You are four today. How did that happen this quickly? You are still my baby, but less so everyday. The shape of our family is changing as you walk tall beside me, and independence is your main objective when we go about our daily tasks. No, I’m doing it, Mama! is likely the most common phrase to come out of your mouth. I’m learning to back away and give you space. There’s so much value in the act of leaving space to learn and grow. I’m learning that lesson myself this year as well.
You are so many things in your fourth year. You are bold and stubborn, and you exhaust me sometimes. But you are also kind and gentle and nurturing to your little dolls and any creature you can get your hands on. You surprise the neighborhood boys by collecting worms and slugs that they refuse to touch themselves. I’ll step on the back patio to see that you’ve collected insects in a jar and given them names, stuffing leaves in the top to feed them. You are a nurturer in the truest sense. For all of your fiery independence, you balance it with the sweetest spirit as well. I hope you hold onto both of those traits as you grow.
You love your brother fiercely. But the two of you fight fiercely, too. And it can make me come completely unglued sometimes, to be honest. The sibling bickering always begins over something trivial, and I’ve learned to just walk away and let the two of you sort it out if I can. It will always be this way between you, I think. It’s the way of brothers and sisters. You know each other’s preferences and quirks, and you also know exactly how to push each other’s buttons to bring what feels like apocalyptic war sometimes. But when it counts, you are always in his corner. The two of you have only woven closer together in our past year, and I really hope you will always be that way.
You and I have woven closer together this year, too. Having a daughter in the world we live in is a scary thing if I’m telling you the truth. You are a challenge, and I fear everyday that I’m messing it up. A few weeks ago you were making your way upstairs for bath time and purposely moving at the rate of a turtle. Always aware of the clock dictating our weeknights, I was frustrated and asked you to speed it up. You responded indignantly, I’m tired mama! I’m doing the best I can.
I laughed a little as I heard my own words echoed back to me. I’m doing the best I can is something I say to you so often. There are countless moments when I wish I could somehow clone myself to accomplish a few things at once or pause our conflicts to really think solidly about my action before proceeding, but my best is all I can manage. And I’m learning my best is good enough. I want you to see yourself in the same way. Your strongest efforts are good enough. You are enough, exactly as you are.
You are fearless, and people recognize that in you. You don’t fear bugs or snakes or strangers. And I have to be persistent in watching you to be sure you don’t put yourself in danger. But for whatever reason, you will cuddle up on my side with your leg wrapped over my waist every night like a tiny monkey and squeeze and say Mama, I’m scared while we lie in the dark after your brother has fallen asleep and I’m trying to get you to do the same. Every night I say the same things to convince you that we are safe and cared for and protected. And yet every night, it’s the same ritual. It amazes me how brave you can be in the face of real danger but how easily frightened you are by the figures of your own imagination. Invisible things are always the scariest, aren’t they? And sometimes it is so hard to separate the real from the imagined.
That’s always the challenge, I think. Fear is a natural condition of being human, and as women, we are especially taught to fear so many things. We fear looking in a mirror and not seeing what people tell us is beautiful. We fear bathing suits and first dates and walking in a dark parking deck. We fear we are failing at the immense and impossible standards of modern motherhood. We fear we are somehow not enough alone and that we need a man to validate us to others. We are taught to fear so many things.
But let me explain something to you, Norah. Once you see those fears for what they are, they seem like the imaginary monsters you whisper about every night in bed — ridiculous and limiting and born of our own mental constructs. In Wild, Cheryl Strayed explains, “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”
It took me a long time and a lot of hard lessons to learn to tell myself a different story. And so I tell you a different story every chance I get because I want you to grow up believing the opposite of what many of us are taught. You are brave and kind and smart and real. The rest is just noise.
I can’t wait to see where this year takes you. I love every piece of you. Happy Birthday, Norah.
I write letters to each of my kids on their birthdays, and for now, I post them here on the blog as well. If you’d like to read the others from years past, click here.