Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lessons Learned

Every year on Lucy’s birthday, I write her a letter and put it on the Internet. I wrote the following in the weeks leading up to her fourth birthday on July 15, 2014, but couldn’t bring myself to post it. This year – the summer especially – was difficult for my family. We didn’t share our troubles publicly at the time, but they are clearly reflected in what I wrote in Lucy’s letter. I have spent the past six months deciding whether or not to post it – trying to decide how much of our real lives that I share with the world. Then I thought about how I was trying to teach Lucy to be brave and that I should lead by example. So, here it is, in time for her ½ birthday.

Dear Lucy,

On July 15, 2014, you turned four. For you, it was a long-awaited and much celebrated occasion. For me, it was another clear reminder that you are growing up too fast. I look at your face, as you sit next to me at the kitchen table; your cheeks have started to lose the softness of toddlerhood. You are changing and maturing right before my eyes.
Four going on 40, indeed.

You are so confident and independent. You start “real” pre-school in less than two weeks. You no longer need my help to get dressed or to brush your teeth. Sometimes you even prefer to play alone. You constantly remind me that you can do it yourself – no matter what that “it” is.
In the mornings, though, you still climb into my bed and snuggle against me, warm from sleep. It’s our special cuddling time before the day begins. And, it’s often the highlight of my day – because I know a time is fast approaching when you won’t let me hold you like that anymore.

And so I whisper in your sleep-tousled hair that I love you more than anything in the world. That you are my sunshine. That you are smart, special, beautiful, and kind. That I’m so proud of you. I say these things to you time and again, hoping to etch them into the recesses of your mind. You always reply, “I KNOW that, Mommy,” and I ask you not to roll your eyes.
I hope, as you grow, that you will still remember how amazing you are. How you can rely on your strengths and how your failures can make you even stronger. Because I know that someday, in the not-too-distant future, you might doubt yourself. You might not think you are deserving of something or someone. I want to know, as certainly as you know EVERYTHING today, that you are perfect JUST as you are. Life holds no limits for you.

As your mother, it’s my responsibility to ready you for this often unfair world. Beyond teaching you letters, numbers, and manners, I must show you how to become the incredible woman that I know you will be – despite the obstacles that you may face as you grow up.  I try to stay mindful of this weighty task.
But, it often seems that you are the one schooling me. You are too smart for your own good and too sassy for mine. You know everything about everything, and you are happy to educate me. You teach me words in Spanish and Irish. You share daily knock-knock jokes. You explain the ins and outs of the social politics of the pre-school playground (“Ava is my best friend. Janie is Justin’s best friend...”). Nothing escapes you.

Which means that you often parrot me when I’ve said something I shouldn’t. Or, you mimic me doing something that is less than flattering. Through you, I see a truer vision of myself than any mirror can provide. As much as I want you to realize your fullest potential, you inspire me to find mine.
I’m not sure you understand now, but this past year has been a hard one for your father and me. We have faced a lot of stress for many reasons, and we haven’t been as nice to each other as we should have been. And, we didn’t do a very good job of shielding you from that ugliness. You have seen too many fights. Too many tears. Too much tension. We have shown you a very flawed example of what friendship, partnership, and love look like.

You shouldn’t have to remind us to play nicely or to not fight with our friends. You shouldn’t be the one saving us. But, you have, time and again. You saved us first with your birth – you were the light in the darkness after your brother’s death. And you continue to remind us how precious this family – and this life – that we’ve created together truly is.
That you know kindness is our success, but that you have to teach it to us is our failing. Lucy, we want to be better because of you. We want to be the kind of parents you deserve and have a relationship that you want to emulate. We are so proud of you, and we want you to be proud of us too.

You see this world in very distinct black and white, but you have a deep and perhaps innate understanding of it. You are wise beyond your years. The other day, you told us that being nice was something that you have to practice, just like singing. You said that the more you practice, the better it sounds.  Once again, you are right. You really do know everything.
And, I love everything about you. Happy birthday, baby girl.


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