My dearest Kate,
You arrived on your own terms: full breech (standing on your own two feet) and three weeks ahead of schedule with a full head of dark brown hair flecked with gold. The nurses said that you looked as if you’d had a $50 frost job at the salon. Stylish even then.
The doctors lifted you and you screamed loudly. “Sing to her,” your dad said. So I began singing one of the many songs I had sung throughout my pregnancy, Dream a Little Dream. You stopped crying immediately and I knew we had forged an unbreakable bond long before you joined this world. There are no words to express the flood of emotion that overtakes a woman in those first moments of wonder and overwhelming love. “How did I ever live without her?” I thought. I pray you will understand someday when you hold your own newborn in your arms for the first time.
And as much as you feel as if your heart is going to burst from this love that has no measure, unbelievably, every passing year and milestone just increases the love: that first smile, that first laugh, that first “Maam,” the first kiss, the first step, and all the other firsts from then until today.
In the past year, I have watched you return to the little girl I knew so well: joyful, fearless, self-assured, determined, funny, warm, creative, independent, loving, impassioned. I have been in awe of you since you were small, but ever since your college graduation, you have astounded me as you left the cocoon of your academic life and took a great big bite out of “real” life just four days after the processional ended. And you have never looked back.
I think of those long ago days at Grandview Preschool when I would come early to pick you up and you would ignore me as you served leaves to the silkworms, read books, and stacked blocks. You loved fashion always and always had your own style. “Mommy, look at my new hat,” you announced as we were shopping, the sailor hat jauntily perched on your head backwards. When I tried to put it on correctly, you said, “No. It goes this way.” And that is how you wore it ever after (I had to buy it—and a dress to match, of course).
I “see” you in line on your first day of kindergarten—BIG school—and how you turned to Rachel and said, “My name’s Katie. Want to be my friend?” with such graceful aplomb. As other children cried and clung to their mothers, you turned and waved, “Bye, Mommy,” and marched into the world beyond my protection. I turned to the other mothers tearfully huddled as their “babies” left the nest, and said, “I think I just glimpsed my future”—perhaps the most prophetic words I’ve ever spoken; words that have resonated over and over throughout the years as you faced challenges and made your very distinctive and distinguished mark.
I think of all the times you went unbridled into the world: the storytelling workshop where you were the youngest and most eloquent (and had 200 people crying at your personal story of when I almost died); your first skating lesson where you must have fallen 30 times in thirty minutes. I still see your quivering lip as you gripped the rail and inched off the ice. “I’m not having a very good time, Mommy,” you said, tears welling in your eyes. I was so amazed at your tenacity. I winced with every fall and thought how I would have been off the ice after the third fall. As we sipped hot chocolate in the snack shop, I told you that I was as proud of you that day as I’d been over your storytelling success, because you hadn’t given up. I left it up to you to decide whether or not to take a second lesson. And you did. And then you skipped the second level and went straight to the third level.
Your scholastic success goes without saying and I have always been a proud mom over your stellar achievements. But it is the personal triumphs that matter most to me. Someday, when you are wavering over some personal travail, I want you to come back to this love letter and be reminded of your true mettle: standing up in the 8th grade for the EH boy who was being mocked by the “mean girls” even though it cost you budding friendships at your new school; being a good friend to people who did not treat you with the same kindness and consideration; extending yourself to the greater community through various organizations and causes; loving and protecting your siblings; standing up for your politics, regardless of the slings and arrows you’ve taken for your thoughtful viewpoint; preserving your morality in an era when it is unfashionable to be virtuous; rebuilding bridges that have suffered the ravages of broken promises and betrayal. You are a remarkable woman, my darling daughter. NEVER forget that.
You defy all the stereotypes of your generation: you have an incredible work ethic, are articulate and thoughtful, have tremendous drive, care deeply about this country, are knowledgeable beyond your little corner of the world, have steadfast friendships (finally). Your keen intellect has never wavered, and you continue to astound me as you’ve done since you stared intently at the art on the walls when you were three weeks old. And yet: you are still my silly little girl with a wicked sense of comic timing (think 7-Up), and a penchant for eating sweets at every opportunity—your grandmother would be SO proud. Of everything. As am I.
It was just about a year ago that you declared, “I LOVE real life!”. You said this in the face of the great unknown: your first D.C. internship was coming to a close and you had just turned down a “safe” job in Tacoma for a measured risk with a second internship in the D.C. area. Which led to a third internship and a job that you love (there’s that perseverance and ambition). You have lived in FIVE places since June 2012, and have handled each move with grace and good humor. You have been an impassioned American and campaigned for your candidate, served at the polls, and learned to be graceful in defeat. You explored a new religion, held firm to your timeline, and finally embraced this new faith with strength, conviction, and grace. You have made new friends, loved and supported your old friends, gone “zorbing”, hiking, had a pillow fight on the National Mall, explored the political arena beyond campaigns, bought your first furniture, and learned to budget your money and be a responsible adult all while having a wonderful time. WOW! What a year! And you are still loving real life.
As your twenty-third year of life begins, look back with more fondness than regret, because you have had a remarkable life, my darling daughter. I know that the year ahead holds even greater promise (and hopefully fewer addresses). How fitting that your birthday falls on your favorite day—Sunday. And though we may be a country apart, you are my heart, Kate—and I am always with you. In the meantime, I know that you will be in the loving embrace of new friends who will be celebrating the wonderfulness of my beloved girl.
Have the happiest of birthdays and the grandest year.