My daughter is turning nine years old this week. In the midst of buying last minute gifts, finding a recipe for cookie cake, and confirming party plans at the bowling alley, I felt compelled to revisit something I had written for her two years ago. As time passes, and she seemingly grows into a new person, all the while becoming even more the girl I have always known, the need to tell her things becomes more desperate. Just today, I was out to lunch with her and my son, and as I calculated the tip in the head, I thought, “When they are old enough to start eating at restaurants alone with their friends, I need to remember to tell my kids about tipping. And how much to tip. Because there is nothing worse than a group of obnoxious teenagers who don’t realize they are supposed to leave a few extra bucks for the server.” See? I have a lot to teach her. But then I remembered this letter, and figured it was a pretty good place to start.Because she is still only just nine years old…
Today you are seven years old. Birthdays mean something different to parents than they do to kids. To us, we cannot help but think about the day our child came into our lives, and every day since then. As this day approached, I have had a certain song playing in my head:
“You can’t fool me I saw you when you came out. You got your mama’s taste but you got my mouth.”
I remember hearing these lyrics to “Gracie” by Ben Folds soon after you were born. Gazing at your tiny, delicate features, acquainting myself with this new little person I had always loved but just met, it was clear that you did in fact have your daddy’s mouth. But only time would tell if you had my taste. I would have to wait and watch you grow. At the time, that was beyond my realm of imagination. I was content to keep you my dribbling, nuzzling little bundle forever.
Sometimes I miss Baby Grace and her big, squishy cheeks that were irresistible to kiss and her downy hair scented with the freshness of baby shampoo and the natural sweetness of brand new life. But if I had only had Baby Grace for these past seven years, I would have missed out on all the things you have become and all the things you have created that I have packed away in my heart. And I would not have discovered that you, my dear little Gracie, do have your mama’s taste.
There are times I observe you and have the feeling I am looking in the mirror, only at a reflection that does not look like me. In your face I see your dad, which has resulted in a beauty my own face has never and will never know. But what goes on behind that pretty little face, that is where I have left my mark. And I cannot help but think this might just give me an advantage in parenting you. I’ve been there, kid. I know what you are thinking and feeling, because already it has been apparent to me that your brain is trying to interpret the world in many of the same ways mine did as a child. So this means I can help you when you need it, if you are not too stubborn to let me…which you probably will be. And I will have to fault myself for that.
But maybe before you get too old to want to listen, before you cringe in utter embarrassment and disbelief that you are anything like your mom, I can let you in on a few little things.
Dad loves to claim you get your artistic interest from him. But we’ve seen him draw, well, anything. So we know the truth. Let that passion live inside you always, and don’t forget to use it every now and again, even when it seems you have more important things to do. Right now, you want to be an artist when you grow up. And you very may well make that a reality. But if you choose another living for yourself, don’t let your love for your other interests fall by the wayside. The pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with creating something is important, even if you only create for yourself.
From very early on, it was apparent you are a dreamer. And by many accounts, you dream like me. I remember the time you sheepishly asked me if I ever pretended to dance with a boy when I was your age, as if you thought you were the only one. Dreaming is a necessity. It is the gateway to imagination, and imagination leads to all kinds of good things. But I also think I would be an irresponsible mom if I did not tell you to keep sight of reality. People will tell you that you can be anything. Well, that is not really true. Everyone has limitations, but those are a blessing if you recognize them and see your limits as guides, directing your focus toward your gifts. Find a gift that fuels passion, then dream as big as you can. And remember that the bridge between dreams and reality does not build itself. Only your own strong work ethic, and maybe a bit of luck, will make that happen.
Your mama likes to dance to the beat of her own drummer sometimes, and so do you. This became completely evident a few months ago when I asked if you wanted to sign up for softball. After saying no, I asked if you were sure, because all your friends would be playing and I did not want you to feel left out. You looked right at me and said with conviction, “Mom, I don’t have to do what everyone else does.” I was cloaked with pride at that moment. Because you were right, and I hope you remember those words all your life. At the same time, the part of me that wants to enshroud you in bubble wrap and hang a sign on you that says Please say only nice things to my daughter whimpered, knowing what lies ahead for a kid who goes against the grain. There will be teasing. There will be times of loneliness. People will hurt your feelings and try to make you feel bad about yourself. But try to remember this in the midst of it, though it will be hard: you are exactly the person God meant for you to be. Not everyone will like you; that is a universal truth for everyone. So you should never change yourself for someone else. Otherwise, you will be changing all the time. And you will find people who love you for who you are…I will always be first on that list. And you will never be truly alone, because your dad and I will be here for you anywhere, anytime. I have been down many of the roads you will be traveling, and I promise I will do my best to remember how it feels to be your age. You may not always like what I have to say, but my love for you will always be boundless.
So you have grown another year’s worth of becoming who you are, who you will be. Seeing you discover yourself has been one of the greatest privileges of my life, and it will continue to be as I watch you add new layers. But underneath it all, “you will always have a part of me nobody else is ever gonna see but you and me…my little girl…my Gracie girl.”
Happy Birthday, Boo.
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