April 19th, 2015
Today you turn nine years old, and just like it happens at each birthday I’m left wondering again how this is even possible. How can it be that my baby is nine? I was looking through old pictures the other day, and I found myself repeatedly shaking my head thinking, “There is no way Elaina is going to be nine. She was just a newborn! We were just bringing her home from the hospital! It is impossible that she’s almost a fourth grader!”. I keep telling myself these things, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are growing up right before my very eyes.
You, unlike me, don’t seem to possess any kind of trepidation or hesitation with the fact that you are getting older. I’m pretty sure you embrace it. I can safely say that you are nine going on nineteen at this point in your life. You are changing and evolving in many ways, but there are parts of you that continue to run as a recurring theme. First of all, you continue to love fashion and have declared for over a year now that your future profession will likely be that of a fashion designer. You have started a portfolio of design ideas and you enjoy creating pieces that range from eclectic casual to gaudy elegance. I’ve caught you on more than one occasion trying to apply makeup before school and you have escaped the house en route to shopping excursions with a full face applied numerous times. Your love of shoes, especially those with a heel, continues to burn with passionate fury and the day we had to throw out your Anna boots (the heel was literally falling off posing a serious safety hazard) was a dark, dark day. You love jewelry, pink, glitter, and anything that sparkles and gravitate toward it like a moth to a flame. There is very little about you that is understated which remains yet another constant in your life.
You have always moved your body in a way that directly mirrors your mood. When you are happy you have a bounce in your step that is impossible to ignore. When you are sad your body moves like it’s trudging through quicksand - head down, limbs hanging, slowly and methodically moving forward or quietly sinking in a stationary position. When you are angry or frustrated there is stomping and flailing with matching verbal explosions that makes it clear that you are probably in need of some intervention before you or someone or thing around you ends up injured. When you are nervous I can safely bet any dollar amount that you are biting your nails, sitting very still other than a slight side-to-side swaying motion with your eyes darting back and forth assessing the situation. And when you are excited your enthusiasm is difficult to contain. The volume and pitch of your voice increases noticeably, your face lights up like the sun, and your body is more certainly dancing, twirling, high kicking, or bouncing.
I watch you in all of these moments and wonder if there is a soundtrack playing in your head throughout the day that only you can hear and that varies given the situation and your emotional reaction at that time. I can imagine you hear a deep, heavy, dark classical piece playing in your moments of sadness. When you are happy it’s probably something mainstream and current like “Updown Funk,” your jam of the moment. A screaming heavy metal number comes to mind with your anger, and maybe the frantic “Flight of the Bumblebees” best matches your mood when you are excited. You have music in your sole and a song in your heart at all times, and it pours out of you anytime a tune starts to play.
Last year a significant portion of my letter to you was all about staying true to yourself, and I think my wish for you has taken root over the last 365 days. I was talking to one of your teachers a couple of weeks ago, a teacher who knows both you and McKenna well, and she shared some pretty wonderful words about you in our conversation. In addition to complimenting what a fun, entertaining, and sweet kid you are, she also mentioned that she really has seen your personality evolve into something pretty remarkable since the start of 2nd grade. What she has observed is that you seem more comfortable in your own skin and that you are moving out of your sister’s shadow and into your own light. I had to pause to think about that for a minute because I’ve never really considered you to be a person who shied away from the spotlight, but as we continued to talk I started to understand what she was saying. There’s a natural phenomenon that happens when you are the younger sibling. Even with the best intentions to avoid it you will inevitably be compared to McKenna, especially by people who knew her first. I think it happens to all sibling pairs at some time or another. What I loved about what Ms. B said to me is that even though you might be compared to your sister, you in no way feel compelled to be like her and you are carving your own path in this life of yours. I love that so much. I love that you are finding your own voice and presenting yourself authentically, and even more so that others around you recognize that. I have always loved that you know what you want and are persistent in doing whatever you can to get it. You are maturing in so many ways, and I think following your own wishes and desires in spite of what others might say or expect as part of a preconceived idea is a big part of that maturity.
That being said, in group situations it never fails that at some point you can be found sulking quietly because the others don’t want to do what you are proposing. We've had many talks about this and you've made a lot of progress dealing with this particular situation, but man does it make you mad when everyone else picks the idea of someone else over yours. I've tried to teach you that in that situation you have two choices: join your friends doing what THEY want to do or do what YOU want to do by yourself with the hope that maybe others will join you eventually. Do you like those two options? Oh no, you do not. The biggest hurdle for you with this scenario is the fact that I also remind you that you have to be okay with whichever choice you make. Making the choice isn't all that difficult, but being happy with it is a whole other story. What I'm trying to gently teach you in those moments is this: life is full of choices, but rarely are those options both desirable. In fact a majority of the time both choices probably kind of stink. However, even in those moments where we are faced with deciding between the lesser of two evils, it's important to know that we have the power to do what we think is best for us. We act on it, and we find quiet confidence in the choices we made.
You have always been one though to separate from the crowd when things get a little too overwhelming for you. I don't even know if you realize that you do it. You claim to hate being alone. Anytime McKenna is at a friend's house you follow me around like you're lost and proclaim, "I just don't like feeling lonely". It's funny though because you seem most content when you are quietly working in your own space doing your own thing. Art projects, puzzles, lego sets, reading...these are all activities that you use to retreat into a place of calm. Of course you love action and the company of others immensely, but even though you fight it when it's not your idea, you need that time to yourself. It centers you. I don't think you've consciously realized that yet, but you'll soon figure it out and knowing this about yourself will be a powerful tool.
I don't remember when it started, but apparently in the last year or so you were having some pretty vivid dreams nearly every night, and your report of these dreams were not lovely images. Huge attacking spiders, people trying to climb in through your window in the middle of the night, your skin melting off your body...frankly the dreams (nightmares?) you described were pretty gruesome and a bit worrisome too. You have a confidence and swagger about you in most situations, but you also harbor some anxiety that isn't always at the forefront and is harder to see unless the person knows you really well. You can be pretty hard on yourself and you get easily frustrated when things don't come easily and automatically. I wondered if these bad dreams were a manifestation of the things that you quietly worry about. You aren't quick to share what's troubling you and honestly I'm not sure you can even pin point those things that are causing you stress. You know when you feel uncomfortable or frustrated, but it's still hard for you to definitively say what is prompting these emotions. Dad and I both talked to you about these dreams and shared some techniques that might work for easing your mind at bedtime so that you could have a peaceful slumber.
Somewhere along the way you learned about dream catchers and expressed how you wish you had one to help you with your bad dreams. As if your wish caught flight on the wind, a few days later we received in the mail a package from a Native American tribe drumming up donations. That package included complimentary items like stationary, address labels, stickers, a book of Native American poems, and a dream catcher. You could hardly believe it when I showed you what have arrived in the mail that day. Immediately claiming it as your own, you placed it on the shelf just over your head and the next day woke up beaming and reported that the dream catcher had worked. From that night on, I'm not sure you've ever had anything but sweet dreams. That dream catcher has become a vital part of your sleep routine - it travels with you if you sleep outside of your own bed, and you believe in its powers to block the bad completely.
It's a pretty amazing phenomenon, really. Your dad and I were just talking about it the other night as we were putting the final touches on your new "diva room". Dad mentioned that he'd like to find a permanent, prominent place for your dream catcher in your new surroundings, and then we talked about the difference this piece has had in your life. Does this dream catcher have magical powers? I don't know about that. What it has proven to me though is that your subconscious is a powerful weapon. You believe in the dream catcher's capabilities to bring the good into your life while filtering the evil. You believe that this object sent randomly to our home from a charity that I have never heard of before or since mere days after mention of your desire for something to help you sleep better has done exactly that. And because you believe it, it is so. I think it's a pretty powerful indicator for what you can accomplish in this life of yours so long as you believe. If you believe good will come, it will happen. If you believe that you are capable, the task you are attempting will be completed with great success. If you believe that you can accomplish great things, the world is yours to take. If you only believe in yourself as much as you believe in your dream catcher, all your most wonderful dreams will come true. You will soar.
We have shared some alone time in the last couple of days, and I was astounded by the moments we had together. Caught up in the routine of day to day life, I find that I often miss the subtle changes that take place in your appearance and personality now that you're older and these changes aren't so in-your-face like they were when you were an infant, toddler, or even preschooler. It's most often in those moments where we are one-on-one that I get lost in your mannerisms and your words. When did this child start using expressions that are so grown up? When did this little girl turn into a young lady? I see it happening in small parts all the time I guess, but I've just been hit with it especially hard in the last few days and it's a bit jarring. It's incredible to watch unfold, but it's frightening at the same time because I feel like I'm going to blink my eyes and you're going to be on your own. Time is moving so fast.
Still, the passage of time in any increment will never change the fact that you are one of the most amazing people I have ever had the honor of having a part of my life. You continue to fill my life with immeasurable joy and endless laughter. You are an incredible human being with a beautiful spirit, and you bring happiness to so many. You are smart and witty and imaginative. You are considerate and grateful and loving. You are helpful and kind and generous. It is such a joy to watch you continue to grow into this multi-layered individual. I am so lucky to have you in my life to teach me and challenge me, to have you to love and to receive your love in return. You are a huge part of my heart, and I would be lost without you.
Happy birthday, my sweet Elaina Rae. I love you so very much.
All of my love,