Letter to my Daughter on Her 6th Birthday

On each of my kids’ birthdays I compose a letter. My plan is to one day hand over a book of these heartfelt letters, proving to an ornery teenager that I do, in fact, know and love him/her, and that my goals as a mother go beyond ruining his/her social life.

Dear Sally,

Happy Birthday! My vibrant, affectionate, bold, funny, smart girl turns six today and I couldn’t be more proud of the kid you’ve become. I don’t know how I got lucky enough to be your mom, but I’m grateful every day that I am. You are a light and a joy for me and our family, and my world is infinitely better because you’re in it.

I thought long and hard about what to write in this letter. I reread last year’s letter (here) and now I feel like I’ve said it all already. As a five-year-old you transformed from a great little kid into a fantastic (slightly less) little kid. You thrived in kindergarten, as I knew you would, lapping up the new knowledge and experiences with the same cheerful enthusiasm and aplomb that you bring to all you do. I’m so happy to see your confidence and individuality still firmly intact. As you enter first grade, I hope you stay full of humor, curiosity, and pluck.

Your natural confidence and warmth are magnetic. You make new friends easily and everywhere – a skill you were born with and one of the many ways you are so different from me. Even your big brother looks to your fortitude and courage to bolster his own, and the two of you brave the world together. Puddle gazing

As a dynamic duo, he relies on your quick thinking and adventurous nature, even as you look up to him for his “good” ideas and knowhow.camping

It’s not surprising that you attract friends to your side effortlessly. You have so many wonderful traits, making it natural for you to fit in with just about anyone. You’re the girl who happily plays with dolls and princess dresses, and who also can keep up with a pack of boys running wildly with secret missions, evil bad guys, and superhero responsibilities. You wield a sword in one hand and pink fairy wand in the other; you pair your cape with a tiara. You are as fierce as you are adorable.

Fierce

You’re the girl who can entertain a room full of adults with a quip or a story, and who can play contentedly by yourself for hours. You’re the girl rocking a 21 speed mountain bike; the one pushing herself to swim to the bottom of the deep end; the one whose first reaction to a new thing is “I’ll try it!” You’re the girl who takes her time to patiently roast the perfect marshmallow, and the girl to step without hesitation off the zipline platform, loving the speed and thrill. You’re all of these things because you inhabit yourself with an admirable easy confidence. God, how I hope you keep it!

Biking

I want to be the mom I see through your eyes. I want to show you how strong and capable you are and help you grow into the phenomenal person you were born to be. Sometimes I feel that I don’t give you enough of my attention; that because you’re so self-reliant and easy-going, I don’t prioritize your needs and don’t play with you enough. I’m sorry if you ever feel that way. I hope you know that I couldn’t possibly love or admire you more. You’re the person whose hand I love to hold. Your cuddles are the best start to my days. When you’re by my side, your little hand in mine, chatting away in your delightful manner, I am the luckiest.

As I said before, you are a light; those near enough to be within the your radiant glow are better off for it.

I hope you have another wonderful year of learning, adventuring, growing, and just being you. I can’t wait to see what you’ll accomplish this year, and all the ways you’ll make me laugh. Happy birthday! I love you!

Love,

Mom

He wins every time

“Mommy, can we please use your makeup?”

“No, kids.”

“But please? We asked really nicely. We want to play nicely together.”

“That’s sweet, and you did ask nicely. Thank you. But the answer is still no about my makeup. I’m sure you can find something else to play nicely together with.”

“But we really want to use it and we never get to and we’ll be really careful and we’ll be good for the rest of today and we’ll go to bed really early and not come back downstairs and we’ll be good tomorrow too.”

“I’m sure you’ll do all of that anyway because you’re such great kids. The answer is still no. I’m not going to change my mind.”

“But why, Mommy?”

“This isn’t open for discussion. I said no.”

Luke has a hard time with no. Many kids do, I realize, but every other kid on the planet (I’m pretty sure) will drop it eventually. Not Luke. He will take this to the nth degree. I don’t want to engage. I have a nice evening planned and I don’t want to have to take it away. I want to drop this so we can move on. So I’m staying calm, remaining firm, and not giving him any reasons why. That’s what I’m supposed to do, right? That’s what the books say.

“Please?”

“No. Please stop asking me.”

“But why?”

“This isn’t open for discussion.”

“But just tell me why. Why can’t we?”

“I’m not changing my mind and you’re going to make me angry. It’s time to drop it. Luke, really, stop.”

“But just tell me why?”

I don’t answer. It’s over if I don’t say anything, right?

“Mom? Mom? Mom? You can’t ignore me. What if I got a knife and cut my head off, would you ignore me then? Mom? Why? Why can’t we use your makeup? Why? I don’t get it. You’re so mean. Mom? We’ll be really good. We just want to play together. Isn’t that what you want? That we play nicely together? If you don’t let us use your makeup I’m going to punch Sally in the face and break her things and it will be your fault. Would that make you happy?”

“Luke, this is me warning you. I’m starting to lose my patience. You need to stop yourself. Now.”

“Just tell me why!”

“This is the last warning. I’m getting angry. Do you understand?”

My voice is still calm and even. I am going to diffuse this fucking thing if it’s the last fucking thing I fucking do. He storms away, knocking a book to the floor. I let it slide, not needing to lock horns with him now over picking up that book. I hope this is over. It’s not. He comes back with a note that says: “You are a jerk.”

“Go to your room.”

“No, I’m sorry. Why? I didn’t say anything. I didn’t mean it. It’s not about you. No, please no. Please, please, please no. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“I’m angry now like I warned you. Now go to your room please!”

Speaking sternly, but still not yelling. I’m going to fucking win this fucking thing!

“No I’m really really really sorry. Here, I’ll write another note about being sorry.”

“Luke, go to your room!”

“Jerk.”

And there it is, folks. The last straw. He hasn’t budged towards his room. He is staring me down. Calling me a jerk to my face and defying me. I’ve been here before. There is only one way to get him to actually go to his room. The only thing that works. Why did I put it off for so long anyway? I scream at him:

“YOUR ROOM NOW, LUKE! GO! GO! GO! NOW!”

“I hate you! You are such a jerk!”

He stomps off to his room.

And this is how it goes here. I can’t win. No matter my intentions or mood to start, no matter how calm I remain through so much disrespectful behavior, he eventually pushes me over the edge. Every time. If I didn’t blow up then he would have escalated further – hitting his sister and destroying stuff. He will always get the reaction he wants eventually.

He wins again and I lose. Of course his win is a loss for all of us.

Letter to my son on his 8th birthday

Dear Luke,

Happy 8th birthday! I feel like I say this every year, but, I can’t believe you’re eight! I see so much of me in you lately, combined with a lot of your dad, and a bunch of unique Luke-ness. This mixture results in a truly remarkable boy. I can already see the man you have the potential to become. Part of my job is to help you shape your little-kid traits into the grown-up versions, helping you grow into your full potential.My baby is 8!

These traits are the makings of a wonderful man, even if the childhood versions prove challenging sometimes. Where some might see “stubborn” or “obstinate,” I see tenacity. How wonderful that you have the steadfast determination to see your ideas through! This will serve you so well in life, even if it causes conflict now and again. Think about how much experience you’re gaining in dealing with conflict! So.Much.Experience. One day, your dogged refusal to accept “no” as an answer will make you exceptional. You will astound people with your tireless commitment to your purpose. Indeed, you astound me already. Even when it’s maddening.

For now, this relentless stamina with which you press your case does cause some conflict between us. You are so much like me; one might think this would make parenting you simpler, but it doesn’t. It complicates things. You are forever helping me see my biggest flaws and weaknesses. Mostly this has to do with my own “tenacity,” and my patience and temper. This is something we both need to work on. Somehow, we need to figure out how to communicate without becoming combative. I promise to try better. I want to be able to demonstrate how to control these common traits of ours, rather than always be a victim of our big emotions and sometimes sharp tongues.

When we’re not butting heads over life’s minutiae, I’m generally overwhelmed with how extraordinary you are. It’s so hard to find the words to describe a person just right. When you read this, I want you to understand how much I love all the things that you are.

  • You are social, engaging, and funny – always wanting to chat, tell stories, hear stories, and just be with your people.
  • You are thoughtful, intuitive, and empathetic beyond your years. You always have been, and this makes you so very special. Your great big heart is open to everyone, which leaves it vulnerable. I wish I could protect you from the inevitable knocks and bruises it will take. I wish I could impart the perspective of my years to let you know that it’s worth it. Your emotional life might be harder than some, but it will also be richer.
  • You are playful and enthusiastic, and wake up happier than anyone I’ve ever known. You burst into your days. You derive so much joy from the simplest things. I hope this stays with you despite the temptation to find life terribly mundane as a teenager, even as your peers perfect bored aloofness. Bored and aloof don’t suit you at all.

I admire your enthusiasm for ALL THE THINGS; I envy your energy (even though it often drives me crazy); and I bask in your humor and affection. I can say with certainty that my life would be a pale proximity if you weren’t there each day to thrash through it.

Kid loves to snowshoe

While my job is to teach you as you grow, your job, it seems, is also to teach me. I try to show you the shades of gray in the world that you see as black and white. You show me that I have much to learn about patience. I teach you the right way to handle frustration; you give me many opportunities to demonstrate it and help me see when I’m not doing it right. Every day you show me how to love and care for our family with your thoughtful, tender kindness and your boundless affection.

I can’t wait to see what you accomplish this year as an eight year old. You are going to be great at eight!

I love you, little man!

Love,

Mom

You can see more birthday letters to my kids here.