July 14, 2012
The other day we were in Dwight visiting with my cousin Krissy and her daughters while they were in town for the week. Not long after we arrived, I looked over at you sitting next to Genevieve and I was momentarily struck speechless as it became so painfully obvious that you are eight years old. It happens every year. We go along one day at a time living life as usual and then within about a month of your birthday it's like out of nowhere someone's thrown a brick at my head - WHAM! As soon as the stars of disbelief vanish I'm left with the realization that you are another year older. Just like that, in the blink of an eye.
The last couple of nights I have had trouble falling asleep, a very rare predicament for me as I'm sure you're aware. While lying in bed my head has been swimming as I've been mentally composing this annual birthday letter to you. For whatever reason though I'm finding it difficult to put all these thoughts and ideas about who you are and what you mean to everyone in your life into words. It's not that I don't have anything to say - if you put your dad and I in a room together and gave us free reign, the two of us could literally talk for hours on end about all the things that make you wonderful. I don't know what it is, but I think part of it is that I don't know how to do you justice. You are, quite simply, one of the most amazing individuals I have ever had the honor of knowing.
I've been watching you a lot lately, just making mental notes about what makes you so uniquely amazing. It's impossible to define a person by any one trait, but if I was forced to do it yours would be relatively quick to pinpoint: you have the sweetest, purest heart of any person I have ever known. You show compassion for every living creature you encounter (minus that unfortunate praying mantis who stealthily crawled up your leg without your prior approval the other day). I watch you with your dad, sister, grandparents, cousins, friends, and even "your" cats and I am always amazed at how loving and kind you are. With a few understandable and expected exceptions where Elaina is concerned, you give so freely of yourself and your possessions. Almost always you give without asking for anything in return. You were born to nurture and comfort, to shower others with affection, and you do it often and without hesitation. You are already a "little mother" and not just to those younger than you. There are many times when I think to myself that you comfort me more than the other way around.
One day this past spring we were driving in the car and the conversation turned to Guardian Angel Grandma. I reminded you that her birthday is July 4th and she always tried to convince her grandkids that the fireworks show was really for her birthday. I told you that her favorite color was red and that she loved anything chocolate. With each revelation your eyes got bigger and bigger until you finally put all the pieces together and said, "Hey, my birthday is in July. And MY favorite color is red. And I love chocolate too. It's like me and Guardian Angel Grandma are TWINS!". What's crazy is that the older you get the more of her personality and disposition I see in you and that fills me with so much joy I could cry (and, admittedly currently am). I know that you don't remember her on your own but the stories and pictures we share about her have helped you develop a picture of who she was as a person. As you grow up and I continue to watch you evolve into this extraordinary person, I think on some level you two are kindred spirits.
As you turn eight years old, you have very well defined favorite things. Your favorite color is red and you love anything made with, dipped, dunked, swirled, or covered in chocolate as mentioned previously. You are a carb girl enjoying anything made from noodles or potatoes. Addyson continues to be your BFF4EVR although Kayla has become a close second this past year. You enjoy reading and riding your bike (now without training wheels - woot!) but would prefer to be inside watching iCarly and Shake It Up or listening to music on your iPod. "Call Me Maybe" is your current favorite song and you explained to me the other day that when you are frustrated or upset you sing really loud to make yourself feel better. You should know that listening to and watching you sing (now complete with your own subtle choreography) always makes me feel better too. You are always up for an adventure and I will gladly choose you as my traveling partner for as long as you'll let me tag along.
I'm going to admit something to you here. I'm a little afraid that I don't know how to be a good mom to you as you get older. Not that being a mom is ever easy, but up until now your needs have been pretty basic: keep you fed, clothed, and bathed; teach you basic manners; play and sing and dance like total goofballs at some point every day; expose you to new adventures every now and then. Now that you're eight years old and getting ready to start third grade I'm feeling a little panicky that life's about to take a major turn. With each passing birthday we both - you as the child and me as the mom - gain a little bit more wisdom and a little more independence. With this added freedom also comes the knowledge that life starts getting a little more complicated with age as well. Looking forward into this next year I've got a variety of questions running through my head: Is this the she'll stop believing in Santa? Will she still grab for my hand as we're walking together or will she soon be too embarrassed to do that? Is she going to stop calling me mommy? Is this the year we'll have "The Talk"? Is it my job to bring up certain subjects or do I wait for her to come to me and take her lead? In the past couple of weeks we've had a few mini-discussions on somewhat delicate subject matters, and can I just say this? You handled each occasion with much more grace and class that I did. Your dad had a great perspective on it: these future conversations that take place are simply based in you seeking information. You don't know to be embarrassed because to you it's just knowledge. Can you just promise me one thing? If I get a little flustered or tongue tied, cut me a little slack okay?
I think I've decided that going forward and as we tip-toe into some of the more, shall we say, "dynamic" years of the mother-daughter relationship, I'm going to rely on one simple fact: you and I are basically emotional twins. You don't particularly enjoy change as evidenced by the fact that you don't ever want to move from this house and after graduating high school you plan on leaving home only to return after college and live in the house directly within view of our dining room window. Watching you deal with certain situations is like staring into a mirror. Our favorite coping mechanism for stressful or difficult situations goes something like this: repress, repress, repress, explode in a sobbing heap of despair over a trivial matter, deep breath, refocus, conquer. I guess it's true that history really does repeat itself. So, I'm taking this little bit of knowledge and tucking it away in my toolbox of parenting tricks. Hopefully having an intimate understanding of how and why you react the way you do will help us both make it out the other side alive, intact, and still thinking the other one isn't a total whack-a-doodle. You probably won't believe it but this little weapon makes me believe that I probably know and understand you better than you will yourself for a long time to come. I'm going to consider it one of my super powers.
You know one of the things I love the most about you? You make your dad and I look like we've got this parenting thing down. You are polite, courteous, and friendly. You are smart and funny and more beautiful with each passing day. I like to kid myself and think that people look at you and say to themselves, "Wow, that Dave and Amanda. They've really done a good job raising those girls" when really, I know, all the credit should go to you. You have and always will set the tone for the decisions we make as your mom and dad - it's part of the joys and trials of being the first born. Lucky for us you and your amazing disposition just make it look like we actually know what we're doing. Boy, have you helped us fool them. Remind me to thank you for that someday.
Kenna, you are my heart. You own a piece of me that will always belong to only you. I hope someday you will know the joy you bring me. Your laugh - your true, unbridled, unguarded laugh - brings me to tears and makes my heart expand with happiness. Your little crinkled nose smile melts me. The kindness you pay forward to others makes me so proud. I hope you always know that there will never be a day I am not grateful for you and the joy you bring into my life. You have already and will continue to change my life in ways no one before you ever has before - you have already made so many of my dreams about what it would be like to be a mom come true.
McKenna Grace, I love you with all my heart. Happy birthday to you, my sweet girl.