The bittersweetness of celebrating a milestone
No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves.
- Haruki Murakami, "Birthday Girl"
A while ago, I wrote this letter to my elder daughter on the occasion of her fourth birthday.
To my elder daughter,
Today you are four! You are tall in both height and stature for your age. You are attentive, sensitive, and kind to those around you. You are inquisitive and exhibit a seriousness in curiosity and learning but can also be silly and playful when at ease. You can get easily frustrated at times, like me, when you fall short of what you believe you should already be capable of doing. You like to help others and seem industrious at even such a young age. You are a thoughtful big sister.
The year ahead will bring new and exciting experiences. You will make new friends, start kindergarten (or transitional kindergarten, I should say), learn new skills, and hone existing ones. You are growing so quickly in all ways, and sometimes I fear you have been forced to grow up too quickly.
The year ahead will also include a different milestone that you are unaware of - soon you will have been without your mother longer than you were with her. You are still too young to comprehend what you have lost, and ultimately you will remember very little of the last couple years. That is a blessing in that you will not have to live with the conscious reminder of knowing how our life was, but it will also be a source of angst as you seek to know what could have been. There will be challenges ahead for us, together with your younger sister, but I want to promise you:
I will watch over you from near or afar
I will hold your hand or carry you when the hard times come
I will help you understand and celebrate who your mommy was and how her spirit and memory live on in us
We will cry together when we feel like it
And we will find new joys together as we make the best of all we have in this life
One day, you and your sister will come to know that you two saved my life and that I love you more than I once thought I could, because now I love you for both myself and your mom.
Today you are surrounded by many who bring fun to your days, so be carefree, laugh loud until it hurts, eat as much cake as you want, and fall asleep exhausted because you enjoyed this day to its utmost.
Happy birthday, my sweetheart.