Before coffee, before the alarm even went off this morning we sat down and I read to you. Letters from previous birthdays. You were sitting on the kitchen table behind me. We got to the year you turned five when I turned around and you had tears rolling down your face. “Stop after this one. I am going to be sobbing when the bus comes.” Oh, my dear, sweet girl, we are cut from the same sappy cloth. xxoo
Dear Emily June,
Yesterday morning when you looked at me and said “Last morning of being eight” I think you were disappointed that I didn’t leap over the kitchen counter and scoop you up in my arms and tell you that you will always be my baby. The truth is that I couldn’t get it out of my mouth without crying.
This year I have shed more tears over your birthday than I usually do (and we both know that I get a little sappy around your birthday.) I have tried to figure out what it is that has me so verklempt. And here it is, kiddo. The good, the bad and the ugly.
Sometimes I write you letters and I give them to you. Sometimes I write you letters and I know that I won’t give them to you for many years to come. This is one that I will hang onto for a awhile. This has been a big, big year for us. We have had lots of big, scary conversations. You pushed hard on me about the truth about my marriage to your father. You were ready to ask me hard questions about divorce and love. For the most part, I think I was ready to answer them. I had planned on answering them someday. And the someday just showed up and we ran with it.
We have talked about how sometimes two people just aren’t happy anymore and you have to let go. But here’s the thing – sometimes we were happy. I don’t really talk about that part much because it opens the little girl door to “why didn’t you just try harder” or “see, maybe you could have stayed married.” I know both of those doors because if I am honest with myself I still peek inside them from time to time. And one of those times is your birthday.
Because the truth is, Emily, that Jeremy and I let each other down. We did. But for at least a few incredible picture-perfect weeks we had it in the bag. I was enormously pregnant and your dad was on stand-by. Your dad, who is allergic to answering his cell phone, picked up in the middle of the first ring. Every time. The weeks surrounding your birth continue to be some of the best days of my life. And whether I like to think about it or not, he was a huge part of that. And that’s hard for me to think about.
It’s weird. I know exactly what to do with the feelings of resentment, anger, sadness and disappointment surrounding a divorce. I am not really sure what I am supposed to do with the good memories, though. They break my heart a bit, every year. I have been struggling with all of these feelings, the good memories that surface surrounding your birthday, since 2011. You were turning six and you were seamlessly sliding into this new life, a new house, a new baby. A few years later and I still can’t seem to figure out how to feel happy and sad all at once.
You are so much stronger and smarter than me. You love and forgive and look forward. I have so much to learn from you. I am trying so hard not to lean on you, sweet girl. It is hard enough to grow up, you don’t need to be worrying about me. I will grow up, too, in my own time.
Last week I had a tantrum on a Sunday morning. Your dad and your sister left for church and we stayed home for a few extra minutes. Wordlessly, you just started helping me pick up toys and make order. You know that I think more clearly when things aren’t a mess. I was trying to clear the counters of your dad’s canning shenanigans and I might have been screaming about jalapenos and you said so quietly “But it makes him happy.” I just sat down on the floor in the kitchen and cried. I wanted to have clean counters and you just wanted the people who you love to be happy. See? You are smarter than me.
Every day I look at you and I am amazed that you are so big. Your sister is just the same size as you when it was just you and me and our big, scary, new life. When she slides into the crook of my arm at night and I press my head against hers I can close my eyes and see your face. It is almost impossible not to run up the stairs and climb into your bed. You’re so smack dab in the middle of being little and big. I wish you would climb in my bed and let me hold you while you sleep but I wish I could pour you a glass of wine and spill my guts, too.
This is the messiest, sloppiest birthday letter yet. And I am afraid it is more about me than you. I used to write you birthday letters that tried to sum up who you were that year so that we could look back and remember exactly who you were when you were two, three, four years old. I guess nine is the magic age when I don’t feel like I can write that down for you. I know how you make me feel. I know how I feel about your birthday. But I don’t really know that I can say “This, this is who Emily is” anymore. That’s on you.
Oh, Emily… there is nobody like you. You are the sweetest, kindest person I have ever known. I am smiling through my tears as I write this. My 20th high school reunion is in a little over a week, and here I am writing a letter to my oldest daughter and I am tempted to sign it like a yearbook…. “Don’t ever change, LYLAS, Mom.”
Because I do, love you like a sister. I never had one growing up, but I imagine this is what it might be like, growing up side by side with someone who understands parts of you that you can’t explain. Like it or not, I am still growing up, too, right along with you. And really, if I had one wish for you…. do not ever, ever change, Em. You are unfuckingbelievably cool, just the way you are. You are kind and funny. And in my book, that’s pretty much where it’s at.
I love you, baby girl. Every day more than the day before. You turned everything I thought I knew inside out and I never looked back. Keep being awesome, Ems. You got this.