July 14th, 2016
Oh, my sweet girl. You continue to break my heart with your unstoppable march through adolescence. Twelve years ago today you changed my world forever, expanded my heart to a size I couldn't begin to comprehend was possible; you have brought me happiness beyond my greatest expectations every single day since you were first placed in my arms.
You tackled this past year with a vengeance from the get-go. Although you entered your 11th year of life with some trepidation for what might lie ahead, you never let that fear hold you back. In fact, I think you used that fear to fuel you. You auditioned for the school musical within the first couple of weeks of school and made it. You tried out for the school cheer squad and made it. You auditioned again for a mixed high and middle school revue and made it. Every single goal you set for yourself you accomplished, and with each achievement our pride grew by leaps and bounds. In all those efforts you demonstrated an incredible work ethic while also maintaining all your other school, home, and extra curricular responsibilities and that was even more rewarding for me than the joy that poured out of me as I watched you doing what you love. You worked so hard to achieve big things, and it was an honor to be by your side wiping away tears (almost always mine and always tears of extreme pride and joy) and cheering you on along the way.
I think more than ever you have fostered a peace within you that has made you seem even more mature. It seems as though during this last year you have figured out what makes you happy, and you're not afraid to pursue those endeavors even if it means striking out on your own. You love participating in musicals, band, and cheer. You don't let the opinions of others dictate or interfere with the activities that you find the most fulfilling. As a result, you've been required to step outside of your comfort zone at times and have been rewarded exponentially because of that courage. "Fearless" has not been an adjective I would have used to describe you in the past, but I think it might be an appropriate descriptor now. I've seen you embody a confidence I didn't know you possessed this past year, and each time it's left me in awe of your strength and courage. You are so brave in so many ways, McKenna, and it's become one of the traits that I admire the most about you.
In addition to doing what makes you happy, you've also done a pretty remarkable job of pinpointing WHO makes you happy. You have always been a very inclusive kid, willing to include any and every person, and this continue to hold true. Your heart and your mind are open to everyone, and your kindness and compassion are without a doubt your most admirable and obvious strengths in the long list of things that make you an incredible human being. That being said, you've shown that you like to keep your circle of trust small, another indicator that you are socially wise beyond your years. Since you were a baby you have always been someone who processes everything quietly then surprises us at random with very astute observations. As you've gotten older this is a skill you continue to possess and fine tune. In our conversations, it seems like you have a very secure idea of where you belong in the social landscape of middle school, and you very quietly and keenly try to figure out where everyone else belongs too. Those friends that you let into your circle have no idea how lucky they are to have you by their side. One of my ongoing hopes for you is that you are loved and cared for by friends who are as true and faithful to you as you are them.
We were talking in the car one day, and you said something so completely unselfish in regards to your friends that it brought me to tears. I couldn't think of anything to say in that moment other than, "You are so sweet," and your very innocent response was, "Yeah, people tell me that a lot". And it's so true; you have one of the sweetest, most pure souls of anyone I have ever known. I will be the first to admit - embarrassingly so - that I have probably acted more like a middle school girl in terms of your peer relationships this year than you have. There have been just a couple of instances, but in those times I've been so worried that you would feel excluded or hurt or deceived because of the actions of some of those who are included in your social circle. While I have obsessed over those moments, you have consistently demonstrated a quiet peace. You seem unphased by the questionable actions of others and patiently listen as I feel the need to attempt to explain their possible motives. You know that the thoughts and opinions of others do not correlate to your own self-worth, and that alone will save you a great deal heartache in the future. You can separate what's happening between friends from your individual relationships with the involved parties, and you have shown a knack for knowing when to be supportive and when to butt out. At your age I always felt like a mediator between feuding friends, torn and conflicted; you seem to have found a way to guard your heart and mind while remaining completely engaged yet neutral. You are friendly to all but trusting of very few. And if someone has a secret and they want to tell someone that will keep it locked tight? Oh man, you are SO the person to go to. In these ways you're a lot like your dad, and this will serve you well in life. You have a great compassion for others, but you also seem to know that staying true to yourself is as important as caring for others.
Elaina asked me yesterday if I'm sad that you're turning 12 today, and I really wasn't sure how to answer her. Does it kill me to know that in only two years you'll be getting ready to start high school? That in four you'll be driving away without me? That in six years there's a good chance you'll be setting out on your own? It does. It makes me feel short of breath and kind of sick to my stomach. But at the same time, it is so fulfilling to continue to watch as you come into who you have always been destined to be; the knowledge that I have the honor to be a part of your life as you continue to accomplish great things is as exhilarating as it is terrifying.
So, I'm torn. I'm sad that the days of rocking you to sleep are long gone. On almost a daily basis I look at you when you walk into the room and sit in wonder, dumbfounded at how it's possible this gorgeous young lady was once my baby with the big blue eyes, wide toothless smile, and tiny pigtails. I'm still surprised by the fact that you are almost as tall as I am. When you come in a for a hug now you lean your head against mine because you're too tall to burrow into my neck like you used to do. But I am so incredibly thrilled to watch you march forward in life. With each passing day you create memories - whether generated by nursing wounds from defeat or celebrating hard earned victories - of your own that contribute to this incredible journey that is your life. And as always, either in moments of pain or pride, I hope you know that I'm by your side every step of the way. You are my heart, my joy, my constant reminder of how much light and love there is left untapped in this crazy world. I am confident that in the following days and years you will continue to share your love and incredible soul with all those you encounter leaving them better people for having known and loved you, much as you have done for me over the last 12 years.
I love you more than you will ever know, my beautiful McKenna Grace. Thank you for always loving me right back.