I’m oddly emotional this week – milestones rarely trip me up like this. I’m much more likely to find myself in tears when I watch you on a stage somewhere – there is something about a school concert or a special church occasion that does me in. I think it’s the contrast of the hurry and bustle before the event starts, against the calm and silence in my seat and my thoughts as I watch you do what you do. It gets me everytime. It has from that moment when you stood on a little basement stage and said your first line of your first play, into a microphone, in front of a crowd. At four years old, it was probably the first time you said anything in front of a crowd, ever. You were so quiet and shy then, hovering around our legs, rarely talking to anyone outside your small comfort zone.
But I am emotional this week. It catches me off guard in the strangest moments. I sat beside you on your bed last night, watching you as you slept. I’ve done this same thing for over 4,700 nights – brushed your hair back from your forehead, tucked your legs back under your covers, removed the book from your chest – careful not to lose your place in the pages, turned your reading lamp off, run my fingers across your cheek, listened to you breathe.
You have grown so much this year, teetering up to a height just a whisper below my own. You’ll leave me in the dust in this new year you’ve started. I’ll watch you flourish in your final year of middle school, and when this next sun lap is finished and we’re here in this mid-August space again, you’ll be heading off to high school. I’ll be reaching up to wrap my arms around your shoulders, holding you fiercely, tightly, the way you hold me now. Thirteen feels old to me, and worthy of emotion. So I’ll let them flow. We’ve earned them, haven’t we?
You will take the stage this morning, performing as Rosalind in As You Like It. You will go on a long, sweaty afternoon bike ride with your dad if the weather holds out – your one birthday request. I revel in the way that you love us, how you’d choose an afternoon bike ride or an evening of side by side reading as the best way to mark your special day.
I revel in you. You are good and kind and smart and sweet. Artistic and meticulous and determined and devoted. You roll your eyes and occasionally sigh at the injustices of life; thank goodness you do. I will do my best to build up and support the many talents that you possess, but I will also recommit to doing those things that I promised you in my very first letter I wrote to you. You no longer fear the stage, the crowds. I will continue to push you to places and spaces that will challenge you because you are up for this challenge. You are a peacemaker, but I see the sparks of a changemaker as well. I revel in this as well. I could not be more proud of you, more in love with you.
With every fiber of my being, I am grateful. We are lucky beyond our wildest hopes and prayers, to mark this thirteenth year with you. My emotion is not rooted in fear, the teenage tempests on the horizon, the widening of your wingspan. My fear is lessening these days; it’s grappled for three years now with the razor sharp intensity of the randomness of loss and grief. I think this is because of you, watching you grow, knowing who you are. I have had to let go of my fierce grip on all that I hold dear, loosening up both arms and then one reluctant finger at a time. My hands are better used to gently (and sometimes urgently) point out things in the world around you – beautiful things, hard things, things that require reflection, things that demand fervent action. My arms are better used to wrap you fiercely in my love and support and encouragement as you see more of these things on your own and as you develop your own responses to them. You no longer need my hand like you did when you were four. But it is still here, imprinted forever with yours.
Thirteen times around the sun. You are our light, our center. Happy birthday, my sweet, sweet girl.