Happy 7th Birthday, Abigail.

Does anybody have a map? 
Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this? 
I don’t know if you can tell 
But this is me just pretending to know 

****

Dear Abigail –

Today you are seven. Kid, this is pretty big league stuff.

If it has a pulse and will listen to me, lately I’ve bemoaned just how very much you are no longer a baby. And for as cute and hilariously angry and awful you were as a baby, it’s not like I miss those days. But I’m keenly aware that we’re entering Parenting 2.0, an era where I know problems won’t be solved with a change of formula or a nap.

(Though don’t hold me to that. I will forever maintain that most of life’s dilemmas can be solved with sleep. When in doubt, crawl under the covers and close your eyes for at least 20 minutes.)

Case in point, as of late:

With seemingly the power and speed of gale-force winds, we were hit with the news that the kids at school have declared “Daniel Tiger” too “baby” and it has left you a bit shattered. I mean, Jesus. What are they watching? Vintage “MacNeil/Lehrer Report?” Of course this isn’t a solid response for someone lacking a finely hewn sense of sarcasm, let alone an appreciation for public television archival news programs. At least not yet. The visceral response is to say that it doesn’t matter what they said, we all like what we like, but I know better: the moments we learn of our Otherness rearranges our cells. We can give you any number of speeches, but the best we can do is fortify your spirit enough to withstand those moments and give them no quarter.

Like a couple of weeks ago when a kid in your class informed you that you are “short,” and delivered this news as though you’d murdered his father and he was exacting his revenge. Of course, the truth is that you are the smallest kid in your class. Like, of all three of the 1st grade classes. We don’t think about it much until we see you with your classmates and you are so tiny and wee. Man, do I know how much that sucks. I’m short. I’ve always been the shortest, and I was always teased about it. Having to tolerate jeers over which you literally have no control builds your character over time but while it’s happening the feeling is akin to falling far and fast down a black hole. Who knows how to manage that sort of unexpected and uncontrollable drop?

We named all of the small women you love: all the women of your family. Your principal. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Short people are powerful,” you now say. I don’t know if you believe it just yet, but like so many things, you just need to fake it till you make it.

I’m sorry I can’t make this stuff easier.

****

Here’s the truth, though. I’m not too worried about you.

I mean, I’m worried because you’re my kid and the world is a terrible garbage fire and I’m horribly self-absorbed and so it’s entirely possible I’m screwing all of this up. But if I have any superpower, it’s a strong gut instinct. I can sense moods, judge rooms, size people up in seconds; I just know. In the same way I know you’re going to be OK. You’re generally unaffected by people who are total assholes. You don’t give the time of day to mean people, and when adults say ridiculous things to you – whether it’s about the president or poop – you are quick with a rebuttal. When you came home that one day to tell me someone tried to change your mind about the Cheeto-in-Chief, you remained steadfast in your opinion because “he called girls ‘pigs’.” I mean, I don’t even know where you learned that (I have guesses) but if you ever wondered why I let you get the brownie sundae for dinner that one time, now you have your answer.

My heart breaks a little with how hard you are on yourself. You want to be perfect. You talk about “powering through” things that are difficult for you, often through frustrated tears. I’m trying to give you the tools but I know learning to embrace the perfectly imperfect person you are is a solo adventure. While I likely will never have to worry about you getting lazy, I’m going to be up nights hoping you’re not giving yourself an ulcer. Just remember: take a dance break.

Abigail, no one except your Aunt Kate and Aunt Jen is more cocksure and confident than you. This has always, always been your way. Once you’ve decided something, in your mind, it’s not up for debate. Today, for instance? You announced that you walked up to your violin teacher and handed in your violin for you were done. All matter-of-factly, as though you’d mentioned you had carrots for lunch. I do not know how you managed to convince the cavalcade of adults in your daily path that this was a perfectly reasonable situation but sure enough? “I just told her I was done,” you said, barely looking up from your game when we asked you. “What? I want to play drums. I’ll play violin again next year.”

Your father emailed your violin teacher before the plates were cleared from the dinner table.

Maybe it’s because you’re such an old soul. You being an “old soul” is probably the most common descriptor used by the adults who meet you. I mean, maybe this is true. More than anything, I tend to think it’s because you seem to care so deeply about people. You care about how they’re feeling. If they’re comfortable. If they’re happy. If they’re sad. Do they need a popsicle? How about a cuddle? You don’t seem to care if they like you or not; I do not understand that, by the way. Mostly you’re preoccupied with their place in the world and if they could use some help.

Abigail, your kindness is a gift. Your compassion is a rare quality on this planet. That you continue to be one of God’s helpers makes me prouder than I can tell you. We are stocked up on jerks. We need upstanders. That’s your only job.

****

Here are things you like:

  • The color yellow.
  • School.
  • Black beans, quinoa and salsa and cheese.
  • Any peppermint candy.
  • DC Superheroes. All of them.
  • Writing stories.
  • Playing Barbies.
  • RBG.
  • Meditation.
  • All things gymnastics, especially walking on your hands, standing on your head and attempting flips.
  • Playing instruments.
  • Yoga.
  • Being with your friends.
  • Pooh Bear. (Always.)
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Math.
  • Art.
  • Poop jokes.

****

As I re-read the old birthday posts – sorry for the few years where I lapsed – I realize that your Papa is right. Some of who we are is nurture; so much of it is nature. You have always been this person.

How that takes shape seems to evolve as you evolve, and getting to be your parent is the greatest honor of my life. But it’s all coming in hot, AG. Homework gets harder. Some kids get meaner. Life is unfair. I’m wholly certain that at one point, sooner than we think, you’ll figure out I’m just making it all up as I go along, too, and we’re all just a little hopeless.

Sorry about that one, too.

Perhaps that’s the thing: It’s all just “forgiveness and…” I’m sorry AND I’ll do better. My apologizes AND how can I make it right? Pardon me AND know I care about you.  Managing our brokenness together is an act of courage in a world that claims to know the right answer for everything.

The older I get, the more I understand how little I know. And on the days where I’m feeling particularly chuffed, it’s because I succeeded in not making the world worse off than I found it that morning. This is all very simple in the end, but along the way our little monkey brains insist on making it be about status or power or having the last word or any number of things people use to pretend they’re OK when they’re not.

So while the problems are gonna feel bigger, maybe it really is as simple as taking a nap and forgiveness. Forgiveness for others sure, but mostly for yourself.

You are my very favorite girl. I’m so glad I’m your mom.

xo

Mommy

Moving Target

Admittedly I was not paying attention.  Despite my best displays, my Irish-Catholic guilt and a compendium of things rooted firmly in the understanding that I just know better, stuck at the light at the intersection of Elston/Fullerton/Clyborn, I started checking Facebook from my phone.  The night had been invigorating; 50 women, give or take, collectively…

Happy 4th Birthday, Abigail

Dear Abigail, Today you are four. Yesterday I spent a goodly portion of the afternoon down a rabbit hole of old pictures, mostly those we captured the first year of your life. I am not wistful for those days, though they did lend themselves a certain simplicity I obviously couldn’t understand at the time. With…

I thought I would try this again

Abigail started preschool this year. All children’s milestones are so obviously learning experiences for the adults in their lives, too, that it’s the height of hubris to assume otherwise. Things that preschool has taught us thus far: 1) Our kid is not a morning person. She’s many things, but she damn near hisses in anger…

Happy 3rd Birthday, Abigail

Oh, Abigail Grace, you are THREE. I say that not only in sheer wonder in where the time has gone but also because it is the most oft-uttered statement in this house. “Abigail is awfully three today.” “SOMEONE is three. Jesus. THREE.” Here’s the truth of being three: it sucks. I don’t remember it, of…

2013 In Review

Last year, I coped out a bit on doing this, but I’m not going to this year. This was an awful year. I say that, and then immediately my sensors start sparking because I am Irish-Catholic and Midwestern and if an hour goes by without feeling guilty about something, my kind is convinced we’re not…

NaNoWriMo: Of tattoos and other things

Abigail has no true interest in potty training. I mean, she has two potties, and will talk about going, but putting it all together is a hill we’ve yet to climb. This, however, doesn’t stop her from asking to join me every time I go. The worst part – and it is, I’m sorry –…

NaNoWriMo: More Randoms

*The whole “I’ll-Give-You-A-Number” and you share things no one knows about you meme that’s going around on Facebook is decidedly difficult when you’re a person who has few secrets. I mean, I have them, but the sort of secrets that most people share are ones I’ve already revealed. I found myself digging deep about mustard-and-sugar…

NaNoWriMo: Random Things

*It’s Dinovember, people. Abigail is not into Barbies or princesses or dolls. There was a short spell where she loved her Bitty Baby doll, named by our original nanny, “LaLa,” but affection for whom wavered immediately after my parents bought LaLa a doll stroller and a crib. Because of course. Anyway, like a lot of…

NaNoWriMo: Small Truths #3,765

When Abigail is sick, she is kind of a jerk. I mean, all toddlers are, and I understand that, but at some point this week, when it was another middle-of-the-night, can’t-sleep, feeling-awful tromp in the dark, and Abigail insisted on sitting in my lap so she could scream at full-tilt inches away from my face,…

NaNoWriMo: Race Time

This has been The Year of Running. Though I’ve spent a goodly portion of my life running, 2013 has included two half marathons, a Ragnar and countless 5Ks, not to mention a dedication to getting up and getting out there, regardless if I had something to train for or not. (Admittedly competing in two half-marathons…

NaNoWriMo: Happy Birthday, Mom

Today would have been my mother’s 65th birthday. In years past, I’ve written extensively about my mother. We had a complicated relationship, even by regular mother/pre-teen daughter standards. She was a deeply flawed person, in the way that we all are, but likely due to a rocky upbringing and no real parental compass, those flaws…

NaNoWriMo: Wow! What a Difference!

(AG is fighting something awful and I’m operating on three hours of sleep. Hence, I’m copping out on my post today since I don’t want to miss two days already.) I’ve been working since I was 14. I obtained a special work permit and held a part-time job when most of my friends were still…