Won’t Sit Still

Dear Moira,

Tomorrow is your fifth birthday, and what a year it’s been. We have moved you from the country of your birth, the only one you’ve ever known, to the country of your citizenship. Frankly, you’re probably handling it better than all of us. Open, expressive, and free—those words have always been words that come to mind when I think of your passionate and emotional heart.

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I’m never gonna be that girl
Who’s living in a Barbie world
Could wake up, in make up, and play dumb

This year has been about expectations, both meeting them and seeing them shattered. You have risen so admirably to all the challenges we’ve had to throw at you, challenges that I have seen send adults to their knees. You are our emotional barometer, our guidepost in the blizzard, and through you we can see how well or poorly we rise to our own challenges in this family.

Oh I don’t know what you’ve been told
But this gal right here’s gonna rule the world
Yeah that is where I’m gonna be, because I wanna be
No I don’t wanna sit still, look pretty

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I expect from you and from your sisters. I don’t mean in terms of your career or whether you marry and have children. Those decisions are yours alone, and must be made or not made according to the unique demands of your own life. I thought I was the kind of mother who would be able to let those expectations ride with your judgment, and if I was simply steady and true and loving to you, you would rise with the tides.
 
You get off on your 9 to 5
Dream of picket fences and trophy wives
But no I’m never gonna be, cause I don’t wanna be
No I don’t wanna sit still look pretty

There has been a lot of talk, both at home and out in the world in which you are learning to make your way, about what it means to be a woman in our society. What does it take to be an admirable woman? To exist without shame, to claim your space at the table without apology and without hesitation? To stand with head high and shoulders back, and to roll the hurts and insults and slights off your shoulders and stand again. And again. And again. And I see now, in your winsome smile, that you have exactly the ingredients.

Passion. Conviction. Heart. Bravery. Compassion. Generosity. Intellect.

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The only thing that a boy’s gonna give a girl for free’s captivity

And I might love me some vanilla but I’m not that sugar sweet
Call me HBIC

So, accordingly, my expectations for you are adjusting. Your father and I adhere to the adage that to whom much is given, much is required and so you will have responsibilities, to yourself and to your family, that others may not be required to assume. You have been given so much, both by accident of birth and by the unique gifts of your awesome (in the truest sense) personality.

It is not enough for you to simply exist in stillness. I expect you to move.

Oh I don’t know what you’ve been told
But this gal right here’s gonna rule the world
Yeah that is where I’m gonna be, because I wanna be

No I don’t wanna sit still, look pretty

You have true fire in your heart and mind. I expect you to burn brightly for those who need to be given light. You have passion. I expect you to use it to inspire. You have intelligence and persuasion on your side. I expect you to wield them to be a force for good in the world.

Sure I’m a pretty girl up in a pretty world
But they say pretty hurts

And I don’t wanna sit still

You have a voice. I expect you to roar.

But they say pretty hurts
And I don’t wanna sit still

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You are forged from pure strength. You have real bravery, the kind that says “I am afraid” and finds a way to move forward anyway. I expect you to go forward marching in power. For the disabled, for your friends and family of color, for your LGBTQIA friends and family, for your friends who are Muslim and Jewish and atheist and every other faith under the sun, I expect you to stand.

I’m a pretty girl up in a pretty world
But no I won’t sit still, look pretty

You won’t be alone. We will be there with you, and for you. But there will be days, punishing awful days, when you are so broken by the work, the work of speaking for those who cannot and for standing for those who have been denied and marginalized and beaten down, that work that will last long after you and I die, that you want to lie down. You can…and I expect you to dig deep within, to find that passion and that heart, and rise again.

You are the future. You are our future. And I expect you to stand tall and claim your place.

Oh I don’t know what you’ve been told
But this gal right here’s gonna rule the world

Yeah that is where I’m gonna be, because I wanna be
No I don’t wanna sit still, look pretty

This is so much to lay down at the feet of a five-year-old girl, one who still sleeps with a bed full of stuffed animals. But before I go to bed at night, I kiss you and your sisters, and I wrap the blanket you gave me around myself. The blanket was one of yours as a baby, and you brought it to my room one night to make sure that I wouldn’t be cold. I think about your generosity of spirit every night, your compassion for others that comes to you so naturally and easily, and I wake in the morning renewed in purpose to you and your sisters.

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And I don’t wanna sit still

Fear can motivate, but panic will decimate. We all live with a certain amount of fear in our hearts, and it can be crushing. Panic is suffocating darkness. The worst decisions, the ones that can snuff out our basic shared humanity, are made in the dark scummy recesses where light never touches. You are selfless, and in your selflessness and compassion I see your light.

I see that the way forward exists in you. You are my light in the dark.

And I don’t wanna sit still

And as for me, I will spend every day of the rest of my life trying to be the woman that I expect you to become.

No I don’t wanna sit still, look pretty

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No more sitting still. Let’s get to work.

Love,
Mom

ABC

Dear Minna,

I’ve had a bit of trouble getting this letter started. It feels like a lifetime ago that you joined our family, even though it was just one short year. Maybe it feels that way because your first year was one of the busiest, most jam-packed of our entire lives. I don’t think we stopped moving at all between March and September of 2016, and before that we were trying to adjust to the new normal: being outnumbered by our children forever. Luckily, you were one of the sweetest, most placid babies I’ve ever met.

ABC / Easy as 1, 2, 3…

It’s hard to pin down why parenting you feels so easy right now. Is it because you’re the third and we know that whatever difficulty you’re going through, it will pass? Certainly we were less hasty to attribute our skills to your achievements and challenges this time around, knowing that as long as we feed you and shower you with affection you’ll clear the bars in your own good time.

Easy, just like counting up to three

That said, I do think you were a special baby. Everywhere we went this past year, people commented on how quiet and even-tempered you were, how content you were to stay in the carrier and observe everyone and everything around you. You literally exuded calm, actually. You would go to anyone, with a giant gummy smile, and cuddle up on anyone’s shoulder. You still had that singular newborn smell well into your sixth month, and a pregnant friend who was overdue swore up and down that a good cuddle with you and the smell of your head helped rush those happy oxytocin chemicals right into high gear (she delivered not long after).

You just have the sweetest little face. It has been magical watching you transform your sisters. They are the best versions of themselves when they are with you, and you adore them right back. It’s hard not to give you anything you want. People don’t always realize your placid exterior covers a stubborn temper. 95% of the time you’re calm and benign…and that other 5% you’re wiling to scream and holler and bite and slap to get where you want to be. One time you actually pushed up on to my shoulder to babble/holler at your aunt, who had the temerity to dress you after your bath and hold you until I was done with the other kids. Everyone stopped to look. “Did…did the baby just cuss you out?” “I think she did!”

Sing a simple melody / That’s how easy love can be

In your first short year, you’ve been to six countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, the US, and the UK–hey, everyone gets one!) and spent countless hours in the car. Sometimes I feel guilty that you see so much of the ceiling of our van as I shuttle your sisters to and fro to their various things, but I know you benefit from being surrounded by so many big kids and grown-ups who love you. The best part is that you are usually so happy and sweet that I really can take you anywhere. I had the three of you by myself for two weeks this summer while we visited friends and family, and it was just a spectacular time. You were so good and sweet, and just a pleasure to be around.

We really didn’t know what having three was going to be like. Someone told us that three was when you “go from man-to-man coverage to zone defense.” I must say that I love having three, and that you’re just the perfect fifth to complete us. You’ve taken a few steps, but prefer crawling. You love to cuddle until you’re all done, and then you love to go and entertain yourself. You hate bananas, but love strawberries. You love broccoli and you think your sisters hung the moon. You’re our BEANS, so named because you were string-bean skinny at first, and then Minna Beans, and then sometime around February your sisters stopped calling you Minna at all, and now you’re just BEANS to everyone.

Simple as do-re-mi / A B C / 1 2 3 You and me…

Minna Beans, you are our delight and our sweetest little baby. I can see flashes of older toddler you in there, and I know the day is coming when you’re more independent, when you won’t always put your head on my shoulder and nuzzle when I ask “Hugs and snugs?” But until then, thank you for staying my sweet little one for just a bit longer.

That’s how easy love can be.

Happy (slightly late) birthday, baby.

Love,

Mama