Day 11: I am Thankful for Flora

Of course.

Dear Flora,

My sweet, sensitive, scatter-brained darling. You are 9 years old.

As always, I am so very proud of you for all the things you do well. You are an easy-going child. Even when you plunge into sadness or frustration, we find ways to figure it out. You have much in the way of a dramatic personality, but I see you learning to control your emotions. Good meals and sleep help a ton! So does talking one-on-one with me, and time one-on-one with Daddy. As our oldest, I see you trying to recapture the quiet of those first two years!

You love to learn, and some days you hate to go to school. You are endlessly curious — I think I have been writing some variation of this sentence since you first learned to speak — but you don’t like all the social aspects of school.

When interpersonal relationships are rocky, you’d rather stay home all day and read and watch television, and you don’t understand why you can’t. At the same time, your teacher says you participate eagerly in class, and that you are a good friend to your peers. So despite your dragging feet and puppy-dog eyes, I’m going to keep making you go to school.

You are quiet. You like to read. You like to be alone. You are SO my daughter.

You are nice to people, and you want people to be nice to you. You follow the golden rule, and you go along to get along, and you get so frustrated, and probably a little angry, when sometimes people don’t treat you the way you want to be treated. All I can say about that is hold onto that anger a little bit. It will help you to be assertive as you get older.

Kate gets under your skin, but you tolerate her most of the time. You clearly adore being M’s older sister. You are a mini-mother to both of them.

You eat well, and fight bedtime. You lose your temper when things don’t go your way, and then move on to the next thing. You like to make people laugh.

I think you like soccer, and you definitely like running around with your teammates, but you sometimes get discouraged about actually playing. That’s okay. You’ll get better.

You like that you play violin, but you’d rather not practice too often. You’re definitely getting better, however.

Your passion right now is birds. You love spotting birds, telling me what kind they are, reading facts, asking questions, and learning more about them. We’ve recently seen a yellow-bellied sap sucker, a tufted titmouse, and a heron, and you have been nearly beside yourself with excitement at each new sighting. We have bird feeders, bird books, and bird apps on our phones for you. Next you want a sketch pad and colored pencils so you can draw all the birds. The National Aviary is your favorite place in Pittsburgh.

Last night, as you and I set off for 7 p.m. Mass, I realized that nine years ago at that time I was checking into the hospital to have you. That the next day, I would hold a tiny creature that would change my life forever.

And I realized I wouldn’t have it any other way. I burst with love for you, my dearest older daughter. I can’t believe you are getting to be such a big girl, sometimes mature, and sometimes silly, and sometimes a drama queen, and sometimes so quiet that I don’t notice you (this usually when you’ve snuck downstairs to be with your father as he watches television).

I hope to God, I pray to God to be a good mom to you. I would protect you from every hurt and confrontation if I could, I *would* keep you home so you didn’t have to navigate the rocky terrain of interpersonal relationships. If I could. If I didn’t think that teaching you navigation was far more important than never, ever letting you get hurt or frustrated. As long as I don’t hurt you — I’m bound to frustrate you, that’s a given — I think I will have done what I set out to do as a parent.

I hope when I’m not being too frustrating, that you know my love for you knows no bounds. That even though I have to send you off to do hard stuff, you can always find safety in me.

I love you, my Flora-bean. Happy 9th birthday,