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9 Years

Dear Eva,

Today you are nine years old. As I write this, I have just finished making your birthday video, and it's strange to look back over the past year and see how different the beginning of it was from now. And I wonder what you will remember from this time. You'll remember the time we've all spent at home together, and the time we've spent apart from others, I'm sure. You'll probably remember distance learning, too—it's not your favorite thing, but you've still been getting your schoolwork done almost entirely on your own. What else? Virtual sleepovers, sourdough bagels, instant noodles, Roblox, painting. It's been challenging, but I hope you'll have some good memories to take forward from this year, too. I think you will.

But that's all yet to come still. However you remember this time later, right now you are nine years old, you are excited for your birthday, and you are a great kid. You're smart and funny and fun to be around, and I'm so glad that I get to be a part of your life, and that I have you in mine.

Happy birthday, my girl! I hope this day and the whole year to come bring you so many good things.


Soundtrack: "Wanderlust (Instrumental)" by JB Lucas. Licensed from Marmoset Music.

8 Years

Dear Eva,

Last night when I said goodnight to you, I told you to get some good sleep so that you'd have a good birthday. You responded with a laugh "Yeah, I want to go to sleep!" And then you just... did. You went straight to sleep. It's something I've always envied a little bit about you, honestly, how good you are at falling asleep. I think you will have a good birthday, though.

This year you had your first audition, for the Performance Crew at your dance school. Beforehand, I asked you how you were feeling about it, whether you were nervous. And you were, a little. That's natural. But you didn't let it stop you from trying. When I asked you how you'd feel if you didn't get in, you thought about it and then said "I think I'd be sad, but that's OK." You've found something that you care about so much: dance. And now that you've found it, you work at it really hard. Sometimes it's difficult, sometimes you don't get all of the moves right away, but you never get discouraged. You just say "Practice makes improvement," which is something you came up with on your own because, as you pointed out, nobody can be perfect. You put yourself out there, and you are so, so brave. You made it through your audition and got into Performance Crew, but I know that you'd have been OK if you hadn't gotten in, that you'd have kept working and tried again next year. All of that is why I'm so proud of you.

You are talented and hard-working in so many ways, but you are also kind and thoughtful. I hope that you always stay that way. And I hope that we can always keep laughing together, the way we do now. And right now I hope that you have a very happy birthday.

I love you!

Seven Years

Dear Eva,

This past weekend we went up to Anaheim and spent two whole days at Disneyland. You brought one of your best friends, and all of us together walked over sixteen miles over those two days. You also went on your first real roller coasters, something you've been a bit nervous about before now. What I mean by telling you this is just that you're growing up, you're getting bigger and stronger and smarter and braver, and I'm proud of you.

What are some other ways that you're growing up? This year you learned to swim, and you've swum both in swimming pools and in Lake Erie. Your reading has really taken off this year, too, and now you're reading chapter books on your own. And in our reading together you've been asking for longer and longer books—we started the Harry Potter series just recently and you seem to be enjoying it. And, of course, you continue to be very serious about dance, and you work very hard at it.

Just all around, you're a great kid. You're kind and smart and a good friend. You're thoughtful, but you know how to be silly, too.

You've been counting down the days to your birthday for weeks now, and now it's finally here. You're seven! I hope today is a wonderful day for you, my girl. Happy birthday! I love you.


Soundtrack: “Let's Go! (Instrumental),” by FEALS. Licensed from Marmoset Music.

Six Years

Dear Eva,

We had your birthday party this past weekend, but today is your birthday. Your party was pretty great, though. You were tired by the end of the day, after all of the dancing and playing and hollering and hugging, but when you went to bed you said you'd had a great day. I'm glad.

You've had another big year. Kindergarten was a breeze for you, and your teacher constantly talked about how smart and hard-working you are. Now you're in first grade and I know you're going to do just as well. You had your first dance recital over the summer, too, and you were one of the best ones from your class. You take things seriously and always do your best, but you also know how to have fun and relax, too, whether that's curling up on a chair in the living room with an iPad and your favorite YouTube channel, or whether it's having your friends over for a play date. (You had your first sleepover this year, too, and that was great fun.)

I'm always proud of you for how much you care about doing things well and doing the right thing. Mostly, though, I'm happy to get to spend time with you, either reading with you or, lately, watching So You Think You Can Dance together. You're a really great kid, and I'm lucky to be your dad.

Happy birthday, my girl. I love you.


Soundtrack: "Wildrunners (With Oohs)" by Hugo Hans. Licensed from Marmoset Music.

Five Years

Dear Eva,

At the beginning of the summer, when you graduated from pre-school, Mommy and I told you that you would be starting TK in the fall. But now it's fall, and even though you're just today turning five, you've already been in real kindergarten for three weeks, and you've been doing great with it. Every morning you have been getting up just like your brother, and you've had such a great attitude about going to school, even though it's early. And even though you are the youngest one in your class, you're still one of the smartest and hardest-working. You've gotten points from your teacher every day for things like staying on task, participating, and using whole body listening, and I'm so proud that you are being a good citizen in your class.

Right now as I'm writing this, you're in your bed all tired out from spending a whole weekend at Disneyland. I'm so glad to get to spend time with you, whether it's when we're away or at home, and I can't wait to see what the future brings us.

Happy birthday, Eva. I love you so much!


Soundtrack: "It'll Only Get Better (Instrumental)" by Tayler Buono. Used with permission.

Four Years

Dear Eva,

For the past two weeks you’ve been counting down the days to your birthday, and now we’re finally here. As I write this, you are about ten feet away from me, staring up at the lighted fireworks design on the wall above your hotel bed. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, we are going to Disneyland, and you are very excited.

Every new year brings lots of new experiences, and this one is no different. You became a big sister this year, and you are great at it. You and Jason have been taking care of your baby sister since the very beginning; you have loved singing to her and showing books to her. On the drive tonight I discovered that you and she have a new favorite game, where she shrieks to make you laugh.

You’re getting to be such a big girl now, doing so many things on your own. Your mom and I talk a lot about how smart you are. You started a new preschool this year and I know you are going to learn a lot. So far mornings haven’t always been easy for you—you’re a late sleeper by nature, like me—but you’ve surprised me by getting out of bed without too much fuss when I come to wake you.

I love you so much, my girl, and I’m looking forward to spending the day with you. Happy birthday, Eva.


Soundtrack: "Lucky In Love (Instrumental)" by Tayler Buono. Used with permission.

Preparations

Lately when she calls out in the night, it's for Mommy. When she needs help in the bathroom, her voice rings out down the hall, "Mommy!" When she wakes up in the morning, her first request is Mommy. Sometimes she gets me instead, but she just sets her jaw and frowns. "No," she says, "I want Mommy."

I'm not sure exactly what it was she was writing here—the title of her next show, most likely—but I think I see "Daddy" in there. It's nice to know that she thinks of me sometimes.

Breeze

March, two years ago. She was a year and a half old, running, climbing, playing on a cool Easter morning on a huge backyard lawn in Virginia. The breeze on her face made her squint and squeal with laughter; it's something she's always loved, which she has in common with me and her sister, but not her mother or brother. She's bigger today but so far she still fits in my arms. Sometimes when I pick her up I still like to blow into her face, and her eyes sparkle and her manic little giggle warbles, she takes a breath to blow back at me and I quickly blow again, a little puff into her open mouth and she shrieks in delight, covering my lips with her hands and blowing back, blowing back, blowing back, her breath still sweet as a baby's, her joy still just as radiant and unguarded.

Collection

"Dinner is just about ready," I say. "It's time to clean up and come inside."

"OK!" she says.

A few minutes later I return. She is stooped over in the middle of lawn, picking up leaves one by one. The yard is still littered with toys.

"Eve, come on," I say. "You can play with the leaves some other time. You have to clean up and come in to dinner now."

"No! I'm not playing!" she insists. "I have to put the leaves in my collection!"

Around the corner, next to the crowd of tricycles and scooters, lies a little pile of yellow and green, fading to brown. She crouches down and places the leaf in her fingers right in the middle.

"Is that your collection?" I ask.

"Yes," she says. She's so proud.

Wrinkles

I don't know why fingers get wrinkly when you've been in the pool or the bath too long. I don't know why she wants to wear her goggles in the pool when she refuses to put her face in the water. There are lots of things I don't know. That's just how it is.

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