Monday you turned four years old. Since you were born, August 11th has been a bittersweet day for me, a time to remember the strange juxtaposition of trauma and joy. I remember cradling the phone in my neck while excitedly packing a suitcase that afternoon, trying to conceal my feelings from Melanie while we talked on the phone. When I wasn’t in pain, I was, I confess, a little preoccupied with meeting you, with pregnancy being over, with the act of Getting On With It. At the same time I knew things were Not Right and bad stuff might happen, something in me knew you were fine and would be fine, and I was just ready to be on the other side and holding you, my precious baby girl.
Until I sat down to write this letter to you tonight I did not realize that on Monday I hadn’t a single thought of the circumstances surrounding your birth.
You slept late, and when you woke, you crept up the stairs where TeenHer and I were playing with BabyJ. I saw your face, sleepily annoyed at waking up alone. Immediately I burst into song and so did you sister, so that you glided up the stairs to the refrains of “happy birthday”. Even BabyJ tried to sing. We cuddled on the couch for a while (Like the rest of us, you prefer the staying awake to the waking up) and then had pancakes for breakfast. You and I picked out your birthday cake together and in the afternoon we sang again before you blew out four perfect pink candles. They had to be pink, as did the roses on the cake.
I’m a little embarrassed to post pictures of your birthday cake ceremony because I did something terrible to your hair last week. If you’re looking closely you can see where I was headed with the scissors, but I just didn’t get there. At first I’d planned to march you into the hair salon before this coming Monday, the first day of Pre-K, because I was afraid you’d be the only girl in school with a haircut that looked like your brother was the stylist. Then I realized two things: You don’t care what your hair looks like. My favorite thing about you is that you never, ever wonder if you look OK, if you match, if your dress is just right. You seem to already have the enviable sense that you cannot be anything other than beautiful.
The second thing I realized is that if ever I want to punish you, I should have you sit still. The hair stylist is an idea born of my vanity, my own insecurity, and there are a million things you’d rather do, go to school with momma-cut hair included, besides sit motionless in a chair while someone you don’t know flits around you with a sharp object.
So you’ll start Pre-K on Monday, no doubt with your sparkly red slippers and a pink dress, backpack in hand, hair perfect as perfect needs to be in your world.
I thought I’d be sadder about this time in your life, the gentle unfolding of your wings, the casual wave over your shoulder as you trot off with whoever promises you a picnic or a playground. I’m not, though. For every casual wave over the shoulder, there’s a tight hug, a gentle cheek stroke, a tiny hand reaching toward me in the middle of the night. You and I are so similar in that way. Let me go, but don’t go far! You wipe my kisses off your cheek but in your sleep you give yourself away when you gravitate toward me, sometimes reaching out to tangle your fingers in my hair.
Lately you’ve said often: but I don’t want to be alone!
and I see so much of myself in that statement! Tonight I noticed myself calling your dad on his cell phone while he was upstairs, begging him to come be in the room with me. For this reason, I rarely get exasperated anymore when you say that you don’t want to be alone. I get it. Later in your life people might call you hot/cold. My wish for you is that you find someone like your dad. I think that’s your wish too. Last week you told your dad that you’ll marry him when you grow up. I so enjoy watching you love the people around you!
I always have trouble wrapping up these letters. So I’ll just say Happy Belated Birthday, my littlest girl. It was a lovely day, and you are a lovely person.