Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Dear Ellie - Five Years

My dear Ellie,

Today you are five years old.

As I sit down to write this letter, my mind is swirling with memories and reflections not only of the year that has passed since my last letter, but of all the time that has gone by since I first laid eyes on you on this day five years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago that I was lying in that New Jersey hospital room, staring down at your sweet newborn face as Daddy gushed about how you had just opened your eyes as he held you and how amazing it was. Yet even though that day seems so long ago, it feels like the years passed me by in an instant without me even realizing it. I can't believe we're here already. You're five. I have been your mother for five whole years.

And what an honor it has been to watch you grow into the little girl you are today! I hardly even know where to begin.

You are very smart, and have learned so much this year. You still plan to be an astronaut when you grow up, and I have no doubt that you can do it if that's what you really want to do. I love to hear you explain how the earth "orbinates" the sun, or talk about how you want to be the first astronaut on Mars (so then all the other astronauts will see your picture on Mars and know that they can go there, too, you say), but you don't want to go to Jupiter because you don't want to get caught in those wind storms. Your interest in space has sparked an overall interest in science and math, and you seem to pick it up pretty easily. You love patterns and order, so I think these subjects make sense to you. You continue to impress us with how well-spoken you are, and you are great at letter recognition and are eager to learn to read. You've been reading chapter books with Daddy at night and are able to sight read a good number of words. You will be very ready for kindergarten in the fall! (I'm not sure I'm ready for kindergarten, but you will be!)

You are very kind-hearted, sometimes to a fault. An example: you and E.J. tend to bicker a good bit, and he is prone to venting his frustration physically. It is always directed towards you, because he knows he can get away with it: he can sit there and hit you and hit you, and you will never, ever hit him back. It's almost as if it has never occurred to you that it's an option. You are too kind and sweet and gentle to even have the thought. Though it can be frustrating to me in the moment (if you would just hit him back, he'd probably knock it off, you know?), I hope your heart always remains so pure.

You are considerate and sweet, caring and affectionate. When we had a conference with your teacher earlier this month, two of her biggest comments about you were that you are a great classmate who is always willing to share with your friends, and that you are very loving to your teachers, hugging them and telling them you love them daily. You do seem to get along and play with everyone in your class, and for Valentine's Day this year you wanted to make each of your classmates a personalized Valentine that fit their interests. You are so thoughtful!

Going back to your relationship with your brother, it is clear that it is one that you treasure (despite the sibling squabbles!). You are so sweet to him, and really try to take care of him. When he cries in the bath as we rinse his hair, you offer to hold him in your lap and sing to him to help him calm down. You try to teach him things and keep him on the straight and narrow. Sometimes I have to remind you that it is my job to worry about E.J., because you get so intent on helping him be a good, big boy. I love that you care about him so deeply and that you want so badly to help him do the right thing. You are really an exceptional sister.

You try so hard to please us. When I ask you to keep your room clean, you do just that and give me regular updates about the things you have done to keep your space tidy. At school, you never eat your dessert in your lunch box before finishing your carrots. You are never mean and never purposefully disobedient. You told me the other day that you have never had to sit in the "thinking chair" at school and I can count on one hand (maybe one finger, even) the number of times you've been put in time-out at home.

You love music and dance. You have continued with ballet this year, and your ballet recitals have been far more successful than the first one! This year you also do Shining Stars (an after-school drama program) and sing in the church choir (and you did actually sing on Christmas Eve this year!). One of your favorite television shows is Little Einsteins, which focuses on music terminology, composers and instruments. The other day, you described the noise of a helicopter as fortissimo, so you seem to be learning a lot from that show! You also love to put on shows for us. These days, you most often act out scenes from Moana. You know all the words to all the songs, and the motions that go along with each. I love to watch you perform and hear you sing!

You also love art and crafts. You love to color, and that is literally the first thing you do upon leaving your room every morning - you go into the playroom, lay down on the floor and get to work on a coloring book. You love to paint and draw, too. I love your artwork and we have tons of it hanging in the playroom!

You're also getting to be quite a little runner! You ran several races this year, the majority of them without parental accompaniment. You tell us how fast you are and then go show us. You are willing to try your hand at other sports, too. I was so proud of you when, as you played football with a couple boys after school one day, you announced to them that you are great at sports. I just love your confidence and I really hope you can hang onto that!

You love to be silly, too, and jokes became a big thing this year. The preschool humor is not necessarily my cup of tea, but you sure can get E.J. rolling! It's pretty easy to make you laugh, and it's contagious: when you laugh at your jokes, E.J. laughs at your jokes, and before we know it, the whole family is giggling! Thank you for bringing us so much joy, sweet pea.

You still experience your emotions very deeply. It is not such a constant factor as it was when you were three (going on four), but still, it's just your way. When something upsets you, it upsets you to your core and it can be very frustrating for us because often there is nothing we can do to settle you. You will be upset until you decide you're done being upset. I'm doing my best to try to teach you ways to calm yourself, but it can be a challenge. Your strength of emotion is something I can relate to, at least to an extent, and I hope that you always allow yourself to feel what you feel and express your needs so freely. It can be hard for me to handle sometimes but I think it is very admirable.

You're just getting so big. I feel like a day doesn't go by that I don't stop and marvel at how grown up you are becoming. You don't cry in the bath anymore. You can ride a bike with training wheels (and that's what you're getting for your birthday from us this year!). You say things that are so smart, they stop me in my tracks. You are eager to help around the house: feeding the dog, clearing your dishes, making your bed. Every day, you are finding new ways to grow up a little more.

One big milestone this year was getting rid of your crib and replacing it with a "big girl" daybed. Packing up that crib and getting it out of the house was so bittersweet. Just that one piece of furniture carried so many memories for me. It was the first thing we ever bought for you, even before so much as a bib or a pair of socks. I remember ordering that crib for you before I even know you were a girl. I remember painstakingly picking the bedding to adorn it, and Daddy running all over Manhattan in search of the crib skirt of my dreams. I remember how tiny you looked lying in there on your first night at home, swaddled up tight in a pink blanket and just looking like a tiny, precious burrito on a bed of pretty flowers. I remember how gingerly we laid you on that mattress each night, praying you would stay asleep. I remember coming in to retrieve you from a nap in your crib only to find you sitting up in the corner, bewildered at having just sat up by yourself for the first time. I remember watching you play in there after your naps, which you were always happy to do for long periods of time as I sat beside you in the glider.  I remember switching it to a toddler bed and worrying about how you would adjust, only to find you happily reading books in your new bed after your first night of sleep in it. So many memories for one piece of furniture, and now, it is out of our house and the memories are all that's left of it. I think my struggle with saying goodbye to the crib was that it felt symbolic, a representation of the far-too-fast passage of time and the end of your babyhood. How can we be so thoroughly through that stage already?

This year brought more changes for our family, as have all the years of your life prior, really. But hopefully this year's changes will bring more stability for the years to come. Daddy has a new job that seems to be exactly what he was meant to do (and I hope that someday his career change and ensuing journey will inspire you to find your right place int he world, too). We moved into a new house with more space for our family and a big yard for you kids to play in (not to mention the playroom!). Our house is in a great location, practically across the street from both your current school/our church and your new school next year. We have decided to stay in Jacksonville indefinitely and are trying to put down roots, making friends and getting involved in church, school and community. I think about my own childhood, and how connected to my hometown I felt - it was where my home was, my house, my friends, my family, my church, my history. I'm struck by the realization that we are creating that for you now, and I hope we're able to provide a feeling of security and belonging for you here.

You have such greatness ahead of you, my girl, both in the immediate months and years to come and in the rest of your lifetime. I know you have what it takes to really be something special in the world. You already are to me, of course, a million times over, but I think you really can make a larger impression in the world around you. Please remain true to yourself, continue to be who you are without hesitation, assert yourself and proudly show all that you have to offer. You are really something special and I love you so much.

Ellie, being your mother has been the great honor of my life. These five years have humbled me, challenged me, exhilarated me and changed me immeasurably. I have loved you more than you can know from the moment I first dreamed of you, and I will always love every bit of you. Thank you for being mine, for trusting me, for teaching me, and for being you.

I love you all the much, baby girl. All the much and then some.

Happy fifth birthday, sweetheart.

All my love,

* * * * *

My dear Ellie,

First of all, happy birthday!!! I remember one of mine from before your mama and I were married (which will be 10 years this year!) when she made it a point to say "happy birthday" to me all day long. It was pretty weird for a while, but I really liked it and try to make it a point to pay it forward. I know I only typed it once here and don't plan to keep typing it, but I did lead with it and will say it a bunch throughout the day. In fact, we started saying it about a week ago after our nighttime routine and before we leave your room. You always try to sneak in one (or five) more exclamations before we leave you for the night, and one is always the most proximate holiday (including birthdays). Most nights it's pretty cute. Yes, most; I'm not perfect.

Well, that didn't take long to reach a digression, did it? You see, I am really struggling to figure out what to write. After using the "I don't know what to say" line so many times, you would think I might have figured it out by now. After all, five years is a long time. Since you were born, we have occupied five homes in three cities and I am over six months into my third career. Fortunately, and for the first time in the life of our family, I am doing something, and we are living somewhere, indefinitely. Whoops. That may have been another tangent, but I think I can make more of a case that it is useful updating information. However, the sentence I spent the most time thinking about is definitely a digression, so we'll move on before this gets out of hand.

I think it would be a really fun letter to recount all of the great Ellie stories from the past 12 months, but that's not going to happen this time. I could submit that I have been really busy at work, which is true, but the actual issue is I don't think about these letters at all during the year. You'll have to take my word for it that we made so many great memories. So many great memories that I can't think of right now. Stories like singing a duet to "A Whole New World" at bedtime with me singing the verses and you getting super into character and singing the chorus, or like the knock-knock jokes you started telling where instead of a punchline, you just crack up laughing. There was the time you taught some stuffed animals about lunar eclipses and how the planets "orbinate" around the sun. We also went on dates to the movies, the arcade and Chick-Fil-A and you performed spot-on scenes and songs from Star Wars, the Little Mermaid and Moana. Even if I don't write all of my memories in these letters, I am super excited to keep making them with you! If it's any consolation, we do take a lot of pictures of everything and your mama does an amazing job keeping them safe for posterity. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, you are going to have what you would describe as "a 100 of words" to lok through. It's like the preschool equivalent of "infinity," if infinity was an actual number.

Another option for the letter would be to describe you at five with a laundry list of great qualities that everyone thinks apply to their kids, but which actually do apply to you. Like how well you get along with everyone, or how patient you are (most of the time) with your brother, who often deserves worse. There's also how much you like to help and how independent you are becoming. How much you love so many people and things, the sincerity of your hugs or the regularity with which you experience pure joy. You are also obviously smart. You rock the alphabet, count past 100, do some adding, read/recognize a lot of simple words, and can keep your interest while we read picture-less chapter books written for kids a good bit older than five. I am, however, most impressed with how curious you are about our world and how well you remember the answers I give you. In fact, you want to be an astronaut when you grow up. Yep. A freaking astronaut. And not just in the outer-space-is-cool, I want-to-go-to-there kind of way, but in that you want to play space school, read about Sally Ride, and notice space stuff everywhere. E.J. even calls paintings of people in space suits, "Ellie."

Lest you get too overconfident about all the wonderful qualities and stories that your mom has definitely described in detail in her letter, I want to mention you are also the girl who had me read her "tushie" a story because it itched at 4:00 a.m., and that was the only thing that would help it get back to sleep. Ellie, I wouldn't trade you for anyone in the entire world. Not that that's a thing that someone can legally offer to do, but my life, marriage and our family are so much greater because they have you in it.

You are my very best girl and I love you so much.

All my love,

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