To Priscilla on her 5th Birthday

Dear Priscilla,

Today is your birthday and you are resolutely 5. Now. Today. But not on Saturday. On Saturday you had your birthday party and you didn’t want 5 on your cake because you weren’t 5 yet. Not until the 20th. You had a lot of opinions about your party. When I told you we didn’t have a bounce house you shrugged your shoulders. I guess we will have my party at Aunt Jill’s house. At three you cried because you were not ready to be the center of attention. At 5 you assume your party demands will be met.

This is how you are. When you decide something, it is decided. Most of the time this works out for you, but when it doesn’t it is a challenge. For everyone. Uncle Calvin set up the bounce house at our place. This one was a win. He was quite happy to do it. Please always remember that you are not a burden. The things you want and need are not a burden to the people who love you.

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This year, you went to school. You spend most of your time learning what life is about from people I trust, but not people I have picked. You have a particularly beautiful relationship with a the para-pro who has known you since you tagged a long with Juliet two years ago. You tell me she calls you sweetie-heart. You tell me that she calls you hard-head sometimes. You know this is because she loves you. She does. She adores you.

On the second day of school you told me you were not going. You had already gone. What did I mean you had to go everyday? I tried to explain to you about the weekend, as you were lying prostrate on the floor. I told you we went five days in a row, and then you got two days off. You told me this was inherently unfair. Five is a lot more than two. You aren’t wrong, my girl. You certainly aren’t wrong. It is often hard to correct you, because you aren’t often wrong. You deal in facts and statements of fair and unfair. You always have a very good point.

This summer though, there was a turning point in your sense of justice. We spent a lot of time with a younger kid who was also having a summer of great transition. On her toughest days you could sense, and would make sure to advocate for her. It was remarkable. You learned this skill by advocating for yourself, but you did not stop there. You turned it outward.

Priscilla, you have inherited so many of these characteristics from me. I have strong and visceral memories of my own early years as I try to contain you howling “it’s not fair.” People will use the word fierce to describe you. I admit I already do. Please tuck away somewhere in your heart that you love as fierce as you fight. You care about people as deeply as you care about injustice. Honoring principles matters to you because honoring people matters to you.

You are fierce. You are strong. You are a force to reckon with. All of this comes out of your capacity for love. When you apologize, you mean it. When you realize you have hurt someone, you are deeply sorry. When you love someone, you want them to know. Know that these things are descriptive, not what you have to be all the time. Your motor runs hot (just like mommy’s); don’t let it overpower you.

We need you in this world my girl, people who can fight like you, people who know when things are not fair. I woke up today to news of deep and horrible racial injustice, of innocent people shot. I do not know how to reckon celebrating your birthday with mourning these losses. I do know that you are teaching me to demand justice. I know that your presence is desperately needed in our world.

I looked back over your birthday messages, the things I have put on Twitter and Facebook. Surprise is the word that I use most often. I was surprised I was pregnant. Surprised you were not a boy. I was surprised we were naming you Priscilla, and surprised you had hair and the most perfect dimples. Not a day goes by where you don’t surprise me. The thoughts you have, the expressions you use, the way you laugh and joke.

You continue to surprise. You continue to delight. Mothering you is one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I am so grateful you are mine.

Much Love on Your Birthday,

Mom

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