My sweet daughters, this is a letter about motherhood, a word that you don’t yet truly understand. Sure, you say the word “Mama” countless times a day—it is a word I will never tire of hearing. But motherhood—and the unconditional love and longing (and the anxiety and guilt) that come along with it—is something you won’t know about for many years.
My mama, your Grammee, is one of the all-time greats. She always put us first; she was calm and patient even when we tested her. I watched her “mother” for many years, but it wasn’t until you were born that I really understood what motherhood meant. And it wasn’t until I first held you—with Grammee by my hospital bed—that I really understood my mom.
You girls come from a long line of women who wanted to become mothers. The West Texas women on your Grammee’s side were strong, but going all the way back to my great-grandmother, the thing they wanted the most was also the most difficult. Both your Grammee and my grandma Jenna (for whom I’m named) are only children—and not by choice. My great-grandmother, a woman who could make her own mortar and lay her own brick, buried at least two babies in the desert of El Paso, both born too soon. And my grandma Jenna laid three babies to rest in Midland, Texas.
Your grandparents, my parents, desperately wanted a full household and tried to have children for years before putting in an application to adopt. The day they found out they were accepted by the adoption agency was the day they discovered she was pregnant with your Aunt Barbara and me. Later, when I was a teenager, Grammee gave me the picture (of her and Jefe) from the adoption form, framed. “Doesn’t this look like two people who wanted to be parents?” she said. I’ve kept that picture by my bed as a reminder of their love.
But it is a reminder that I have never needed; life with our mom at the helm was filled with love. After our baths every night, we danced around the house (hair wet, pajama clad) to The Pointer Sisters’ “Fire,” a conga line of Bush women. Barbara and I following in our mama’s footsteps—we always followed her lead. Grammee took us on trips to see Frida Kahlo exhibits across Texas (before your grandpa was into art!). She wanted us to see the beauty in the world.
People will say, “You remind me so much of your mom,” and I thank them. It is the best compliment. In many ways, I am like her—our voices ring with the same Texas twang, we have similar cheekbones, we were both teachers and love to read. But in many ways, I am just trying to keep up with her.
WATCH: Jenna Bush Hager On The Joys Of Being A Southern Mom
It is my mama who taught me how to be a mom, but it is you, my darlings, who are teaching me what it means to be a mom. When I am traveling for work, I scroll through pictures of you on my phone, longing to be back home.
Grammee prepared me for the anxiety and guilt that comes with motherhood. She said recently, “All we know we have is now, so worry less and enjoy life with those babies.” So, I do that now and think about my strong mama and my grandmas—the women who came before me. And I am so grateful that you are mine.
Just like those moments dancing years ago, feet in rhythm to my mama’s step, I am following her lead again. And I am dancing with the two of you as often as I can.
Jenna Bush Hager is a correspondent on NBC’s Today show and an Editor-at-Large for Southern Living. Sisters First, her latest New York Times best-selling book—which she coauthored with her sister, Barbara Pierce Bush—is available from amazon.com.