Thursday, September 15, 2011


Dear Annie,

You turned seven on Sunday, though (as usual) we celebrated your birthday all weekend.  On Friday, donuts and cider to school and then the football game with grandparents while Daddy and I went out with friends.  On Saturday, you did the thing you've been waiting to do for well over a year now:  you got your ears pierced.  Jemma, Grandma, Mimi and I were all gathered around to watch you pick out your blue-green studs with such poise and heft yourself up into the chair with calm confidence.  I snapped one last photo of you as you were:

Then you squeezed the heck out of my hands while the earrings went in simultaneously - pop! - and you didn't flinch or cry at all, just smiled shyly when you saw your newly-pierced ears in the mirror.

Afterwards we all went to get pedicures together for a special girls' afternoon.  You and Jemma charmed all the women in the salon.  You chose polish specifically to match your earrings and then were delighted when you got tiny flowers painted on every single toe.

Then, presents in the front yard

and blowing out seven candles on your chocolate cheesecake.

The next morning - the morning that you were officially, finally seven - you looked like this:

And just like that, you're another year older.

I've read a few less-than-encouraging books lately about the challenges of raising happy, healthy girls in our current culture.  Instead of coming away feeling educated and empowered, I've closed those books feeling overwhelmed and confused.  Don't tell girls they're pretty! goes one theory, or they'll base their entire self-worth on their appearance.  And then, in another book, Don't tell kids they're smart! studies show, or they'll actually give up more easily and perform less well in school.  In another chapter:  Don't bother emphasizing honesty; it doesn't have any impact on how honest your kids will grow up to be, and even the "best" kids routinely lie to their parents.  For a week or two there, I felt like nothing was safe to say, like there was just no way we hadn't already messed things up forever.

Then school started and your birthday happened and life became one big flurry of activity, and I was reminded again of what a resilient, competent, persistent, compassionate, and - yes - pretty and smart person you are.  Sometimes I see you do something - take the monkey bars every-other-one, smash a tennis ball across the net, run around the track, play a new piano song perfectly, solve a tough math problem - and I can hardly believe it is you.  You can make your own peanut-butter-and-nutella sandwiches, switch the CD in your player from Suzuki piano to the Justin Bieber your sister gave you for your birthday, sign your name in cursive, do a cartwheel, swim real strokes, twirl spaghetti on a fork, and read yourself to sleep at night.  You are a patient teacher to Jemma, telling her how to spell words she wants to write, reading to her on the hallway floor, chasing down frogs and bugs as a team.  You are a big kid, and we are so proud of you.

I am going to forget about those books and forget about censoring myself around you.  I'm going to think instead of something better I read in another book, The Gift of An Ordinary Day:

"The hardest part of being a parent may be learning to live with the fact that there are so many things that we simply can't control, so much of the journey that is not our doing at all, but rather the work of the gods, the unfolding of destiny, fate.  We give birth to our children, we love and cherish them, but we don't form or own them, any more than we can own the flowers blooming at our doorstep or the land upon which we build our homes and invest our dreams.  We may tend the garden for a while, take our brief turn upon the land, nurture the children delivered into our arms, but in truth we possess none of these things, nor can we write any life story but our own."

So even as I see you blossoming into the big kid you are becoming, I'm remembering that it's you who is doing the hard work of growing up.  And because it's not due to me saying the right things or the wrong things, I'm going to go ahead and keep telling you that you're beautiful, reminding you that you're smart, and telling you to be honest, parenting books be damned.  Looking back at the seven years we've had together and looking forward to the treacherous, wild, messy territory that is still uncharted, I want to say, too, that you're a great kid and I'm so lucky to be your mom.  I tell you that every day.  I'm so glad you were born.

No comments:

Post a Comment