Today you’re five. Today is one of those thresholds. You are entering a whole new stage of life. Five is a big year. Five is kindergarten, loose teeth, reading, school buses, bikes with pedals, new friends, long days away from home, writing. Five is big.
Yesterday you were four and you were still a small little child. Today you are five and you look like a whole new girl to me. I have to be honest and say that my heart hurts a little bit when I look at you. You are a well-spoken, creative, brave soul. Not much of that little baby from five years ago remains. Your legs are long and strong. Your fingers are precise and careful. Your eyes are clear and focused. Your voice is loud and determined. You are five.
You are growing up quickly and it makes me miss my baby. But, Alma, I wouldn’t change it for anything. Those baby days are gone, but I’m so happy about five. I’m so excited to see all those things happen this year, but you will always be my baby.
My wishes for you this year:
You make new friends and keep the old
You are the kid in your class who welcomes everyone
You learn to read and enjoy it
You lose teeth with courage
You fall down and you get back up
You keep sitting in my lap and coming to me for comfort
Man, has this been a year? You started school, you really started talking, you grew and changed and became a little girl. You have figured out how to fight back – fight back against Alma when she tries to get too older sibling on you, fight back against us when we tell you that you can’t have hot cococo all day everyday, you fight back against injustices on the playground. People always tell me they’re impressed with your fortitude. You don’t let people push you around. You are strong and brave, little one.
You are scrappy, and I love that about you. We are both second-borns, so you and I, kid, understand what it’s like to live that way. We understand that sometimes it’s important to bug your older sibling until they fight back, then to go running to your parent so the sibling gets in trouble. But, kid, you need to understand that I see right through it when you do it. I see right through it, but I still love it because I get you. I feel you. All I have to say about it is: sorry Alma (and sorry Dan).
But you are also very dear. One of the things you say all the time these days is, “Excuse me mommy (or Grams, daddy, Papa, Nana, Grandpa, Grammy… whomever). I wuv you.” It’s always a surprise because I always assume that you’re going to be asking for more hot cococo, then you turn everything upside-down with your sweetness. You can tell me that you wuv me all day everyday, that’s fine with me.
When you’re into something, you’ll spend so much time with it. When we went camping, you were all about building the fairy village. At the playground with your friends, you’ve been known to build very cool towers out of pine cones and sticks, or to fill up a hollow tree with rotten apples (side-note: rotten apples are your favorite things. When we tell you to think of something happy, you think about rotten apples) – all the while directing your friends and making sure they’re doing it right. You’re a leader and creative and I think that’s really cool.
Here’s my promise to you this year: I will cherish you. I will be gentle with you. I will be kind to you. I will love you and I will tell you so everyday. I will hold you. I will let you grow. I will laugh with you. I will cry with you. I will cherish you.
Apologize: to offer an apology or excuse for some fault, insult, failure, or injury
Lately Alma has been doing something that concerns me. She will say something silly, or do something goofy, and immediately say, “Sorry ’bout dat,” with a shrug and a self-depreciating eye roll. For example, she will pronounce a word wrong, or mix up her words, or stumble a little bit. Something about which she absolutely doesn’t need to feel sorry.
It reminds me of those studies that show that women, in group meetings or classes, will say, “I’m sorry…” then ask their question or make their comment. I’m pretty sure I read about this in Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.
It’s a hedge, something we say to fill space or make excuses. How many times have you said your opinion and finished up with, “…but that’s just what I think,” in order to avoid a confrontation. That’s a hedge. So is saying you’re sorry, oftentimes.
And this phenomenon is certainly more common with women than with men. I have been around groups of women who constantly apologize to each other, for every little thing. Even if it’s the other person’s fault. Even if it’s nobody’s fault. How many times have you asked someone who was blocking your way to move by first saying sorry? Why do we apologize to someone who is standing in the doorway, or blocking the thing we need, when it’s obvious that they’re in the wrong?
The act of saying you’re sorry when you’ve done nothing wrong makes us look weak. It is admitting that we have no power in our situation. It is admitting that we feel that what we have to say, or do, is less important than others.
I don’t want my daughters to believe this about themselves. I want them to own their opinions, their actions, and their questions. They are strong, and their voices are important. I want them to know that they can ask their question, or make a correction, or add an opinion without being perceived as aggressive. Moreover, I want them to know that it’s okay to be aggressive. If they make a mistake, they can own it without apologizing, especially if it doesn’t affect anyone else, like when Alma mispronounces a word.
Raising daughters, this goes even further. I don’t want my girls to ever apologize for not wanting to hug or kiss someone. I’ve written before about how I never make them hug or kiss anyone if they don’t want to. I want them to be strong and feel like they don’t ever have to apologize for this. When they’re teenagers and young adults, I want them to be confident that they can turn down sexual advances without an apology. They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do, and they don’t have to apologize for it.
This all isn’t to say that I never want my kids to apologize. I certainly want them to say they’re sorry when they’ve hurt someone. I’ve started saying, “Only apologize when you’ve done something wrong” whenever Alma does this. I want to break the habit. There is a line in Sarah Kay’s poem “Point B” that says “always apologize when you’ve done something wrong but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.” And that’s really it, isn’t it? I just want my girls to shine and not have to apologize about it.
January 3rd is a very special day to me. Not only is it the day you were born, but it is the day that I became a mother. I don’t know why, but this past year, I’ve been thinking about that a lot.
Yesterday, I asked you if you knew that I wasn’t a mommy before I had you. You looked surprised and asked me, “What were you?” I told you I was just Carolyn and that seemed to make sense.
Whenever I talk about things I did before you were born, you always say, “And I was in your tummy.” I used to explain that no, not yet. Now I don’t correct you. Maybe it’s because you’ve been here so long that it’s almost hard to image who Carolyn was before you made me into Mommy. Maybe it’s because I’ve realized that in some way, you have always been with me.
There’s a song that I’m listening to on repeat right now. It’s from a new musical by Sara Bareilles about a woman, who, in the end has a baby. She looks into her baby’s eyes and instantly becomes a mother.
I know that everything changed when I had you, Alma. Everything.
I used to be able to read books about children without crying. Now, I’m a mess reading to you. I can’t read Rosie Revere without thinking about how you need to know how capable you are. I can’t read On the Night You Were Born without thinking about how important you are. Even books I used to love have changed. When I read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I see the story from the parents’ perspective, and it makes the book much less enjoyable.
Anyway, Alma, this is all to say that 4 year ago everything changed. I changed. The whole world changed. This world used to be full of possibilities for my life, now it’s full of so much more. It’s full of a whole lifetime of possibilities for you.
This past year you have really become a person to me. You have grown up so much. You can express yourself perfectly. You have such a funny sense of humor. You are confident and strong. [Today you went up in front of our whole church, by yourself, and said “I’m Alma. Today’s my birthday. I’m four. I got a lot of presents.”]
I know that this letter is a little bit jumbled, but I have so much I want to say to you today, on your 4th birthday. I love you. I’m proud of you. I thank God for you. I am happy to guide you. I am sorry for when I’m not the best mother I can be. I need your help to get it all right. I appreciate your spirit. You are my girl. You are special. You are strong. You are brave. You are beautiful.
I couldn’t love you any more than I do, and I couldn’t be more proud,
Today’s a day like any other But I am changed I am a mother
Oh in an instant
And who I was has disappeared
It doesn’t matter, now you’re here
So innocent I was lost for you to find And now I’m yours and you are mine
Two tiny hands, a pair of eyes An unsung melody is mine for safekeeping And I will guard it with my life
I’d hang the moon for it to shine on her sleeping
Starting here and starting now
I can feel the heart of how
My heart’s at the wheel now
And all my mistakes
They make sense when I turn them around
What I thought was so permanent fades And I swear I’ll remember to say we were both born today
Oh, and it’s true
What did I do to deserve you
I didn’t know, but now I see
Sometimes what is, is meant to be
You saved me
My blurry lines, my messy life
Come into focus in a tied, maybe
I can heal and I can breathe
‘Cause I can feel myself believe
That everything changes
My heart’s at the wheel now
And all my mistakes
They make sense when I turn them around
What I thought was so permanent fades And I swear I’ll remember to say we were both born today Oh, and it’s true What did I do to deserve you Thank God for you
Today you turn two. I am so excited to watch you grow up.
One was a fun year. We got to know your personality so much. You are growing and changing so quickly. You are a good sleeper, a good eater, a good dancer, a funny girl. You can run and jump and play with the best of them.
One thing that I love about you is your love of being outside. We recently took you camping for the first time and you ate it up. You loved running in the trees, playing in the river, getting dirty, and being free. When we finally went to bed, you jumped in your crib as if you were asking why we were going to bed. You could have stayed up all night!
You love people. You love Alma. You love your grandparents (especially your grandfathers!). You are a watcher. You will just sit with your hands in your lap watching what’s happening. Then you are a doer. You don’t sit for long before you’re joining in on the action!
You love music and dancing. It makes me so happy to watch your sweet moves. Your favorite CD is Cross Current and you get upset when there’s a different CD in the player.
Harriet, you are so tough. You’re strong and brave and I am so proud of that. You stand up for yourself. But you also care about others.
You will start school in a couple weeks and I’m so excited for you. I know you will love playing with your teachers and making new friends. I can’t wait to see all the amazing things you will learn to do in the next year.
I loved this past school year and all the time we got to spend together, just us. I loved dropping Alma off at school, and just walking and walking and walking with you. It was truly a precious time for me. I am excited for you to start school, but I also am sad because I know that I’ll miss you. It won’t be the same.
So, happy birthday, my sweet girl. One was great, but two will be even better.
You are now a year old. You have been in our world for a year. A whole year. It is almost impossible to believe. This year really has flown by. It is a blur. It is a fun, funny, overwhelming blur.
When we decided to have another baby, we had no idea how lucky we were going to be. We were so lucky to have you as our baby. No other baby could have added such joy to our lives. No other baby could have been a better little sister for our Alma. No other baby could have such such amazing and adorable cheeks.You have grown so much this year. You started out with just 8 1/2 pounds, now you are nearly 20 pounds! You have worked hard to grow so much – you have been a good eater from the start, and you love all the new foods we give you. Your favorites are tomatoes, yogurt, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, pasta, and whatever Alma’s eating.You can walk, but you usually choose to crawl. I think your record for steps is somewhere around 15. You still can’t figure out how to stand up when you don’t have something to help pull up on. I think once you get that figured out, you’ll be running all over the place. As it is now, you’ll follow Alma around all day.
Right now, you want to be held by me all the time. If I put you down, you do this terribly sad thing where you fold in half, with your face on the ground, and cry. If you see me in the room, you pretty much just want me, but as soon as I’m out of your sight, you’re fine with whatever.
You can say ‘da’ for dog, ‘ba’ for ball, ‘ma’ for more, ‘baba’ for Papa or Grandpa, ‘dada’ for Daddy, and that’s about it. I have yet to hear a ‘mama,’ but that’s okay.
This first year has been busy and hard, but it’s also been the best. I love to watch you and Alma play. I love to watch you learn new things. I love to watch you watch the world.
You are sweet and precious and adventurous and strong.
You are My Hattie, My Harebear, My Hattie-Boo-Boo, My Hattie Bug Bites, My Harriet.
Today you turn two years old. Two years ago, you gave me the best thing in the world. You gave me you. You made me a mom. You made me your mom. That is important for you to know. I love being your mom. You are best two-year-old there ever was. As your mom, I’m supposed to think that, but believe me, Alma, it is true. I have never known anything to be more true than that. You are the best. You are beautiful, Alma.
Your mind is the best. Right now you are talking to yourself, or your dolls, or your dreams, in your crib. You should be napping, but I love to hear your sweet voice through your door. The nap will come soon enough, when you decide to lay your head on your pillow and fall asleep. As a two-year-old, I see things in you that weren’t there last year. You are able to play by yourself so well. Your imagination astonishes me everyday. You create little games, and turn toys into different things all the time. Your creativity is beautiful, Alma.
Your body is the best. Your body has grown so much this year. You are really learning how to use your strong, graceful, energetic body. You love dancing so much these days. Ever since we saw the Nutcracker at the library, you are a regular little ballerina. You ask for music all the time. When the music comes on, you dance. I love watching everything about how you dance. You get such a serious face, or sometimes a proud little grin. You control your body as you mimic what you saw the dancers do. I can tell that in your mind, you look just like them. I love how you seamlessly go between the soft moves of the Sugar Plum Fairy, to the sword thrusting moves of the Mouse King. And you can jump! Boy, how you can jump! Your body is beautiful, Alma.
Your brain is the best. You learn new words everyday. The words you’ve known for a long time are starting to come out of your little mouth, in your most amazing voice. You are starting to learn your colors. You call me Mom or Mama. Your dad is Daddy or Dada or somethings Jesse. Harriet is Hathhh with your tongue sticking out. You love to look at books. You love to read them yourself, making up amazing stories in your own little language. You like to tell these stories to Harriet. You can follow my directions. You are quick to figure things out, like how to use your blocks, unlock Nana’s cell phone, buckle your high chair straps. Your brain is beautiful, Alma
Your love is the best. I have seen your love in such an incredible way this year. When you met your sister, I think your heart must have grown a few sizes. The way you look at her, especially now that she’s starting to be more fun, is astonishing. You love to see Harriet looking at you, watching you, smiling at you. I can tell you love having Harriet on your team. Your love is beautiful, Alma.
You are the best. You are so, so beautiful, Alma. I am so excited to see the ways you will grow more beautiful this year, Alma.