Notes to My Daughters

Notes to My Daughters Excerpt

Why This Book…

When I was twenty-three years old I left a frightening and unhappy marriage, with my two infant daughters tucked resolutely under each arm, and began my epic struggle with the world.

I was hurt and frightened and felt like a failure (my life was obviously not going at all as I had planned), but I was convinced there was no turning back, and therefore forward was the only way to go.  At twenty-three, anything seems possible.

Friends have often spoken of my courage in those early, terrible days.  While I heartily welcome the compliment, truth is, there were few options.  My love for my children, my wounded pride and sheer animal instinct made my choices easy.  If we were to live and eat and have a roof over us, there was no choice but to fight back.  I was determined we would survive, and so we did.

My relationship with my children was then, and is now, not run-of-the-mill.  They had to become more independent than most, because I worked and wasn’t always there to help.  They grew to be inordinately responsible – they knew when there were housekeeper troubles to be solved, when money was scarce, when trauma loomed or illness threatened, and they tried to behave accordingly.  I’m told it is often the case in single-parent homes that children are friends, as much as children, to their parent; this was the case with us.  My daughters matured early and made every conceivable effort to help me keep our little ship afloat.  As they were nine and ten when I married Joe Spellman, we had a lot of years in which it was just the three of us against the world.

During all of those awful early years of being poor and frightened and often seemingly hopeless, the goal I kept in the back of my harried brain was this:  if I could ever get my daughters safely raised to fourteen or fifteen years of age, my battle would be won.  Why fourteen or fifteen rather than eleven or seventeen or twenty?  I haven’t a clue; it really didn’t matter.  It just seemed to me that by those ages they would no longer be fragile, vulnerable children at the mercy of an uncertain world, but rather very nearly grown-ups, capable of choice and judgment.  Safe at last, or well on the way to being so.

About a year and a half ago I realized that those momentous fourteenth and fifteenth birthdays would be coming soon.  Bronwyn and Cee Cee were at a most critical moment in time, perched precariously between child and woman.  Struggling to separate themselves out from me, to become independent beings and yet I had so much more that I wanted to tell them…

Not that we weren’t talkers, they and I.  But their ages seemed an inhibitor to what had always been an open and free dialogue.  Suddenly there were uncomfortable subjects like drugs and sex, complicated ones like divorce and abortion.  Anyone who has a twelve- or thirteen-year-old knows that most conversations take place as they are headed out the door, or when they are accompanied by a cast of thousands.  There were also things that I wanted to pass on as experience, not advice – yet somehow at their ages “advice” is what it inevitably seemed.  So I started to write what I really wanted to say… and a wonderful thing happened.  I felt free to ramble as I couldn’t do in conversation.  And my daughters got into the act.

My notes to them would disappear for a week and turn up with margin notes.  Taboo subjects would be digested in writing and then suddenly pop up in conversation.  Chapters began being handed to friends, and lists of topics would appear on my desk in varied handwritings.

What I had hit on, it seems, was a means of communicating with youngsters at a tough, tough age for communication.  A device to get thoughts across without their seeming to demand a one-to-one instant response.  “It’s really easier to talk about anything since you started writing notes,” said one of my children, “because now I pretty much know where you stand on everything.”  Believe me, the process let me know where they and their friends stand, too.  It’s been a remarkable education for me.

A friend suggested I pull it all together – she knew I kept everything – and share it with others.  I recognized, expanded and eliminated, but basically what you will read is just as I wrote it to my daughters… the kids’ comments in the margins are Bronwyn’s and Cee Cee’s and their friends’.  As you’ll see, some of the topics (like sex and contraception) evoked considerable response; others (like graciousness and good manners), very little.  One way or the other, the very fact that the notes had been written seemed to provoke dialogue between us.  I learned a great deal from these young people about communicating – and about everything else!

Because of the purpose for which it was written, this book is a very personal one – my thoughts and opinions, my daughters’ ideas and questions, their friends’, too.  Unlike Marry Poppins, I am not a practically perfect person.  I am a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a business person – but most definitely not an expert; and although I’m well aware that my views (and theirs, for that matter) may be vastly different from those of other mothers and daughters whose life experiences have differed from ours, I would like to share them as a catalyst and a methodology.  If these chapters do nothing more than provoke honest-to-goodness dialogue between other mothers and daughters, in which they, too, can find out for sure “where each one stands,” I shall be elated.  One of my friends gave a copy of the manuscript to her teen-ager with a note that said, “I don’t agree with some of this material, but I’d really like to hear how you feel about it….”  Last I heard, they were still talking it all over.

For any mother who may read these pages, it is my earnest hope that even if you disagree violently with my philosophy, it will somehow help you to communicate your own thoughts and ideas to the daughter you love.  For any daughters who may read this book, I hope with all my heart that you will find it a means to help you make this the last generation in which mothers and daughters find it hard to be honest friends.

Notes to My Daughters Syndication

Notes to My Daughters was syndicated by Associated Press and appeared in hundreds of newspapers throughout the U.S.  It received great praise in the national press and was used – I’ve been told, by several school systems as a helpful tool for parent and child communication.

Unfortunately, flood damage in my home destroyed all the files of reviews and wonderful letters my daughters and I had received about “our” book over the years.


It is with the heaviest heart imaginable that I must tell you that I lost both my beloved daughters to terrible illness. There are no words that could possibly describe this unbearable loss. But, perhaps, any mother who has lost a child will understand what was in my heart when I wrote this:

Bronwyn                                              Cee Cee



What All Mothers Know


Cathy Cash Spellman

It only takes a heartbeat

For a child to die.

A glance away

In a crowded playground

A careless moment

At the wheel

A small distraction

At the curb

A crib too soft

Or hard

A day too long

At the office

Or too short

At the dinner table

An unnoticed stranger down the street.

Every mother knows these truths

So we develop


Of the heart

Ears that hear through gunfire

Eyes that see in the dark

Sixth, seventh, eighth senses

That taste danger

As a wolf scents blood

Tiring it is

To live this

But essential

Worth every sleepless night

And vigilant day.

So how could you have died

Beloved child?

How could you

Have slipped from

My desperate fingers

Into God’s?