I have a confession to make. I didn’t want to have a girl.
We kept your gender a surprise throughout the pregnancy, but I was so sure you were a boy. We already had three boys, I knew how to handle boys, and everyone knows boys are easier.
But on a hot summer morning in late July, out you came; a pink baby girl.
I prepared myself for all the things people said were hard about girls, the whining and the tantrums and the emotional landmines. The battles over dresses and headbands and the right kinds of tights.
But so far, we haven’t really had any of that stuff.
I mean, yes, maybe you’ve had a few meltdowns over nothing and you cry a little more easily than your four brothers, but for the most part you are a very easy, pleasant girl. Quiet. A little on the serious side, but slow to anger and quick to smile.
But you’re still hard for me.
The hard part is that in some ways, the world is bossy when it comes to girls. The world wants to tell girls they should look less like this and more like that and eat this and not that and wear these but never those.
In some ways, the world is in charge of our daughters.
When you were in kindergarten, you came home one day and said you needed a new winter coat because a girl at school had told you your purple one was a “chubby coat” and it made you look puffy.
Looking in your teary eyes, I very nearly cried myself.
I was frantic. I had no idea what to do. Should I run out and buy a new coat? Something sleeker, trimmer, maybe a pink one? Should I call the teacher, the principal, the other girl’s mother?
See, you are like the most perfect cake with delicate pink frosting. I worry the wrong comment or remark might cut into you like a knife, collapsing the whole sweet confection until you’re nothing but crumbs of self-doubt and insecurity and fear.
The idea of you feeling bad about herself—feeling for one teeny second like you are too much or too little or too tall or too puffy or too anything–makes the room stand still. And so I step gingerly, lightly around subjects like weight and appearance, diet and exercise.
It’s so easy to reach for the typical words we use to describe girls; beautiful, pretty, nice, cute. And I use them a lot for you. But sometimes they have a hollow ring to them, like I’m recycling the same time-worn phrase over and over.
One of the teachers from school once told me that as a mother with a daughter, I have to do more than just stop complaining about my own appearance. I have to make an effort to appreciate myself, to say things like, “Doesn’t my hair look nice today?” and “This skirt fits me well.”
This is very hard. It is hard for me to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and look at my reflection and try to come up with something nice to say. But then I look down and see a small blonde girl hovering at my elbow, absorbing every move I make with wide eyes and open ears. So I take a deep breath and say, “I like my new haircut!”
In that moment, I know that only I can turn off the world’s white noise and give you a voice of your own, one that says I am strong I am good I am everything I need to be.
I am enough.
Sometimes people wonder what it’s like for the rest of you to grow up with Jack, to have a brother with autism who is rigid and bossy and makes you watch Dumbo a hundred million times. They ask me if you are worried or scared or confused.
The truth is I don’t know how you feel about Jack and his autism. I’ve never asked you.
But I do know you are the only one who calls him Jackie.
I know that every single day after school last year, you waited until your older brother boarded the big yellow bus and then you walked over to his aide and asked, “Did he have a good day today? If he gets upset, you can come get me. Because I know how to help him.”
I know one day we were making lunch together in the kitchen and you said quietly, “Mom. No one sits with Jack on the bus. I am sad he has no friends.”
I didn’t say anything, I just kept my head down and my eyes trained on the green apple I was peeling.
“I wish I was in fourth grade so I could sit in the back with him.”
I don’t need to ask. I know you are worried and scared and confused. I know your sweet heart aches for him.
But I know you love him. I know you are one of the few people who can add a soft touch to his rigid world and reach his complicated heart.
You know what? I worried about you and that stupid puffy coat all through kindergarten. But I never did buy a new one. The next morning after breakfast you got up from your chair, took it off the hook, and put it on. And just before you walked out the door Jack said, “Zip it tight. It is cold.”
Rose, today is your birthday. You are seven.
Your favorite food is steak and your cheeks turn pink when you jump rope. You get carsick on long rides and you are missing your top two teeth and you just started wearing glasses. You adore your Daddy.
Today, and every day, you are strong and good and fast and sweet and beautiful and nice and special and smart.
You are enough.
Slowly, your voice is growing, building, blossoming, and when you speak I hear your strength and compassion, tenderness and love.
Especially the time you called out softly, “Jackie, sit here. Sit next to me.”
Happy birthday, my sweet girl.