To My Sweet Monk

*Disclaimer. This is late. Like three weeks late. And this is long. Really long. But this is one tradition that I have started for Cedella that I am happy to keep. I want her to have these letters when she grows up and wants to know what she was like when she was a kid, or when she becomes a parent, what it was like when I was a young(ish) mother. So grab a cup of tea, settle in, and get cozy, you’ve been warned.

My dear sweet Ella,

You have just turned three. And yet here you sit, so sick and sad and unlike your usual self. And though you may have the flu and we can’t celebrate like we wanted to today, I’m glad you enjoyed your birthday party with friends and family. That makes me feel slightly better about laying on the couch and watching Diego episodes for 3 days now.

I want to tell you a little about who Cedella Michelle, who Monk is, at three years old.

In so many ways it seems like you’ve just been born. I remember that day so incredibly well. There are times like now, when you’re sick and really need me, you are snuggled up on my lap and I feel like you’re just a little baby. Like you’re still this little girl.

But in every other way you are becoming your own individual person. Each day you can do more and more on your own. Each day you need me less and less. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing that I have taught you and nurtured you to the point that you’re so capable and independent. But there’s a piece of my heart that aches every time you tell me “No Mom. I can do it myself”. Cause I know that one day you won’t need me at all. And that day is sooner than later.

This year was incredibly challenging for all of us. And though me and Dad had to really adjust to life with two small children in our lives, perhaps you have had the hardest time adjusting. Life since your sister was born hasn’t been easy for you and I’m at a loss as to how to help you cope.

Before Isora you were our everything. And then we left one morning and came home at dinner time with this new baby and suddenly you had to share the night sky with another star and maybe you felt you didn’t glow as bright any more.

But you have never, ever, ever stopped glowing as brightly to me.

In fact I am so in awe of all of things you’ve accomplished this year that you appear to be glowing a lot brighter, even more fiery, to me.

When you turned two you were talking quite a bit and learning to say difficult words. Now, you astound me with your ability to communicate. Your vocabulary is hard to believe for such a young person. I still won’t get over you telling me all about the “pygmy marmoset and it’s habitat”. (Thanks to Diego for that one.) And when you tell us things like “That’s not a choice” or “Sorry I ruined your picture”.

Though I have to say, there’s one small bit of communication that you’re having a problem with. You say “What?” A LOT. Like your Auntie Kylara before you (who to this day says “Huh?” more than any other word ever) you have a listening problem. Your poor Jido and Teta thought you couldn’t understand their accents or the Arabic they speak to you. But no. You say it all the time. To everyone. Especially Dad and I when we’re asking you to do something. It makes us nuts.

But of all the things you say it’s how you talk to your sister that makes my heart melt. You talk to her how I talk to you. Good and bad. If I tell you “No, Cedella that’s not nice” you repeat that to Isora. But better yet, when your sister took her first steps, you were the first one to say “I’m so proud of you Isora!”

You, her big sister, have the makings of her biggest cheerleader. It’s just what I hoped you would be for her.

You’re funny. One of the funniest children I’ve ever known. On any given day you can say a million hilarious things. One moment you’re strutting around the house with sunglasses and evening gloves on. Then a wig, then a tutu, then an 80’s headband. You say goofy things and you can just about always crack a smile. Though there may be years you don’t think this, right now, you just can’t stop saying “Mommy you’re so funny!”. And the dance you do? The crazy hands and Elvis hips. God you crack me up. And when you giggle it’s like a the sound of a trillion sweet birds singing to the morning sun.

Once you get it in your head to do something, to be something, there’s no stopping you. I see that in you already. A drive and passion to learn and to master something. You can become so incredibly frustrated when a new task is hard to learn. If it takes a few times to understand a new game or to open a snack you kind of freak out. Your anger is quick and intense and just like your father’s. Don’t tell him I said that, ok?

So you hate it when you can’t do something right the first time, I understand. I’m the same way. But when you do master something, look out world! Take potty training for example. One morning this last May you decided you didn’t want to wear diapers anymore. After a frustrating couple of days of peeing on the floor and having wet undies you finally figured it out. I can count the amount of accidents you’ve had since then on one hand. You amaze me.

And you amaze me in your ability to try new things. Sure you play shy sometimes or you don’t have a good feeling about things, and I respect your intuition when it comes to that. Like dance class. You will probably not be a ballerina. Too much structure and not enough freedom. But that’s ok. Cause you are a natural in gymnastics and swimming. I’m so proud to watch you step across the balance beam with a look of concentration on your face that quickly turns to a smile when you reach the other side. Or to see you nervously step into the pool only to effortless climb out by yourself a few  lessons later.

We may not have done that much traveling this year but the few trips we did take I recognized how adaptable and easy going you are. We spent almost two weeks on the beach. When you were growing inside me you swam around like a little fish. I thought you were going to be a swimmer. You love the beach and playing in the water. Me too. And on our visit to South Carolina this Thanksgiving you were great. Well, great as long as Diego was on. Thankfully your cousin Bailey was there to entertain you and show you around.

Maybe it’s because of all these reasons, or perhaps in spite of them, that makes it that much harder when you’re mean, aggressive and angry towards us. When you lash out at your father or kick me. It’s when you hit your sister on the head or push her over as she’s trying to take a few steps, that truly hurts me. I know you don’t really want to hurt Izzie or make her cry, it’s just that your emotions are too big for that little body of yours, they have no where to go but out.

Dad has been so stressed out lately, working a lot, which means I’m stressed and alone with you girls that much more. Parenting is hard my love, don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. So when he’s stressed and I’m stressed we make you and Isora stressed. Just like when we yell, you yell. I see that now. Particularly when the words I tell you come rolling right back out of your mouth at me. When your angry voice sounds just like mine. It’s a tough pill to swallow, watching yourself through the eyes of your child, but it helps me to make better choices, to try and help you, not hurt you.

I am confident that all of the aversion to doing anything and everything we ask of you will be short-lived. That your Tumultuous Threes will be over quickly. Because if this foreshadowing of your teenage years God help us all.

Since changing tactics from yelling and demanding to offering you choices and incentives, things have started getting better already. Where there have been months of battles to get you through bath and bedtime, tonight you’re snuggling and sweet.

A month ago there was a really horrible tragedy in which many children were killed at their school. On that day I was so very sad and couldn’t help but cry as I held you girls. When you asked me what was wrong I told you that someone hurt many children and you asked “Why Mommy?” When I said I didn’t know you looked so confused. And then you said “is that why you’re sad Mommy? Cause you don’t know why people hurt kids? That is very very sad.” And then you held my hand and laid your head on my chest. Your understanding of me, and how I think is unbelievable. Just another amazing aspect of your tremendous personality, you sense and know and feel so much about the problems and strife in this world already. You are at your core a kind and empathetic being and that innate good is your ticket to changing the world.

Now if only I could get you to stop hitting your sister. There are rare beautiful moments when you two are playing together so nicely and in a snap you’re tackling her to the ground or pinching her cheeks. I know some day, hopefully by the time you read this, you two will be the best of friends. But for now, well, let’s just say I will completely understand when she just sucker punches you one of these days. You’re asking for it.

Just the other night, the night before your birthday, as I was putting you to bed I was telling you the story about the night you were born. You touched my hand and told me to keep talking and then you slowly drifted off to sleep in my arms, just as I was telling you about the first time I ever held you. It was magical. I am reminded that no matter how big you grow, in some ways you will always be that tiny sweet new thing to me.

We just started talking about the string that connects my heart to your heart, how it’s invincible but it’s always there. That string that connects our hearts will never break Cedella. Never.

There’s so much more I want to say but I’ll leave you with this. Don’t ever stop watching Doctor Who with me and sneaking chocolate when no one else is looking. And promise me that you’ll always stand up for your sister and for those who need standing up for.

Thank you for being my daughter. Your dad and I are so incredibly proud to be your parents.

I love you to the moon and back,