So we have a few summer birthdays around here, and Rachel’s came first and here I am just getting around to posting it. I did write it awhile back, but I had to get some photos together for it. One of my favorite parts of writing these annual birthday letters is perusing photos from the past. It’s so easy to forget how much my children have grown and changed because I am caught up in the daily chaos of just making sure kids eat, sleep, read, get to soccer and to school, and stay safe and quasi-clean. I loved finding some photos of my sweet, contemplative, animal-loving Rachel. Another year has come and gone. She’s quickly approaching the decade-mark and is as funny and sensitive as ever. I love you, Rae-Rae…to the moon and back.
You’re reading beside me as I draft your annual birthday letter, your long hair sunshine-kissed, and that perfect nose of yours finely dusted in freckles. Oh, how I love the smattering of freckles that sprinkle across your nose and cheeks. I hope they don’t fade as you age. You’ve grown up so much in the last year, and I feel a mixture of happiness and sadness when I study your face and see the faint outline of the woman you’ll one day (too soon!) become.
Pop was watching you eat a bowl of cereal recently and he told you that you were going to be a beautiful woman someday, and you sweetly smiled and said, “Thank you.” You accepted his compliment graciously. I hope you will always do that. It’s so sad how so many women argue against complements or sheepishly brush them aside instead of accepting them as the gift that they are.
This has been a good year for you. You remain, passionate, sweet, and sensitive. You share my own perfectionist tendencies. Watching you carefully put on your long socks, shin guards, and soccer cleats is akin to watching someone perform the ancient art of origami. You are careful, intent, and you do everything with great purpose.
You loved school this past year. You found a best friend in Grace; your teacher encouraged your creativity; and you read more books than we could count and retained your “Top Reader” title. You really came alive on the soccer field as well and played tough and with unbridled tenacity. You ran your hear of your first 5K and came in third place in the 10 & under division despite being only 7 at the time. You laughed, you cried, and you told me lots of silly jokes. You whispered, “God bless you,” and gently made the Sign of the Cross on my forehead at night after night just like I do to you. You made your First Reconciliation and your First Communion. You were so ready for these special days. You told me you weren’t nervous just excited. You fell in love with horses all over again at horse camp and have been petitioning worry-wart Daddy to allow you to take riding lessons ever since. You take care of Speedy the hermit crab when your sisters forget all about him, and you mourned the premature and sad death of Speedy’s companion, Padfoot. You sang a duet of “Silent Night” with Grace at the Christmas Eve Mass, and the two of you really did sound like angels. You’ve read countless facts loud to me from your miscellany of almanacs and National Geographic fact books. You have a true desire to learn and gain knowledge not to prove anything but simply because you are curious and knowing more gives you intrinsic pleasure. Knuffle Bunny is still your lovey although you no longer sleep with him much anymore. Lately, you’ve been saying you no longer want to be a vet because you don’t want to see animals suffer. You’re thinking of being an animal trainer and maybe an actress. Or maybe a writer. You keep a diary and enjoy writing stories.
You’re currently working on mastering your dive at the lake and the pool. You gave basketball camp a try this year. You taught yourself how to do a flip on the trampoline. You’ve daydreamed, written me beautiful, heartfelt notes that have made me cry, and loved fiercely – everything from animals to books to God and to family.
You still will gobble up tons of shrimp, and the colors aqua and turquoise remain your favorites. You enjoy friends and playing with Madeline, Mary, and Thomas, but you need downtime and alone time like you need air. You have a great and witty sense of humor. Just recently, we were playing a family game of Cranium, and you and I were on a team. I had to spell KARATE backwards and since the yellow category is my forte, I was getting all cocky. “E. A,” I said. You looked at me like I was crazy, and I realized my mistake. Later, you joked, “When you started to spell ‘karate’ wrong backwards, I thought to myself, ‘Well, you learn something wrong every day.” Ha. Ha.
You feel deeply. And, Rachel, I love you deeply. You’re always making me proud as well as making me laugh. Sometimes when your beautiful, brown eyes shine with tears you’re bravely trying to hold back, you make me cry. Or maybe we make each other cry. You’ll always, always be my “Baby Rae,” a child carved from my own passionate heart and sensitive soul.
This eighth year of yours has been wonderful, and I look forward to everything that’s to come and to witnessing you become the special and amazing young woman I know you’re destined to be…
I love you, my sweet “Rae” of Sunshine. Happy, happy 8th birthday!
You’ve always loved animals.
And you’ve always had a lot to ponder and dream about.
When you’re happy, your brimming with joy. But when you’re sad, you’re really sad.
You have always loved nature and being outdoors. (That’s you on the left and a younger Madeline on the right.)
And you will always be my sweet Rae-Rae.
The week of birthday letters! My sweet M.E. turned 6 on Easter Sunday this year, and she lost her first tooth that day! It was a memorable birthday!
Dear Mary Elizabeth,
Happy 6th birthday! As Madeline sometimes writes on birthday cards of little ones in the neighborhood, 6 is such a big number. Truly. When we moved here, you were just a chunky nugget (Papa called you “Chunk Style” when you were a baby), and now you’re a long-haired, little girl who is usually very easy-going and free-spirited, but you most definitely have a feisty, stubborn streak.
You’re playing soccer this year and loving it. You run after the ball with fierce determination. You told me after a game against a particularly physical and rough opponent, “I may be a little thing but when I’m out there, I turn into a pistol.” You may have overhead someone saying that about you, but it’s true.
You’re such a wonderful combination of femininity and fierceness. You’ll be wearing a glittery bracelet that you’ve dubbed your party bangle while digging in the dirt searching for earthworms. You love to draw and one moment you’ll be sketching the dainty flowers and the next minute you’re doodling goofy, cartoonish characters with jagged teeth and bulging eyes.
You love to accessorize. You always have as evidenced from the photo below. A girl can’t have too much bling.
For your birthday a thoughtful neighborhood friend gave you a gift certificate to Claire’s. You’d never been to the mecca for fashionistas. I’d say you were fairly excited by the selection.
Out of my girls, you love baby dolls the most and really seem to enjoy taking care of them. You also frequently talk about how you want to be an at-home mom like me. Once I was making silly faces at you while putting gas into my car (you love it when I do that and make even sillier faces back at me). When I got back in the car, you said, “Mommy, when I have kids, I’m going to make silly faces with them, too, when I get gas.” That was such a simple but meaningful compliment. You notice the little things I do, and they mean something to you.
Once Rachel told you, “You could be the first woman president.”
“No, I couldn’t,” you replied. “I have to stay home with my children.”
Now I am not trying to dissuade you from shooting for the stars, but saying that made me realize that you are thankful that I am here, taking care of you, teaching you how to read, baking banana bread with you at your side, folding laundry, and reading you storybooks.
Aside from baby dolls, you adore your two baby cousins and could hold them for hours.
Let’s see. What else is new in your 6-year-old life? Your reading is starting to take off. You can read simple books. Your handwriting has always been good given your artistic aptitude. Your favorite colors are “blue, yellow, and green like Mommy’s favorite colors and all the other colors.” You have a big heart that has room to love all the colors of the rainbow as well as most things in life from worms to sparkly jewelry.
You adored being a flower girl for the first time last fall and took your job very seriously.
You’re a great big sister to Thomas. The two of you play very well together. A frequent playtime activity is playing the Titanic theme song on our old Casio and putting on a fancy dress and dancing together and pretending it’s your wedding. Not surprisingly, Thomas recently said, “I choose M.E.!” when he was talking about whom he wants to marry one day.
You’re a very affectionate child. You give spontaneous hugs and like to cuddle up close when I read to you. “Put your arm around me,” you’ll say. I don’t have to steal kisses or hugs from you! You’re very generous with them.
And while we joke that you’re our flower child because you seem to dance through life without a care in the world (except at bedtime when your stubborn streak flashes and you have frequent vespertine tantrums), you actually have a very sensitive soul, and I have to be careful to assume that all’s well in your little world. You still talk about my nana; her death had quite the impact on you. You loved bringing her Gaba and Papa’s nesting dolls and sitting at her feet as if she were the queen, which she kind of was. You also miss our neighbor, Mr. Thomas, who died the same year Nana passed away. Recently, Rachel and Madeline were both talking about the books they were reading, and both involved people dying. “Why do Maddy and Rachel read so many scary books about people dying?” you asked, your green eyes imploring. You also try to save injured bugs you find outside.
Other favorites in your life include cuddling with Fang, tomatoes, baking with me, singing (you have a pretty, soprano voice, and when we sing with one another, you say, “We sound good together, Mommy, don’t we?”), bugs, picking me flowers, riding your bike (you never needed training wheels; you went straight to the real thing when you were only 4 after using a balance bike), being with friends, taking baths, making art, swinging, putting lip gloss upon your rosebud lips, and giggling. I know I’m missing so much. A yearly letter could never capture the essence of your full life and lovely personality. I love being your mommy. I love how you still hold my hand. I love your funny stories. I love your earthy eyes and strawberry blonde hair. You cut your bangs earlier this year and at first they looked like Beyonce’s baby bangs (not that you know anything about that, but you do know who Taylor Swift is and like almost every other girl in America, you think she’s pretty) and I have to admit that they are growing out quite nicely. We had an at-home spa day recently and gave each other foot massages and I gave you a manicure, and you were just so tickled to be with me and to be doing something together. Thank you for loving me so well. Thank you for being lovely you.
Happy 6th birthday! Don’t grow up too quickly, okay?
I love you just the way you are. As my friend Amy said, “The world be a lot less sparkly without you!”
Tune into my monthly Relevant Radio interview tomorrow (4/20/15) at 8:30 am EST. (You can listen online.) I’ll be talking about decluttering and mentioning the book that everyone seems to be reading these days. Now it’s time to talk about this girl of mine:
Time to dust off this old blog of mine. Can you believe I started Momopoly in 2005? I’ve been at this blogging gig for a decade. Once I wrote my book I was advised to turn my rambling headquarters into something a little more professional – hence, the boring KateWicker.com URL. I am honestly getting a little tired of all the brown and looking at my picture in the left-hand corner and want to give it a facelift without spending too much moula so if anyone wants to talk about a possible design project, shoot me an email.
This week I have plans to post some belated birthday letters. I have had a child enter the double digits (um, almost six months ago. Just call me Slacker Mom) and one of my littles also celebrated another birthday. On one hand, it’s been such a delight to watch my firstborn grow into such a fun young lady. But there will always be that part of me that wants to make these walking timepieces slow their constant ticking down. Don’t grow up so quickly, kiddos. Life’s short, so why don’t you stay short? That’s not happening with my Madeline. She gets her height from her daddy. She can wear some of my tops now, and her feet are bigger than mine. She’s 10, and she’s inching very close to being as tall as I am.
Thankfully, she still looks like my baby girl when she sleeps.
Madeline makes me laugh all the time, and she is an eternal optimist who is such a good reminder for me to not turn into a frazzled stress ball or to not beat myself up for failures. She’s fun and sweet and 10 going on 30. A friend of mine has said she’s an old soul trapped in little body. She makes me proud every single day.
Of course, like most children – at least children who are not boring (I always tell myself that my kids are feisty because of their big personalities) she can also drive me to the brink of having a nervous breakdown (what we refer to as tsumommy instead of tsunami). Her chosen weapon of mass mommy destruction is leaving a trail of kid detritus all over the house. Her room’s a mess; dresser drawers are always open, shreds of paper are ubiquitous, and there are piles of books everywhere. Beyond her bedroom door, soccer cleats and athletic socks frequently litter our floors. I have to remind her 17 times – give or take – to put her dirty clothes in the laundry basket (and there’s a laundry basket in three out of four bedrooms in our house and one in the basement laundry room, so NO EXCUSE!).
But then I get to school, and her teachers talk about her work ethic, her positivity, her leadership, her organization skills (I admit that one confounds me a bit), and how she’s nice to all of the kids, and I remind myself to choose my battles. This is a lovely, fun kid. So I’ve told her she can have a little more leeway with the state of her room, but she needs to respect the rest of us and not not leave dirty socks or anything of hers in our rooms or the kitchen, living room, basement, bathroom, etc. Sure, it’s my job to help mold her into a responsible person and to cultivate good habits, but I also have to learn to accept her for who she is. She is fond of sentimental clutter. She has taped up myriad pictures her sisters have gifted her with upon her walls. She doesn’t mind dresser drawers yawning wide at all hours of the day. Sometimes all I see are the messes instead of the young woman behind them. She is happy and kind and doesn’t take herself – or obviously her bedroom – too seriously. She’s so accepting of me and all of my flaws; I need to reciprocate this compassionate acceptance.
Recently, my mom and dad had her over to spend the night, and my mom texted me, “Madeline adores you. It’s very sweet. You were the center of conversation after Mass last night.” This made my day. And my month. And quite possibly my year.
There have been occasional eye-rolls since she turned 10 (she comes by most of these less than desirable traits honestly; I was an eye-roller and apparently, her daddy’s room looked like a war zone when he was her age), but she still looks up to me. She adores me. I adore her. I can’t wait to see what the next decade holds for my sweet girl and me.
Now presenting her very, very belated birthday letter (for those of you new-ish to my blog I write a birthday letter for each of my kids every year. I plan on printing them all out and binding them and giving a “birthday letter book” to them before they leave the nest. Sniff, sniff.):
I am way overdue in writing your birthday letter celebrating your first decade of life. I won’t tell you just how late but knowing you, if I did, you’d smile and tell me not to worry. That’s how just how you are. You rarely sweat the small stuff. You give your best, but you don’t expect perfection from yourself – or from others. I have often watched the way you have navigated a certain situation – like how you were before you assisted at Mass as an altar server for the first time – and been in awe of your quiet confidence. I was no way near as self-possessed as you are at the ripe, old age of 10.
From my Instagram account. Follow along over there because that’s where I spend most of my social media hours these days.
When we arrived at church, I helped you slip into the white robe and whispered, “Are you nervous?”
“Nah,” you said. “I can always just wing it.”
Now I know this was your way of telling me not to worry. You weren’t undermining the importance of your role as an altar server, and you rarely “just wing” anything. Everyone from your teachers to your soccer or basketball coach always comment on your maturity, your unselfishness, and your leadership. God blessed you with so many talents, but He also blessed you with a heart that cares and reaches out to others. That’s what really makes me proud. Now if we could only get you to keep that room of yours clean and have you remember to not leave a trail of shoes, soccer cleats, sketches, socks, and hair ties throughout the house but as you remind me, day after day, no one is perfect. You’re willing to try new things and to have fun without caving under pressure. You’re already wise enough to know that setting “perfect” as your bar only sets you up for failure.
You’re still a sports fanatic. When I volunteer for recess duty, you’re out there with all the boys playing football. Once I saw them picking teams, and two boys were arguing over having you on your team because apparently you have one of the best arms. You could play sports all day. I’m not sure I could have handled the kind of practice schedule you do, but you thrive on the activity and always keep smiling – win or lose.
You love being around people almost as much as you love playing sports. You only wish you could play every sport every season. Oh, and you’d like to audition for plays and write a book on the side. Keeping busy keeps you happy.
There’s so much I could write about because at the age of 10 you are such an interesting person. I’m not suggesting you weren’t interesting when you were younger, but it’s such a joy to see you grow up and bake banana bread for the family, enjoy sushi, and have great and sometimes even intellectual conversations. I’ve decided to do a top 10 sort of list of ten highlights I remember from the past year. Consider this an inadequate recap because there’s just no way I can recapture all the wonderful moments and gifts you have blessed me with in the past 365 days and in the time I’ve had you in my life! Oh, my first baby girl! I’ll never ever forget the day I first held you in my arms or all those nights we both spent wakeful with you wiggling around. You still wiggle a lot just before you succumb to sleep!
Without further ado, Madeline Top 10 List (listed in no particular order):
10. I love what a great big sister you are. Sure, you fight with your siblings some and there are times when you are trying so hard to lead and organize that your sheep lash out at you and go a little bezerk, but you have such a nurturing soul. You like to sleep with Thomas when you can and on nights when Daddy is working, you’re always such a big help with Mary Elizabeth at bedtime. You can’t wait to be able to babysit, and you’re amazing with your two baby cousins. You truly love little ones and will make a great mother someday!
9. Your dry sense of humor is priceless. The things you come up with never fail to make me laugh like how you provide memorable commentary such as, “Fang [our cat] is a geek cat for a geek family.” Or, “I wish there were more people my age on our street. It would be dream to have kids knocking at my door all the time to play. Instead, I’ve got old ladies. But nothing against old people.”
One of my favorite funny moments is when you became interested in breaking a world record. You decided you could wear the most underwear at once, but unfortunately you ran into some logistical challenges because you told me, “I think I could put on more than 36 pairs of underwear [the current world record apparently]. I got to 26, but then I ran out of underwear.”
Keep laughing and not taking yourself too seriously. Oh, that reminds me of something else. At a soccer game recently, you kicked the ball with the wrong part of your foot so that it spun but didn’t really go anywhere. You immediately chuckled at yourself and then went after the ball again with more tenacity. You can laugh at yourself, but you also give your best.
8. You really do seem comfortable in your own skin. Not too long ago, I discovered you examining yourself in the mirror and I panicked as the relics of my eating disorder came crashing down in an avalanche of regretful remembrances. I thought, “Oh no! It’s starting already. She’s looking in the mirror and picking apart her body and failing to see just how strong and beautiful she is.”
Well, I could not have been more wrong.
I gently asked, “What are you thinking, Madeline?”
You grinned broadly at me and said, “I was looking at how strong my butt is. Feel it. It’s so hard, but unfortunately a strong butt won’t get you all that far in life.”
Not surprisingly, I had to gulp down my giggles, but I was also so grateful that you see yourself as being strong and that you already seem to know that you have a lot to offer the world (aside from a strong bum!). Always believe that, my love. You are beautiful just the way you are. Don’t let anyone or any disappointment or heartbreak convince you differently.
7. Watching you play sports has become one of my favorite pastimes. I admit that all the schlepping to games and practices is sometimes tough on me and the littles, but when I see you come alive on the field, head a soccer ball into the goal (but be careful with that brilliant mind of yours!), rebound a basketball, make a smart pass to a teammate, smile after a game whether you’ve won or loss, I know that all the sweat and miles covered in the car is so worth it. You are quite the athlete, and I love watching you play. The school’s athletic director had to twist my arm to allow you to play your inaugural season of basketball. I literally said no to her three times, but I finally relented. I am so glad I did. It was so thrilling to watch you play basketball, and you were a natural. Your team made it to the championship and nearly beat a team that hadn’t lost in years. At the end of the game, the coach presented the big trophy to you to take to the school because he was so proud of your leadership and positive attitude despite the disappointing loss.
You also ran your first 5K this year and came in second place just a few seconds behind first place for your age group! (Little Rachel came in third, and Mommy came in first in her age group, so now we’re all excited about racing together.) As I tell you before almost every game, “Play hard and have fun!” in all the games you find yourself in during this active life of yours!
6. You’re still quite the artist. This year you drew a picture for the yearbook cover contest and won! You’re so excited to see your artwork featured on the cover. You have a creative spirit and enjoy drawing, painting, making bracelets, learning how to knit with your Nana, baking, writing stories or plays, etc. Keep on creating!
5. You’re getting a little more in touch with your feminine side. This isn’t to say you used to be all boy, but you never were much of a girly-girl. When you were young, we had pirate and dinosaur parties. Later you fell in love with Star Wars. And, of course, we all know that first of only a handful of ballet classes is what clued me in to your propensity for sports. I’ll never forget watching you pick wedgies out of your pink leotard in between sprints across the dance floor as the other little girls gracefully twirled about! After a few classes, you started crying telling me you didn’t want to go, so we signed you up for soccer. And, well, you know the story #15 soccer knocker! Ironically, you recently had a performance at school and busted a move, and several people commented on your great dancing. You were quite the ham up there! But what I mean by this girl stuff, is that you like to wear cute clothes and dress up for church. You spend more time brushing that thick, beautiful hair of yours. Thank goodness! I hated dealing with those huge nests that would form in your hair. But you’ll still wear mismatched shoes and prefer to be in athletic shorts and a t-shirt. You’re such a good combination between having a dash of sugar spice but not being afraid to pick up a football or play in the dirt.
4. You possess a quiet faith. You’re not overly flashy about it, but you’ve told on more than one occasion that you pray every night (even when I don’t happen to pray with you because I’ve fallen asleep with one of the littles after a long, tiring day). Just today I joked with you because I saw some writing on your wrist, “Where’d you get the tat?”
“It’s highlighter,” you told me, and there on your wrist in neon pink you’d written, “WWJD?”
You’re also the one who asked me if you could train to be an altar server. It was all you taking the initiative. This faith of yours will be your greatest gift. Keep the faith. It won’t always be easy. Trust me. I’ve got a lot of Doubting Thomas in me, but I am also stubborn and so are you, so I hope we’ll both keep showing up at Mass.
3. You are an extreme extrovert. You get so much joy out of activity and being around other people. While some of us in the family need to rest our minds and be still and alone to refuel, you are energized by doing things with other people.
2. While you love to be active, you also remain a bibliophile and an artist. You enjoy doodling, painting, and just creating. You’re not as into the Rainbow Loom these days, but you have started weaving words together to create stories, and you use some great adjectives. And you love to read. Some of your favorite books recently include The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Hatchet, The White Giraffe, Wonder (me, too! I loved this one.), and 13 Gifts.
1. When you were in utero, I used to joke that you must be a Tae Bo enthusiast because it felt like you were constantly jabbing me and doing what felt like somersaults. You were born very alert. Everyone – from your proud grandparents to the nurses – commented on your attentive eyes and how you seemed to be taking everything in around you. You were baptized when you were just two months old, but people thought you were at least four months old because you were awake for the entire ceremony and looking around curiously. You didn’t sleep much. I was exhausted, but you were thankfully a happy insomniac. You just didn’t need a lot of sleep, and you didn’t want to miss anything. You’re the same way now. You saw a shirt that said, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” and you told me that’s how you feel, although you do need more sleep these days and like to sleep in on a rare morning when we don’t have to rush out the door. You’re a night owl though, and you love life so much you don’t want to waste anytime being horizontal. I love your fervor, your tenacious optimism, your sweetness… Right now my primary job is to be your parent. I’ve told you I’m not here for you to be your friendly pal. I’ll enforce rules you don’t like, and you probably won’t even always like me. But I know we will always love each other very much, and I can see that one day when you’re a grown woman and I don’t have to raise you any longer we are going to be great friends, and you’ll still be making me laugh and reminding me that the glass is always half-full and life is even fuller. When you’re all grown up, I envision us laughing together, going on long walks (or maybe runs?), and soaking up this beautiful life together.
I’ve listed my top 10, but there’s so much more I could write about you. One thought just popped into my head and can’t possibly pass unspoken. When I’m having a rough day and getting all weepy, you’re the first one to pat me on the back and to encourage me. “You’re the best mom in the world,” you’ll tell me with your signature assertiveness. Thank you for your compassion. Thank you for your love. Thank you for being amazing YOU. This last decade has blessed me beyond measure. I know I’m sounding like a Hallmark card, but I can’t imagine my life without you and all of your energy and effervescence. Keep being lovely you. I love you just the way you are.
Happy 10th birthday, my sweet, sweet girl!