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A Letter To Maddie

Dear Maddie:

This weekend we celebrated your eighth birthday for what seemed like days: we spent a fun morning with friends horseback riding and eating ice cream at the stables; we went for a huge long family swim with more friends; we at ice cream and cake and pizza and your favorite meal: smoked ham, baked beans, and steamed broccoli. And of course we took lots of breaks for opening gifts.

The weekend was a revolving door of friends and family stopping by to drop off a birthday present, and I can’t help but rejoice at what a close community you’ve got in your own right here. Friends came by with a book of poetry about animals (how well does she know you???), or with gift cards to a favorite store, or even an original poem written by a sick friend when she had to miss your birthday party. You, my friend, are well loved.

I believe we will look back on your childhood and see second grade as the year you truly started to grow into yourself. This has been the year of not simply surviving, but THRIVING at school. Kindergarten was tough; first grade was a glimpse of the possibilities that existed; and second grade has been such a fulfillment of first grade’s promise. You woke up (almost) every morning anxious to go to school. You love love LOVE your teacher, and have fallen head over heels in love with math and poetry and science, all thanks to her. I am SO excited you get to have her again next year when she moves up to third grade with you; there’s no limit to where you can go in school, my girl.

If there’s one theme that developed as you opened your gifts this weekend, it was books. You received three gift cards to book stores and when the tissue paper had settled you had over a dozen BRAND NEW BOOKS to read.

Hopefully that will hold you for a couple days.

This year has also seen you really start to find your voice through the arts. You’ve written several short plays; you’re working on a novel on my computer; and you’ve written many poems – some of which you’ve sent off to be published. You have fallen in love with The Secret Garden, reading it through more than once, and I made the mistake of playing the soundtrack to the Broadway adaptation of that show for you. Since then, you’ve made it your mission to find a way to play Mary Lennox on stage and have written a letter to your principal laying out several well-thought-out arguments as to why she should put the show on at your school; you’ve also spoken to the owner of a local professional theatre and asked him to produce the show there as well. You really, REALLY want to play Mary.

You took this past year off from ballet, preferring to give yourself time to try other things, and I believe you’ve discovered some new passions. This year you sang at the talent show instead of dancing, and found out how much you love singing for other people. And now you’re going horseback riding every Saturday and are head-over-heels in love with it. This is truly a passion I believe you’re going to have for the rest of your life; you love everything about it. Saturday mornings are a highlight of your week now, and as much as you love riding and practicing in the ring, you also crave time afterwards hanging around, helping take care of the animals, or simply sitting on the barn porch and talking to the barn cats while you eat an apple. You drink in those moments, store them up for the week ahead.

This has also been a year of trying various sports, and as someone who has never been any good at any of them, I applaud how much you’ve tried them. Your gym teacher raised an appreciation for basketball in you as well as soccer, and you spent the spring practicing soccer moves with your dad –without the pressure of games and competition.

Your nemesis in the sports world has been kickball, and believe me, child, I feel your pain. Twice this year you went to make a big kick – once in football, once in kickball – and your shoe went flying off. Both times you told me, I almost cried for you: I can well imagine the embarrassment, the flaming red face as you walked to the back of the class. I ached for you, and wished I could fix that. But these moments – the ones that hurt me to watch, the ones I wish I could “fix” or “erase” - will happen more and more as time goes by, and will absolutely shape you into who you will become. As much as these moments stink – and they do, a lot – they are such an important part of the future “you” that shielding you from them would be robbing you of some of your future best parts. The failures and fears shape us just as much as the successes do, kiddo.

And I see you becoming an amazing woman. I see you hit these hard times, and I see you get back up and try again. Or keep walking, even when someone says something cruel. Or go to school, even when it’s the kickball tournament and you just KNOW that you’re going to do something stupid and you really don’t want to go. More importantly, I see how these moments breed compassion in you for others, when they go through their own horrible moments, and I know absolutely then that those moments were worth it.

This next year is going to be a big one for you, I think. You’re spending more and more time away from me- longer play dates with friends, big long sleepovers out of the house, that sort of thing. And you’re going to be making a lot more decisions for yourself, and all I can do is pray I’ve given you the information and skills to make wise decisions. Or that you’ll have the ability to forgive yourself when you make a mistake.

One day this spring you made your first “B” in school: you made an 87 on a math test. The test had covered more than we thought would be on it, and you and I didn’t study for enough. You were so heartbroken, you didn’t want to show me the test. You were that mortified. But do you know what happened the next week? You scored a 100 on the next test, because you went home and hit the books. Truthfully, I was relieved you got your first B and learned that the world does not, indeed, end if that happens.

Do you remember what I say to you when you’re going out without me for a long time? I say, “Remember who you are.”

And we rehearse some of the things that you are, and brainstorm together:

You are compassionate. You are filled with grace. You are patient. You are generous. You think for yourself and come to your own conclusions. You are polite. You are kind. And above all, you’re the daughter of the King. You are royalty, and your Father loves you very much.

I look back over this letter and notice there's no big gushing about how much I love you. But surely - SURELY - you can feel that permeate this whole essay, can't you? How crazy in love with you I am? How my heart wants to burst open with pride sometimes? And how, when you turn to me and smile, I think that there's nothing I wouldn't do for you?

Here’s to another fantastic year, sweet girl.




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