This is birthday letter is quite overdue, but there’s a good reason for it. We spent most of your birth month visiting your grandparents and great-grandmothers in Florida. You turned five there, and it was the perfect way to finish off the amazing ride that was age four. I’ve been trying hard to think of a song (isn’t that how I always frame these things?) that encapsulates the year and how it touched us all.
The first thought that comes to mind is, of course, “Let It Go.” The world was swept by Frozen fever, and we were no exception. It was the first movie you saw in theaters; sitting on my lap and enjoying popcorn, you sang when “Let It Go” came on and declared yourself Olaf. (Your sister insists on being called The Princess Of Arendelle, which is another story.) But that led to the second song, and much more appropriate inspiration for this post: in an effort to break the endless cycle of Frozen YouTube videos, we showed you Idina Menzel’s fantastic “Defying Gravity.”
And my sweet girl, you were hooked.
I’m through with playing by the rules
/ Of someone else’s game /
Too late for second-guessing /
Too late to go back to sleep /
It’s time to trust my instincts
/ Close my eyes and leap! It’s time to try /
/ I think I’ll try /
And you can’t pull me down
The theatricality of the video, the flying, the soaring lyrics–you were beyond moved. This is your song, baby girl. This is what you are about. When we had you we took the huge jump of faith into parenting, and sure enough, with you leading the way we are all soaring. I love that the song embodies everything the last thirteen months have been about, and I think you love it too. You sing softly (and beautifully) to yourself all the time, and I could hardly believe it when I realized this verse was the one I was hearing most often:
I’m through accepting limits / ’cause someone says they’re so / Some things I cannot change / But till I try, I’ll never know!
So many people have tried to tell me that echolalia, the means through which you construct a lot of your speech, is just rote memorization without meaning. I don’t believe it. How can I, when you’ve blown me away with it before? How could I take that affirmation of spirit as meaningless when compared to the depth of your accomplishments over the last year? (Least of which was performing as the Donkey in the Nativity play at school.)
When you turned four the sight of a blank page filled you with panic. When you turned five, our home had been quite literally papered in your intricate, beautiful, detailed artwork.
When you turned four, you had moderate/severe fine motor delays. When you turned five, you were putting together 500-piece Lego sets and asked for this awesome set for next Christmas.
When you turned four, we could not find a way to help you reconcile a fear of a particular skill. When you turned five, through your strength of will (and a few Lego bribes) you had overcome your fear and mastered it.
When you turned four, you could not ask or answer a “Why?” question. When you turned five, you had begun to ask and answer, and every single “Why…?” takes my breath away. I cannot get enough.
You walked up to a little girl to ask her to be your friend. She said yes. You jumped into a fray of screaming, cavorting children…and you danced.
You were through accepting limits. You were through with the bullshit “can’t/never/won’t” and you turn it all on its head. You have a brilliance and depth that has, and I say this without a hint of hyperbole, actually stopped people in their tracks. You have won the hearts of several professionals on our team and left them staring, captivated. You have reorganized what everyone we know thought they knew about who you are and what you can do.
To those who’d ground me / Take a message back from me / Tell them how I am / Defying gravity / I’m flying high / Defying gravity / And soon I’ll match them in renown!
That’s your song. That’s your story. That’s your legacy. And you’re only five. How amazing you are, and how deep your power runs.
That’s your song, but since part of these birthday letters are telling you about what you meant to me during this part of our journey together for you to read later, I have to include what I have come to think of as Our Song. And once again, it was the year of Idina Menzel–this time with Kristen Chenoweth.
Because as hard as I try, I can’t imagine you in greenface–you are a Glinda, bright and sparkly. And this line more applies to me anyway:
I’m limited. Just look at you, you can do all I couldn’t do…
I cannot–and wouldn’t try–to claim perfection as a mom. I know if I tried I wouldn’t be believed, but I also know you would remember the truth; the times I was immature, or reacted poorly, or lost my temper over something silly. I’ve been over the legal age of majority for twelve years now and a mother for five, but it has just been in this last year that I’ve started to feel like an adult. I’ve started to shed the authoritarian hardass image I once thought a parent had to project in order to become the kind of mom I actually want to be. And it’s because of you.
I’ve heard it said / That people come into our lives / For a reason / Bringing something we must learn / And we are lead to those / Who help us most to grow if we let them. / And we help them in return. / Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true / But I know I’m who I am today / Because I knew you.
The process of rebuilding that I’ve spoken of in the past is still ongoing, but as you go and defy gravity in your own way I realize we have given each other a gift. So often, I see parents and families disappointed in their children for reasons big and small, and again so often it revolves around expectations. The expectation they’d have a certain orientation, a certain value system, a certain lifestyle. While in some cases the child has made bad choices, in others the hurt has everything to do with the parent projecting their expectations onto a tabula rasa that had the audacity to grow up and become a person of their own. You have shown me the hurt those projected expectations can cause–a realization more common to parents in their 40s and 50s, I think–and in turn I hope that I can live up to the kind of true acceptance and unconditional support, advocacy, and cheerleading you need. The kind of mom you deserve. The kind of mom that makes you know that–even if you make choices that make my head hurt (you will) or if I don’t always understand you (I won’t)–from the second you were born, you have always been loved and wanted for who you are.
So much of me / Is made of what I learned from you / You’ll be with me / Like a handprint on my heart / And now whatever way our stories end / I know you’ll have rewritten mine / By being my friend
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
I do believe I have been changed for the better.
And because I knew you…
Because I knew you…
Because I knew you
I have been changed…
I love you. Always will.