Today is your birthday (HOORRAAAAAAAYYYY!!!! I love you, I love you, I love you!), and while I promised not to divulge your age over the internet, it turns out I can't help myself. Today, the 9th of October, marks the 357th year of your birth. I'm so proud. I love you more than I can possibly express, which normally is just a turn of phrase, but here, I actually mean it. Would you believe that I, your perpetually verbal oldest daughter, would be at a loss for words? Believe it. I want so badly for this letter to be absolutely perfect, that for the first time in my 30 years on this planet, I've been facing down a terrific case of writer's block while trying to explain to absolute perfection why, exactly, I love you so much. Honestly, I've done about 6 or 7 drafts of this letter, all of which have ended up in the trash can. I tried funny, but sounded too cavalier, I tried serious, and sounded corny. I tried sentimental, and considered suicide by papercut when I read the results. And it's not for a lack of reasons, or a dearth of conviction; rather, I think it stems from an overabundance of both. So I've given up talking about the multitude of ways that I love you. Instead I'm going to tell you about a time when you and I had one of the most important conversations of my life.
So, my Captain Mommypants, remember back when I was a hellraiser? Hey, why are you laughing. I was too a hellraiser! Granted, I was 5, and it didn't last too long, but I was. I was a serious hellraiser. I don't know if you remember this far back, being as old as you are now, but back in my first year of school, I was a terminally bored kindergartener. You'd already taught me to read at home, and here we were learning about Mr. M and Mrs. Q? Come on, teacher lady, are you serious? So I agitated the other students to ignore the super-boring reading lesson, and instead to hold hands and sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" repeatedly. See, told you I was a hellraiser. I was such a hellraiser that I ignored the teacher through not one, not two, but THREE warnings to cease and desist, and I ended up with my name on the board, which was pretty much the worst thing that had ever happened to me. It's hard to imagine now how humiliating it was to have my name up on the board all day, just announcing to the world, to anybody who happened to wander in, like for example the school nurse who stopped by, that I was a BAD GIRL. I have very few memories as clear as this one instance of abject dejection and sheer panic at what you would say when I told you what had happened.
I've never talked with you about this memory, now that I think of it, which is sort of surprising, because the things I said and the things you said and did in response have stayed with me all my life, and have had a tremendous influence on me as I became the person I am today. That afternoon I could hardly breathe for being so nervous about seeing you and talking to you and telling you what I'd done. I was terrified that you would be angry with me, and that I just couldn't bear. So when you asked me what had happened at school that day, I began to sob, and I made up the most amazingly stupid whopper of a lie I've ever heard of. Only to a 5 year old would this sort of logic begin to make sense. You see, I explained, there are two girls in my kindergarten named Cheasty. And really, I hiccuped, it was the other Cheasty that was singing "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat," but the teacher got confused and instead she put my name up on the board, not the other Cheasty's. I mean, honestly. Why you didn't subtract 50 points from my IQ right at that moment, I'll never know, but that's not the point of this story.
This is the point of the story. As I looked up at you through my tears, I saw on your face that you knew I was lying, and that you were disappointed in me. Not for the misbehaving part, but for making up such a wildly outlandish story to get myself out of trouble. You sat down on that little bench by the kitchen, and took my hand and asked me if I was telling you the truth. Once again, I lied, swearing that it was the truth, that it wasn't me. What you did next I have remembered all my life. Knowing I'd misbehaved, and worse, knowing I'd lied to you about it, you chose to believe me. I still have no idea how you knew what to do. Me, I probably would've given the kid a good scolding, or drop-kicked her to left field, but somehow you knew that yelling at me would've sent me into a catatonic state. So instead you picked me up and cuddled me on your lap. You wiped my eyes, kissed my forehead, and told me that you loved me. And I sat there, feeling a little stunned and a lot guilty. You knew I was lying through my teeth, and you loved me anyway?
That was probably the most formative moment of my life, you know that? Sitting there on your lap, I realized for the first time the tremendous responsibility and obligation that unconditional love and trust entails. Over the years I have remembered this story many times as I've struggled to be a good person and to make good choices in my life, with greater and lesser degrees of success. You've always asked me (all of us children, actually) to do my best in everything, and assured me that whatever my best was, it was good enough. Through the years your unswerving belief in my goodness, your faith that I will not do bad things, and your unconditional love for me even when I fall short of the glory have been constant reminders that, having been given this precious gift of love and trust, I had best work hard to deserve it.
Thanks, Mom, and happy birthday. I love you so much.
Your biggest fan and number one daughter,
P.S. I'm sending you the most beautiful flower I could find. I'm sorry I'm not there to hug you in person, but it was wonderful to hear your voice on the phone this morning. Enjoy your birthday, and know that I'm hugging you fiercely from afar.