It seems like only yesterday I was a new wife, a sprout taking root and growing deep inside of me. Then one cold, bleak day in January the time had come. My baby, my first child, was ready to come into the world.
And yesterday Cedella turned four. Four. Years. Old.
So in our tradition (which I think I forgot to do last year…oops) here is my letter to my dear daughter on her birthday.
Happy 4th Birthday!! I can’t believe you are 4 today. It feels like yesterday that you were born and made me a mommy. And now here you are. Four years old. So independent and full of opinions, ideas and words. So many words. This year has been a truly incredible year for watching you turn from a toddler to a big kid.
When you turned three suddenly things you liked to do as a baby were no longer any fun. You wanted more freedom to make your own choices. To do things on your own. To be away from us more. In some ways it was sad to me, you becoming your own individual, because it meant you needed me less and less, but in other ways it has been thrilling to watch your personality and individuality progress.
Last year you were still at home with me everyday. You and me were so busy teaching Izzie how to walk and talk. I remember how proud you were when she took her first steps. You are such a proud and fierce big sister, Isora’s biggest champion. You encourage her and help her learn things each and every day. You have turned into another Mommy, reminding her of the rules, hands on your hips, in a perfect imitation of me. Watching you two playing together was one of the highlights of this past year to me. And though you occasionally get in each other’s way or hurt one another, you always make it right, which I hope you two continue to do throughout your lives. Though you may not believe it at four years old, your sister is your best friend in the world, the one you share all of your thoughts and favorite things with. I am so proud at how much you two love one another.
And while your relationship with your sister grew, so did your relationship with many others. You have grown so close with your Jiddo and Teta this year. Your weekly sleepovers are something you all look forward too. Knowing that you are growing up with your Jiddo, and that you trust him so deeply, is so important. I don’t know all of what you will learn from him over the years, but it is incredible that you have the opportunity to spend so much time with him.
There have been so many parties and gatherings with our family this year that has brought you even closer to your Grandma Linda, Grandma Becky and your Great Grandparents. And there is your special bond with your TeTe, you two even have your own handshake. When you told me the other day that you really wanted to go have a sleepover at TeTe’s in your own room, it made my heart smile. I’m so glad you love TeTe as much as I do. You became very close with cousin Izzat when he came to visit this fall and I know how much you love playing and spending time with your cousin Mila.
We have been so lucky the past year to have so many wonderful family vacations. Trips that you won’t soon forget about. Remember going to visit Uncle Erik in Cape Cod? We got a chance to stay with him and his Moms and Aunt Sara and Uncle Leo and the twins. We had such a fun time, and I know you really enjoyed it. You saw the ocean for the first time in your life and wondered why it was so big. I don’t think you’ll ever forget helping Uncle Erik cook the lobsters, and cracking them open when it was time to eat. Surprisingly you weren’t disturbed or upset by it, you even tried some lobster meat (after it was dipped in butter). And though there were some struggles for Mom and Dad during the trip, we were so thankful for how cooperative and enthusiastic you were about all of the adventures we had.
This year was also the first time we all went up to the cottage as one big family. Usually it’s just Grandma and TeTe and Auntie Kylara that go to the cottage. But this year Jiddo, Teta and Uncle André came too. You and Jiddo drove in the car together singing the “Cottage” song over and over again. It goes something like “Cottage, cottage, we’re going to the cottage”. It was one of the best weekends we’ve ever had as a family. We spent all day by the beach, then all night eating food and sitting at the campfire. Spending all those days together, the Sims and the Mansours, reminded me of Mom & Dad’s wedding weekend, one of the happiest in our lives. Surrounded by family, relaxing, eating, laughing and making memories.
We even got to take a family trip to Chicago to stay with Uncle André for a few days. It was so much fun. We even got to see your friends Nia and Imani at the Children’s Museum on the day we arrived. You were amazed at riding in tax cabs and going on the L train. There were so many new adventures that weekend but my favorite memory of you was on the day we were going home, we buzzed over to State Street so I could do some shopping. We were walking along a crowded street and there was a drummer on the corner. We stopped for a moment to listen to him play and you started dancing. You were twisting and turning and throwing your hands into the air and back to your hips. It was wild and free and perfectly spontaneous. So delightfully in the moment. Those seconds are etched in my memory as a reminder to be mindful. To let the music take over once in a while. To always, no matter where you are, or who’s watching, to dance. Life is short Monk, always dance.
It must be your inherently free spirit that has brought on your expressive personal style but I have never known a child to be so attuned to fashion and clothing. Except for myself of course Grandma Linda always said what I pain I was to get dressed in the morning, because I always wanted to wear something specific that I couldn’t find in my dirty room. Grandma never had patience for shopping or clothes and never really cared much about them. But I did. And now you do. Is fashion sense a genetic trait? Either way you’ve got the Clothing Bug. And this year’s obsessions and trends have been hard to keep up with to say the least.
First you stopped wearing jeans. They were too uncomfortable and not cool and you wanted nothing to do with them. Then you refused to wear shorts and could only wear dresses or skirts. The next phase moved to dresses with leggings or tights only. Then you wore your BFF Anna’s Belle costume day in and day out for two weeks straight. Finally you decided that every single outfit needed a tutu and that dresses wear only acceptable with a tutu bottom OR if they were twirly skirts on the bottom. It has been exasperating but entertaining. It’s hard to know what you are going to want to wear next, but you are so independent in picking out your own outfits and accessories. And now it’s all about Princess dresses and ‘high tips’ (your word for high heels). I couldn’t have kept you away from turning into a Princess if I tried.
One of your favorite things to say when I tell you something doesn’t match or look right together is that “You’re silly Mom. I don’t care if I match. I want to be colorful”. It took me a while to accept this. I have this issue with needing you girls to be presentable and put together particularly when we go out in public. And yet I try to encourage you to be yourself and express yourself and celebrate being weird and different. I was attempting to squash that creativity and expression. But I don’t anymore. What you pick is what you pick. Your clothes are your expression in so many ways, what makes you stand out, and I want you to always know that however you choose to express yourself is cool with me.
Except when it comes to expressing yourself with bad words. Of which we have both had a lot of this year! I know I have a terrible habit of saying cuss words and bad things. One of my involuntarily favorite phrases of disbelief is “Shut up!” which I have taught you we don’t say in our house. You have been very good in reminding me that it isn’t a nice thing to say. And when you and your sister played a spirited game of “When I Say Shit, You Say Fuck” we all cracked up, and you knew you weren’t supposed to do it, but we all had a good laugh. Thankfully you two haven’t played that game again and you often remind Iz that she shouldn’t say certain words that are for adults only.
What’s interesting about you is what a great listener you are, when you feel like listening. You have an ear for phrases and memorize dialogue from movies with ease. I think you watched the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes enough times to have memorized them. From Charlie Brown you started saying so many mature phrases, that you may not have fully understood but we’ve had some interesting conversations about what they all mean. Some of your favorites? “Never fall in love with a musician”. “I made a total fool of myself” “You can talk to the moon but the sun won’t listen”. “I was not made for winter” All so mature. All so crazy to hear coming out of your mouth.
It never ceases to amaze me how many conversations I have with you about tough subjects like death and love and hate and respect. Such deep topics. And you are truly thoughtful and interested in talking about these things. I have always felt that you were wise beyond your years. Something about the intensity of your eyes and the furrow of your brow when you concentrate is truly the hallmark of being an Old Soul. I remember talking to you about Grandpa Robert, and getting sad and crying a bit, because you really seemed to understand that my Dad was gone but that part of him was still with me . And months later, you found a book at the library about building and engineering and you said “This is like what Grandpa Robert did. I want to read this book” and then you touched my hand softly cause you knew it would make me feel something. I was floored that you had paid attention and remembered all those things I told you about my Dad. And that you, at 3 1/2 years old, could be so incredibly empathetic and compassionate.
This year we started something new at Christmas time that I really hope will last all of your life. TeTe started working full-time at the MATTS homeless shelter. One time we went there to visit her and drop off some baby items they needed. And you went right in the day room and started playing with the toys and the other kids there. And when it was time to go you talked to people and said hello and goodbyes and were genuinely sweet. When we were back in the car we had a talk about how some people don’t have homes or toys or even clothes of their own. And you got it. When we got home you wanted to take so many of your toys and give them to the “shelter kids”. And then we went shopping for all the kids to buy one brand new thing for each child. You were amazing picking out what you thought each kid would enjoy. Kids you had never met but still wanted to help. Kids that you never stop reminding me, are just like you. “They’re just kids like me Mom” you tell me. And though at 4 years old you may not realize the differences in class and opportunity that society places upon us, you do understand that they are indeed just kids like you. Somehow, particularly when I’m least expecting it, you are always teaching me something.
Like teaching me just how resilient you are, and how hungry you are for new and interesting adventures. Last January you started gymnastics class and swimming class. Every gymnastics class you tried something new and became a better listener and stronger leader. And swimming? Well always knew you were a little fish by how much you swam around inside of me. You were so brave jumping into the water for the first time and going straight under. You were nervous sometimes but you always tried again. These days you’ve progressed at a Junior 2 and you can swim half the length of the pool by yourself and you’re learning the back stroke. You seriously never cease to amaze me.
Last September you started a new journey when you went to preschool for the first time. And though it affected me in such a painful way, I felt like you were taking one giant leap away from me, you were affected in such a positive way. You started to learn so many new things, and become such a silly and outgoing person. You developed quick and lasting friendships with Kennedy, Chase and Lexie and Miss Jessica and her daughter Penelope. It was such a wonderful experience for you, and you started to blossom. And though that preschool is over and you don’t get to see those friends as much, I am so glad that was your first chance to see what school is like in a comfortable and safe space.
You just started People’s Church preschool with Anna and Olivia and so many new friends. You are learning and progressing so much every single school day, from letters and numbers to art and nature. I can hardly stop you long enough to get a kiss before you run off to play. And though I know in my heart we will always be connected, each time you run away from me to join your friends I know that you grow up just a little more and it breaks off a little piece of the heart I wear on my sleeve with your name on it.
Nothing breaks my heart more than when we argue. Your Dad and me can become so frustrated when we feel you aren’t listening or aren’t cooperating with what we’ve asked of you. To me that has been the hardest behavior problem we have had with you. Sometimes it’s because you’re distracted and busy doing something else, sometimes it’s as simple as you not wanting to do whatever it is we ask you to do, and other times, well, I just don’t understand. Hopefully the poor listening is only a phase, a developmental speed bump, because I know one thing…I know you hear me. I know you listen to me. I know you know our rules. I know you trust me to protect you and guide you and teach you. Please always remember that we work better together as a family, as a team, then we do alone. Me, Dad and Isora, we will always be your team, we will always have your back, we will always protect you. Sure we all have our own opinions and ways of doing things, but when we pit ourselves against each other? That’s when we all lose. And I’m not going to lose you. No way. No how.
When I said to you the other day that you’ll never know how much I love you until you have kids of your own you said “I don’t think I’m gonna have kids Mom”. And I told you that was your choice and you could make that choice when you’re an adult. You said “It sounds really sad to be a Mom”. Sure I talk about my heart breaking a little, or crying as I watch you try new things and grow up. But for every second of heart ache there are five million seconds of complete and utter bliss and love. For every tear I’ve cried out of frustration or sadness I have smiled a thousand smiles of pride and acceptance. So yes, being a Mom can sometimes be sad. But being your Mom is so completely and totally worth it.
Your special words cannot even begin to fully encompass your personality and strengths, but they’re beautiful. And perfect.
“You are kind. You are smart. You are important. And one day you’re going to change the world” Never have truer words been ascribed to a person.
We love you to the moon and back my dear, sweet, Cedella Michelle,
Mom (& Daddy too)