I have started this post five times. There are four other posts sitting unfinished in the drafts folder. I don't know why I'm having such a hard time writing your letter this year - it came so effortlessly the last three years. I think part of it is that I'm not sure how to feel about this latest birthday of yours. One on hand you are four. FOUR. That is such a big number. But on the other hand it seems like the changes and growth over the past 365 days haven't been quite as punch-in-the-gut obvious. The last three years I spent bemoaning the passing of your infancy, but this past year felt different somehow.
I remember being so unprepared the previous years when I went back to look at the photos and videos of the year before - there was such a marked difference in the babyness of the beginnings of the years and the growth and development by the end of the year. This year the changes are more subtle - your hair is longer, your body is taller and more slender, your words clearer, your sentences longer, and your imagination has kicked in in full force. None of these things are new, though - they are just more.
That is not to say that this year has held any fewer monumental changes. We added a whole other person to our family, for one! A transition that you have weathered remarkably well - I'm so proud of you and how well you love your sister. There is genuine love there, genuine affection - almost no animosity or jealousy or bitterness toward her - simply adoration and smothering attention. Our biggest problems are that you love her too violently and that you want to be involved in everything that has to do with her. She has a particular grunt/yell that gets squeezed out of her when you are on one of your hugging rampages. I wish someone would pay me for each time I said something along the lines of "Lila, give her some space!" or "Gentle, Lila!" I could buy you that rocket ship you asked for.
You started preschool and are positively thriving there. Your teachers are wonderful and you seem to be well-known and well-liked. When I introduced myself to your music teacher she said, "Oh I know Lila! She's a stitch!" You've made your mark on the place, for sure! Being gone from you for three days a week (two days of preschool, one for my job) has been challenging to adapt to - it's not ideal for sure, but I don't know of a better option at this point. I'm not sure if it's been harder on you or me!
There have also been significant changes to your appearance. You got glasses this year and it is amazing how much older you look with them on. On the rare occasions you forget to put them on, I am always taken aback by how much you look like your littler self when you are barefaced. And you also are so very long! Your legs and arms simply drape over me when I hold you. You hair needs a true haircut - more than just the trim your Papa gave you. (Per tradition, Papa gave you your first haircut just like he has done for all of your cousins - only their first haircuts were much younger than age three and a half!)
A few nights ago, I lay next to you and sang you Christmas hymns as you fell asleep. I watched your eyelashes relax and spread as you gave in to sleep. I stroked your hair and swept the back of my fingers against your baby-soft cheeks. Your cheeks - other than being far less chubby - are exactly the same as the cheeks I kissed one, two, three, four years ago. They are my favorite thing to kiss. Sometimes you still let me kiss them freely.
I don't know why I'm less emotional this year. Perhaps it is because I have another baby to take care of so I'm not so fixated on the loss of your babyness. Or maybe it's because I'm excited for this next year. You ask me often, "Mommy are you sad that I'm big now? Do you want me to be little again?" I tell you the truth - I tell you that I am sad and happy. I am sad because I loved you as a baby. You were so sweet and innocent and small and cute. But three years old was such fun, and four years old is fun too, so I wouldn't want to miss any age! I tell you I can be both.
I am beginning to glimpse what friendship with you might be like. I hope we are not best friends - I think you deserve best friends your own age and I deserve best friends my own age. But I do hope that we are friends. I try to imagine you as a teenager, a college student, a newlywed, a mom. I try to imagine you as the oldest of a larger brood of siblings (I hope!?) and to guess what kind of big sister you will be as you grow up.
I struggle with the balance of teaching you to be selfless and kind and loving, but also giving you the respect and right to your own autonomy and opinions that you deserve. I want you to understand that Big Sister is an important job. No one else can be that for Faith! And especially because she will need you as she gets older. When you hurt Faith, I ask and you answer three questions:
1. How many big sisters does Faith have? One.
2. Who is she? Me.
3. What is your job? To take care of her.
Sometimes I feel a pang of guilt for putting that responsibility on you. I worry that it will feel like too heavy a load to bear - which is part of why I hope we get to add a few more kids to our family, so that you will have teammates to share the responsibilities that will fall to you as Faith's siblings. But then I think about who you are and I realize that you are the perfect sister for her. You are strong and brave and confident. I know you will be her greatest defender and that, because of your strength and confidence, you will also have no trouble asking for what you need! I promise to do my best to value your needs in balance with your sister's needs.
Lila, being your mom is such fun. You make me laugh every day. You are creative and imaginative and you bring joy and life to a room! I am honored to be your mom. I'm honored to have the responsibility and the gift of being the one to train you and love you - to help you refine your gifts and talents and put aside your faults. I love getting to see your strong heart grow, your sensitive spirit mature, your big personality form, your identity blossom. You ask deep questions - so many questions! - and I am often take off guard by the insightfulness of your questions and thoughts.
For awhile I was singing you a Sara Groves song at night, "You Cannot Lose My Love."
You will lose your baby teeth
at times you'll lose your faith in me
you will lose a lot of things,
but you cannot lose my love
You may lose your appetite
your guiding sense of wrong and right
you may lose your will to fight,
but you cannot lose my love
You may lose your confidence
in times of trial, your common sense
you may lose your innocence,
but you cannot lose my love
Many things can be misplaced
your very memories be erased,
but no matter what the time or space
you cannot lose my love
You won't let me sing it anymore because you say that it is too sad, "It says you'll lose things! That's too sad!" I tried to explain that it's a mommy talking to her child. The mommy is saying that no matter what happens, the child cannot lose her mommy's love. But you couldn't get past the sad part. You are feeling things deeply these days, thinking hard and deep and wide. Your emotions are growing and maturing and it awes me to see the depth of your sensitivity to the scary, the hurtful, the joyful, the fun.
The funny thing is, I love the song because of the sadness. There is a healthy sort of grief in it - a deep feeling of the reality that you cannot protect your child from the difficult things of the world. But you can commit to being a reliable and consistent presence - a predictable force of love. Those words resonate deeply in my heart as I anticipate those losses - of innocence and common sense and confidence and faith in me. I cannot protect you from those losses, though I want to. But I can promise you that my love will not waver, that no matter what the time or space you cannot lose my love.
This year, as we have added more dimensions to your relationships - sisters, teachers, friends and peers - I have been overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to be your mommy. You will always hold a special place in my heart - my oldest, my first - the one who made me a mommy.
You are beautiful, creative, fun, silly. Ferociously loving. Adorably unique. You are my favorite thing.
I love every bit of you.
Happy Birthday, Beautiful Girl.
I love you,