Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Letter to My Daughter On Her Birthday

Dear Elsbeth,
Yesterday you turned five years old. That's a whole handful of fingers. Soon you'll have to start using two hands when you tell people how old you are! It's been a long time since I've written to you or about you on this space. Most of your daily quips and witticisms are so succinct they seem perfectly tailored for Facebook, so that's where I share most of the joy, frustration, and laughter you add to our lives.

Just like when I used to stare into your face as an infant and ponder the depth of your soul and question the child you would turn into; I do the same thing now but wonder about the young lady and eventually the woman you will become. There are moments when you laugh or the sun catches your hair just right that I feel like I can almost see you, the grown you. It's at once both beautiful, breathtaking and heartbreaking. I think you will only understand the complexities of emotions a mother can have all at once when you have a child of your own. You want ten by the way. You told me the other day that you were going to be a dentist. For mermaids. When I asked you who would take care of your ten children while you were making all those mermaids have perfect smiles, you replied: My husband. He'll stay home with them. And then you informed me that you would still be living with us because we should never be parted. Ever. In that instant I remembered being your age and the thought of leaving my mother could instantly bring tears to my eyes. Now look at me. Thousands of miles away. But I didn't mention that to you then. I said, of course we'll be together. Forever. Forevah evah.

I hope when you are grown and looking back on your childhood you will not mind that I shared so much of your personal life with the world. I only do it because you are so infinitely precious and precocious. You are a beautiful mystery to me. It is so strange to grow a child, give them life from your own body, your own blood, and then to nourish and sustain them with your own body. It is an intimacy that parallels marriage, except its mysteries of love are more profound. I grew you, my love. We walked, slept, ate, breathed; existed as one for so many months. And after I gave you life, and knew the you that you are now, it mystifies me how utterly different from me you really are. How did we share my body for so long and yet the traits we share are so minimal? You are your father.

I remind your father of this constantly. When you walk past, I say: There you go. You with a vagina. You have his eyes, his skin, the legs that he has always hated, but that I always coveted and the legs I always prayed you would get. Well girlfriend (that's your favorite thing to call me these days), you got those supermodel gams. And yet, you are so innocently unaware of your beauty, it is profound. Your eyes shine like diamonds when you laugh and you tell me you think your voice sounds like a boy. I want to hold you and caress your face and tell you of the beauty you possess, but at the same time I'm afraid. I know the power it will wield one day and I pray that you will use it carefully. Beauty is beguiling, but it is also fleeting. I remind you occasionally that the most beautiful girls are ones that demonstrate kindness. And when you're unkind to your sister or the cat, I pull out some of my southern vernacular and tell you you're being "ugly". Because that's what it is, really.

Recently, I wrapped a gauzy topaz sarong around your slender frame and tied it on your neck. I told you that you were an indian princess You stood in the full length mirror in my room for over five minutes, smiling at your reflection and turning this way and that admiring the dress on yourself. It's one of your favorite things to wear now. And I let you, as often as you want. I let you wear princess dresses out in public still too. And as a matter of fact when we went to the movies yesterday, just you and I, I let you dress me. You picked out the highest heels in my closet and a dress that I had purchased to wear to your Uncle Kyle and Aunt Kirsten's wedding. You wore a floor grazing maxi dress and wrapped yourself in the sarong. I put blush on you and some sparkles on your eyes. It felt decadent and for a minute I envisioned a flash of our future together. The one where I teach you how to coordinate outfits and colors and how to do your makeup. I was so sure I would have boys since your daddy has so many brothers, but I am so thankful that you are a girl.

This post would not be complete without the whole picture of who you are now. At five. Our days are not without their battles. You possess a will to match my own and there are moments when I feel like we are a pair of tigers circling each other, growling. Fortunately, I am still the bigger one so I always win, but I know this may be a temporary thing. That scares me. I have always told you the truth. Some people disagree with me for that, but here is the truth now. I'm scared for you to become a teenager. When you whip your hair around and glare at me, I fear the future. And Ellie, I don't fear things. Sharks, OK. Heights, sure. But life, never. I implicitly trust that God is taking care of us and guiding us. But when see you and the defiance that you can occasionally posses, I see myself at 19 and I am so afraid for you to make the same mistakes that I did. I pray almost every day that you will grow into an adult without following the same self destructive path that I did. I look at you, full of innocence, oblivious to the evils of the world and I see the perils that lay before you. Perils I fell for hook line and sinker. When I see my past with your face on it, I want to cover your eyes and your heart, but I can't.

I was telling your grandma about this the other day. She is so wise Ellie, I hope she lives forever. She reminded me that she prayed the same things for me and that I ultimately still chose the path that I did. But guess what? It made me who I am today. And I wouldn't change that for the world.

My Elsbeth, the other day you told me you wanted to change your name to Megan. I said OK, and started calling you Megan. You paused and asked me why I had named you Elsbeth to begin with. (I had been waiting for this moment. Except it didn't happen the way I had always envisioned. The real scenario occurred just after I got out of the shower, wrapped in a towel and your sister was hopping on that infernal blue thing she endearingly calls "Hopper", so the whole time we were talking, there was this puck, puck, puck sound happening). I said to you: Your name means Consecrated to God. I picked it because you were a beautiful gift that He gave us, and I wanted to promise your care and upbringing right back to him. Elsbeth. It's like Elizabeth, except it's so not. People will never get it right. Expect that for the rest of your life, but relish it. Your name is so unique that most people have never even heard it. After I told you this, you said: Mommy, I want you to call me Ellie again. And so I did. As you wish.

I love you Elsbeth Asher Hayes. I am your mother, the one and only. You are my baby, always and forever. Even when I am buttoning your wedding dress or holding your first child; you are my baby. I love your heart. I love your eyes. I love the little woman residing in your tiny body. Every day with you is a gift and as we cuddled together in my bed today and discussed the character traits of Mother Gothel from the Tangled movie, I tried to capture every detail of that moment in my heart. The way my whole body was the big spoon to your baby spoon; your toes meeting my shins. The way you still can't make the TH sound, but how you still seemed an expert on the subject we were discussing. I brushed your hair with my fingers and it lay upon my chest like a fan. I wondered how many more years of this I had and my heart broke a little at the thought of losing these moments. But such is the beauty and pain of being a mother. You made me this, a mother. Thank you. You took the girl I was and changed her into a woman. I hope I can do such a job with you.

You are five. You are precious. You are loved.



Amanda said...

Beautiful, Jill. Just like you and your girls. You and Ellie are more alike than you think. Happy Birthday to her and God bless you for being such a wonderful mother. Love you both. (and Ari too. I still crack up at that video of her hopping on that bouncy thing!)

Aged One said...

Well, you made me cry again. Sooooooo beautiful. I remember when you were 5 years old and I loved you so much. I remember thinking, how could I love even my own child more than I love this little girl?? And head-strong, GOODNESS GIRLFRIEND! Woooo- you had it goin' on. And today, I am continually blessed by your heart, your tenderness, your beauty! I love you!

MoM said...

Motherhood brings the deepest,richest joy no words can express but you captured it on paper. A moment in time and while it is hard to imagine a richer joy when she is a mother and you watch (or read) her tender loving kindness to her children, then you know it was worth all the battles, all the pain and you know you truly are blessed beyond what you can contain. I always prayed for you that tha law of kindness would be on your lips (prov 31) and yes, I will live forever- He promised! I love you sooooo much and tell Ellie" I love you girlfriend"

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