It was 11 years ago now that you and I started this adventure together of being mother and daughter. And I thought I was really ready for this: we had ourselves a great husband and daddy, he and I were grown up, he and I were gainfully employed, we had a house, and I felt like my whole life until that point had been getting ready to be a mom. Because that's all I really ever wanted to be.
And you arrived- two weeks late, I might add, and after excruciating back labor- and there you were, looking up at me, completely dependent on me to take care of you for the next 18-20 years. And I loved you.
And now we are 11 years in. And I still love you. So much more than I did when you first came to me.
You are a force, Michaela, an incredible force. Without intending to, you dominate my entire life- with laughter and love, questions and challenges, jokes and stories. You love attention and reassurance. You are full of energy, zipping this way and that, always up for the next "thing", except if that "thing" involves driving in the car for longer than 15 minutes or going somewhere new. You love tradition and predictability and staying close to home. You are not that different from your dad and I in that way. But in so many other ways, you are more outgoing, more energetic, more athletic, more social, more indignant, and more confident than we ever were.
You are growing up so quickly and I am really struggling with that. I want you where I can see you and know you are safe, and you just as much want to be out in the world, being with other people, on your own. You started Middle School- the same Middle School that I went to- and I so clearly remember my first days there and how I was uncomfortable with all of this change. So I, like the insane Mommy that I can be sometimes, instead focused the end of this summer on the Minutae of the Middle School Experience, and bought you four different kinds of locks for your lockers. Because clearly if I got the right one it would all be okay for you. The first day came, and you handled it beautifully. "Middle School will be a piece of cake!" you declared to your nauseous mother when you returned home from school that afternoon.
You have gained incredible freedoms this year: riding your bike around the neighborhood, walking to your grandparents' house alone, staying home by yourself. All of these changes you have handled beautifully and with grace and confidence. You are trustworthy and responsible. Which is why we got you your first phone for your 11th birthday.
Oh, the phone! THE PHONE! It has barely left your hands since you got a few weeks ago. And I have to admit: I am glad you have it. Because now I have unfettered access to you where ever you are. As we have given you more freedom, the phone has provided the lifeline from me to you that I still hold onto.
You, of course, merely used the "but I need a phone in case of EMERGENCIES" line on us while you were lobbying to get one. What you really love to do is text your friends, take videos and pictures, and post almost every thought/picture/celebrity photo you have on Instagram. And the Facetime! You have some friends who Facetime you morning, noon, and night... but to me, it seems that they are equivalent to the girls who used to call me on the phone and we would watch television together. (Not a bad way to pass some time. I always found it comforting.)
You are all about One Direction, the newest English/ Irish boy band to hit it big. You have carefully constructed rules with your friends about who is a true fan and who are just "Directionators", which appears to be the preteen equivalent of the foulest name you can give someone, and spend hours talking about these boys in the band. I have literally heard you talking about what hospital in England they each were born in. No detail is too small, no smidgen of information too trivial.
You played softball this spring and fall and really are a good player. Offense is your thing: you make contact almost every time you get up to the plate and you are so darn fast that you can steal bases with your eyes closed. You liked being with your friends and meeting some new girls on your team. If your team won, you were happy, but if not, no big deal... you were always ready to move onto the next thing.
You are a beautiful girl, like some dark, exotic flower that is blooming right in front of us. You are still short for your age, but your feet have grown three sizes this year (three sizes!!), and I can see that you are a coiled up spring, ready to let loose and shoot up at any minute. You will tower over me before long: I am sure of it. You are tan and healthy and just so pretty. I have told you for years that women all across the country pay big money to have the same hair color that God gave you naturally.
You are creative and helpful and funny and cool. You are miles ahead of where I was at your age. You always have "ideas" about things we could do or see. And at the same time, you can be serious- you are a tremendous help with Alec, you are patient enough to put up with his quirks, and he really adores you.
So here we are, 11 years in. Did I know, 11 years ago, that this is what life with you would be like? No, I did not. Did I know that I would love you as much as I do? No, I did not. Did I know how happy I would feel when good things happen to you? No. Did I know that I would eventually be told that I am the ONLY parent who makes their Middle School-aged child go to bed by 9pm, when EVERYONE else gets to stay up until 10:30 or 11pm? No. Did I know or understand how incredibly frustrated I would be at your seeming inability to bring your laundry basket, brimming with dirty clothes, down to the laundry room? No. Did I know how exhausted I would be at the end of the day? No. Did I know how much I would worry and pray about you and your safety? No. Did I know- have any inkling at all- about how much of my heart and soul and energy and love I would pour into you? How could I have possibly known that?
You are the first-born, the trailblazer, and whatever you go through, I am going through it with you for the first time. Everything feels heightened with you because we are learning it together, and, I think, because you are just kind of an intense person, and everything is heightened with you anyway. I have celebrated every milestone you hit from birth with joy and happiness: walking, talking, going to school, losing teeth. This year was different for me, though: I am feeling the desperate need to slow things down, enjoy the everyday little moments, and I am just so sad that your time living here with us is more than halfway over.
I don't want to ever be "done" raising you.
Life with you is an adventure, Michaela, and you always make it a fun one. I love you more and more each day. I celebrate each and every victory with you, and mourn every loss and hurt you feel.
We're in this together, you and I.
Happy Birthday, my love.