When I think about the fact that when you were my age, you were married with two daughters and had just bought your first home, I'm even more in awe of you — and a little bit confused.
I grew up hearing you and Daddy tell me to stay focused on books, not boys, to put myself in a position where I'd be sitting in the office and not outside of it. And I came through. And yet, I haven't accomplished half as much as you have — not when I compare the odds against me with the struggles you faced.
When you came to this country as an immigrant, you had to build a support network from scratch, pursue an education, earn a living, raise a child and be a wife. Having more kids didn't slow you down. Whether it was renovating our kitchen, saving to buy the house, finishing your degree while working full-time (and overtime) or struggling to pay my insanely expensive tuition, you were always doggedly chipping away at the next goal.
I never really gave serious thought to what it meant for you to allow me to go to a private college when a state school would have been more affordable. In fact, because of the sacrifices you constantly made, I never really had to think about what those sacrifices actually meant. And you wanted it that way.
You didn't want me to get a job once I was old enough to get working papers, because you wanted me to focus on schoolwork, not making money. You didn't want me to be a young wife and mother. I remember you saying once, "No, not until you've written your book."
So now that I've done many of the things you sacrificed for, are you happy with the way I turned out? Do you think my life turned out better than yours because I didn't have to struggle as much? Are you glad I didn't get married and have kids in my twenties, and instead focused on building career achievements? Do you wish you had made the same choices you guided me to make, or do you look back on your life so far and realize just how much you have achieved?
I know we've talked a lot about some of these things, but I remain curious. As I get older and we become closer, I see us as sisters engaged in the eternal female discourse — and internal female debate. I wonder which side of the debate I'll take when I have my own daughter. What will I push her to do and guide her to be? What do I want for her when she's my age? What kind of letter will she write me?
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is a published poet (in the anthology Growing Up Girl); journalist (Village Voice, Metro); playwright (Ends Meet, produced off-Broadway in 2001); screenwriter (2003 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab finalist); Webby award-winning copywriter; and editor. A cum laude graduate of Vassar College, at age 12 she left New York to attend secondary school in Ghana; her first novel, Powder Necklace (Atria, 2010), was inspired by that experience. Visit her website at www.nanaekua.com.