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6 Years

Dear Mary,

This evening as I was drying you off after your shower, you leaned in toward me and said "I can't wait until after dinner!"

"Oh?" I said. "What happens after dinner?"

"Bedtime!" you said, and I laughed. You just wanted to do whatever you could to make your birthday arrive sooner. And, sure enough, you went to bed remarkably easily when it was time.

This is the thing about you—or anyway it is a thing about you: you know what you want, and you go for it. Sometimes that brings you into conflict with the people close to you—and, yes, that is a thing we are working on, how to say what you want without being rude. But it's also something that I'm happy to see in you, and that I hope you hang onto, because I love that you are unafraid to take up space in this world. There will be times when people will tell you to make yourself smaller, but you already know how to stand up for yourself, and I think that will serve you well. I hope so, anyway.

You are an amazing kid. You have so many talents, whether it's reading or writing or singing or drawing or dance. I like just getting to talk with you, and hearing what's on your mind—your mind which is always going. This time of quarantine has not been easy for anyone, and it hasn't been easy for you. But you've adapted and found a new groove, and it's pretty great seeing how you fill your days.

You're six years old now! I hope the day brings you much joy! Happy birthday!


Soundtrack: "Roller Coaster (Instrumental)" by Kid Prism. Licensed from Marmoset Music.

5 Years

Dear Mary,

Last night as I was leaving your room after saying good night, you called out “Wait. How about one more hug and one more kiss?” And, of course, I obliged—it wasn’t so long ago that you never wanted hugs or kisses from me, and I’m happy that you like having me around. Still, when I left for work that morning and asked if I could give you a hug, you just shook your head and went back to your video. This might surprise you right now, but both of these interactions make me happy. It makes me happy that you feel comfortable and confident setting your own boundaries, that you feel control over your own body. It makes me happy that when you do decide to be affectionate, you do it with your whole self. And it makes me happy that I’ve earned some of that affection.

You have a lot of interests and a lot of talents. You love to sing, to dance, to draw, to read, to work with numbers, to learn. You love to do things on your own. More than most people I know, you are your own person. You insist on it. You can be led, but you won’t be pushed. You have a huge spirit, and that means that sometimes you will clash with others. People will try to change this about you, to make you smaller, and even though it means that sometimes I’ll be on the receiving end of your displeasure, I hope you never lose this. I hope you always keep going after what you want, and putting your whole heart into everything you do.

Very soon you’ll be starting kindergarten. Very soon to me, at least—to you that’s still a ways off. And, truth be told, it’s not as close as it feels to me. We still have time, and lots to do. But it’ll happen soon enough, and I know you’ll do great. Because that’s who you are. You are great. I’m so happy to know you, and I love you so much. I hope the day brings you much joy. Happy birthday, Mary!


Soundtrack: "Do What You Feel (Instrumental)," by Kid Prism. Licensed from Marmoset Music.

Four Years

Dear Mary,

Your mom, Jason, and I came home from Jason's birthday trip tonight, and although at first you were upset that that meant that Nana would be leaving, before the end of the night you'd given me two hugs and a kiss. I always treasure it when you decide to show affection, because I know that it's truly your choice.

This is the thing that everyone notices about you: that you have a big personality and strong opinions, and you are not shy about sharing them. You are smart and strong of will. You don't give up, although you do sometimes change your mind. You have learned to write your name, and you are excited to write it every chance you get. I hope you never run out of opportunities to put your name on things, and that you never lose the willingness to do it. I call you my little bear, and I think you're every bit as powerful as that name.

Today is your birthday, and I hope that it's a great one for you. I love you so much. Happy birthday!


Soundtrack: “Not Over (Instrumental),” by Kid Prism. Licensed from Marmoset Music.

Three Years

Dear Mary,

As I write this letter, you are asleep, having spent the day running and playing and having lots of fun. Earlier this evening, you and I sat next to each other when we went to a restaurant for dinner, and just before the food came you climbed into my lap—completely unprompted—and let me give you a hug and a kiss. It was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one—most of the time when I ask if I can give you a hug or kiss you say no. But, honestly, this is one of the things I love about you, that you have a sense of your personal boundaries and that you are independent and strong-willed.

You've had a big year. This was the year of your first dance recital, the year you discovered CookieSwirlC, the year you learned the words to every song from the soundtracks to Moana and Steven Universe, and the year you started potty training. You always have a ton of energy in everything you do, and you've been proud of your accomplishments, and for good reason! In the fall you'll be starting pre-school, and you're looking forward to it already. You're smart, funny, and very strong, and I know you're going to do great.

Happy birthday, Mary. I love you, my big girl!


Soundtrack: "It's Well (Instrumental)" by Bekah Shae. Licensed from Audiosocket.

Two Years

Dear Mary,

Three days ago we celebrated your brother’s birthday, and today it is your birthday. Birthdays being what they are, this is how it’s always going to be, and sometimes your mom and I worry about letting your day turn into an afterthought. I don’t think you’re going to let that happen, though.

Because you are a force.

You may be the youngest member of our family and—for now—the smallest in stature, but in will and determination and sheer size of personality you are a giant. You are mighty. You know what you want, and you go for it, every time. I think of all the times I’ve lifted you over my head and listened to you cackle, your gleeful shouts of “Again! One more time!” I think of the way you will just climb into my lap and push your smiling face right into my line of sight; you are playful, but you demand to be seen.

And even though sometimes that means your mom and I—and your sister and brother—have to reckon with your displeasure, I hope that you hold onto that spirit, that ability to stand up for yourself, never taking a drop of disrespect from anyone. Because if you can do that, nothing is going to stand in your way. You’re smart, you’re strong, you’re funny, and you’re fierce. You will go far.

Today is your day, my girl. I love you. Happy birthday!


Soundtrack: "Nightglow (Instrumental)" by Beachcomber. Used with permission.

One Year

Dear Mary,

So here we are, the last night of your first year. As I'm writing this, you are about eight feet away from me on your mom's lap. You've just finished a last little snack before bedtime, which is part of your normal routine. Unlike most nights, though, we're in a hotel room more than a thousand miles from home—your first trip to another country. It's funny for me to consider that with you, I'm going to be seeing a lot of firsts for the last time. But I'm glad that you're the one I'll see them with.

Before you were born, your mom and I thought we knew what we were doing as parents, and we thought we knew what to expect from you. But from your very first day, you have demanded to be reckoned with on your own terms. You are strong-willed and determined. You are a girl on the go. Today, for the first time, you decided to stand without holding onto anything for balance. I'm sure it's only a matter of weeks or even days before you take your first steps. None of your family is surprised about this; you have always had places to go, things you wanted to be doing, and you are not one to let anything stand in your way. It's a big world out there and often a tough one; I think your grit and drive will serve you well as you continue to grow and find your way.

You're sometimes a handful, and sometimes a sweetheart. You're goofy, like your brother and sister—you love to make people laugh. You're little for your age when it comes to height and weight, but like you might hear in stories about another adventurous soul, you're bigger on the inside.

Tomorrow is your birthday, and you are going to be surrounded by family celebrating your first year. For you, I think tomorrow is going to be no big deal, maybe just something you'll see pictures of when you get older. For me and your mom, though, it's a pretty big deal: you're one year old, and you're the one who's made our family complete.

I hope you have a great day, baby girl. I love you.


Soundtrack: "Train Tracks" by Marmoset. Used with permission.

At Two Months

The thing that strikes me the most about this picture is not how much different she looked then, nor how much the same she looks now. It's not the way she still sometimes sleeps with her arms raised and hands in little fists. It's not even the swiftness with which the past eight, nearly nine months have passed. All of those things do cross my mind when I look at this picture, but mostly what amazes me is seeing her at 6:10 in the morning, sleeping soundly enough for me to take her picture—or even enter the room—without waking her.

Please

Child, I love you very much. I love your energy, your inquisitiveness, and your impish little smile. I love that you are motivated, that you go after what you want, and I hope that you stay that way when you are older.

But please, at 2:30 in the morning, this is the only thing I ever want to see you doing.

New Floors

The boy took one look at the new floors and started to cry. "I think I'm going to throw up!" he said. I always thought that my sentimentality and resistance to change had to do with the fact that we moved so many times when I was a child, but he's the same way—perhaps even more so.

The girl took a few steps in, turned her head to take it all in, and with a sunny smile declared, "I like them!" Though, it was not immediately obvious whether she actually liked them or was just saying the opposite of what her brother said.

The baby hasn't given an opinion yet, nor do I expect her to. By the time she's able to say anything, she will have long since forgotten that there was ever carpet in the living room—if, indeed, she hasn't already. Her knees slip a bit more when she tries to crawl in her pajamas, but she takes it all in stride, like everything. Onward and upward, that's her motto.

A Quiet Moment

It's a rare moment that her hands are not in motion, wildly flailing either with excitement or rage. She is not a quiet one, my youngest. I can't wait to see how that manifests when she's older.

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