Year Four: A Letter


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.

Family Pics 2015

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.

Family Pics 2015


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.

Year Two: A Letter

Dear Norah,

Somehow you are two today, and my baby doesn’t feel like such a little one anymore. This year has been monumental for you in so many ways. You run steadily rather than toddle. You use words we are beginning to understand. You process the world around you faster than we’d like sometimes.  Your knowing eyes are firm, your gaze is insistent, and you have a mind of your own.  I find that this is such a weird age – so big yet so little at the same time.  But I guess I could say that about you every year from now on. As I grow older and as I watch you do the same, my perspective changes. It’s my favorite thing about being a mom – new eyes all the time.


I have to laugh a little as I think back on what we were doing two years ago and how you came into this world. The days that followed your entrance were so quiet and peaceful. I had relatives ask in the early weeks if you had ever cried before because they were genuinely concerned that there could be a medical reason for your silence. And in hindsight, I don’t know when you crossed that line as you became more comfortable in your own skin, but quiet is not exactly the word I would use to describe you most of the time. Happy? Sad? Angry? Excited? You tell the world, loud and clear.

You’ve found your voice, and you aren’t afraid to use it. Much of it is minimally understood by the general public right now, of course. But those of us who live with you have learned Norah-speak. We have no choice but to listen. You’ll sit (or “disss”) on the couch and yell “babink!” louder and louder and LOUDER until someone brings you the blanket you want. Same with your morning demand for water in a very particular cup (never the easily reachable one at the front of the cabinet) or the million other requests and orders you shout at us all day. Persistence, my dear. I will never have to teach you that one. But it is a trait that will serve you well, and I love that you assert your ideas and wishes already.

Waffles.  6:05am on a Saturday.

When I think about you as my daughter and what that means, it makes me a little nervous. I worry about the same societal pressures that have been apparent for generations but just keep getting stronger with time, it seems.  But for every demand of yours to put on a fluffy dress, you request Jude’s Thor costume and have acquired a pretty convincing use of its hammer. For every time you say “princess,” you also yell “Batman!” and put on a superhero cape. You are feisty but gentle. Content but persistent. Shy but opinionated. Energetic but observant.  What is it Louisa May Alcott says? You can be “a great many things.” Hold onto that idea as you grow and change. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can only be one thing. You are way more than that, and we see it already.


You have taught me so much in these months. You lead me to question my long-held assumptions about girlhood and independence and attachment and my expectations of what it means to be a mother. You have an independent streak I don’t recall seeing in your brother at this age, and though you love to be held, you wave goodbye when you want to without looking back.  I know one day you’ll do this on a much bigger scale when you cross highways and continents and all kinds of symbolic thresholds without me.  For now, this is hard enough. I welcome a little longer with you safely in my nest.

It’s hard for me to visualize what life will be like as you get older, especially knowing you are likely the last baby in our home.  You’ll tie your own shoes one day. Grab your own snacks from the fridge. Brush your own hair. These simple tasks that fill my moments will disappear. Your interests will move far beyond me and our life together, and your dreams will get bigger and bolder. When I consider all that waits, I don’t mind your insistent hands and grunting voice reaching for me when I’m making dinner. Having done this before with your brother ahead of you, I know we are looking at your last year as such a portable little sidekick. Let’s enjoy it.


You want to be bigger, older, stronger, and I want to tell you to hold off and stay right here for a while, but I know it doesn’t do any good to wish time could pause – not now and not when you are ten or sixteen or twenty, or in my case thirty-three. So for the moment, I just take these mental photographs and try my hardest to remember every detail as you are now – still soft and squishy and compact for a little while longer. We have a lot to do together before you leave my grip.


To my mischievous, spirited, perceptive, tenacious daughter: thank you for entertaining me, for keeping me on my toes, for reminding me to pay attention and see the joy in everyday life. I love you.

Happy Birthday, Norah.




*Photos snapped on my iPhone or taken during our session with Atlanta photographer Andrew Thomas Lee.
*** I write letters to my kids on their birthdays. You can see Norah’s previous ones here and here.  And you can read Jude’s first, second, third, and fourth letters here.