April 19th, 2016
Today marks an entire decade of life with you, ten years of laughter and adventure and drama and countless moments that have left me both mesmerized and bewildered at your amazing spirit.
For years I tried to convince you and your sister to read the Harry Potter series with me. You both refused at each request, telling me that you don't like Harry Potter and that magic is dumb. One evening I convinced you to give me three chapters - if you still weren't interested in the story at the end of three chapters, I'd never ask you to read it again. As I read the final word of the first chapter, I looked up and locked eyes with you. Without hesitation and with all seriousness you said, "Keep reading". You were hooked, as I knew you would be, and your love (and obsession) for all things related to Harry Potter's world only continues to grow. In light of this, I thought it would be fitting to use some of the most memorable quotes from the Harry Potter series as the framework for your annual birthday letter. I feel like I'm pretty good with expressing myself in words, but no one can outdo the master, J.K. Rowling.
"We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy."
For as much as you change year to year, there have always been some traits that have remained constants. One of those constants for you in your quick burn to frustration. Nothing makes you more irritated than being faced with something that doesn't come to you easily and immediately. Whether it's homework (math is your sworn enemy if you can't instantly grasp the concept), or the latest tumbling skill you're trying to teach yourself, or a lego kit, or painting your nails . . . if you don't get it right the first time, you might as well declare it the end of the world. There are so many things that do come easily to you, and I think that's why you find so much frustration when you run into the rare things that don't. I've said it over and over, but I'll repeat it again: I wish you had as much faith in yourself as I do in you. I have never once doubted that you are capable of great and amazing things in this life, and one of my wishes for you is that you see that you possess this trait in abundance. Not all things in life will be easy, but the reward that you receive at the sense of accomplishment when you work to achieve that goal is one I hope you experience again and again. I hope as you continue to grow and mature you find the value in putting in the extra effort, sometimes skipping the "easy" way and extending yourself in a way you didn't even know was possible. There's so much more out there when you're willing to go the extra mile. Take your tenacity and put it to work.
“You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”
You've always been a great storyteller, and in the past year you were honored for your efforts at the Starved Rock region Young Author's Celebration. It was amazing to sit with you, to watch you absolutely beaming with pride at your accomplishment. You have always had a swagger about you, a kind of quiet (and sometimes, even still, not so quiet) confidence that I've always admired. As you get older, I've found myself more and more projecting my own lack of confidence toward you. I need to stop this; hesitation to let you try new things comes solely from my attempts to protect you from rejection or disappointment, and even if this protection comes from a place of love, I need to let go and let you experience life as you seek it. Why should I show fear if you don't? So many times since you've come into my life I've wished I could be more like you. Having the nerve to put yourself out there, to do your thing regardless of what others will think or how they'll react, is something I have forever admired about you.
"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
Life is full of choices, and it pleases me to no end to watch you grow into a young lady who has become a master at finding balance between bursts of spontaneity and well thought out, calculated decisions. You are always surprising me, Elaina. Just when I think I have you figured out you peel away another layer to reveal a side of yourself that I never knew existed. I've always considered you a do-er, a reactionary type of kid who jumps first and considers the consequences in the free fall. But in this last year especially you have shown a deeper side. You have demonstrated numerous times that you are actually ALWAYS thinking, ALWAYS contemplating the effects of Decision A and how that might differ if you decide instead to go with Option B. You are developing such a responsible side that, again, brings me so much happiness as your mom.
When I look at this picture from our trip to South Dakota, I can hear your contagious giggle and remember the joy that radiated from your body during this short moment in time. You were hesitant to even get out of the car on this portion of our drive through Needles Highway - the heights that we were at were a little unsettling to you, my typically brave daughter. When you saw, though, the opportunity to feed some nearly domesticated ground squirrels you pushed that fear aside, stepped out of the van, and walked up to the guardrail with all the confidence that state park could hold. The fear was gone, replaced with confidence and a quiet determination to experience something you had never experienced before. I come back to this picture often and smile every time, my heart warmed by this moment where I will forever remember you being so genuinely happy to have pushed yourself past fear to experience something so memorable. I hope you carry a piece of that memory with you too.
“I am what I am, an’ I’m not ashamed. ‘Never be ashamed,’ my ol’ dad used ter say, ‘there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth botherin’ with.”
For all the sweet and kind and tender hearted moments you show, no one who knows you will be surprised to see you still embracing the other side of our spunky Elaina Rae. In past years you've cried, almost broken hearted, as you worry that people don't like you for who you are. You've told me before that you have tried to change to make other people happy, and I've done everything I could to convince you to never change anything about you for anyone. Well, I think those pleas have started to take root. You wear dresses when everyone else is going ultra casual. You expertly apply eye shadow and mascara before leaving for volleyball practice. You hold fast and true to your love of Harry Potter when every single one of your friends tell you that those books and movies are boring. You put on hot pink lipstick even though I hate it and tell you that it's not your color (and of course you put it on anyway because, duh, what do I know? Of course hot pink is your color, how could I ever think otherwise).
There are definitely moments when I feel like maybe I've broken your spirit over the years, but I know breaking a spirit as strong as yours would be impossible. And for that, I'm so very grateful. You do you, girl, always and forever because even when I roll my eyes in your direction and mutter under my breath, "Oh, that girl" my heart is soaring that you continue to be 100% authentically who you are and who you were always meant to be.
“But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Yesterday I got in the car to leave for school and was startled to see you sitting in the seat next to me, tears pouring down your face. When I asked what was wrong, I was expecting a standard response about being tired, or that you were worried about taking the state required PARCC tests this week. Instead you told me between sobs that you didn't want to turn ten years old. You were distraught, saying, "Life is just moving to fast. I feel like moments are slipping away and time is just going so, so fast. I don't want to get older!". I was a little taken aback, mostly because just five days earlier you were literally dancing in the kitchen with excitement about this double digit birthday. I get it though, I really do. Life is moving fast. As I was scanning through pictures of you for this letter I couldn't believe how much you have grown. You are my baby, and to think that today you turn ten years old is just as unsettling to me as it was to you yesterday. Where does the time go? How do we get it to stop moving so quickly?
I tried my best to calm your worries. I talked about making the most out of every single day. The years do go by in the blink of an eye, but when you make every minute count it brings so much meaning into each day. So much of what happens to us or around us it out of our control, but it's how we respond that makes all the difference. You are my light, Elaina. You have, from the second you entered this world, been my sunshine on dark days. You bring so much happiness to our family. It's YOU who has taught ME the lesson I tried to convey to you yesterday morning as I held your hand on the way to school. I learned about making my own happiness even when the world around you is anything but through watching and loving you. Find the light within yourself when you are surrounded by darkness, Elaina, and let it lead you to happiness. Follow it to make the most of every moment, and instead of looking back on the past that's flying by us with sadness or regret you'll finding yourself smiling and grateful for the opportunities to experience it all.
“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
In December you announced that you were going to try out for the school musical, Annie. Not only were you going to try out for a part, you were going for Miss Hannigan. I'm not going to lie. I didn't think you'd get the part, mostly because you're only a fourth grader but also because I've heard you sing and that skill isn't one I'd put under the "strengths" column when discussing all the things you are capable of based on what I'd heard over the past nine years. The day that parts were going to be announced, I started the classic mom move of preparing you for bad news. I was fully confident you'd get a part in the play, but when I explained that the main roles typically go to fifth graders and gently inquired if you'd be okay with a smaller part you very plainly and boldly stated, "No. I want to be Miss Hannigan". Remember when I said earlier in this letter that my lack of confidence is about me? That I tend to project my own fears in my attempt to protect you? Well, let's just chalk up the Miss Hannigan audition process to an excellent example of one of those moments.
You got the part. You set a goal, you did it on your own, and you came sprinting down the hallway and burst through my classroom door with more excitement than I knew your body was capable of producing on the day you found out you'd accomplished what you set out to do. And oh my God, Elaina, if there's ever been a more perfect casting than you as that character I've never seen it. You were ADAMANT about not rehearsing any lines or your solo with us at home - "No spoilers!" - and I was panicked. What if she doesn't sing on key? What if she doesn't really know her lines? Again, projected fears. My own severe lack of confidence. I was once again reminded that I should never, ever doubt you because you KILLED IT. You walked across that stage for the first time like a seasoned pro. I cried through your entire first scene. I was floored when you walked alone to center stage and sang your solo with a voice so bold, so confident, so sure, so proud that the memory of it still brings goosebumps. I laughed at your bravado, I cried some more when I'd receive text messages during your solo telling me what I already knew - that you were awesome. I am proud of so many things that you've done, but my heart literally felt like it was going to burst watching you own that stage, a place we've known very early on that you'd be right at home. Born a performer, to see you in this role finally come to life this spring was a magical moment.
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
I feel like my messages to you stay the same year after year, but they continue to hold true. Continue to dance in the middle of stores if you hear a song that you love because it makes me happy to know you have a lightness in your heart that makes you able to be so free. Believe in yourself even when others don't, because you are capable of anything. You've proved that over and over again. Stay true to who you are because you are without a doubt one of the most amazing people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Never stop believing in magic, because belief and faith in that which we cannot see will bring you an inner peace that nothing else can replicate. Continue to love with your whole heart, demonstrating kindness and compassion and gratefulness to friends and strangers alike.
Take the light and fire that burns within you and share it with the world. What we all need more of is the spirit that you embody. You will change the world, Elaina. Thank you for starting with me.
I love you so very much Lainie Rae, my sweet baby girl.