I don’t address it to anyone, mostly because I don’t know to whom it’s going. (Dear School? Dear Lady in the Front Office whose name I don’t know?) I forgo the formality and just start. 


Please excuse Nadia from school today at 1:20 p.m.

She has a dentist appointment.

Thank you,


I sign my name. Then quickly add my phone number below, as if to bring some level of authenticity or verification. I’ve written the note on a small hotel notepad page and I’m not really sure what I need to do, what to write, to get my daughter out of school today.  I am also new to middle school. Should my notes be cute, heavyweight, personalized, and appropriately sized?


I’ve been writing more and more notes lately.


Nadia, We’re at a doctor’s appointment for Viv. Love, Mom


Nadia, I’m at the school volunteering, I’ll be home by 3:15. [Heart], Mom


These notes are all to my oldest child, the one who gets home the earliest in the afternoon. The one who strides with pre-adolescent confidence into the next phase of her life. The one who is not as physically attached to me as she once was.  


The notes are an old-school connection. A short communication to say, “I know where you are, and I want you to know where I am; I’m aware of you, even though I’m not right here.”


The notes are not a big deal.


They’re not.


They’re written on throw away pieces of paper: post-its, the backside of her younger brother’s math homework, a receipt from CVS. They’re nothing to keep. Nothing to hold onto. Nothing, nothing, nothing.


When three of my four kids started school this past year, I gave myself a few big jobs to do. Goals, I guess. I knew I’d have some solid chunks of preschool hours each week and I wanted to use them to settle into the work of completing my list of long-neglected tasks.


One goal was to organize the back room of our house.


We call it the computer room, but a better name would be something like ‘random furniture and all the things we don’t know what to do with room’ or ‘young artist supply warehouse’ or ‘paper graveyard.’


I have piles, literal, stackable piles of adoption paperwork I’ve had no bandwidth to sort through for the last two years. There are doubles of every authentication, passport copies in triplicate, and travel itinerary quadruple. There is a Melissa & Doug art easel that not one of the children has used in at least two years.  And a clear plastic bin I’ve affectionately (and appropriately) labeled “crafty crap” hides in the corner. It’s where I throw anything that could be glued, sown, painted, applied, bent, or bedazzled.


One of the drawers in the desk was crammed so full of old bills and bank statements — who gets bank statements anymore? —  mixed in with birthday cards, atop stacks of blank CDs/DVDs (again, what the heck?) and boxes, yes, plural, boxes of checks from financial institutions with which we are no longer affiliated, that I could hardly open it.


And there was more. Much more.


Let’s get up to speed: My kids have been in school for at least two months. I’ve cleared the more pressing issues off my plate. I finally, triumphantly, intimidatedly, stand ready to attack this room.


But because I never know where to begin, I do what I always do: I spend a minimum of twenty minutes trying to find an appropriate playlist.


Next, I spin in literal circles, like a dog before laying down, looking for the best place to start. If I don’t have a goal, I can jump in without a moment’s hesitation. But when there is some predetermined end, starting is hard.


I’m a person who gets stuck on the potential. I adore optimizing, efficiency, and ease — mostly because it’s everything I’m not. The idea of doing anything in a systematic and streamlined process, one which I usually haven’t figured out yet, makes me so hopeful, that I fear starting. I don’t know if it’s the best way to do whatever I want to do. 


In the last few years, I’ve (ironically) started to tell myself Just start! Just start! It doesn’t matter, just start! Whether I’m cleaning a messy kitchen, writing an essay, wanting to adopt a child, or writing a note to my daughter’s school. It’s always the same: Just start.


I settle in, dig in. I’m a dog laying down, eating an elephant, paper by paper. Kid piles, trash piles, shred piles. I come up with systems and have Big Plans to avoid another multi-year paperwork pileup. No paper in the house! None. Just like that guy I read about who snaps pictures and uses a pro version of a note app — he’s totally paperless! Zero mail! Recycling bin is my best friend! Savageness with preschool art! I curse the institutions who send me the paper. I lament over all the poor trees.


And then, hours into the process, my back hurts and I sit on my rear with my legs splayed out in a wide V. I finished sorting one of the biggest paper piles and I lean over, reaching for the container with the white lid. It holds all my memories and belongs in the closet of this room. It’s full of unimportant papers that carry immeasurable emotional weight. Journals, notes, letters. My life before this one.  


I tell myself to move along, don’t open it now.


But I don’t move along.


I can’t.


I want to see.


I open the white lid. On top of a stack of manilla folders is a newspaper clipping from 1983. I was in Kindergarten. I made the front page by decorating a gingerbread man. (We lived in a very small town.) Underneath that were little stories I wrote in grade school, Valentine’s, and report cards.


I pick up a smooth brown planner nestled in the middle of two stacks of memories.


I know exactly what it is, whose it is. I’m doing this to myself on purpose.


I flip to one of the first pages. It’s full of measurement conversions, printed in cyrillic, the written language of my mother’s native tongue.


Put it back, I tell myself. You don’t have time for this.


It won’t take me long, I think back. Though I don’t exactly know what I’m looking for.


I flip through page after page, each with little notes written in my mother’s classic eastern european script. There are recipes, tallies of weekly spending, receipts from the local department store and ATM balances. Sermon notes written on the back of an upside down envelope. In one section, there are entries, like a journal.


I close the planner, place it back in the container. I look through a few more things. I put the lid on and push it back into the closet. I stack my children’s memory boxes on top.  


I don’t know how I collected those parts of my mother’s life, why I ended up with her planner, her journal. After she died, it wasn’t like I went through the house scooping up physical memories of her. She was still there. Still everywhere.


But at some point, I must have taken them. The planner. A recipe box. Notes she wrote.


Sitting there on the floor, I start to cry. Over how she wrote my name, my sister’s name. How she signed Mom. I cry because she died. And because she wrote us notes.


I think of the notes I write to my daughter. I know they might seem, might feel, might look like nothing. Yet every single word I write, every one, carries weight. Just like my own mom, these are notes to let us know where she was and who she was with and what she was doing. Notes to tell us I may not be here, but this is the plan. Notes to say, it’s all going to be okay.   


On the surface, practical.


Underneath, love.







Sonya Spillmann


  1. I really enjoyed this one Sonya. I have such fond memories of your mother and you children. Thanks for bringing the memories back.

  2. Sonya, your Mother’s love for you transcends time. You were connected physically- knit in her womb, then emotionally by grace. A gift to carry a lifetime and beyond! Your posts grab me, give me a shake, reminding me be a Mom who is present in her children’s lives. Thank you!

  3. Yes, yes, yes. Beautifully written, Sonya. I have file folders full of letters from my parents, Ron’s parents, siblings, friends. I have trouble throwing any of them away. The souls of these people reach out to me through these old letters. One must be careful not to save EVERYTHING, but to save some. I always keep the last cards I get from someone dear to me. My sister died two months ago, much too soon…..the correspondence I have from her over the years is precious to me now.

    Keep writing, my friend. You say things so well!

    Bye bye to the bank statements, sure. But keep the special memories

  4. Now there is a company that turns children’s art into books.
    I agree just start! Great words!
    Happy Valentines❤️

  5. this is heart wrenching to me Sonya. You really connect the dots between past, present, and future in a way that reminds me how fast and precious life is. thanks for sharing your heart.

  6. I am over from Coffee + Crumbs. I just wanna thank you for being vulnerable about being an angry mom. This has been my struggle for going on 12 years now. I was lacking self control before I had kids but the taming of the tongue has not gotten easier.

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