My oldest child, Viva, was born on April 1st, 2003. Yesterday, we celebrated her turning ten. Here is an edited version of the letter I wrote to her for her birthday.
You are turning ten and it is a big deal. I can remember the moment I looked at the home pregnancy test and realized it was positive. It just confirmed what I already knew: something huge was about to happen and it was going to change my life forever.
And it did. And you have. And I am so proud and happy that we have each other. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. Here are ten things I know about you:
You are smart and kind and thoughtful
You are gorgeous
You are funny and fun; you love to make people laugh
You love to sing
You are sensitive
You are outgoing and make friends easily
You are an artist, with mountains of creative ideas
You are getting ever more responsible and independent
You are COOL
You are self-confident and brave
Plus one more: You are a blessing to our family.
This year has been pretty interesting for you. You are in a 4th/5th grade combo class, which we didn’t expect, and you are excelling there. At the same time, this is the year things became serious. You learned about slavery, and about racism and discrimination. You learned about how cruel people can be to other people—people who look like you. Because you are so sensitive and because you believe that all people should be treated fairly, this has been very tough for you.
I wish I could take this on for you. But I can’t. I wish such things didn’t exist in the world. But they do. All I can do is try and help you learn to handle them, and that I can promise you, I will do. It is not a one-time lesson. It will be, as so many complicated things are, a continuing conversation. I will try not to bore you. I will be as honest as I can. If there’s stuff I don’t know about, we will learn together. And I know you will come out all right in this, because you are strong and smart and brave.
Right now you are also solidly in your tweens, and your teen years are on the horizon. There is so much I want for you, and so much I want to tell you. I don’t have all the answers, but here are ten things that I want to tell you:
1. You are stronger than you imagine. You are a [Blah Blah]! We ain’t wimps.
2. You should never run away from your dreams. The things that you love to do, the things that keep calling you? Those are your passions and that is what you were put on earth to do. Do not let other people keep you from what you were meant to do.
3. You are amazing and unique. There has never on earth been another person like you. You have unique gifts you bring to the world. Not everyone will understand this, and that’s okay – but anyone that tries to put you down or to smother your uniqueness is not deserving of your time and energy.
4. It is okay to have a difference of opinion. You are old enough to have a point of view, and you should feel you can express it. As long as you are respectful when you are disagreeing, that’s okay. Don't pick fights, but know that your opinion is just as important as anyone else’s.
5. You don’t always have to be right. Choose your battles. Look at the big picture.
6. It is important to try new things. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is the only way to grow as a person.
7. You are really beautiful. Inside and out. I want you to remember this, so I am going to say it again, louder: YOU ARE REALLY BEAUTIFUL. INSIDE AND OUT.
8. It is important to have time to yourself. This will become clearer as you get older, but time to yourself is really when you figure things out. Make the time to allow yourself some quiet space to hear what’s going on in your own mind. Listen to yourself.
9. Do the right thing. And do it as soon as you can. A wise person once said, “Do difficult things while they are still easy. Do big things while they are yet small.” Don’t put off something to tomorrow if you can do it today. My experience has been the longer you put something off, the bigger and more complicated it gets.
10. I will always and forever be your mother. Even if I yell, even if we are mad at each other, even if we are separated by thousands of miles, even when I am no longer alive. I am your mother and I will always, always, always until the dolphins fly and parrots live at sea, love you. You make me proud.
Happy Birthday, my love. You are one of my greatest treasures of all time.