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A Letter To Madeleine

Dear Maddie:

It’s been a long year, my big six-year-old, and while it does
feel as if it’s flown by, I also can’t believe how much
has been packed into the past twelve months.

You’ve gone from a just-finished-preschooler to an
almost-first-grader. I think this has been, for you as an
individual, the hardest year of your life. Starting kindergarten
was quite a shock to your five-year-old system, and we felt the
repercussions of that big event for several months last fall.
Adjusting to a seven-hour “work” day was incredibly
hard, but you complained less than I ever imagined, and were so
obedient about giving it a try. Let me tell you, kiddo, dropping
you off at that school door on the mornings you were clingy and sad
just about broke my heart every time, and the bravery I glimpsed in
you as you walked, crying but compliant, through those glass doors,
just about took my breath away. I’ve missed you, my love,
more that you will ever understand until you drop your own child
off at kindergarten. My most precious parts of myself – you
and Cora – are walking around outside my body, and to have
you shut away from me for seven hours a day – to have SEVEN
HOURS of your daily life a complete, opaque mystery to me –
has been painful.

This past year you had your first real
problem with a friend, and you muscled your way through it,
bewildered and often clueless, but came out the other end a
stronger girl, a kinder friend, and with a greater awareness of how
your actions affect other people. It was just another glimpse into
the future, when you’ll have problems with people and I
won’t be able to simply run in and mommy-fix it. I am not
looking forward to that.

This was also the year when I finally figured out that you are an
introvert. I know, I know, you’d think the
burying-your-face-in-Silky all the time would be a big clue, but
sometimes I’m a bit slow. Grasping that aspect of your
personality was a blow to my ego – how could it have taken me
so long? – but incredibly helpful in helping me figure out
how to help you. We’ve begun talking about people who need
down time to themselves, and the deliberate spaces we build into
your schedule are bearing fruit. You’re easier tempered, have
better energy, and your meltdowns have been reduced exponentially.

Madeleine, you are blessed with having a group of friends in the
neighborhood who truly like you for who you are. Every morning,
every single day of school, you four girls –with Cody
sometimes along as well – walked into school hand-in-hand,
gathering courage from each other. I loved how you girls would take
turns having a hard time going inside, leaving your mom, and the
other girls would quietly take up the slack: coming over, helping
with a backpack, holding a hand a little tighter, patting a back
comfortingly. You do not know how great a blessing this is.

At the same time, you’ve made new friends outside your little
circle in your kindergarten class, and I’ve loved seeing you
figure out how to talk to boys – “Why is he giving me a
rubber band? I don’t get it” – or how to form new
play groups on the playground. You have quite the heart for social
justice, and many times at school you’ve stood up to bullies
on the playground or invited lonely kids to come play with you.
Your heart, my love, is hero-sized.

You’ve spent another year in a ballet, though not without
some fights. It’s not that you don’t love to dance: you
adore ballet. You just don’t like ballet class. As you
explained one afternoon, “I like to do ballet. I just
don’t like to have other people tell me what ballet to do at
that time. I already know enough steps, don’t you
think?” But I’ve made you finish out whatever month
you’d started, and at the end of each month you’d ask
to do another month. And so on, until we ended up at your third
recital in a row. You looked so confident and happy up there that I
hope it was worth suffering through the other people’s

This year has also been huge because it’s the year you began
to read. And I don’t mean your ABCs – I mean big,
complicated chapter books. Somehow you went from “See Spot
run” to chapter books like “The Secret Garden” in
just a few weeks. Your reading level jumped so fast your teacher
couldn’t affix an accurate rating on your skills for almost a
month! But more than learning to read, you’ve learned the
magic of falling into a book for an afternoon. I love coming
downstairs and seeing you snuggled into the library couch, book
propped open on your knees as you read intently about Lucy and
Aslan’s adventures or that annoying Junie B. Jones. I
remember the night about a month ago when you discovered
“cliffhangers”: we were reading Shannon Hale’s
“The Princess Academy” and read our usual two chapters
at bedtime. I finished the second chapter, which ended quite
suspensefully with the girl hearing someone yell,
“RUN!” and you turned to me and said, “What
happens next?” “Well,” I answered,
“We’ll find out tomorrow!” “WHAT?!”
you said in disbelief. “I can’t wait that long!”
And sure enough, after the routine was over you begged to turn your
light on and worked your way through another couple of chapters
before falling asleep with your light on. I see so much of me in
you in that way, and I love that you love books as much as I do.

You’re six years old, baby, and I think you’re almost
as tall as I am. Ok, perhaps not quite, but I’m reasonably
certain you’ll be taller than I. You measured 47 inches on
your birthday – a mere one inch shorter than FOUR FEET TALL!
You are the reason the word “coltish” was invented, and
you’re all legs and elbows and swanny neck. You are, to be
succinct, beautiful.

This has been the year, I think, that you and Cora have started to
become more equals in play time, rather than you seeing Cora as
some sort of toy for your enjoyment. You’ve begun sharing
ideas better, and Cora can have you in stitches in five seconds
flat. Little inside jokes have begun between you two, and
it’s delicious to see you giggling surreptitiously with each
other at the dinner table. Love it.

Where will the next year take you? I have no idea. Will you try
soccer, or piano, or karate? Or will you give up all after-school
activities to stay home with your kitten? I know that you will
become bigger, more beautiful, wiser, and kinder. I know your light
will continue to shine , that you will continue to be the Tower of
Light you’ve been called to be.

And I know I will enjoy the journey with you.

Happy birthday, my love.



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