My triennial birthday letter to my daughter.
My dear Julia,
Somewhere along the way I determined that I ought to write letters to you guys every few years on your birthdays, and just this week I was trying to figure out if this was your year.
It couldn’t be, I thought, because surely it wasn’t that long ago that I’d sat down to write a note to you. But I was wrong.
It’s very much possible that this is the last letter that I write to you that’s an open letter–one that I publish on my silly little online journal–in part because, only recently, you’ve seemed to understand that there’s a world wide web that sees so many of the things we capture with our little metal and glass phones and upload through the thin air. It caught me by surprise when I snapped a picture of you, a fun one, I thought, and you looked at it and told me not to put it on Facebook.
I put it on Instagram instead.
But the lesson here, I guess, is that with every passing year you are claiming more and more ownership over the bright spirit that encompasses your name. We live in a weird world in which we now progressively suggest that children ought not be made to hug people they don’t want to hug. It’s only right, perhaps, that we check with our children before we advertise their images on social media.
For what purpose, or to whose benefit, of course, is clear: it’s for our own pathetic societal gratification, a means of saying look at me, the lucky father. So you’re right, absolutely right and justified, in asking me not to post a picture of yourself that you don’t like.
Moving on: you know more Spanish words than I probably ever knew in German; you are mowing down introductory piano books in merciless fashion as you begin to understand and master basic music theory; your sense of humor is maturing and developing in dimension, to the point that the other day you made a joke inadvertently, thought about it, and then laughed at your own cleverness.
How my heart melts when you laugh.
Jules, I worry I don’t spend enough time with you, or that I don’t spend the right kind of time with you. The addition of your brother and sister has forced me to compromise upon the little promises I whispered when you first came along–the mistake of any parent of a first child who fathers more–and I find myself often wondering if you know that.
If you do, you’ve forgiven me. You remain generous with your endearing affection, quick to hug, ready with your brightness. You are one of those children whose mission it is to look for the upside of things, an optimist. I don’t know how to impart that, but somehow you’ve picked up on it anyway.
I am remiss not to remind you that you are the leader of our brood, teaching us as you grow and learn, showing the way. The only reason we’re so calm with Annie is that we’ve been there before–twice–by the time she shows up. With you, it’s still new. It occurs to me that I watch you more than I lead you.
I watch you in the mornings with your backpack, climbing into the van with an air of maturity and duty, as if you’re going to work, too. And this is only Kindergarten.
This is only six years old. I cannot fathom how you’re suddenly a third of the way to adulthood. It is embarrassing to be such a stereotypical parent. Time is cruel in that way.
Pity your father, then, for being so overwhelmed by how fast you’re growing up that he cannot help but blabber on and on about himself in a letter to you on your birthday. And know that all the while I admire you in a way I cannot begin to measure.
Happy birthday, you beautiful, four-pound wonder.