Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Dear Emily,

We made it. You're seven today. How did that happen? It's such a cliché, for a mother to talk about how fast the time goes, but truth happens, even when overused. There's a different sense of time that happens as we watch a child grow up: you may only be seven years old, but I've had a lot more than seven years' worth of loving you. The brain and the heart don't always correspond.

Sometimes I hear people say, "We're waiting until we're ready, before we have children." I'm usually able to wait until the conversation is over before I make a sign of amusement or disbelief. It's a nice idea, readiness, but I don't actually believe in it. No matter how financially stable you are, no matter how solid the marriage or how nice the neighborhood, I am skeptical that it's possible to actually be ready. How do you get ready to change every major relationship in your life, including the way you think about and treat yourself? How do you get ready to reprioritize every action, plan, and goal? How do you steel yourself for the vulnerability and sweetness that comes with having your heart exist outside your own body?

The thing is, today is not just about changing your age. It also marks the anniversary of my own rebirth, as it were; the first day of the rest of my life. Going from childless to mother is such a huge, mind-altering step. I have learned more about myself in the past seven years than I had considered as possibilities in the prior 22 years. I've discovered unsuspected wells of patience, unreasonably sensitive buttons which only your fingers are properly formed to push, and an ability to use my deafness in service of seeking extra sleep or to ignore just one more mindless children's television show. I've done what I can to teach you the important basics of life: morals, thoughtfulness, the value of a rockin' '80s one-hit wonder. But anyone who believes parenthood is a one-way flow of information from parent to child has never spent several years trying to sneak actual nutrition past the lips of someone with, shall we say, discerning tastes. They've never performed in-home laboratory experiments to determine the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, minimal personal hygiene, and interpersonal interactions centered solely around children. They've never tried to simultaneously explain God, the Tooth Fairy, and September 11th.

Don't worry, I don't want my own party for your birthday. I won't usurp your cake and singing at Applebee's. My personal celebration is more internal; a reflection and appreciation that don't need noise and candles. I know, the idea that one can celebrate without noise has not yet presented itself to you. But I hope for you that, someday, you are able to reflect quietly and enjoy your life on its own terms. I hope that you're able to find happiness in the moment, without constantly needing the next thing to come along.

Let's not forget about your dad. If growing and maturing means learning how to put the needs of others before yourself, learning to be reliable, learning how to share knowledge and find fun in everyday life, then I've taken a step or two forward in the past seven years. Your dad has run a marathon. He loves you with such fierceness and consistency, and parents with such thought and effort, that he has become the kind of father I never would have dreamed he could be, in the early days of our relationship. And even then I thought he'd make a pretty good father; I just didn't realize how committed and focused he would be.

Your life has convinced me, in a way that years of schooling and study were not able to do, that personality is largely an inborn, preprogrammed phenomenon. You had formed the fundamental core of you long before you were able to form words. I am routinely amazed at your enthusiasm for life. You bound out of bed, ready to take on the next challenge or adventure. Shyness is not a major stumbling block in your life, and so far you have not yet learned to be cynical and untrusting about the world at large. While I recognize that, someday, you will need those attributes, I'm content to let you hang onto that innocence for a while longer. You're a trailblazer and a rock star; I don't know what you're going to be when you grow up, but you're going to touch people's lives and remain in their consciousness.

Not that life with you is one, big, shiny bowl of cherries. Those very traits which I think are going to be most helpful to you as an adult - your assertiveness, your way with words, your passion and singlemindedness - are the same things which make me tear out my hair and think, "For the love of God, just once in your life could you please just be quiet and listen to me??" And then I remember, "No, she can't. This is who she is." And I don't throttle you, and I love you for another day.

It doesn't happen often enough in this world that we get clear, unequivocal proof that we have made the right decision. And of course I have my doubts on a daily basis, wondering if this is the thing that's going to land you on a therapist's couch someday. But the bigger-picture is so clear and blatant: of course I needed to have children. I needed to have you. And seeing you with your brother creates the kind of heart-achy, breathless sort of love that I've never experienced anywhere else. You and he are so different; when you go on to be a movie star, he can take his mellowness and laid-back openness and be your manager. The two of you can drive each other insane, but the fierceness with which you love each other reminds me every day of how much you enrich each other's lives.

So, my beautiful girl, who would be beautiful even if your eyes weren't so rich and brown and your hair wasn't shiny and wavy, thank you for coming along and turning my life up-side-down. Without you in it, my life would not even bear a nodding acquaintance to where it is now, and for that I am endlessly grateful. You bring a rightness to things that I couldn't have gotten anywhere else.

I promise, over the next several years, to be outspoken and stubborn just at those moments when you most wish that I would just sit down and shut up. I know you'll do the same for me. Remember that loving someone means making the extra effort to do the right thing; some of those days when you wish I would, just once, lower my standards and let you take some stupid risk, I am also wishing that I could just let it happen. But I can't, because that's my task. There will come a day when I will step aside and let you fly on your own, and if I've done it right, then you will simultaneously fly strong and wish that I was still in charge.

Let's see what seven brings, together, shall we? It'll be something new and big and different; it always is. When you were a few hours old, I sat in the hospital and sobbed to your father. "She has already changed. I can already see differences in her, and I wasn't ready to let go of the first way yet. I don't know how to deal with this," I said. And he, in a fit of infuriatingly accurate wisdom, said, "Well, that's her job. We don't have children to have babies, we have children to create adults." He unintentionally changed my mindset then and there, and reminded me that this constant striving for independence, for new skills and talents and musical taste, is a good thing. My job, as a parent, is to render myself obsolete, and if I do it right then I can enjoy it along the way. True, I've never had a stage of yours where I thought, "Enough already - let's move on to the next thing," but then the new you that comes along is so magical and precious that I can't regret the change. You are my girl, my shining star, my pride.

I love you,