Today you are nine. I realize I’m an enormous, pathetic cliche, but: how? How did this happen? The day you were born – in a downpour more torrential than any I’ve seen since – was moments ago. And yet somehow in those minutes we have crammed nine years of living. In the last few months I’ve seen you begin to cross over an invisible threshold. You have grown taller and simultaneously more self-assured and insecure. I can see your teenager-hood glinting on the horizon, for the first time, and I sense in you both the desire to bolt towards that faint light and the lingering wish that you could curl up in my lap forever.
One of my greatest joys as a mother is that you love reading as much as I do. My very favorite afternoons are the ones that we both climb into my bed and read, side by side. You’re devouring some of the books I remember most fondly from my childhood, lately: A Wrinkle in Time, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, Tuck Everlasting, Little Women. You also love to write; you write in a journal, you write letters, and you write stories. Your first story was called Flying Sam, and it made nice use of magical realism. You love school in general, and despite how much you like reading and writing, you tell me that your favorite subjects are Math and Computers. That your Math teacher was my third grade homeroom teacher (the grade you’re now in) is just one example of the many ways the past and the present collide, throwing off glittering sparks that sometimes blur my vision.
You are playing on our town’s travel soccer team this fall, and I’m so proud of how you have embraced your team. Historically you’ve been reluctant to participate in organized competitive sports (your lack of competitiveness here is something your father blames me for) but once you started with this team you really fell in love. The girls on your team are from all over our town, from different schools, cultural backgrounds, and families, and you’ve found a place you feel very comfortable. I how happy you are to be a part of a team and of a group who is more diverse than your school. It’s also clear that you are listening to your coach and actively trying to improve your skills, an effort that makes me very proud.
There’s a core of sensitivity running through you that is surely your direct inheritance from me. I am sorry about that, Gracie, and genuinely wish I could ease that burden. I know I can’t, though, so instead I vow that I’ll keep reminding you of all the light, of all the joy, of all the ways that things that wound you are often not intended that way. I’ll also sit with you when you feel “just sad,” make sure you know that the happiness will return, and tell you it’s okay to feel whatever you feel. That’s all I can do. I wish there was more.
You’ve begun to oscillate wildly between wanting me to leave you at the corner so you can walk alone, rolling your eyes and telling me I embarrass you, and still wanting me to carry you to bed sometimes. I anticipate that this oscillation will grow in both amplitude and frequency in the next few years. I try to be grateful that you still want me to listen to every single little thing, that you still cry out for me to watch your every move; I know that these days are numbered.
I know, primarily from being a daughter myself but also from academic study, that this back-and-forth is in service of something both essential and painful: separation. You will, over the next nine years (you are halfway to eighteen! to college! oh … unbelievable) draw away from me in fundamental ways, gathering yourself into a Self that is independent and self-determined. I don’t have to enjoy this process to know how vitally important it is. Dropping you off at sleep-away camp this summer was one important step in that direction. You cried saying goodbye to us, but I knew you would enjoy yourself and you did. And you came home wearing a light mantle of confidence that I am delighted to see rippling about your shoulders. You can and you will, my Gracie girl.
Happy ninth birthday. As is our tradition, I’ll pick you up at school and take you on a special mother-daughter outing to a bookstore. We will cross the street holding hands, you will pick out a pile of books, and we will have hot chocolate together. Then we’ll have dinner at home and a black-and-white cake that I made for you from scratch (one of my favorite of your many quirks is that you dislike, and disdain, “store bought” cake, preferring those humbler treats made in my kitchen). You’ll blow out candles and open a few presents – my commitment to anti-materialism continues, much to your chagrin. Then we’ll go to bed like a regular night, with prayers and backrubs and hugs, and when I close the door you will have lived the first day of your tenth year.
I could never have dreamed what lay ahead of us, Grace, on that day nine years ago when I pulled you up onto my stomach myself after a long, brutal labor. The pouring rain seemed to foretell, in retrospect, the ocean of tears that you and I would both cry in those first few months. But as we all know, after rain like that you get rainbows. And we have. So, so many. Thank you for reminding me to look at them.
I love you, Grace, my grace.