To my sweet Ellie Bean,
Today you turn four years old. For months, you’ve been talking about your birthday. You’ve been telling everyone everywhere we go that it’s your birthday soon; at the store, at the bank, at the Y, and even while we were picking up mommy's medicine at the pharmacy. You happily exclaim that "Your birthday is in March!" Your excitement about your big day is pretty charming.
I don't know if you know this, but you’ve done a lot of growing up this year. You’re leaving the shell of your toddler years behind and you’re headed straight into kid territory. It’s kind of terrifying and exciting all at once.
As a mom, there’s this small side of me tangled up in emotions about the reality that most of your life lived so far you’ll never remember when you’re my age. And that’s kind of sad when I think about it. All the cuddles we’ve shared and giggles we’ve delighted in, you won’t remember when you’re older. Some of the best moments of my life shared with you, won’t really be a part of your memories.
On the other hand, a few moments when I’ve really blown it, you may not remember those either. Like the time you decided to get into my vanity and splatter-paint our bathroom floor with seven different colors of nail polish. Oh yeah...flourescent pink, orange and green; midnight blue with sparkles, red, purple and of course...shocking pink. You were playing so quietly in your room while I was doing dishes after our day out together. I remember Lucas walking down the stairs and telling me that I "had to come upstairs"...now. I was surprised to smell nail polish in the middle of the staircase. I was shocked to see that it looked like someone took enormous amounts of paint and went all Vincent VanGogh all over the floor.
Ellie Van Gogh's Artwork
I should’ve laughed and grabbed a camera for one unforgettable picture (actually...I took a picture with my phone, but not until HOURS later), but instead I was frustrated and ticked-off. It was such a huge mess and I'm pretty sure that I was high from the toxic fumes of nail polish remover for three days. Truly, that was not one of my finer moments in parenting: scrubbing dried nail polish off of a linoleum floor with nail polish remover while you cried your eyes out. I’ve found comfort in thinking and hoping that maybe you’ll never remember that moment.
But now you’re four, and you’re bound to remember things. After all, I remember a lot of things when I was four: I remember climbing up onto a mantle and jumping off of it - landing on a brick, breaking my toe.
I remember my Dad decorating the best Wilton cakes for our birthdays. It was incredible to watch him transform those cakes into works of art. To this day, it is one of my best memories. Hands down.
I remember riding Mr. Banana-Man on the sidewalk in front of our condo with Uncle Kyle. Actually...I think that he was riding Mr. Banana-Man and I was pushing him with all of my might - praying that he didn't fall off and get hurt.
I remember curling up in my Mom's lap - just so that I could be near her. I always thought that I would remember the way her heartbeat sounded and the way that she smelled. While I can't remember those things, I do remember what it felt like to be wrapped up in her arms and to feel her unconditional love.
Which makes me think, Ellie, that you’re about to do the same. At four years old, you’re going to remember some of these memories that we’re making right now – you’ll be able to recall details, like what you were wearing when you took a fall, or if your dad helped you pick out your birthday pan or if I responded in a way that made you feel loved and cared for.
Of course, there are memories that you and I have shared that are already impacting your world view, and they will continue to do so for the rest of your life, but it is unlikely that you’ll be able to recall the tiny details of those memories. Instead, like small candles, they cast a glow over your view of self and the world.
I hope I’ve been a good steward of your heart, so far, little dove. I hope I’ve lit good candles in your life. It’s my prayer. I breathe it out with a sigh every time I see you sleeping soundly in your bed (or Lucas'). The remnants of the tiny cherub-baby I held in my arms for the first time when I gave birth to you, me - overcome with love and crying uncontrollably till someone asked me if I was okay. That baby is still there in my arms. I see her in the corners of your mouth, in the tips of your fingers, in the way your arms fold around your face when you sleep.
The other night, when I was pondering all of this: the memories I’m leaving on the hearts of my children, I was absent mindedly getting Lucas ready for his shower. I was thinking about this coming of age that you’re in and how much I hope to do you both right. Exactly as I was thinking those thoughts, Lucas wrapped his arms around me, put his hand over my heart and said, “I know. I know.”
I gasped audibly and looked at him like a ghost had just spoken. How did he know?
Leave it to your spirited big brother to speak to me like a prophet about my own mothering.
Someday, when you’re a mother, you’ll know this to be true: the child is the prophet and the mother is the disciple.
I promise you, it is true.
But you’re not a mother just yet. At four years old, you’re in the cradle of childhood. I hope that you enjoy it all. I hope that I can help you gather up each carefree lesson of the day, and that you’ll enjoy the innocent happiness of your youth. I hope that I will help fill your years with insightful and beautiful memories.
I pray that I’m a good steward of your love, of your childhood, of your innocence. I pray this for you, I pray this for myself, on your fourth birthday, my sweet and dearest Ellie Bean.
With all the love a heart can hold,