To my “Rae” of sunshine…

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Dear Rachel,

My sweet, 6-year-old girl, happy, happy birthday! Last week you were blessed to spend a week in heaven – otherwise known as horse camp. When I picked you up one of the days, your instructor remarked, nodding in your direction, “This girl cracks me up. She’s always wanting to make sure she’s doing everything exactly right.”

That’s you, my little perfectionist. Oh, Rae, you always try so hard at everything you set out to do. Sometimes the intensity at which you work at something – whether it’s forming lower case letters or running a half-mile alongside me – surprises me. I admire how hard you work and how you give your best to everything, but sometimes, as your mama, I worry you’re afraid to be less than perfect or you’re afraid that if you don’t do something well, you’ll be a failure. You’ve been gifted with so many talents, but please don’t be too hard on yourself when you fall short or just feel like you’re not measuring up to some imagined or real standard. Remember that you’re not a super-human but just a human who depends upon supernatural grace. This is a lesson your mama is still working hard to embrace!

I did love seeing how much you enjoyed being around horses. The sweet smell of manure mingled with hay and the earthy scent of a horse transported me back to my own horse crazy childhood when all I wanted to do was ride and lose myself in the world of those beautiful beasts. It’s fun to see you love something I once loved! (You seem to really like running, too, and are quite speedy on the soccer fields.) It’s not so fun, however, to see your rail-thin body and puffy eyes at the end of a fun but equally exhausting day. My sweet girl, you were recently diagnosed with mono after I spent a long few days worrying about your decreasing appetite and symptoms of malaise. For four days you ate nothing but soup! You’ve grown so thin, but thankfully you’ve started eating again. I’m waiting for you to gobble up a rich, buttery, and cheesy bowl of grits some morning soon (this is one of your favorite breakfast dishes right now). Fortunately, mono at this age doesn’t disrupt your daily activities too much. Our pediatrician obviously gave us the green light for horse camp. We also had a family birthday party for you, and you requested “pig ribs” for dinner. So funny that this former vegetarian is raising such passionate carnivores! You donned a turquoise dress for the celebration. Turquoise is your favorite color these days. Your dolphin cookie cake had turquoise frosting on it as well, which pleased you very much. You asked for roller skates and some books, and your birthday wishes came true. We’ve already read the delightful and nonsensical Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated (Mary Elizabeth loves this one, too) several times, and your nose has been inserted to the other books you received as gifts. You’re a voracious reader. You have a wonderful imagination and love to draw as well. You want to be a veterinarian when you grow up and are so sweet with animals. You give Layla [our Lab/Great Dane mix] morning belly rubs and help to feed her in the morning.

Other news from this past year: You had another great soccer season.  You got to swim with dophins and give one a kiss. What a lucky kid you are! We’ve baked lots together and read more stories than we could ever count. You like to tell “knock, knock” jokes that don’t quite make sense but cause me to chuckle nonetheless. You loved singing in your homeschool choir. You made your stage debut as a hee-hawing donkey in The Musicians of Bremen. You had your first sleepover right after you turned 6, and the mom said you were so sweet and polite. You make Daddy and me very proud. You have a beautiful smile that brightens my day; I especially love that dimple that pops out when you grin because Daddy has the exact same one. You have a beautiful face with creamy skin lightly dusted with freckles and those big, brown doe eyes fringed with dark, long lashes. Your hair is kissed with the sunshine and long and wavy (I call it your mermaid hair). But it’s your beautiful heart I love the most. You truly are a “Rae of sunshine” who is eager to please and bring joy to others. You write me the sweetest notes and are quick to express your love for me. You’re sensitive. Sometimes your eyes will fill with tears, and you’ll blame it on them just hurting, but I know something has touched your soul. You rejoice with the world and bleed with it, too. I know how it feels to feel so deeply. We are cut from a very similar cloth, sweet girl.

Daddy was recently working on organizing our hours and hours of video footage, and he showed me some clips from when you were a baby – all chunky thighs (Papa called you “Chunk Style”), gooey grins, and happy squeals and coos. Well, my eyes started “hurting” and watering because my sweet Baby Rae is growing up but – wow! – you’re turning into such a fun, smart, contemplative, silly, lovely, and polite, little girl. Happy 6th birthday, my love, my dove, my treasure divine (or my MLMDMTD as Papa used to and still sometimes does call me). I love you to the moon and back….now and forever and ever.

Love,

Mommy

 

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Dear Mary Elizabeth,

My sweet, sweet girl, happy (belated) fourth birthday. I’m not as quick at getting these birthday letters out any longer, but that’s just because we’re so busy enjoying life (and spending time out on the soccer fields watching your big sisters play)! You’re also very busy accessorizing. My goodness, you are quite the fashionista. Why leave the house with one sparkly headband when you can wear two or three?

The other day you told me that you didn’t like my hair. Later that same day I tucked it into a messy French twist of which you approved. “Now you can stay here with me.” Prior to that you’d wanted me to leave the house to take Rachel to soccer and have Daddy stay at home with you (you approved of his hair apparently). Sometimes, too, you’ll tell me that you don’t like my outfit, but most of the time you provide quite the ego boost for me. “Mommy, you look beautiful!” you’ll say. Or you’ll admire my shoe selection or a piece of jewelry I’m wearing.

Each morning you get yourself ready all by yourself (and you almost always match). In fact, if I try to help or gently guide your fashion choices, you become quite agitated. I’ve got this, Mommy! Now that the weather is turning warmer, you usually choose an airy dress and slip into your new flip-flops adorned with crocheted purple and turquoise flowers.

You’re a fairly easy-going kid, but a bad hair day is cause for a major meltdown. Seriously, if I don’t make sure all the bumps are smoothed out when I’m putting your hair into a ponytail, you throw a fit. Just recently I was watching you play on the playground while your big sisters were on the soccer field, and there was an older girl who was being a little rough with the younger set. At one point, she plowed over you as you were trying to slip down the twisty slide. Well, you popped up with a red, scrunched up face and stormed over to me. I expected to you say that she had hurt you, but you glanced in the direction with narrowed eyes and then told me, “That girl messed up my hair.” People ought to know better than to come in between M.E. and her hair!

But as much as you love to tap into your feminine side, you’re a feisty one who isn’t afraid to dig in the dirt for bugs or to get messy (very messy) while crafting or playing outside. You play hard. You’re brimming with joie de vivre. Life is fun and exciting, and the world is a beautiful, magical place. You’ll admire a bright green inchworm you discover in the front yard just as much as you take pleasure in the muddy earth after a hard spring rain.

You’re a very caring big sister to your little brother as well. Thomas adores you and especially likes to wrestle with you. You giggle when he collapses on top of you. Even though he’s more than two years younger, he only weighs two pounds less than you. He’s a tank while you’re a willowy, little thing. But you keep up with the big girls. You don’t let a skinned knee keep you down. You’re quite the speed demon on your balance bike. The grandparents are always impressed to watch you cruise quickly down the driveway with a wide grin spread upon your face.

You love rhinestones, wearing jewelry, having your nails painted pretty colors, reading books together, drawing, wrestling with Daddy and Thomas, playing house (you’re the mommy, and I trick you into putting your baby – me – to bed), baking with me, avocados, tomatoes, lollipops, telling me secrets (which usually revolve around nursing), spending time with your best bud Will, cuddling up at night and during quiet time (“Put your arm around me,” you insist every time), loving on Layla (recently, you tried to ride her. She’s a big dog but not that big!), singing and dancing, making goofy faces, and eating. “I’m hungry!” You say that at least twenty times a day.

Oh, and you’re quite the monkey. You’ve always loved climbing and can scale a tree quickly. In fact, a few weeks ago I was washing dishes after dinner when Rachel ran inside out of breath and shouted, “Emergency!” Now I admit I wasn’t all that alarmed because you guys tend to think a broken piece of sidewalk chalk is an emergency, but then when she told me you were at the tippy-top of a magnolia tree, I decided to take the situation seriously. I still thought she was probably exaggerating because the magnolia tree close by is a tall one. Well, I walked outside and there you were, waving down at me and beaming at the very top of the tree. My heart hammered in my chest, but I kept my voice calm because I didn’t want you to panic. I just kept thinking of Pollyanna becoming paralyzed after she tumbled from a tree. But I watched you skillfully  and with surprising alacrity make your way down. Once your two feet were safe on the ground, we had a serious talk about the dangers of climbing tall trees, and I made sure not to mention how much your climbing ability impressed me. My goodness, you made it look easy, but you’re a little girl, not a monkey, so please be safe!

DSC 0287 1024x680 4My darling daughter, I love everything about you. Your girly-girl ways remind me of how I was at your age, and I have a feeling you’re going to have quite a shoe-hoarding habit one of these days. But what I love the most is your chutzpah. I had plenty of that, too. Gaba says I wasn’t afraid of anything, which explains why I’d hop a huge horse and not think twice about galloping across an open field. Now that I’m a mom myself your fearless can make me nervous. You’ll be swinging from a branch, and I’ll say, “Just be careful. You could get hurt.”

“No, I won’t,” you say with confidence that quickly morphs into plain, old stubbornness as you continue to swing more quickly despite my warnings.

Yup, there are days when your fiery spirit drives me crazy – like when you throw a tantrum because I won’t let you wear a sleeveless dress (no jacket, thank you very much) when it’s 40 degrees outside or when you refuse to help clean up the ocean you just created by spreading out every single baby blanket we own (and with four kids, that’s a lot of baby blankets) on the floor even though your ship has beached itself for the day. Yet, I know your tenacity will serve you well. You’ve got plenty of sugar and spice, but you’re like the chocolate laced with cayenne pepper – sweet with quite the kick.

Four is going to be a magical year. There’s so much more to discover – and so many new hand-me-down dresses to add to your closet, you lucky girl you.

For your birthday we graced you with a crown, and you were a princess for the day. But even when there are no sparkling tiaras, pink cakes, or presents at your feet know that you are beloved.

I thank God for delivering your peanut self – all 5 pounds and 14 ounces of you – four years (and a few days) ago, and I look forward to watching you grow, climb trees, strut your stuff in new chic ensembles, and savor the good life!

I love you just the way you are, Birthday Girl!

Love Always,
Mommy

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P.S. Who makes the better princess?

Uncle Josh?
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Or you?

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8 is great!

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(So I can’t even seem to keep up with my kids’ annual birthday letters anymore. I started the draft of this letter over a week ago, but life kept happening {interrupting}. Better late than never, right? )

Dear Madeline,

Last night we headed to the fabric store to pick out some fat quarters to supply your new sewing basket. You’re thrilled with your new sewing machine and stitched together a purse within hours of getting everything set up. (You’ll be getting no help from your sewing-challenged mother.) When we left the store with an assortment of colorful fabrics, you grabbed my hand. It was such a simple, tender moment. You holding my hand, my little-big girl walking side-by-side with me.

Later that night when you were upstairs probably reading when you should have been sleeping, Daddy said, “You know she’s on the cusp of not being a little girl anymore.”

My heart winced as I recalled how I too often take your littleness for granted or expect you to be the big girl in the family. You still want to hold my hand. You still crave cuddles. You talk about how you’re happy here at home with me. And then you let go of my hand or your old soul says something profound and wise, and I’m faced with the inevitable – your growing into a young woman.

It’s when you let go of my hand that I’m faced with the truth: I cannot hold on for forever.

There are these moments in our life together when my breath hitches, when I catch a glimpse of the woman you are to become, when my joy for all that you are and all that you will be trumps the fear or wistfulness.

I remember a few years ago when you wanted to cruise down a steep hill in our neighborhood on your bike. You’d been riding without training wheels for some time, but this hill was mighty steep and I was mighty nervous about sending you off down what felt like a treacherous cliff. Images of your bike wheel hitting a rock and going wobbly on you so that you were thrown onto the pavement haunted me. But before I could change mind, you pedaled forward and there you were sailing down the hill on your bike, squealing with absolute joy and freedom. My fear didn’t completely vanish, but I was surprised by your self-assurance and how effortless you made riding a big-girl bike appear. You were steady and strong. When you returned to me, your face was flushed with pleasure. Mine was, too.

Everyone is always telling me, as a mom to littles, to enjoy these precious years because they go by so quickly. Thanks to you, I know this to be true. You’re living proof of this, my walking timepiece. I don’t feel like I’ve changed all that much in these past eight years, but look at you. Your mouth is full of gaps as you continue to lose baby teeth. Your limbs are lengthening. You’re tall like your daddy. You’re also a funny, smart, athletic, semi-nocturnal, energetic, creative, empathetic, strong, and beautiful, little, 8-year-old girl. It is all indeed very transient.

To be a mother, you may one day learn, requires that I teach you to be less dependent on me and more dependent on yourself. That’s why I insist you do all those annoying things like make your bed each morning, unload the dishwasher, and practice your cursive. But I don’t want you to ever stop needing my love. You can hold my hand as long as you like, sweet girl.

When you grow up, you want to be a marine biologist right now and also have an art studio in your backyard, but you insist you’ll be going to UGA and will be living at home nearby for forever. Fine by me.

You also talk about having a website to sell your creations. “I’m going to call it ‘Work of Art,’” you told me recently.

Well, you my firstborn, are a work of art yourself. Your wide-eyed optimism (“Look on the bright side, Mommy,” you’ve told me more than once), your wealth of empathy, your zest for life, your extroversion, your generous spirit, your sense of humor that always has me cracking up…I love being around you. I enjoy your company and delight in the funny things you say. I really and truly do.

Unfortunately, not many of your friends could make it to the carnival party you spent over a month planning. Each regret that came in left you with watery eyes, but you bravely blinked back the tears, swallowed your disappointment, and didn’t let it rob you of your joy.

Your party was simple – an afternoon of good, old-fashioned fun for children of all ages. You watched out for your younger siblings and the other smaller children in attendance. Several people have commented on how nurturing you are for a child your age. It’s true. You love taking care of little ones and always get down to their level and look them in their eyes.I dressed up as a clown and dubbed myself Sally-poolooza. Daddy juggled. Papa performed an impressive magic show. Gaba and Ivy made an appearance, too. You fluttered around like the social butterfly that you are. You delighted in the company of others just as they delighted in the gift that is you.

Happy birthday, my lover of the color blue, Star Wars, soccer, friends, books, art, and quiche! Do you know how proud I am of you, Madeline? Your level of maturity, your grace, your willingness to forgive and to love and to see beauty in life and in others – you are one amazing child and a lovely work of art I never want to stop gazing upon.

I love you, Madeline, so very, very much.

Love,
Mommy

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