Dear Emma,

It is the night before your 5th birthday and I just went in to check on you before going to bed.  You were in your usual sleep position: three night lights on, arms thrown over head, piles of books strewn between the twisted sheet.  I gingerly remove the reading headlamp that has now left a red bullseye in the middle of your forehead.  Even in your sleep you look intense, restless, resistant to relinquish the hum and connectedness of daily life.

This year has been filled with questions: Do caterpillars have eyelashes? Do Stop signs grow up from the ground like plants? Do squirrels tell each other knock-knock jokes?

Your newly acquired skill of putting words to your experience of the world has made me realize that these birthday letters, while well intentioned, have been kind of…what’s the word…stupid.  Counterproductive.  Fodder.  For. Therapy.

They started as a kind of chronological catalog: At first a record of all your big milestones, then later morphing into a laundry list of adjectives describing your personality: words like “spirited” and “charismatic.” But recently I had an epiphany that will change the face of these letters forever.  It dawned on me that, 33 years into this whole gig, in order to really feel at home in my own skin, I need to erase anything I was ever told about myself.  Kind of a mental Ctrl-Alt-Delete.

Why, you ask?

Because I realized that describing you TO you is like eating your first slice of pizza and then telling you what you think it tastes like…how gooey and delicious YOU think it is.  I am sucking the wonder and authenticity out of your experience by filling your cranium with MY (jaded, neurotic) experience.  Which is kind of ridiculous considering this is supposed to be a letter celebrating YOUR entry into this world. Silly, narcissistic Mommy.

So, we’re switching things up.  Changing the rules to…well, less rules.  From now on I will write to you as your student.  Amidst the craziness of the daily grind, I will use these letters as motivation to slow down, to watch, to take notes, and then share with you my favorite moment from our year together.  So, without further ado…My Favorite Moment With Emma at 4 Years Old:

This year, you fell in love for the first time.  Her name was Jill.  Unlike me, you have never been one to latch on to one “best friend,” so when you declared Jill as The One, I took it seriously.  Waaaaaaaay too seriously.

You requested a play-date, which I took on like an obsessive compulsive wedding planner.  I emailed her mom with a perky message filled with explanation points and smiley faces – promises of an extra booster seat and a picnic lunch at the park free of gluten, soy or dairy.  I vacuumed the car for the first time in…well, since we bought it.  I made your bed, you lined up your stuffed animals like the Welcoming Committee.  I got a sitter for Phoebe.  I blew dry my hair.  For a play-date.  Silly, narcissistic Mommy.

I felt a bit fluttery as I drove to school to pick up you and Jill.  Butterfly shaped sandwiches, check.  Dora napkins, check.  Cellphone, check. I saw the words “1 new voicemail.

“Hi Jessie, this is Jill’s dad.  Unfortunately Jill threw up at school this morning, so we will have to reschedule the play-date….”

Now I know that my first thought should have been, “Poor Jill!”  But it wasn’t.  All I could think about was how you had taken out the good art stuff in case Jill wanted to use it.  How you had crossed out the last 7 days on the calendar leading up to this afternoon.  I thought of those lonely stuffed animals with no one to greet.  Pulling into the school parking lot, I prepared myself for your tear streaked face. I wracked my brain for words of comfort that only the Best Mom would say.  My eyes panned the classroom until they found you.

There were no tears.  No temper tantrums.  You pushed in your chair and walked toward me.  You took my hand and said with a sigh, “Well Mom, looks like it’s just you and me for lunch. Poor Jill threw up orange all over the place.”  My eyes filled with tears..tears of pride to be the mother of this wise little soul.

Not sure if you will remember, but we had the play-date as planned: the park, the picnic…Dora napkins and all.  We swung on the swings side by side, and for a moment were in perfect unison.  I took a picture of you with my mind: your blond hair streaking out behind you like a mermaid…your eyes closed as you composed an impromptu song with the chorus, “I love to swing with my Mom; she’s not Jill, but she fits the bill.”  We laughed so hard I swallowed a bug.  My heart grew three sizes.

In these moments, you show me how much fun I miss by being so intense.  That life can be like a giant Etch-A-Sketch: you draw a picture, you make mistakes – you just shake it up and start again, it’s all part of the game.

I can’t wait to see the life you sketch for yourself.  Happy Birthday.

I love you,


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