Having my daughter was a major life change. I stopped writing a few years before her birth—life and responsibilities forced my focus onto other things. Once Callie was born, I decided it was time to write again and document my journey with her. I wanted to create a journal of sorts that she could read as an adult and see the experiences and lessons from my eyes.
I failed in my intention of writing regularly. But, I think it turned into a bit of a blessing to have five-year gaps between my letters. Each letter turned into a time capsule. Reading back shows how quickly kids grow up. Each time you blink your eyes, the journey has twisted and turned into directions and destinations no one could predict.
July 9, 2010 – 1 year old
We wrapped up our first year together last month. It’s been the best ride of my life. We have a new chapter in our lives beginning on Monday. I’ll be starting up a full-time job. You’ll be in daycare and it’s going to be a transition for the both of us.
As for what we’ve accomplished so far—you crawled at around 8 months. You started standing at around 9 months. You cruised on the furniture at 9 months, also.
Right before your first birthday you said your first word. While playing outside with a ball you repeated the word “ball” after me. You said it three times and haven’t said it since. But, since then you added “doggie,” “kitty” and “daddy” to your library of words. I’m still waiting to hear you utter “mommy” but that’s okay; I won’t hold it against you.
Just two days ago, you took your first step. We were at your grandmother’s and you kept going from the couch into my arms. Your grandmother screamed, “She’s taking her first steps!” I didn’t even realize it. I expected you to get up and walk across the room for your first steps. I told your grandma, “Oh, she’s been doing this for a few days now.” Whoops.
I am so relieved that you did this on my watch and not daycare’s. Though you have to go there soon, I was here for all of your beginning milestones. That is the greatest gift I could ever receive; being home for all of your firsts.
I’m sorry that I have to return to work. You are such a compelling reason to stay home, and you trump pretty much all of the reasons to work. But I have little choice. Life throws bills and responsibilities in your face and there’s no way to dodge them. I managed a year by stretching things, but it’s time.
I hope to keep writing you letters as we transition into new phases of our life together. You are easy-going, funny and delightful. Your smile creates a chain-reaction of happiness. Strangers swoon over you, so I know I’m not just being biased. Family squabbles occur over whose turn it is to play with you. I think Grammie broke a nail once trying to nab you from your dad. All the years ahead of us thrill me. I can only imagine where we’ll go from here.
January 18, 2015 – 6 years old
You’re now 5 ½ and I COMPLETELY forgot that I even wrote the first letter to you!
Where did the past 4 ½ years go since I last wrote?
You blossomed into the most beautiful little girl I could fashion in my dreams.
I did begin working again (as my last letter stated). You loved and thrived in daycare. There were times that you cried when I came to pick you up because you weren’t ready to leave. You and a girl named Emily stuck together. During the Christmas parties, you and Emily dodged around the linen-covered tables chasing each other in your little red and green dresses. I think you stuck with Emily because she was a fellow female. Most of your class consisted of boys. Maybe that explains how well you stand up for yourself.
During the time since I last wrote, we moved to a new (and bigger) house in an awesome Mt. Lebanon neighborhood. Dad and I slaved over updating the house and making it the best place possible to have you grow and thrive. We moved to one of the best school districts in the U.S. I’m doing everything in my power to equip you with the ability to land in your successful destination.
This year, you started kindergarten and lost your first two teeth. (Fun fact, the second tooth popped out in a donut when you visited me at work. Tears streamed down your red cheeks once you realized you swallowed the tooth. You drew a picture of the tooth in the toilet for us to put under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy. She must’ve found that note because you ended up with some money.)
Last month, we adopted two black kittens and you named them … Rose and Daisy. They’re playful, gentle and tolerant of a rambunctious 6-year-old who LLOOOVVVEESS cats (I don’t name any names). They slept with you their entire first night home.
Our bulletproof dog (as I call her), Cyan has been a constant this whole time. She was with us before you were born, and she’s still a major part of our family. I’m sorry to tell you, but I call Cyan my first-born child. Dad and I adopted Cy because we couldn’t get pregnant with you. So, we figured a dog qualified as a good trial run to parenting. Cyan kept Dad and me on the ball and didn’t disappoint. She even assured that we’d have the 3 a.m. wake-up calls under our belts.
At 1 ½ years old, you underwent surgery for tubes to be placed in your ears. The outpatient unit handed you a treasure map, taking you through the whole process up to surgery. The facility also boasted a huge playroom for those waiting for their surgeries. You poor thing … your anxiety crippled you to the point that the doctors tranquilized you while we waited. For years following the procedure, all I heard about was how you missed out on the treasure hunt and how you longed to see that playroom you never set foot in. I whipped out the, ‘too bad, so sad’ card on that one. I had no intention of returning to that playroom.
We celebrated your fifth birthday in Disney World. You cried when we entered our hotel room because the walls weren’t pink. The tropical themed room displayed palm trees and exotic birds papered to the walls. Apparently pink doesn’t naturally occur in the tropics. At least in Disney World.
Your OBSESSION with Disney Princesses, and Frozen specifically, rivals any other girl out there. You like Elsa better than Anna because she has the magical powers.
I’ve avoided reading my first letter to you, even five years later. I’m still torn over working and it’s a constant battle that rages in my heart … turmoil over being 100 percent present vs. keeping the house running. Just know that I have done everything in my power to make your life one you’ll fondly recall to your kiddos once you’re grown and established.
Now let’s see if I compose the next letter within the next five years!
February 23, 2020 – Eleven years old
You and dad are sitting in the dining room, poring over all of his college artwork. You’re cross-hatching a red strawberry as he shows you the books he studied in art school. Grampie passed this book down to dad.
I’m scurrying around the house, as usual, putting away laundry, making lunch for the work week, and writing you a quick letter. After hearing all this talk about art, I decided to look at my computer to see the last time I wrote anything creative. It’s been five years. I see a theme developing with the five-year thing. Maybe I’ll write again before you’re driving me around with a newly acquired license.
Dad and I pulled off the best Christmas surprise gift ever this past year! We adopted Neco … the craziest of our three cats. We took you to Animal Friends the day before Thanksgiving. We told you that your cousin’s dog needed babysat for the evening, to keep you clueless. The moment we pulled into the parking lot, your face lit with pure underrated excitement. An expression that could never be captured unless it were real. I‘ll never be able to live up to that gift again. Don’t expect a pony in the future.
I feel like the past five years blurred by … like an abstract smear on a canvas. Beautiful artwork with no defining edges. We’ve explored the outdoors. You’ve attended school and started basketball. We’ve generally fallen into a cliché routine of the average American family.
Don’t let time get away from you; it’s a bandit … a masked raccoon stealing your treasures in the middle of the night. These mundane moments are precious and fleeting. Occasional moments snap us out of the routine … the Variety Show practice … a clarinet concert … dad yelling at the PS4 because he wrecked his custom-made virtual car. Take those pinpoint moments and capture them in memory.
We’ve watched two different shows this week where the cast buried a time capsule; I think maybe it’s time to consider it. I wonder what you’d bury? Probably something cat-related. And probably something art-related. And something completely random because you’re a random person.
I’m hoping it won’t take years for me to write you again. I found your great-grandpa’s journals when we last visited Grandma. I found his entry the day I was born. I silently stared at his words and let the tears trickle down my cheeks. He died when I was 2 years old, and I don’t remember him. But, reading that entry on the yellowed paper with his precisely printed ink connected me to him in a way I didn’t know could happen with someone you can’t remember. Reading back on these things can give you priceless little nuggets. So, I’ll try better to give you more of these gems.
November 16, 2021 – 12 years old
I didn’t wait five years to write another letter! It’s only been just under two. This is a great accomplishment on my part! It’s crazy to look at the last letter compared to now. The time between the letters is the shortest, but the changes are the most drastic.
The last letter was written in February 2020. I just read it over … not ONE mention of COVID or Coronavirus or of any iteration of the virus. No mentions of lockdowns, masks, or vaccines. The letter reviewed our mundane daily life—creating art and my scurry to accomplish housework during the work week.
I noticed I wrote the letter in February, one month before everything hit. I mentioned the variety show. That sticks with me, since the school cancelled the show because of COVID. Somehow that one insignificant cancellation stopped time for me. It created a defining moment of the new normal.
Over that short span of time from then to now, we spent well over a year isolating from most everyone else. We learned to wear masks in public. You still wear one to school. Vaccines were eventually created, and we all got one. Three were available, and you, me, and dad each received a different one.
Dad found himself on furlough and I wound up setting up a permanent office up in the spare room. The three of us spent months at home full time. The funny thing is, I don’t remember it presenting as a challenge. The only challenging part consisted of me coming up with ideas on how to spend our free time.
We built space ships out of laundry baskets. We showered and dressed to the nines for a fancy dinner within the confines of our home—we cooked fettuccine Alfredo that night. We visited Andy Warhol’s grave … no better place to be isolated than in a graveyard. We took hikes, even in the winter.
We lost Cyan.
This part is more for me than you … we lost Cy … my co-pilot … my bulletproof dog. Her body gave out and it was her time. I expected some life-changing diagnosis to force us into the decision to put her down. Aging was the condition that forced our hands. She lost body functions. She labored in her breathing just to exist. Her dementia ravaged her from the inside out. I could see it working through her blank eyes like an invader.
The greatest gift we received was for us to be home during Cyan’s dying days. That bought us a couple of months with her while she wound down on this earth. We finally hired a service to let her go at our home. That was the second greatest gift. Someone came to the house, greeted us and Cy on the back porch, and chatted with us for a few. Cyan laid back down on her bed within minutes of the greeting. Then she was sedated and I’ll leave the story at that. The rest stays with each of us in different ways.
This is where you will perk up in the story. On June 5, your birthday, Nukka the insane Malamute was born. With Cy’s departure came in your sister. You guys are thick as thieves and true sisters. You complain about her, then hug her. You scream at her stealing your paintbrush, then run to snuggle. She gets in your face, and you push her away, only to invite her right back to steal a cracker straight from your mouth.
Nukka will be to you what Cyan was to me. This dog will become a beacon of stories. You’ll tell college roommates about Nukka stealing your pencils on her couch-diving adventures.
There is too much to write this time around. You have turned into your own true person over the past year.
Your drawings amaze me. Your love for history confounds me (as I hate history). Your thirst for science infects me with curiosity. The paintings you create of our critters warms my spirit. You are yourself and make no apologies. Please don’t lose that. Your tenacity (which you’ve had since being in the single digits) and your compassion for animals and art will take you where you need to go.
I’m watching you become your future self directly before my eyes. This forces a smile and a tear to simultaneously form on my face.
Please remember to be who you are. Stay who you are. Make no apologies for who you are.