Happy birthday Gracie! Six years old today. You were tired and cranky this evening, worn out from four straight days of activity, attention, and sugar at Disneyworld.
Still, you smiled going to sleep and asked me to sing you happy birthday “one last time.” And so I did, blinking back tears, singing it twice.
Birthdays – my own, yours, and Whit’s – make me nostalgic, thoughtful. I feel myself leaning into the past, thinking about the passage of time; on Oct 26, Jan 20, and Aug 16 I am faintly melancholy, no matter what, each year. My dear girl, my firstborn, my smart and brave girl, may you find the next six – or sixty! – years to be as full of marvels as the first six have been. May you never lose your curiosity about how things work and how the world unfolds, your openness to both experience and people, your tenacity in the face of challenge.
I am prouder of you in the small moments, I think, than in the big ones. Tonight I told you that tomorrow you and Anastasia would go pick out your birthday book (which I will read to your class on Tuesday before we donate it to the school library), and told you I was sorry I could not do it as I had to be in Providence for work. Your pout was immediate but as soon as you looked up and saw my face, doubtless sadder than yours, you swallowed hard and said, “Mummy, it’s okay. It’s not your fault.” I know some of this is for effect, because I engulfed you immediately in a huge hug, but I think you do mean some of it too. Or, two weeks ago at soccer you ran up to me for a high five after scoring a goal. I said to you, “Great job!” and you replied, immediately, “Everyone helped me!” This response makes me infinitely prouder than any goal being scored.
As I watch you encounter and understand the world, Grace, I also see you dragging, already, the heavy freight of insecurities and flaws that is part of the deal of being my daughter. These instincts and shadows are echoes of me, coded into your DNA as surely as is the cleft chin we share. Gracie, if only I could lift them from you. I remind myself that none of us is born without demons, but still, oh, how I wish I could spare you these.
Today I look ahead and I look back; I think of 6 years ago and of the day you changed my life forever. October 26 2002 was the beginning of a short, very difficult period and of a longer, wonderful period. Your arrival blew a hole in my heart and in my sense of self that, admittedly, caused me to recoil violently. I have chosen not to hide this from you. I hope you will learn from this particular story that we all have darknesses that manifest in unique ways; it is how we look back at and seek to understand these darknesses that we define who we are. Despite those early, hard days, Gracie, there is no question that you have enlarged everything in my life. I am who I am in large part because of you, and I am grateful.
As we move further away from your birth I find myself thinking that instead of being a time utterly distinct from my “regular life,” it was a pure distillation of that regular life, distinctive only in intensity. Those weeks were a crucible holding emotions so disparate as to seem mutually exclusive: depression and joy; darkness and gratitude; fear and awareness of great blessings. I am certain that the the years ahead will hold both darkness and wonder and it is my honor to share them with you.
I love you, Gracie. Happy sixth birthday.