On each of my kids’ birthdays I compose a letter. My plan is to one day hand over a binder of 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.
Today my daughter turns four. My BABY!
Every year as I sit down to write your birthday letter I come across the same problem: my feelings about you don’t fit into words, or the only words that apply are really cheesy. The phrase “you light up my life” has been used and is now ruined, but it’s the closest thing I can think of that fits. You do light up my life. And you are my sunshine. Aside from that, for some reason, everything else I can think to say are either about eating you or things you’d say to a puppy. It’s all just squeezes, smushybabytalk, and weird cannibalism.
It’s not your smallness and cuteness. Well it is, but not just that. Your smallness and cuteness are so precious to me and it’s bittersweet to see you grow. For now you still fit into my arms, my lap. For now you still want to fit into my arms and lap. But for how much longer?
But you are so much more than cute, and I need you to know that.
As you approach your fourth birthday, you are suddenly aware of your power as an adorable girl, and you manipulate people with a pigtail swish, a false giggle, a hug. I don’t know how to get you to cut this crap out, considering how completely effective it is, so all I can do is point out how much more than cute you are. It would help if strangers didn’t constantly fawn over your cuteness. I asked you recently if you knew that you are so much more than cute, and that those other things are much more important. You replied, “Yeah, I know. Being pretty is really important too.” Palm hits forehead. Let’s hope that you really are absorbing my messages in addition to the million comments about your adorableness that you receive daily.
While your adorableness is impressive, so is so much else. This summer you learned how to ride a bike with no training wheels and how to swim! You can ride over ramps and curbs, pedal up a hill to fly down the other side, and then go swim in the deep end! (Pretty sure this made you the coolest 3-year-old ever all summer.) I’m so proud of you! Both of these accomplishments are the result of your determination and tireless hard work. You wanted it, so you went and did it. You persevered even when it was hard or you were scared. You’d steel your nerves by counting yourself down to a head-dunk. You kept up on long family bike rides on your little balance bike without complaint. You climbed right back on the saddle after flying over your handlebars – a result of an ill-conceived attempt at biking with your eyes closed. Through all of your practice and progress you never complained about it being hard and you never even threatened to give up. THIS is more important than cute.
Your sense of humor is amazing. It’s weird but it’s constant. You love to laugh and if nothing funny is happening, you make your own funny. “It’s backwards Sally!” you announce moments before you back yourself into a room. You tell jokes that make you laugh so hard in the telling that no one can understand you and you seldom make it to the punch line. And you don’t care. You laugh and laugh and laugh with abandon. Your laughter is contagious and you use it to lighten moods and break tension. THIS is more important that cute.
You play. Your imagination gives you hours of fodder for entertaining yourself. Often these hours happen in your room after bedtime. You put all of your dolls, stuffed animals, and random inanimate objects to bed all over your floor. You read them stories, sing them songs, and then go around and rub each of their backs. Your evening ritual is elaborate, but shows so much tenderness, thoughtfulness, and care. THIS is more important than cute.
And it makes your room a minefield.
You love us so much it’s incredible. The way you look up to your brother, the way you miss him, try to comfort him, play with him – the best! The sweet happiness you show when you see me or your dad, whether it’s first thing in the morning, at school pick up, or if we just walked out of and then back into the room – heart melting. Your affection for friends, grandparents, cousins – boundless. You might just give the best hugs on Earth. All of this is also more important than cute.
So please remember, my sweet girl, you are so much more than cute. You just also happen to be impossibly cute. I’m so happy to see you grow up, even as I’m sad to see your baby-self vanish, even as I fear your adolescence. I love you so much, smushybabysweetiepie!
You light up my life, Sally, and I want to eat you. Happy birthday!