To my sweet Thing Two;
Last week we celebrated your ninth birthday. NINE! It’s so hard for me to believe, mostly because, as time was whizzing by, you were leaping into one adventure after another, and all of a sudden I stepped back to see that you are about as worldly as they come. I’m not sure if it is that you are brave, or if you are truly fearless, but you have a confidence and a presence that is more poised than many adults. You threw yourself into being elected class president. You tried out for TWO plays, singing and dancing your heart out, and loving every second of your onstage debut as a guppy in The Little Mermaid. You played basketball on a team and for the very first time it was your brother in the stands cheering for you. You love learning about space and you still talk about the day you spent at the Kennedy Space Center, and you’re pretty sure when you grow up you’ll either be a star on Nickelodeon or an astronaut.
You are mature and confident and dependable, and it’s easy to think that you’re older than 9. Yet, at the same time, you are entirely comfortable being a little girl, and really aren’t (YET) interested in things that are beyond your years.
There are so many things that I want to remember about you at this age; your laugh and your femininity and the way you love to make people happy. You are responsible; you do your chores and take care of the dogs and finish your homework with very little complaint. At school your teachers always tell me that you are bright, and you are thorough, and you stay on task. But all this is not to say that you never cut loose, because you sure do. You love the idea of playing a prank, and I enjoy seeing your eyes turn mischievous as you execute your plan. And when it works (or when it “works”), there is no better sound than your laugh, the laugh so hard you gasp for air and snort a little bit laugh, and we all can’t help but join in.
For your birthday this year, WE pranked YOU and it was fabulous! There were only a few things you asked for in celebrating your big day. You wanted family dinner and conversation, you wanted me to come to school to have lunch with you, you wanted to decorate your own cake, and you wanted a set of Russian nesting dolls.
You ALSO wanted a phone. Your friends have phones, your brother has a phone, everyone has phones, and you wanted one too. But our ‘rule’ has been to wait until you are 10. So even though you wanted one, it didn’t make the list because you knew our rule and you accepted it.
Except that we broke the rule. In a BIG way. Even your brother was in on it and was excited to surprise you. You weren’t asking for a phone because you were dying to talk with your friends or to take it to school and show it off, you wanted a phone so that you could text with your grandparents, first and foremost. How could we say no to that? I wrapped up the phone and hid it behind a chair, and after you opened all of your presents, you began excitedly taking apart your dolls to see how tiny the littlest one was. And then your brother called your phone. So you heard it ring. And you had to go looking for it.
When you opened it, I thought you would explode with joy.It was full of texts from your most favorite people, and you read each message out loud, and returned every single one. Within minutes you were calling your Papoo. And my favorite photo from the evening is the one of you playing with the dolls, holding the phone to your ear as you spoke with him.
That’s just like you. You are happy. You are content. Your love for gifts has no price tag.
You have had many many ups this year, but you have also had a couple of downs.
After being cast in the first show you ever tried out for, you received your first rejection when you tried out for the second. While you have as much stage presence as anyone else, you were auditioning with other girls who have been in many shows, who have had advanced vocal training beyond just the singing you do in the bathtub and the car, and who have auditioned many more times than you, who have kind of paid their dues. But you? You had no idea. You marched in there with spunk and sass and had a great time learning the song and the dance. You ENJOYED yourself. And when the call didn’t come, you were quiet for a few minutes. You took some time to process your disappointment. And then, in all of your 8 year old wisdom, you said “I’m not going to be sad mommy. I’m going to be happy for my friends who got parts. Can we go see it when it starts?”
That made me as proud as if you were cast in the lead.
Your social circle has changed quite a bit, too. For so long, YOUR friends have basically been the children of OUR friends, and our activities kind of just matched up. But you’re older now, and more discerning, and have begun to experience the cliquishness that seems to come along with being a little girl. You’ve been picked on a little bit, and you’re beginning to experience your first peer pressure. So far, you remain self-assured. You don’t really care who is “popular”, you care about who is kind, and you simply play with who you like, regardless of what others may think. You have also decided that there are some you DON’T want to play with, which is also a good thing. You are not obligated to give yourself to people, my sweet bear. Even at the ripe old age of 9, you have the power to say NO – to play dates or sleepovers or sitting together on the bus. You don’t have to give your phone number to someone just because they ask for it. You don’t have to be pressured on the playground to play mermaids instead of basketball. While there will be many situations in your life where you don’t get to choose who you work or study or interact with, you ALWAYS have a choice about who you let in to your inner circle. And beginning to practice that skill at nine just may save you a lot of irritation or even heartache down the road.
As much as you prefer to be happy, you are a person who feels LOTS of emotions and you feel them strongly. It’s interesting to watch this grow in you, because it’s not as simple as saying you’re moody or emotional. That’s not exactly it. You’re direct. You’re honest. You tell it like it is. When something irritates you, you say so. When something feels off to you, you ask why. When something seems unjust, you call it out. You express your feelings and you expect others to do the same.
The thing is, most people are NOT that way. More often, people avoid confronting an issue or a problem, and instead they are more comfortable talking ABOUT you then they are talking right TO you. And as much as I’d like to offer you words of comfort about how that changes as you get older, I can’t. Because it doesn’t. And already, at 9, you have experienced the hurt feelings and frustration that comes along with being let down by a friend, and being told “you really shouldn’t take things so personally.” Which, to you, is an impossible task.
Here is what I want you to hear from me, my beautiful girl. Do not let the world make you feel bad for being who you are. Because who you are is pretty spectacular. You are positive, and happy, and loyal, and smart, and strong, and girly, and feminine, and resilient, and emotional, and sensitive, and content. You have such a strong connection to your family; yes you are a daddy’s girl, and you love me and your brother. But your love for your grandparents and your cousins and your aunts and uncles and your history and your TRIBE is something that I’ve never really seen in such a young person. And there is no better friend than you.
You take EVERYTHING personally, the good with the bad, and I’m pretty sure that THAT is the quality that is going to help you change the world. I am amazed by all of the wonderful and interesting parts of you that emerge as you grow and mature, my sweet angel. You are truly one of a kind.
I love you, Care Bear. I’m so glad you had a happy birthday.