Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Letter From Your Mother on the Occasion of your Golden Birthday

Dear Clio,


It's shocking, really.

How can you be FIVE already?

And yet, I just happened upon pictures of your third birthday, and you looked so much more than three.  I don't think this is just my perception because you are my first, my oldest: I suppose this is something about you, something in you to be, in your way, a little grown up.  The way you can't wait to be a mentor at school (coming just this fall.)  The way you say to your sister, "I'm your best big sister."  The way you always want to be with bigger kids as peers (you invited mostly last-years' kinders to your birthday party) or be with the little ones to help (your cousin Oliver could not be more delighted by the attention you pay to him.)  Of course, grown up is relative, and there's a thirteen year old in there, sticking out her tongue at her dad because she knows it pushes his buttons, stomping her foot when she's frustrated or angry.  You stomp your foot a lot.  Daddy has taken to saying a foot stop means "thank you," and when you stomp he says "you're welcome."  You hate this so much, and I understand: it feels unfair, out of your control, when he turns the trick around on you like that.  But I know what he's doing, because he does it to me: he is trying to help you take yourself less seriously.  He is trying to help you build a thicker skin.

This is my greatest wish for you, a thick skin.  You are so sensitive.  Things make you cry that even this self-proclaimed drama queen will tell you are not crying matters.  Sometimes I wonder if it is dramatic posturing, to be heard or make a point.  Other times, though, I think it is something delicate in you that does hurt at the slightest slight.  This worries me.  I wish I knew better how to help.  I find myself talking about crying wolf, though I know you can't understand.  I try to follow daddy's lead, play down the woe, tell you you are okay; I've been doing this for years, I think, though I do also, on a regular basis, make sure to check that you are okay.  Maybe we can't help you grow a thick skin, to stop perceiving slights.  Maybe the best we can do is to help you learn to hurt less when you feel slighted.

I find that I still want to have posts appear here on this blog, to be better, again, at making a record of our lives.  This is not so much because I want to remember small details.  The other day your dad asked "what was that word we used to say right to Clio's face that would always make her laugh?" And after thinking it over but finding myself unable to retrieve it from the recesses of memory, I replied "I don't know.  It's probably on the blog."  But where?  What are the search terms that would yield that entry?  I find myself wondering if this blog will be a resource for you.  If you will read it end to end some day, or if you will jump around, browse your history over time.  I think, on some level, this is why I started writing you these annual letters.  They are an opportunity for me to process with a bit more distance.  They acknowledge my desire for you to see not just what you did, but how you were, as you are learning (and defining) who you are.  I probably have more to say this year, because you are increasingly complex, and because I have said less along the way here on the blog.  I'm blurting it all out, and I will try to resist the urge to edit, knowing that a more honest, full, messy, rich letter is a worthy trade off for one that is beautifully constructed.

What do I want you to know about yourself now?  You are incredibly enthusiastic.  We went to a movie at our vintage cheap theater last fall with Greta and Morgan Harrington--Nanny McPhee Returns--and Morgan said she thought that you enjoyed the movie more than anyone in the theater (Oh!  Your giggle, your bounce on the seat).  You are a talented negotiator and would prefer never to take no for an answer.  You moved on from your all-dresses wardrobe a couple of months back and adopted leggings as your go-to staple.  You tolerate a lot from your sister, who is often incredibly loving, but who is also prone to hitting, scratching, and shoving. We are working on it.  You are reading!  You have an incredible memory for songs, and it occurs to me now that you always have.  You love to swim: that's another "always have."  You're jumping off the diving board now at Nonny's.  You do a real, honest-to-goodness cannonball.  In the mornings, when we get to school, you wait patiently to shake hands with Miss Ann, even if the bus has just arrived and she has all those children to greet.

This is the year that you said the F word at school.  No one is sure where you heard it, but everyone seems to think you didn't really know what you were saying, but that you knew to say it for effect.  When we were making your timeline for your birthday celebration, you chose a silly picture of yourself as a baby with your dad's hands around your yawning, sleepy face.  You chose it "to make the kids laugh."  I don't know if these moments come from a need to please, or simply from the performer in you.  One worries me more than the other, and this is another reason I write these letters to you: to know who you are, for better, for worse.

Recently you tried out the tag-a-long for the first time, and you were both terrified and, I think, shocked to find yourself scared (you thought it would be fun and easy).  You cried and made us take you off the bike, and you have often declared that you will never ride the thing again.  I have said before that I see so many qualities in you that come from me.  To be honest, I sometimes wish you hadn't gotten some of them, and I think I'm extra sensitive to these traits because they come from me.  Your stubborness.  Your frustration with things that don't come easily to you.  Your quick instinct to give up.  Because I struggle with these things, it can be hard for me to look at the flip side.  Your tenacity.  Your many innate talents that make it easy to think everything should be easy.  Your willingness to come back later and try again.

Of course, you are not just my child.  This has been a tough year, with Daddy working a number of nights and weekends.  You miss him, and I think it is disorienting for you, this irregular schedule.  You might wake up to find him gone, or come home, same thing.  You both ask, when we pull into the driveway after school, "Is Daddy home?"  I think this has made your relationship both more distant and more intense.  The two of you grew our garden together, from seeds, under a heat lamp in the basement.  You were so proud when they went in the ground, you are so proud that this is your garden, yours and Daddy's.

You have friends at school, but no one like Elsie in Brooklyn or Dakota in Colorado.  It makes me realize that I've been taking for granted the Childhood Best Friend.  Because I had two, your dad had one, and you have had one in each place.  I want to put you in local sports to meet the neighborhood kids, but you're not interested.

I see so much of Papa in you.  Your desire to talk to anyone and everyone, about anything.  Your love of singing despite a lack of natural talent in that arena.  Your curiosity about other people.  The other night we had dinner at Sea Salt by the Falls, and you spent much of dinner turned around in your seat, openly staring at the table next to us, trying to make sense, I imagine, of who was connectd to who, and how.

[This unfinished letter was written on the occasion of your fifth birthday and posted months later, February 8, 2012.  I thought, when I wrote it, that it would somehow upset you when you eventually read it.  Reading it today, I don't think that anymore, but I also know better than to try to finish my thoughts.  What I can tell you know, as I would have told you then, is that this letter ends the way they all have ended: with as much love as I have in all the world, for you.

Love, Mom]

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