To My Beautiful Daughter, on her 4th Birthday

Dear Marilyn,

In three days, you will turn four years old. To be clear, you don’t understand the days yet. Every single day, you ask me what we’re doing after “nap” – you are like me, an anticipation junkie. You always want to know what you should be excited for next. Yes, it’s almost your birthday, but you keep asking me, mama, how many days until Summer?

Your growing up has been like watching someone pull away in a car. One moment, you’re standing leaning inside their rolled down window, and the next, the car is so small you can’t even see what color it is, and then it’s gone. Even as I write that, I recognize that one day you’ll actually pull away from me in a car, and I’ll look back on this moment as the closest we ever were to understanding each other.

When I was pregnant with you, I didn’t know how motherhood would transform me; rip me open, turn me inside out, and remake me anew. I thought we would be buddies at Target – you riding in the up front of the cart holding a sippy cup, and me pushing you along in stride and all of our days would feel as effortless as hanging out with a best girlfriend. I imagined we would be the kind of mother and daughter who would wear matching outfits, and I hoped we would have the uncomplicated relationship I always dreamt of with my own mother, but really only ever had with other people’s mothers.

Motherhood is actually more like a passionate love affair than a friendship, at least so far. Our relationship rides the ridge. I pull your face close to mine and kiss your lips a thousand times at night, and I hug you like you’re the last person on earth. I study the shape of your head. I smell your clothes, and run my finger over your initials and draw your name in my notebooks. I also yell, and scream and threaten and slam doors and brood. I am consumed with self-doubt. I need breaks from you. I need releases from you. I struggle to understand you. I feel so challenged and immensely tired because of you.

You. My beautiful daughter.

You love giving compliments – you realized early on that you can make someone’s day with your words- and you tell someone daily that you love their scarf, their jeans or the way they do their hair. I love how you see the beauty in my mundane blue jeans. Everyone should have you in their room when they get ready in the morning.

You have the resilience of a bouncy ball – I try to take things away that you love, as consequences when you misbehave, and you tell yourself, and me, so proudly, “that’s ok. I don’t need [that thing]. I had another plan anyway.” You say it so confidently and proudly, that I don’t know whether to be upset that I can’t get to you, or ridiculously proud at the way you bounce back from even the smallest disappointments.

You would run across a football field to embrace your brother. When you walk into a room, the first thing you do is look for him or call for him. You talk about marrying him. When we shop, which is rarely, you are totally focused on how to find him something wonderful. You run so hard and fast to him at the end of the preschool day, one would think it had been weeks since you last saw each other. You protect him hard. You advise him. You go to him to offer him comfort even when he’s sitting on the stairs in time out for hurting you. My most earnest prayer at night is that you will always feel this way about him.

You love helping. This age has been all about your helpfulness — you will fetch me things, help me organize and sort, and you help me cook every day. My life is so much easier with you by my side.

Marilyn, you have put on the same pink sparkly star dress every single day for almost a solid year. I bought it for you for your third birthday, and you come downstairs daily with it over your pajamas. You find it in the dark like you have dress radar. I hate the dress (although I started out loving it). Yes, you could do worse with some awful polyester Disney princess dress, but I buy you the sweetest clothes, and all you want to wear is this dress. I’m worried that you’ll want to wear it to college, but I admire how you know your true North. You know I disapprove, but you never doubt yourself. You know that dress makes you feel great, and so you go for it. Someday, someone will try to make you feel bad for your style, or your way, and I hope you can always remember how that dress made you feel, but more than that, how you chose that dress no matter what anyone thought about it.

You think your name is Marilyn Monroe. I blame myself. You have to listen to me make endless appointments for you, and you have internalized the “like Marilyn Monroe” part. You say, “my name is Marilyn Wallace Morford Marilyn Monroe” and some day I’ll have to break it to you that it’s not your actual name. In the meantime, your blonde bob looks like you had it set in the 60s at a salon, and you really do channel her effortless beauty and grace.

The pride I feel when I look at you is like a Care Bear Stare — like a ray that leaves my belly and shines on you, and I want the world to see how incredible you are. When I watch early videos of you now, I realize you have always had a clear voice, have always known who you were.

This is our last year together. In a little over a year, you’ll start Kindergarten, and our days in the Sun will be over. I know it will be great. It will be the first step in you becoming anything you want to be, but man I’m going to miss you. You have been by my side every single day for the last 1400 odd days. We have rarely spent more than a few days apart, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that to change. You set the rhythm for my life and you are the music (literally, you belt out songs constantly with the worst off-key voice but the most fierce confidence; you, too, don’t know the lyrics to anything and you get that from me).

I wish I had written you letters like this sooner, crystallizing these details in my memory, but the last four years have been something wild. I’m only now regaining the mental clarity and sanity to be able to write to you. I promise to do it more. I hope my writing will speak for me someday when I don’t have the words. When understanding comes harder for us.

Today, when I got home from the doctor’s office to pick you up for school you were sitting on the front steps of our house wearing unicorn tights, jelly shoes, the pink star dress, a pink fur jacket, a sequin bow headband, and holding a unicorn wand. You had a key around your neck on a chain. You waved at me and beamed. I looked at you, waiting for me on the porch, and thought- has there ever been a more confident, innocent soul?

Marilyn, here’s to four amazing years together. I can’t wait to see how a little girl in a pink star dress and unicorn tights changes the world. I’ll get to say I knew her way back when.




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