaches out to be the difference in someone’s life… Dino”soy” or not.
  • An artist, who sees a canvas in her life and brings meaning and beauty to it.
  • A philosopher, carefully studying the ideas put before her, before simply diving in to beliefs based off of someone else’s “say so.”
  • A feminist, advocating women’s strengths and one who has the courage to believe she has the same rights and opportunities and “say so” as any “boy!”
  • A planner… whether it be a party, a road trip, a phone call – staying in touch with friends who matter and people you love… takes a heart that knows it matters… everyday.
  • A rescuer… still hearing the cries of kitties and doggies others have abandoned.
  • A sister… who still loves her brother.
  • A brave heart, courageous spirit, untamed soul, an impossibility believer – “Sometimes, 6 times before breakfast!”
  • A life lover, positive seeker and a world changer!

In all this, my sweet daughter… most of all I see this:

How you LOVE!

Always keep that in focus, Lil’ Dipper… that’s what makes the difference.

Who you become… is defined by who you are. Look at all these things you are… and keep embracing them! You haven’t swayed from who you were – even from a little girl and I see BIG things being impacted in your life as you continue to pour YOU into all you touch!

I love you beyond words.

And I am excited for your future. I see bright things ahead! Amazing opportunities! And impossible miracles… Coupled with great love, favorable circumstances, and abundant joy!

I can believe for these things for you because I see you believing for them for others too… not just yourself.

You make such a difference! And I am so blessed to be your mama.

Your 21st year was full and no matter what… I know you are STRONG ENOUGH!

Know, that you are an amazing human and that you are blessed and a blessing!

Keep living life FULL, baby girl. I can’t wait to watch.


Your forever cheerleader!

Love, Mama”


These are the words my mother sent in a real, written letter as a birthday card this year. Three weeks before I turned 21 years old, I was told I inherited the gene for a disease that will kill me. In my piece recounting my results appointment, “This is War,” I apologize to my mom for her memories of me as a child that may distort once the disease starts taking over my mind and body. This letter felt like her rebuttal to that apology and I had to share.

It took me too long to realize how much of a valuable friend my mother could be. I ignored her when I needed her and acted like I didn’t care when she wasn’t around for the “big things.” As I’ve grown older, we have both let each other “in”. And despite her not being “the HD parent,” she has encouraged me to dive into what Huntington’s Disease has in store for my life with a positive outlook and a sense of greater purpose.

I hope these words help others who may have drifted from their parents or loved ones while struggling through something, find a way to reach out to those people again. When we are hurting or scared, it often feels easier to push away those who try to help or those who love us endlessly. Those relationships are the ones we need in order to get through whatever is haunting us. Those relationships help remind us of who we really are, who we have always been, and what kind of difference we can make in the world once we pull through.


Thank you, Mom. For your endless love.

For your support and courage, despite your fear of what my genetic test held.

For laughing with me through the tears on the phone as I told you the results.

For understanding why I had to do this “alone” and encouraging me to dive in head first afterwards.

And for continuing to remind me of the real truth: that this disease does not and will not ever define me. That I am so much more beyond what my genes hold and despite the changes my mind and body will experience.

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