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‘Southern Voices’ is a reader-submitted platform for stories from the heart. Today’s submission comes from Liza Graves, CEO of StyleBlueprint. If you have a story to tell, see our guidelines for submission here.

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Our middle daughter was born in the wake of 9-11. She was born on September 21, 2001. When the first plane hit the World Trade Center tower, my husband called. I was on the way to bring our 2-and-a-half-year-old to her mother’s day out program. I decided to keep her home. The second plane hit and the world turned upside down. I was 9 months pregnant. Then, the Pentagon was hit. My parents and much of my family live around the DC area. Contractions started. I knew they were from stress. Was my family going to be okay? Was our country?

I turned the TV off as I realized that my toddler, thumb stuck in her mouth, had been staring at the TV for a couple of hours beside me. This couldn’t be good for her. I put her down for a nap as my pregnant belly kept contracting. Several people in my parents’ neighborhood died that day. They all worked at the Pentagon.

So, this is my letter to you, my darling daughter born in the shadow of 9-11, one of our nation’s darkest moments, and graduating in the midst of a worldwide pandemic:

Liza holding her newborn middle daughter

Here I am with Reese, just days old. I often call her “Roo.”

My sweet Roo,

The skies were quiet leading up to your birth, just as they are quiet as you graduate. You were born into a world needing hope, and you graduate amidst a society similarly grieving its past and scared about its future. This is your reality. You and your friends have a life bookended to this point with tragedy and fear. But, it has also been filled with so much joy.

I remember when you were born. I would not let the nurses take you from the hospital room except when absolutely necessary. I just held you and loved you. I believed that if I poured enough love onto you and prayed enough over you that somehow everything would be okay. I needed it to be. For you, for your dad, for your sister … to make sense of the world. As I stared at you, sleeping soundly, I remember feeling so blessed to be chosen to be your mom. I also remember thinking that I only had so much time with you, and my job was to raise you to go out into the world and be a light. It hurt, even then, thinking about you leaving.

And here we are. You and your friends have been forged in the fire of tough times. Iron into steel like no other class to graduate during my time.

Liza and Reese

When I think of you as a toddler, I just hear giggles!

Just like in that hospital room, I look at you, and your classmates, and I know you were born for greatness. I believe in our future because I believe in your strength, your community, your goodness.

While graduations and proms and awards days will be missed, I know that this group will be our leaders of the future.

Go forth with your shoulders back and your head held high. Like a strong tree that bends with the winds of fierce storms, yet reaches for the sky with the warmth of the sun, you, my daughter, will lead us. I don’t know how you and your classmates will change the world, but I know it will be for the best.

Go to college and study hard, love hard, and give back with gusto.

Life is not fair. No one ever promised that it was. But, with this group leading the way, I do have hope in the future by seeing it through your eyes.

Reese Graves at 4th of July as a child

You are always up for trips to the mountains, and your favorite time is 4th of July spent with a large gathering of extended family.

Mary Blake, Reese and Charlie Graves

You are the perfect middle child: ready to fight for justice, seeing all sides of an argument yet somehow still incredibly stubborn, and a true friend to both your sister and your brother.

Reese and Jay Graves

Sometimes you’ll even straighten your curly hair, and you’ll always take a picture with your dad!

Liza and Reese Graves

And, happily, for me, you’ll take a picture with me as well. I love you, sweet girl.

I will miss you dearly. You’re the only teenager I know who still grabs for her mom’s hand, in public no less. And not from fear, but from confidence and love. You’ve always had that way about you. Even when you were little, you’d come over just to touch my arm, my leg, my head … anything to say, “It’s okay,” and then you’d be off again. For a long time, I was your safe place. But, you can now find that inside yourself. No worries, I’ll always be here if you need a safe place to fall. Always.

Oh, how I’ll miss hearing your spontaneous laugh and stories of your day. I’ll even miss tripping over your shoes always left in the middle of the room.

Most of all, I’ll miss knowing that whatever day it is, I’m only a few hours away from seeing you.

But, I know you are ready. You are ready to expand your wings, and the world needs you.

While I know we both would have written a different script for the last few months before you leave for college, the best part of this strange pandemic spring was being stuck with you and our whole family, under one roof. We fared pretty well. I got to soak you up in a way I never could have otherwise. This, I will forever treasure.

Don’t ever forget, no matter what, your dad and I have always loved you, and we will forever love you.

Mom

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