Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Letter From Your Mother on the Occasion of Your 8th Birhtday

Dear Clio,

What an amazing girl you are.  At our fourth of July celebration tonight, I heard this from all sides.  You sat down with my cousin Julie and had a conversation about, among other things, whether you would choose hands or feet, if you had to choose just one.  Julie said your answer was thoughtful and reasoned, like you had been mulling this for a while.  (You would choose hands, for the record.)  Later, as you were going to bed and I said good night on your last night of being seven, you said, I'm so glad that my last night of being any age is a night of fireworks.  See how wise you sound already?  Fireworks are just the way to end each journey around the sun.

This is the year you fell in love with bike riding, "nature" walks, and exploring.  You aren't allowed to cross streets on your own yet (soon!), but you just ride around and around the block and make it an adventure.  You have a secret picnic spot, way on the other side of the block.  You have made friends with all the dogs.  Once, you didn't come back for a while and I went looking for you.  You were sitting with some adult neighbor in her yard, just getting to know her and patting her dog.  She seemed unfazed by the fact that you are about the size of some 6 year olds but out making friends on your own.  The other day we were at Molly and Mike's house, and afterwards you told me I already explored the whole upstairs.  It's just bathrooms and closets!  When we suggested that perhaps it was time to widen your exploration zone and let you cross streets, you lit up like a Christmas tree.  Like a firecracker.

You are full of quirks, most of them quite charming.  You open presents my fully removing each piece of tape, as if wrapping paper was a precious commodity.  You prefer to wear monochrome outfits: pink and pink, blue and blue.  You will only wear short sleeves with shorts or long sleeves with long pants.  To solve the problem of in-between weather, I bought you some 3/4 length leggings.  You said, but Mom, I don't have any 3/4 sleeve shirts!  Your clothes must be very fitted to be comfortable to you, no drooping necklines, no boat necks.  You are specific.  You are also going through a literal phase.  If I say wait a minute, you start counting to 60.  You love to catch me in my generalities and correct me.  You also say "literally" all. the. time.  At least you use it correctly!

Reading is your superpower.  You are currently obsessed with the Warriors series, books about warring cat clans.  You love all magical notions, and tore through The Familiars, Tuesdays at the Castle, and the first 4 Harry Potter books.  But you are also reading Black Beauty (Nonny's old copy) and you took Oliver Twist with you to Grandma and Grandpa's this week.  Not a children's version, either: the real Dickens.  You know something funny, though?  You had a reading test at the end of the school year, and when the paper came home with scores, the blank where the score number should go was filled in with words, instead.  They said: "refused test."  That was a surprise.  I took you to see Ms Angela, the head of school, to arrange to take the test again.  You know what?  You refused the second time, too.  We finally agreed that you would take the test and we would celebrate by going to the book store for a new book (Warriors series 2 book 2, if I recall.)  But your teacher had already had you do some reading out loud, and though she told you it wasn't the test, it was.  And of course you did great.  You tried to get me to buy you the book anyway.  When I said no, you went and bought it with your own money.  (You often preface questions like this with, "I think the answer will be no, but..."  You are delighted when I do say yes.)

You have refused other things, too.  This is interesting, and perhaps the first time that I am a little stumped about what to do with you.  On the night of your dress rehearsal for your dance recital, we discovered there were sections of your tap dance that you just chose to skip.  The song was Girls Just Want to Have Fun and you were meant to improvise "being girly" and you wouldn't.  It's stupid, you said.  (For the record, I agree, but that is not the point.  We have been trying to express to you that there are some things you just need to do, you can't always pick and choose.)  Then, in piano, when your teacher introduced the pedal, you refused to try it.  For two weeks in a row.  You know why?  Because it is stupid, or so you said.  All of a sudden, we saw this pattern emerge.  It's like how you have always been with having your picture taken: you might possibly participate under the right circumstances (read: bribery), but you are not going to like it.  With dance, we missed the school carnival for practicing the morning of the recital, but you ultimately went on stage and just stood there for those sections of tap that didn't agree with you.  With piano, I gave you a choice to learn all the tools or quit lessons.  You gave in and gave it a try, and man did you look relieved when you came out of that lesson.  Pleased, even.  I hope you will feel the same way when you make good on our deal to give tap a real try next year.  It takes a lot of energy creating barriers for yourself.  I know: this is another one of those things I wish we didn't have in common.

What strikes us the most about this new pattern, and why I am dwelling on it here, is that it seems so out of character.  Generally you are jovial, compliant.  You ask permission for nearly everything.  You can be counted on to do what needs doing, and to do it quite happily.  So when you dig your heels in and dig deep, it is a little baffling.  I try to find the thread that connects these refusals, and I think they are all about expressing yourself.  I was thinking the other day about why I write these letters, and when I will give them to you to read.  When you were little, it was really to capture you in a fleeting moment, one that you would have no memory of (and frankly, my memories fade too quickly now, so putting it down meant giving you those baby days for when they are lost to me, too.)  But as you get older, and we get into times you will remember yourself, I think it is more about offering a perspective on who you are--on who you have always been.  I know, of course, that this is my perspective, and that ultimately you will be the one who needs to know yourself.  As I approach 40, I realize that this--know thyself--is a lifelong quest, and one with occasionally sticky terrain.  So I may give you these birthday letters--these snapshots of you-- at 16, or 13, or 21, or some age that doesn't sound like a milestone but where you are getting lost (we all do), in hopes that these loving words can help bring you back.  Not to me, but to yourself.  Last year, it would have been hard to imagine that that place exists for you, but now I know it will.

You did an assignment at school sometime this year called The Geography of Me.  I think you were asked to respond to a series of questions, and the one that grabbed me by the heart was "I am ashamed of being shy."  We don't think of you that way.  We think of you as social and happy and gregarious and charming.  There is, of course, nothing wrong with being shy, but I am so saddened to think that this is how you are identifying--that element of shame.

So, Clio.  My birthday wish for you this year is to embrace this learning process.  It's hard, I know.  And trying new things can be scary and uncomfortable.  But I hope you will find a way to bring your natural joy to most things, and give the rest a fair shake.  All of this is part of determining who you are.

We love you so much,


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