It is the eve of your thirteenth birthday and it is nearly midnight. I meant to write to you much earlier tonight but have been swamped with your brothers . . . both needing desperate help with their homework. I have spent that last ninety minutes pulling my hair out trying to find out the difference between the native inhabitants of grassland biomes with today’s inhabitants. I struck out. Gun to head, I know.
As I endlessly searched for “at least three photos that demonstrate[d] the difference,” I snapped crabby answers at Luke who was trying to prepare open ended questions for his Friday Forum about date rape. This was all after trying to put Quinn to bed.
So for your birthday, the first thing I want to do is apologize. I am so sorry that both dad and I have to work full time. I am sorry that our schedules are so insane and that your brothers are so demanding because, you my dear girl, are so easy and so reliable and so friendly and so darn smart that sometimes I forget you must need me too. You are, my second born, and first daughter, stuck in the middle.
Tonight, before all the chaos of home (the Gilles malt exploded in the freezer, your roses needed a vase, dishes piled up a mile in the sink, lost Nuk’s, outta diapers, ah, it’s endless, I don’t even know if you ever found your backpack), our family went to your school and watched you perform The Wiz’s Dorothy. I cannot even begin to tell you how proud I am of you and how floored I am at your bravery, your confidence, and your talent.
It has been tradition on these birthday letters for me to tell you about your birth. Even that, of course, was easy. I was put on full bed rest with you at 28 weeks. For some, that probably does not sound easy, especially because it was before we had internet or cable, but for me it was a lovely, quiet, three months. I read a ton of books, slept, dreamt, and on Thursdays, Lolo would pick me up for my weekly doctor’s appointments.
On May 17th, 2000, at 2:30 in the morning, my water broke. I told your dad and he said, “Are you sure?” Grandma and Grandpa drove over to babysit for Luke and when I walked out into the night, the moon was full and glowing and the air smelled like honey. Dad got lost driving to the hospital, forgot where he was going because we were both so excited.
You were born three hours later, 6:32AM, and you came out facing the hospital window, which my doctor said was anatomically impossible. He could not believe it and even the next day came to my hospital room to say, “I have delivered thousands and thousands of babies and this is the first I have seen come out sideways!” When the nurse weighed you I asked Daddy if you were beautiful and he said, “Um, no.” (You were a little squished).
The best thing about you, Lizzie, is that I got to hold you right away. All the boys were so premature that they were just rushed to the NICU, but you? You I got to keep. I never set you down. I would fall asleep in the hospital with you on my chest and nurses would yell at me for not feeding you and for sleeping with you, but I just wanted to soak up your thick head of black hair, your orange little football face, and love you forever.
Today when you got in the car you told me all about your dress rehearsal and that even though you have always liked your teachers, you finally know, you said, what it means to have a favorite teacher. You have found a music teacher who has forever changed how you see yourself and for that I am grateful and also proud to call myself a teacher, to know the power one has over destiny.
At my school today, there was a fake car crash to illustrate the dangers of drinking and driving and we were each asked to write an obituary of sorts, to say what we wanted to say if we never got the chance. Tonight, as I watched you on that stage, I thought, “All I want people to know about me is that I made her.”
To know that I had any part in you being the magical and wonderful girl that you are just makes me tear up and hold my breath, like I am looking at the Grand Canyon or something. You are better than the grand canyon, my singer, my actress, my writer, my athlete (first place in the long jump last week!). You are better than all love songs, better than any slice of pie.
And today, your birthday, you are no longer a girl, I guess. A teen, a lady. If I close my eyes and imagine myself in that hospital bed thirteen years ago, I can still smell you, I can still feel you breathing. So it’s okay, be a teenager, grow up, find your life, love, be loved, explore, play, risk, create, but you will always be my baby girl and I will always be in awe of you. I know that tonight we will eat Chinese food, open presents, and celebrate you.
Just know that I celebrate you every single day. I notice everything about you and I carry it with me. Happy birthday, to both of us.