Posted by: Kate | April 17, 2009


Oh, Emily,


Has it really been a year already? I feel like I was just mulling over your unique brand of eight-ness, and already you’re nine? I thought we had already reached an agreement that you would slow down for a while, that you would stay still at some developmental stage just a little longer, so that for once in my life I would have a sense of, “OK, let’s move on,” instead of always feeling like, “But, wait, I wasn’t finished with the infant/baby/toddler/kid yet…”


What’s that? You’re expecting that particular development to arise when you’re in your teens? We’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?


And even more so than Jacob, or any of the other little ones I have had the privilege to watch grow and change, you rocket from one stage to the next with barely a forward glance, much less a backward one. You vault yourself from one moment to the next, absorbing changes and ideas so fast I’ve given up hope that I’ll be able to keep up with you. I just want to be able to keep an eye on you, and maybe even to understand you a little, as you stream through life with an intensity and a bravery that I can barely imagine having.


You’ve got such a strong sense of self. You speak of yourself in declarative sentences, knowing very clearly exactly what you are – and are not. Labels, right now, are very important to you, and thus you insist upon calling yourself a tomboy without having a robust idea about what the standard definition of “tomboy” actually is. That doesn’t much matter to you; you have labeled yourself a tomboy, and therefore whatever it means to you is what you are in that moment. It’s a gift, that strength of will and ability to bend convention and reality in order to meet your own view of how things should be. It’s not optimism or pessimism, exactly – and it’s certainly not delusional or manipulative. It’s just that you have such an overwhelming sense of self-assuredness that you have difficulty even imagining that there might be more than one way for people to view the world. It’s always a shock to you, every time, when you realize that others don’t – can’t – always share your boundless enthusiasm for dragons, or Calvin & Hobbes, or corn fritters.


I don’t think you have entirely grasped the concept that there are nuances and shades and levels to most people’s views of the world. Your ideas are all strong, vibrant, primary colors, and shades of gray simply do not apply. I tell people, “Her dial goes to eleven,” (and cannot wait until you’re old enough to watch Spinal Tap so that you can get the reference) but what I really mean is, “Her switch goes to eleven.” You’re an on/off kind of girl, throwing yourself fully and wholeheartedly into your emotions, your thoughts, your play, your work.


But you’re not selfish. You’re not mean. I’ve never seen you be cruel or snide or deliberately hurtful. It upsets you so much when you realize that you’ve hurt someone else’s feelings, because you never intended that to happen. You just get so carried away by your enthusiasm that you sometimes barrel over other people, physically or emotionally.


Something has changed in our relationship, just in the past few months. On my side, I know it’s because I took a step back, called in a psychologist for some testing and perspective, and deliberately realigned my concept of who you are. I’ve realized that your intense focus on certain specific topics – dragons, wildcats, a comic book, the guinea pig – isn’t a case of you wanting to be doing that stuff and forcing those around you to do it, too. It’s a case of you being literally unable to disengage from whatever has caught your attention. I think that you run a constant loop in your head, of whatever the current obsession is, and it creates a constant background noise as you go through the rest of your day.


Which underlines how incredibly smart and capable you really are. I cannot imagine the strength of will it would take to be able to sit through a math test or read about bagels and lox while simultaneously being distracted by this other thing, the big bright shiny really cool thing, that has forcibly grabbed your attention and won’t let go. We may, in time, decide that it’s worth trying medication to see if that can help you be more in control of your own focus, but that’s a ways down the road. Right now you’re still able to function, and function well, despite all of that background noise. And that’s just amazing to me.


Over the course of your life, you’re going to find some people who will get upset with you simply for being who you are. Your core personality will rub people the wrong way. This happens to everybody, once in a while, but when your core personality is so bright and intense and bouncy, it’s liable to attract a little extra attention. I’m sorry for this, because it hurts to get in trouble simply for being who you are. I promise, I’m trying as hard as I can to separate out who you are, inside, from what you do, outside. And no matter what you do, outside, I will always love you beyond words because of who you are, inside.


Stay nine for a while, OK? I have a sneaking suspicion that ten will be even harder – something about having a child with a double-digit age makes me feel suddenly older. But go ahead and change all you need to. I’ll be right behind you, trying to keep up.


Love, love, love, Mom



  1. What a nice birthday gift to your daughter. She’ll treasure this when she’s older.

    Happy birthday to Emily.

  2. What a lovely letter. Happy birthday to your “baby” girl!

  3. Special girl. Special mama.

    Happy birthday, Emily!

  4. Beautiful and heartfelt. Happy Nine, Emily!

  5. Happy Birthday Beautiful Girl!

  6. Happy Birthday Emily!!!

    I forget every year, until the day that she and Natalie share a birthday day. :sigh: they grow up too fast.

  7. Aww happy birthday Em. You know your kid well Kate and that’s a grand start to a strong relationship!

  8. That was lovely, and I wish sometimes I could have stayed 9ine…it was so easy to go out with someone simply by liking the same shade of crayon! Good luck kid!

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