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A Letter To Madeleine

Dear Maddie:

You’ve recently had your fourth
birthday, and I don’t know where to start. First, apologies:
I wanted to get this letter to you before your actual birthday, but
with your sister spending a day projectile vomiting and never
letting me out of her sight, and then birthday preparations and
parties and all, I just ran out of time.

My love, I think I spent half your birthday morning staring at you
in disbelief. Who is this creature before me? You jumped into my
sight, dressed in your new birthday clothes, standing shyly and
proudly in your finery, and I couldn’t believe this was my
Baby Girl. You’ve transformed from a toddler to a preschooler
to, it seems, a pre-teen, in the blink of an eye. Your baby
roundness (such as is was) has stretched into a delicate girlish
coltishness, and I have to admit I feel almost shy around this new

Some of your “grown up-ness”
is not as fun as the rest, believe me: when I tell you to do
something and you sigh wearily, “All riiiiiiiiiight,”
before dragging yourself slowly towards the chore, makes me tremble
in fear for your teen years. And as you opened presents on your
birthday, you ripped off the paper and deadpanned with comedic
timing I can’t teach in my acting classes: “Another
box. Just what I need.” Where did you learn dry humor and
sarcasm at such an early age?

Don’t answer that.

As a big sister, you really win first place. When Cora was sick the
other day, you were at your absolute Big Sister Superhero best. You
were running up and down the stairs fetching old towels for the
vomit machine; you were helping Gamma blow up the aero bed so Cora
could lie and watch movies; you were fixing her snacks of sick
crackers and apple juice; you were grabbing anything from my
bathroom you could find to entertain Cora while she wailed,
miserable and unable to change it. You threw on Daddy’s
swimsuit and ran around dancing, or put bath toys on your head and
acted crazy, all to distract Cora from her misery. And when Cora
threw up all over the bed and herself, you stood right next to her
and said, “It’s ok, Cora. Let it all out and
you’ll feel better. Maddie’s right here.”

Sharing is not something that comes naturally to you, but
you’re working on it, and I see a deliberateness in your
interactions with Cora: you don’t just share only when
it’s convenient or beneficial for you anymore. Rather, you
make a decision to be nice (sometimes!) and follow through on it.
When Cora gets frustrated and hits you, you (usually) don’t
lash back, but pull in your arms defensively and simply say,
“No, Cora, stop!” You’ve come so far from when
you’d hit her back or scream at her, and I can see you
growing towards the caring, compassionate, patient woman I know
you’ll be.

Maddie, your full name means “Tower of Light”, and we
certainly see that lived out in you every day. You are luminescent;
you shine; and you pull people towards you like a lighthouse. When
your world is up you walk into a room and everyone smiles,
immediately enchanted. I try to see you from a stranger’s
eyes, but it’s impossible – I’m so won over by
you that I can’t detach, even for a peek. I remember when you
were born, I had a moment of disconnect when I first saw you. You
were a c-section, and when they lifted you up over the screen and
said, “Hey, mommy, here’s your new baby!” I
thought, “Um, ok, if you say so!” I mean, they
could’ve handed me a rabbit and told me it was mine and
I’d have believed them – I felt so physically removed
from the whole thing, literally numb through it all. But then they
brought you up to my face and let me nuzzle you with my nose, and I
thought, “Oh, well, of course, this is mine!” And
I’ve been lost to you ever since.

I still can’t decide if you’ll plunge straight into a
performing career or not; while you love performing and can ham it
up with the best of them, I think sometimes you prefer to perform
just for yourself or a select group. It’s not the applause of
strangers that means as much to you as the warm approval of loved
ones, and sometimes you hang back when the performance moment
actually hits. On the other hand, you were fearless in your ballet
recital, you have a closet full of dress-up clothes, and regularly
stage elaborate ballets or shows, so I have a feeling you’re
headed for the boards. On Sunday mornings you beg us to bring your
ballet shoes to church, and you’ll put them on and dance
around the sanctuary while the worship band practices for the
service. And I can tell from the way you move that it’s not
about attention, but about the joy the music brings you and your
desire to create beauty. A stirring in your heart to put something
of yourself out there – what better reason for the arts could
there be?

I’m not saying you’re a perfect kid, here, so
don’t get a big head. You are as stubborn as they come, and
have a rabbinical gift for arguing that I don’t think
I’m always going to win against. And your tantrums, when
they’re thrown, are spectacular. But even as I say that, I
know you don’t usually get to that point without a lot of
mitigating factors, so I cling to that nugget of goodness in you
even as you rebel.

This past year has been full of firsts for you. You started ballet
and gymnastics classes, and began attending children’s chapel
rather than the nursery at church. You took swim lessons last year,
and even did a whole day away from me at gymnastics camp this
spring. You conquered your fear of the trapeze in gym class, which
took you months! But I think the biggest achievement of all was the
potty training. It took us over a year, and I won’t even
begin to pretend it was easy, because you had some major emotional
hurdles to overcome. I can’t pretend I handled it perfectly
the whole time, but here you are, a big girl in big-girl
underpants, and I couldn’t be prouder. Sometimes you’ll
turn to me after doing something that is, for whatever reason,
disproportionately scary to you, and you’ll say proudly,
“I was scared to do it, but I did it anyway!”

You’ve got a lot coming up in the next year: you start
preschool for the first time in the fall, and as excited as you
are, that excitement is tinged with more than a little
apprehension. I fear you’re a bit of a worrier, kiddo, and I
don’t know how to help you with that. You periodically decide
you don’t want to take ballet or gymnastics class that day,
worrying they’ll make you do something you don’t want
to or can’t do. You still approach the pool cautiously, armed
with a fleet of floaties and a burning desire to not let your head
go under water, in spite of an entire summer last year spent in
private swim lessons. I don’t know how to help you overcome
this fear that rears up sporadically in your life, other than to
simply not dwell on it a lot and not push you. I see such
effortless confidence in some areas of your life, and I hope it
permeates your personality, gradually erasing the worries and
fears. My prayer for you over the next year is that you continue to
grow in self-confidence and joy, learning to love yourself and be
your own yardstick; I know you’re entering the years when
peer opinions mean a lot to a kid, and I hope you don’t get
lost in that. Keep that inner compass, my tower of light.

Over the past few months you’ve started getting up by
yourself, rather than lying in bed and calling for me over the
monitors. You’ll get up quietly, turn off your air purifier,
and head out to find someone. Some mornings I won’t hear you
get up, and I’ll finally awaken to a silent monitor, open the
door, and see you sitting quietly on the stairs. Most times,
though, if you get up first and see a closed bedroom door
you’ll knock and after I invite you in you’ll snuggle
with me for a few minutes. And I have to confess – I adore
those moments.

We’ve never co-slept with you; you’ve not spent so much
as a single night in our bed with us. But as I snuggle with you
every night at the end of your night time routine, I often think
how wonderful it’d be to simply close my eyes and drift off,
your body pressed trustingly up against me and your breath evening
out with each little puffy sigh. Many nights I cry as I lie there
– not tears of sadness at how quickly it all passes, or
regret for how much has flown by untouched, but big, fat tears of
contentment and gratitude, of adoration for the perfection of that
exact minute as we cuddle, and my two-word prayer that runs
repeatedly through my head is this:

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank

I love you much, Baby Girl.



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