I’m not sure when it happened, but no one – not even Madeline – calls you Baby Rae any longer. I remember your birthday last year and how we still referred to you as this, and I wondered when you’d lose the “Baby.” Although you were losing some of the physical signs of being a baby - your softness and roundness, you were still very much my baby. You still are, but now we call you Rachel or Rae or sometimes Rae-Rae, but never Baby Rae. It’s a small thing, but it’s bittersweet because it means you’re a big girl now and those baby years are behind us.
Your everyday moniker isn’t the only thing that’s changed. You have, too. You’re getting taller and stronger. Just the other day I was admiring the calves on your gams as you stood on your toes to reach something. I commented on your strong calves.
“What are calves?” you asked.
I explained they were muscles in your legs. Then you wanted to know more about muscles. I never quite satisfy your inquiring mind.
Nothing much escapes your attention. You notice things. Just this morning you told me, “I see things in my mind, and I can make them look the way I want them to look.”
You’ve always been observant – a child prone to losing herself deeply in her thoughts. But you used to be more passive, too. Anything your gregarious sister said or suggested was gospel. You accepted it and followed her instructions and rules for playing without complaining. Now you’re growing into your own. You have opinions. You have desires. And you’re not afraid to make them known.
Oh, and how you have passion. So much passion. You’re brimming with it just like your mama. And I want to tell you something, my sweet, feeling girl, life is going to bring you incredible joy. When you’re happy, you will be awash with it. You’ll want to sing. Or dance. Or jump around like you’re crazy. Or sing, dance, and jump all at once.
But when you’re sad – and you will be sad because life is sometimes very, very sad and hard and overwhelming and lonely – you will feel like you’ve been ripped apart. Some people may think a heart ache is figurative, but sensitive souls like you and I know what it’s like to physically ache, to feel weighted down by sadness.
I spent too much of my life hating my passionate self or at least wanting to tweak that feeling part of me. I wanted to curb my emotions and sometimes even hide them. I did not want to feel anything so deeply. You’re only five, but I’m going to go ahead and say some pretty grownup things now because I want to spare you the angst of you trying to change the way you are designed. God wants you to feel deeply because out of this tender soul of yours is a wellspring of compassion and empathy. Yes, you’re more easily hurt, but you’re also very aware of others and how they might be feeling. Yes, you lash out angrily when you’re frustrated and you weep – inconsolably – when you are sad, but the happiness you feel? It’s untempered. It is a unique brand of bliss. There will be people who don’t understand why little things can stir so much emotion in you.
I’ll never forget finding you crying while watching the end of Beauty & The Beast about a year ago.
“Why are you crying? Are you okay?” I asked.
“It’s just so happy that Belle and the Beast are married. I don’t know why I’m crying because I feel happy.”
Ah, yes. Tears of joy! They are a beautiful thing. And so are tears of sadness. They can be cleansing and cathartic. Sometimes already I see you trying to hold those big feelings in. “I’m just blinking,” you’ll say. Or I’ll ask if something is wrong when I see your eyes wet with tears and you’ll tell me, “Sometimes my eyes just water.” Don’t ever be ashamed of your sensitive soul.
There will be people who question the magnanimity of your heart – how it so freely gives and gives. Don’t be afraid to give. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and to love and feel fiercely. It might sometimes cause you pain or make you feel like you’re crazy. (I only speak from experience here; there’s nothing crazy about you except maybe your horse craziness or your craziness for your big sister. You look up to Madeline so much.) But these are your gifts. Use them. Be grateful for them. Cherish your heart. Cherish beautiful you. You are so lovely, sweet, and sensitive. You remind me so much of me when you cry or yell or giggle uncontrollably. Maybe that’s why we occasionally clash. We are stitched from the same fabric, although I was never quite as introverted as you are.
You remain my contemplative, quiet girl. Time outs are not punishment for you; they are a luxury. Over the past year you’ve made it glaringly obvious that you need a fair amount of alone time. Here are a few things you have said to me:
Weeping, “I’m sick of having to see all these faces all day!”
Sitting on the front steps with Gaba, “I wish I could be abandoned.”
Then once you remarked to our babysitter, “I like to be alone.” [Dramatic pause.] “And cold.”
Ah, my little melancholic, you’re to great things. You’re going to use those great feelings and big thoughts and your inquisitive nature to touch others.
I love how you’ll find a bug or a flower, and you don’t just oooo and ahhh over it; you study it. You’d dissect it if you could – except you would never want to hurt anything – not a tender shoot of new grass growing in a patch of dirt, not a house fly buzzing around a window. Every life is delicate and sacred to you.
The world is such a curious place for you, too. You look at things differently and ask tough questions already like:
“Who made God?”
“Why do you need a man and a woman to create a baby?”
“Why can we see ourselves in the mirror?”
And when I explained about light reflecting, “Where does light come from?”
When Daddy and I try to answer your questions, you usually ask more questions and sometimes you get frustrated because you’re hungry for more information, knowledge, and I’d say wisdom.
Aside from your natural wonder, you love horses, books, and nighttime back rubs. You still like to sleep with Knuffle Bunny. You work hard at everything you do. I’ll never forget running beside you during your first one-mile fun run. Your face was flushed with color and determination. You were pumping your arms and legs so hard and would not stop. The same is true for soccer. You worked so hard this past season. With a serious and determine expression on your face, you weaved among your opponents keeping your eye on the goal. You were all heart out there.
You’re tough, but you’re so feminine, too. You like fairies and princesses and wearing dresses, but you have no qualms about donning soccer shorts and sprinting across the field. Your hair is long, wavy, and sun-kissed. I call it mermaid hair because it always has a little wildness to it. Your eyes are deep, dark brown and framed by thick eyelashes. You are perfectly lovely in every way.
I write these birthday letters to commemorate your life and YOU but also to remember. I don’t want to forget the way you feel in my arms now – solid and sweet. Or the way your dimple just above the right corner of your mouth winks when you start to talk while smiling. I want to remember how you look cuddled up with Knuffle Bunny or balancing so well on a scooter. I want to remember how it feels to run my fingers through your long, silky hair.
Happy 5th Birthday, my sweet Rachel. You will always be my little Rae of Sunshine, a light in my life that reflects goodness and bits and pieces of me.
I love you! I can’t wait to go horseback riding with you this weekend. Giddy up!
p.s. Here’s what you requested for your birthday meals.
Breakfast: Coffee and chocolate chip scones and a plum
Lunch: Toast with an egg cooked in the shape of a horse
Dinner: Pig ribs (This is one way you’re not like your former-vegetarian-mama-who-still-avoids-eating-animal-flesh-off-of-bones.)