My sweet Claire, today is your birthday. You are eleven.
This one seems different than the others, somehow. You are so much older and wiser, so much more aware of the world around you. Maybe it’s how all 11-year-olds are. But something makes me think you have just a bit more insight than many kids your age. The light in your eyes is bright, but you have wisdom in them too. That, I think, is something that’s special about you.
Life hasn’t always been easy on you, but you have made the best lemonade out of the lemons you’e been dealt.
Yes, you lost your father when you were just eight years old. You cried and refused to believe it when I told you. But it was true, and you faced this truth. You led your brothers to the front of the church when I gave the eulogy, held their hands and showed them how to be brave. You went back to school when you didn’t want to go, guiding Austin alongside you. You ate lunch in the cafeteria even when you worried that everyone would stare at you, and you kept doing your math homework even when I never checked it.
In the first few weeks of our new life together, you quickly realized that things would be different. You started to make your bed and clean your room, all on your own. You learned to help your baby brother take a bath and you played with your middle brother, even when he annoyed you, just so I could get a break. You watched me as I cooked dinner and talked on the phone, constantly trying to figure out my emotional state. You worried about me, even when I tried so hard to hide it all from you.
You grew up faster than you needed to. Maybe this is why, at eleven years old, sometimes you seem more like a teenager. Sometimes I forget that you’ve only been on this planet for a little over a decade.
But I don’t always forget, because part of being a parent is remembering those special past moments that have defined our relationship. So when I see you interacting with the people we know and when I watch you with your brothers, I often think about that moment when I first saw your eyes. I remember it like it was yesterday: The doctors pulled you from my body and set you on my chest and you looked right at me and I thought, “this is my girl.” After a few minutes, when I managed to look at your dad, I saw that he had tears streaming down his face.
You made me a mother, and you made him a father. You were so tiny and perfect and we couldn’t believe that you were ours. Just by being in this world, you changed us.
I couldn’t imagine that eleven years later, you would be watching out for me, too. Yes, you are still a child, so I try and leave plenty of space for you to be a child. But last week, I was up late, trying to savor a few moments before bed. You came down, worried about me, and sat with me on the couch. “Why are you still awake, mom?” you wondered.
There were too many answers to that question that I didn’t want to say. “I’m just awake,” I said, evading the question, “but since we are both up, how about we eat brownies and drink tea and talk about all of the things in our lives?”
You smiled and said “Yes!” We ate brownies right out of the pan, the ones you’d made earlier in the day for our family. You told me about all of the things you missed at school, and we wondered when we’d be able to see our friends again. We laughed about the antics of your brothers. At one point, you looked up and smiled knowingly at me as we joked about Tommy and I thought, “wow, you are so big.”
But to me, you are also still that tiny baby who looked into my eyes and showed me that life could have so much hope and love and perfection.
Yes, you are eleven. But you will always be my baby girl.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.