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A Letter To Madeleine

Dear Maddie:

Last week you asked me to take a picture of you on the day before your birthday, then take a picture on the morning of your birthday, print them both up, affix them to paper (your instructions were specific), and then turn it over to you. You want desperately to see if you notice a difference between your six-year-old picture and your seven-year-old picture.

Don’t bother looking, kiddo. I can see it well enough for both of us.

What has happened this past year? You’ve grown so much – and I’m not talking physically, though a friend of mine described you and a friend of yours, accurately, as “Great Dane puppies” just last week. And I’m not talking emotionally, though the difference between you at the end of kindergarten and you at the end of first grade is night and day.

No, what I’m talking about is how you’ve grown as a unique individual.

What has happened this past year? You’ve grown so much – and I’m not talking physically, though a friend of mine described you and a friend of yours, accurately, as “Great Dane puppies” just last week. And I’m not talking emotionally, though the difference between you at the end of kindergarten and you at the end of first grade is night and day.

No, what I’m talking about is how you’ve grown as a unique individual.

We’ll be walking to school together and halfway there I’ll realize how much fun I’m having with our conversation – you’ve got interesting things to say, insightful comments on so many topics. You’ve got a really unique perspective of the world and you think things through earnestly and wholeheartedly, arriving at conclusions that are sometimes startling, sometimes waaaaaaaay out there, but never dull.

Up until this year, if I’d described you as having a unique perspective it would have been in a reasonably generic “kids say the darndest things” kind of way. “Mommy, if the wind is blowing, where does it go?” type of stuff. Cute comments worth blogging about or passing on to a girlfriend, thoughts that make me remember what a blank slate you really are, but in general standard cute kid stuff.

This year, though, I’ve found myself delighting in you as an individual – you make me laugh, and see things in ways I don’t, and for the first time I caught a glimpse of what I hope the future is like: a future in which you are all grown up and we are friends and I can enjoy you as simply a person whose company I’m glad to be in.

Does this make sense?

You do still love to dance, though more often than not it’s a struggle to get you to dance class. “Mommy, I love to dance, I just don’t like having to do the steps other people tell me to!” you cry sometimes. You’d rather be set free to do your own thing, and I get that. So I don’t know where the next birthday will find you dance-wise; will you stick it out so you can be in The Nutcracker again? Or will you turn your attention to something else?

More and more, I find you singing and I say (with only slight prejudice) that you’ve got a rather nice voice. You’ll listen to music on your iPod – a Christmas gift and your prized possession – then set it to “record” and sing the whole song into your cyber-microphone. I could see you turning your attention that direction, sooner rather than later.

Much to my delight, you still devour books. On your birthday this weekend you received a dozen books (even dozen) and three (3!) gift cards to bookstores. When I went to check on you late that night, you had a big book of fairy tales open, halfway read, on your bed; a new “Sophie” book cracked and a chapter in; and you were at that moment polishing off the new “Bad Kitty” book we’d given you. Three, yes, three, books at play in your bed at once. Many nights I come in at 11 p.m. and find you asleep, reading light on, at least one book in your bed with you. You were given a world atlas book one day and you read it the entire way home.

Thankfully, there’s a half-price bookstore near us because otherwise we’d be broke. Yes, of course, there’s the library, but books to you are friends and when you’ve finished reading one you can’t bear to let it go.

There’s no real sport in your life right now: you do like watching baseball and even asked to do it this summer, but when you found out you wouldn’t be batting the whole time you quickly lost interest. And you can now swim like a fish, diving deep and working on your crawl and backstroke, but I don’t see you wanting to join a team any time soon – you’d rather do your own thing.

School was much easier for you this year and you’ve spent the first part of the summer wanting to do school work every day. I’ve got your school backpack stuffed with dry erase boards and writing pads and math books and more, and you’ll open it up and get cracking on something. You got a book on how to recreate Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions at home and you can’t wait to get started.

You’ve got a strong group of friends in your life that I thank God for every day. I see the ebb and flow of individual relationships – fights, hurt feelings, making up – but marvel at how you all seem to always work it out, and how strong your core group is. I don’t think you know how special that is, and I pray constantly that you’ll have these girls – and boys – around you your whole school career. I love watching you learn how to relate to your peers with these kids: joke, monitor hurt feelings, cheer up a friend who’s down, say the wrong thing, figure out how to apologize – it’s an amazing life lesson you’re getting with your friends.

You still absolutely adore unstructured play and will be happy left to yourself around the house for hours. You’ll construct elaborate set-ups, act out all the parts, pull the costumes, and so on. The stories can continue for hours or even days and you’re equally happy being a Woodsman or a Princess, sharing roles with your sister.

And then there’s your sister – still your beloved little sister, but sometimes it gets just that little bit grating. On Cora’s birthday you became moody and I said, “Maddie, anything wrong?” to which you honestly replied, “I’m just jealous of all the attention Cora’s getting!” So you see what’s wrong but are sometimes helpless to prevent it from happening.

Cora can push your buttons like no one else, and you feel the unfairness of being the oldest – having to dig deeper, have more patience, try harder, all because “you know better”. You’re getting better at walking away, going to your room for time to yourself. But let’s be fair, baby – Cora’s not always the one wielding the Mean Stick. And when it’s all over and you’re sobbing, bewildered at how you got so mean and out of control, you can verbalize almost immediately what you did wrong and before I even suggest it you’re making reparations with your sister. Your heart swells twenty times its normal size and you lavish her with love – and apologies. And she flashes her sunny smile, is quick with her forgiveness, and you two are best friends again.

This has also been the year of money for you – starting an allowance, learning how banks work, wanting to manage your own cash. You’re so enamoured with saving money that you now turn every penny over to me to put in the bank. We double every penny you put in a savings account and you think that’s the coolest thing ever. Just last week you got sixty-five cents and you immediately handed it to me, saying, “Here, put this in my account please and let’s watch my money work for me.”

This is a long letter, I know, kiddo, but there’s been so much to say about this year. I’m almost finished.

A few nights ago as I lay snuggling in your bed with you I said, “Oh, baby, I love you so much,” and you turned to me and for the first time, said, “Why?” Not in a spiteful or self-denigrating way, but earnestly wanting to know.

Here’s the gist of what I said.

I love you because you make me laugh. Because you want to make me laugh. I love your brain, and the amazing thinks it thinks. I love that you’ve figured out that if candy is super fancy looking, it probably doesn’t taste as good as it looks. I love watching you read a book, and the way you run downstairs excited to tell me what’s happened to Sara Crewe today – is her father dead? Is mean Miss Minchin really going to force her to be a cellar maid? I love the freckles that spread out across your nose, a delicate dusting you like now but will probably lament later on. I love how big your heart is, how you will give a total stranger everything in your hands if you think he needs it. I love the way you are constantly making gifts for people, constantly showing your love through that language of generosity and thoughtfulness. I love the way you belt out songs when your headphones are on, the way you looked at a new playlist I added to your iPod as a surprise gift and said approvingly, “There’s some good stuff on here!” I love how there are times you feel like you have something so important to say, the only way you can say it is through dance. I love that, even though you are less than a foot shorter than me, you still fold yourself into me like a kitten and snuggle contentedly. I love the height and depth, the width and breadth of you.

But most of all, I just love YOU and still wake up some days pinching myself, thinking I must be dreaming because I get to be YOUR mother.

I love you much, kiddo. Happy birthday.




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