My big girl has been nine for awhile now. We’ve just been busy, partly with schlepping her around to soccer practice and games. It’s been a sacrifice for the family, but she loves it and has never once complained about soccer or even the plyometrics she has to do during practice. Without further ado, I present her annual birthday letter:
I’m not sure if I can call you my little girl anymore. Daddy and I were recently watching some old video clips from when we first moved here. It was just three years ago, but watching you bounce around on the footage (remember how we used to call you Hopping Cricket?) with your shorter hair, softer features, and baby voice makes it feel like a lifetime has gone by. When we arrived in our new home, you were a little girl. Today I look at you, and I see a young lady. Of course, you’ll never stop being my sweet, little girl (no eye-rolling allowed, Missy!).
You’re annoyed with me right this very minute because I found a trail of your clothing on the floor and so I took your book away. “It’s not even my bedtime yet,” you argued. Tough luck, little lady. Welcome to the real world.
In all seriousness, you do sometimes roll your eyes at Daddy and me, but it’s more of a joking gesture and there’s even a hint of affection because you almost always grin at me once your eyes stop dancing around. Besides, I’ve realized I eye-roll right back at you. It’s like we’re having an eye roll contest. Watch out. From what I hear from Gaba, I was a professional eye-roller back in the day.
We do joke around a lot, and you never fail to make me laugh with your great sense of humor. Just the other day you had me chuckling when we were driving home from soccer practice. You had your first big tournament this year. Your team is very young, and you guys don’t have any subs so it’s been a bit of a rough season. You’ve lost more games than you’ve won; yet, you always leave the field with a big smile spread across your face. Well, you were telling me how apparently your team was ranked second going in to the tournament.
“Really?” I said. I don’t think I sounded too incredulous.
“I know,” you said. “The other teams must be horrible.”
You said this with not a hint of regret or disappointment. You love soccer. You love your soccer peeps, and it’s not about winning to you. It’s about enjoying your time on the field.
That’s just how you approach life. The glass is almost always half-full. Things could always be worse. You have a way of reminding me to look for the light when I find myself groping around in the dark (and griping about it, too). You get knocked down, and you get right back up again. Really. You’ve taken a ball to the face hard several games; yet, you shake it off, smile, and get back to playing. Once, you even snagged possession of the ball, dribbled it down field, and scored a goal all immediately after the ball had smacked you hard right in the face. You’re tough.
Let’s see what else there is to share about you right now. You’ve got braces on the top and bottom now. You have such a lovely smile. You’re tall for your age and athletic, too. The boys at school are always picking you for their teams during recess. I know because I sometimes volunteer to help out, and you’re frequently the only girl out there playing hard and holding your own.
You’re stubborn. You like to be in charge. You lead more than you follow, but sometimes I do sense that things bother you more than you let on. “I’m not sensitive!” you’ll firmly tell me when I ask you if it hurt your feelings when someone called you a brace face. Or you’ll say, “I don’t care.” And oftentimes, I don’t think you do care, or you know that the person who may have called you a name is wounded on some level and that you’re above all that. I love your confidence and how things don’t rock you to the core much. I’ve often thought you are more self-possessed and confident than I am even now and certainly more so when I was 9 years old. I was (am!) the sensitive type. Teasing did hurt my feelings. I wasn’t so sure of myself and desperately longed to fit in when I was younger. You want people to like you but not at the expense of being your own person. I admire your resilence and your willingness to be yourself; however, I also do want you to know that it’s perfectly normal to care or to be hurt by others’ name-calling or zingers. You don’t have to grow skin so thick you don’t feel anything. Be yourself, yes. But don’t be afraid to open up to me either or to admit that you’ve been hurt. And just because you don’t like pink doesn’t mean it’s wrong for other girls (um, like your little sister Mary Elizabeth!) to be drawn to very girly things. I do love it that you can look graceful in a dress one minute and then be hurling a football across the air the next.
I’m sure I’m going to get more eye-rolling at this point, so I’ll move on. We went birthday shopping and had to get size 12 corduroys for you. You can wear some of my shoes depending on the style. I suspect you’re definitely going to be taller than I am in a few years. Your hair is thick and has a mind of its own; it’s a lot like you. Like I mentioned previously, nearly every day you make me laugh with your spunk and matter-of-fact approach to life. Just last week I put your snack for school in a brown paper bag rather than the reusable bag I usually use, and you said, “Oh, you’re going all old-school on me.”
When you had your recent slumber party with a few friends, you came in to the kitchen at one point and sighed and said, “I’m a little overwhelmed. I think I’ve met my match when it comes to being a control freak.” I grinned and stifled my laughter, knowing it was hard for you to relinquish control to a strong-willed friend of yours.
I agonized over ending homeschool and sending you to school, but I see how you’re thriving, how you’re a little light to others (“Mrs. L says we are the clay, and God is the potter,” you remind me periodically), how much you enjoy being around other kids, and how you tell me everything about your day. You’re not afraid to be your own person, to read books, play soccer, and to bring flowers to your teacher. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss you terribly. The house is definitely a little too quiet and less lively without my Hopping Cricket. I also miss your help with all the littles. You really do have a gift with interacting with younger children. I was not nearly as nurturing as you are when I was your age. I was more worried about sitting at the grownup table whereas you’re content to play with the little ones and help take care of them. You used to want to be a marine biologist and an artist. These days you want to be a teacher.
Your heart is so generous. We were recently getting ready to go to your soccer tournament and for some reason everyone was pining for Daddy. Mommy was relegated to shark chum. We had to take two cars because we weren’t going to keep everyone out at the fields all day, and no one wanted to ride with me. You started getting into Daddy’s car and then paused for a moment. You then hoisted your soccer bag over your shoulder and headed in my direction.
“I’ll ride with you, Mommy,” you said. You sweet girl you. I’m not going to lie. I was so happy to have your company. I was even happier that your heart was receptive enough to know that it would make me happy to tag along in the minivan with me.
You’re so good to me. When I made your peacock birthday cake, which most definitely looked homemade and was not Pinterest-worthy or anything, you beamed with admiration. “That is so amazing, Mommy!” And I think you meant it, too.
Speaking of the cake, you also were such a good sport when I showed you the destroyed remains. Fortunately, we had already shared the cake with friends, and you’d made your birthday wish, but around 3 am I discovered Thomas noshing on the cake. He’d dragged a chair over the counter, figured out how to open the Tupperware cake caddy, and was using a knife (scary!) to cut pieces. So the next morning this was all that was left of your beautiful cake:
You were very understanding and laughed right along with me (he also got in to some of your Halloween candy that same nocturnal eating frenzy, and you were a good sport about that, too).
Oh, more evidence that you’re growing up: I’m not always Mommy these days. I’m sometimes “Mama” and occasionally even “Mom.” Be still, my heart. When did you get too old to always call me Mommy?
I have a friend who says you’re 9 going on 30. That’s about right. You hate to miss anything and want to be a part of the adult happenings. But it’s not just that. You say very adult things sometimes. One day not too long ago I apologized for an unfair outburst directed at you and Rachel. You sat down beside me and rubbed my back for a minute and said, “There’s nothing you can do to take our love away or to earn it.”
My eyes get all watery just writing that and reliving that tender moment. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your mercy. Thank you for sharing your sunshine disposition with me, with all of us.
Here’s a less serious anecdote illustrating your precociousness. The teacher who is in charge of the pep rally squad of girls was trying to recruit you while I was within an earshot. You thanked her and then promptly said, “I’m not really built for cheerleading.”
I’m sure she thought you’d heard that from your parents or from one of your friends, but you came up with that yourself.
I love you so very much, Madeline. These past nine years have been such a joyful, amazing journey. It’s hard to believe you’ve gone from an I-refuse-to-sit-on-the-potty-and-poop-despite-an-adult-dosage-of-Miralax-or-go-to-sleep-ever-toddler to an I-refuse-to-not-be-myself-even-in-the-midst-of-my-peers-young-lady. I once was a poop doula, a micromanager of your everyday minutiae. Now I’m having to take a step back and act more as a consultant. Luckily, we still have ample time for hugs, back rubs, and cuddling while reading together. I hope that never changes.
Madeline, you are funny, beautiful, athletic, brave, a total bibliophile, a lover of blue, a carb monger, goofy, nurturing, kind, energetic, loud, optimistic, creative (you’re currently working on a Thanksgiving play), and an absolute joy to raise. I thank God every day for the privilege of being your mother. You make me so very proud.
Happy 9th birthday to a lovely, young lady who will always, always be my little girl!