To my sweet Zoe girl,
Today you turned four years old. For months you’ve been talking about your birthday. You’ve been telling everyone everywhere we go that it’s your birthday soon; at the store, at the library, at my gym, and even while crossing the street you happily exclaimed to the cross-walk attendant, “March 7th is my birthday, I’ll be four years old!” He and I both laughed at your exuberance. Your excitement about your big day was pretty charming.
The night before your birthday, after you and your brother were sleeping soundly in your beds, and after your dad finally came home from his long day of class, he and I decorated the dining room.We hung up pink and purple streamers, dangled blue and yellow balloons from the ceiling, placed a big “Happy Birthday” sign on the wall and put a special festive table-cloth on our table, all for you, our birthday girl.
In the morning when you woke up, your daddy said with a big smile, “happy birthday, Zoe!” To which you replied, “not yet, Daddy! It’s not my birthday yet…” You were so used to hearing that from us that you couldn’t believe it when the actual day arrived.
Your dad led you to the dining room and showed you all the decorations and your face lit up into a million little flecks of fire. “It’s my birthday,” you said! And so it was – your fourth birthday.
You’ve done a lot of growing up this year. You’re leaving the shell of your toddler years behind and you’re headed straight into kid territory. It’s kind of terrifying and exciting all at once.
As a mom, there’s this small side of me tangled up in emotions about the reality that most of your life lived so far you’ll never remember when you’re my age. And that’s kind of sad when I think about it. All the cuddles we’ve shared and giggles we’ve delighted in, you won’t remember when you’re older. Some of the best moments of my life shared with you, won’t really be a part of your memories.
On the other hand, a few moments when I’ve really blown it, you may not remember those either. Like the time you ripped a hole in my favorite childhood stuffed animal, Tigey. You shook out all his itty-bitty styrofoam balls all over your room when you were supposed to be sleeping. I walked in to ask you to get back in bed (I could hear you jumping around), and I was shocked to see that it looked like someone opened up the largest snow-globe in the world and used it like a salt-shaker in your room.
I should’ve laughed and grabbed a camera for one unforgettable picture, but instead I was frustrated and ticked-off. It was such a huge mess and those styrofoam balls were sticking to everything: the walls, the ceiling, your clothes, your hair, the dog, your bed sheets, the curtains (the list goes on). Truly, that was not one of my finer moments in parenting: vacuuming up the room while you cried your eyes out. I’ve found comfort in thinking and hoping that maybe you’ll never remember that moment.
But now you’re four, and you’re bound to remember things. After all, I remember a lot of things when I was four: a cup of scalding hot coffee getting tipped over and spilling down my body. My mom and grandfather bathing me with cool water, while I cried through the entire bath.
I remember a snowy Christmas evening, pressing my face against the sliding glass doors, staring out at the moonlit drenched snow in our back yard, asking why it was all so sparkly, and hearing my dad tell me the ground was full of diamonds.
I remember our neighbor, an older man who loved to fish in the Arkansas River brought us a large white paint bucket full of fish for the second time that week. I answered the door and told him our family didn’t like fish because well, we didn’t. (I overheard my parents talking about how they didn’t know what to do with all of this fish and I thought I was doing us all a favor.) I’ll never forget the look of hurt and disappointment on his face, his shoulders immediately slumped down. He turned away from me, looking defeated and lonely, and walked home carrying his bucket of fish with him. Immediately, I knew I did something terribly wrong.
I remember playing in the yard with my sister, she and I found a seedling. We dug a hole in the ground with our fingers and planted the tiny seed in the wet black Oklahoma soil one late afternoon. We imagined together, out-loud, that the most beautiful tree would grow in that very spot and we would build a swing on its strongest branch.
I remember my mom and I walking to the shopping center across the street from our house. She was probably around my age right now, 35, she told me that she didn’t feel she was being a very good mommy lately. I was confused. I had never thought anything but perfection about my mom, and now suddenly her doubts creeped into my own little heart – that was the first time I started to view my mom as someone who could make mistakes.
Which makes me think, Zoe, that you’re about to do the same. At four years old, you’re going to remember some of these memories that we’re making right now – you’ll be able to recall details, like what you were wearing when you took a fall, or if your dad told you the snow was made out of diamonds or if I responded in a way that made you feel loved and cared for.
Of course, there are memories that you and I have shared that are already impacting your world view, and they will continue to do so for the rest of your life, but it is unlikely that you’ll be able to recall the tiny details of those memories. Instead, like small candles, they cast a glow over your view of self and the world.
I hope I’ve been a good steward of your heart, so far, little one. I hope I’ve lit good candles in your life. It’s my prayer. I breathe it out with a sigh every time I see you sleeping soundly in your bed. The remnants of the tiny cherub-baby I held in my arms for the first time when I gave birth to you, me – overcome with love and crying uncontrollably till someone asked me if I was okay. That baby is still there in my arms. I see her in the corners of your mouth, in the tips of your fingers, in the way your arms fold around your face when you sleep.
The other night, when I was pondering all of this: the memories I’m leaving on the hearts of my children. I was absent mindedly bathing your brother, and thinking about this coming of age that you’re in, I was thinking about how much I hope to do you both right. Exactly as I was thinking those thoughts, Noah leaned over to me, put his hand over my heart and said, “I know. I know.”
I gasped audibly and looked at him like a ghost had just spoken.
Leave it to your spirited little brother to speak to me like a prophet about my own mothering.
Someday, when you’re a mother, you’ll know this to be true: the child is the prophet and the mother is the disciple.
I promise you, it is true.
But you’re not a mother just yet. At four years old, you’re in the cradle of childhood, I hope you enjoy it all. I hope I can help you gather up each carefree lesson of the day, and that you’ll enjoy the innocent happiness of your youth. I hope I will help fill your years with insightful and beautiful memories.
I pray I’m a good steward of your love, of your childhood, of your innocence. I pray this for you, I pray this for myself, on your fourth birthday, sweet Zoe girl.
With all the love a heart can hold,
Photos by Lena Marie Photography