My beautiful birthday girl lies asleep upstairs, probably dreaming of fairies. I think she had a wonderful birthday, starting with a pre-dawn (well, not really) call from her uncle and ending with a playdate and dinner with a friend, complete with her favorite meal (cod with chipotle mayonnaise adapted from an Emeril recipe) and her favorite homemade cake. When I put her to bed, she told me again how perfect a day it had been. She didn’t mean, however, the gifts or the cake or the phone calls. She elaborated that she was grateful for the beautiful spring weather, the blooming flowers, the greenery, and the rain that held off until dinnertime.
As her former babysitter Eve wrote on Facebook today, I struggle to believe that Charlotte is eight. Where have the past 8 years gone? In the same way that I find it unfathomable that I have two nieces graduating from college and one from high school, I find it difficult to imagine how it’s possible that we blinked again.
And, with that in mind, I’m going to attempt to write Charlotte’s annual birthday letter. Having reread the previous seven letters, I’m not sure there’s much I can add. Charlotte is still sweet, sassy, sparkly, and strong. She is still sensitive and kind. And, she’s just hit the “it’s not fairs” of age seven HARD. But, enough about that….
We woke you up with a birthday song this morning and marveled at how tall and grown up you are. You even managed to brush all the knots out of your hair and stood patiently for special birthday braids. You risked being late to school to have an extended snuggle on my lap. Predictably. you wanted to listen to Radio Disney on the way to school, but you chatted all the way there about various things, mostly fairies and the concept of turning eight but being in your ninth year (you can thank my dad for that mind-bender).
As I think back on your eighth year, I can’t help but be astounded, again, by what you have to teach us about resilience. Just before you turned seven, Daddy moved back to Chicago and you knew that your birthday party was the last you’d spend with the wonderful friends you’d made at the International School of Boston. You took it all in stride, though like me and Daddy you were sad to leave our yellow house on the hill. Still, you made new friends right up until the end, staying overnight with Beth Ann and her family while Daddy and I were away, and charming Marlène, the French student teacher who stayed with us for two weeks. You enjoyed your last Red Sox and Pawtucket Sox games, had one last brunch with Aunt Bobbie, and cousins Nancy and Eric, and then helped us get the kitties in the van for our ride west.
As we rounded the Sky Way to Chicago, you realized and confessed that while you were excited to be back in Chicago, you remembered the idea of Chicago more than the actual city. Yesterday, you confirmed that, noting that you really don’t remember the backyard of our house on Hoyne Avenue, though you remember that your room was green.
We arrived in Chicago and moved into corporate housing, our aerie on the 48th floor, smack downtown at Grand and State. What an arrival! We were able to walk on Michigan Avenue, visit museums, see movies at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and go to restaurants simply by walking out of the front door. You adapted to highrise living as quickly as you’d adapted to Arlington. Returning to Fred’s Camp allowed you to make a soft landing in Chicago as you reunited with a couple of Lycée friends and delved into the nearly-familiar. Hosting swimming Sundays was a fun way to see old friends, too.
Returning to the Lycée reunited you with old friends which made missing Audrey, your best gal pal in Boston, easier. Within months you’d made two great new girlfriends and seem to have settled in socially. You also reunited with your magical piano teacher, Mme. Julie, and your progress and commitment have been astonishing.
As if we hadn’t moved enough, we brought you to a new home in October. As we unlocked the door on the day we took ownership, you were greeted by a gaggle of girls who live on our block. What a wonderful treat to be in a neighborhood where you have friends to come home to, who knock on their kitchen window to say hello or goodbye, and who can’t wait for you to get out of the car so you can come play with them.
You traveled well–driving with us back to NJ, NY and MA for December break and enjoying a long visit with Audrey, New Year’s Eve with Henry and Emile, and lunch with Auntie B. You have been inspired by museums, fascinated by Lemony Snicket and Bob et Bobette, and intrigued by electricity. Visits to New Orleans, Belgium, and Tenerife rounded out your holidays.
Rather than trace the rest the rest of the year minute by minute, I want to highlight three moments that, I think, demonstrate the thoughtful, sweet girl you’ve always been and foreshadow the incredible, strong woman you’re likely to grow into:
First, your cardiac catheterization: After living a fairly regular (medically-speaking) existence since you were 20 months old, we were all stunned to learn that you needed angioplasty. We soldiered through your stay at the new Lurie Children’s Hospital and, true to form, you came through with flying colors and a big smile on your face.
As always, I am inspired by your bravery. Being a heart patient is part of who you are and you are proud of who you are. You may not want people to point at your scar and ask questions, but you’re happy to talk about what Lurie Children’s Hospital means to you and about how special your heart is. You take your health seriously, ask a lot of questions, and let me and Daddy deal with whatever is too serious or scary.
Second, you experienced your first serious loss this year with the death of our beloved Bob the Betta. You mourned him thoughtfully and passionately. Death is not an easy lesson. I think it is even part of the reason we have pets. And you handled it as well as any seven-year old could have been expected to do. The fact that you asked to see the school counselor because you were so sad demonstrated such maturity to me, and made me terribly sad for your loss. And, you delved into research about how we could better care for a new fish. When we finally got a new fish, you listened carefully to what we needed to do and reminded me that we had to condition his water. Tommy is a much healthier fish than Bob ever was. He responds to our voices an is very fluttery. I hope he’ll be with us a long time. You took your loss and sadness and made your own teachable moment.
Third, the truth about the garden fairies: (Clementine and Sarah, stop reading here). You asked me a few nights ago whether I had written the fairy letters. You’ve been asking me for several weeks and I hesitated telling you. I didn’t want you to be mad at me and I didn’t want to spoil your belief in something magical and kind. You said, “Mommy, don’t tell me you wrote the fairy letters.” I responded, “I won’t tell you.” Eyebrow arched, you asked. And I couldn’t lie to you. So I made you promise not to be mad at me and I confessed that yes, for a year I’ve been writing letters and signing them from fairies. At first you didn’t believe me, but then it all fell into place–I could see the pieces organizing as in the penultimate scene from The Usual Suspects–how the fairies got a doll for your birthday, knew you’d moved, knew you’d been in the hospital, knew Bob had died. How come there had been no fairies in the corporate apartment (we didn’t have a printer). And you weren’t mad. You cracked up, smiling broadly when I told you that I had all of your original letters and that we could compile a notebook with the letters and the responses. And then you proceeded to dream up your own imaginary fairies to populate your room and your garden. I was worried about exploding your myth. You took the truth and wove a new dream.
You didn’t quite achieve your goal of riding a two-wheeler before your birthday, but you are tying your shoes. We’ll get that bike rolling soon. Meantime, you’re developing a tennis game and your piano-playing makes my heart swell. Your vocabulary puts many adults to shame and I’ll take your French pronunciation corrections any time.
Charlotte, I could go on and on. Your strength, your jokes, your wisdom, and your love continue to impress me and make me proud. Seven has been challenging–as you developed a sense of justice, you felt the world (or at least your parents) was often unfair to you simply because you were seven. Well, you’re still not in charge, not yet. But the more you grow, the more you’ll move away from us and I’m not quite ready for that. So, please stay little for a while longer.
I see great things for you in your ninth year, and predict that while you are eight you will be eager, enthusiastic, energetic, eloquent, and at times euphoric. And no doubt you’ll stay sassy and sweet. Daddy and I look forward to watching you grow and learn and explore.
Daddy and I love you most.
May you grow from strength to strength.
- Move for the Kids 5K Benefiting Lurie Children’s Hospital (charlottesjourneyhome.com)