Nothing like an almost three-month belated birthday letter. But I finally finished Isabelle’s fourth letter. And she can’t read yet, so she won’t know it’s so late!


Happy birthday, my darling girl!

Wow, you are four! I’m going to start this letter with a story from your fourth year, mostly because it is funny and I always want to remember it, but also because it captures this moment in time in your life.

One Friday afternoon this January, your dad was driving you and Zach home from daycare and told you that we wouldn’t have work or school on Monday because it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This announcement set off a string of questions:

“What is Martin Luther King Day?” you asked.

“It’s a special day where we celebrate a man who was very important,” your dad said.

“Why is he important?”

Your dad paused for a moment, trying to think of a way to explain his significance in a way you would understand. He finally said, “He believed that all people, no matter what they look like or how they are different, should be treated the same and with kindness.”

You got quiet for a while, pondering this, and then finally asked, very seriously, “Can we pet him?”

I laughed and laughed when your dad told me this story later that night. I actually could picture you very sweetly patting Martin Luther King Jr.’s head. He would have loved you.

You frequently say things like this that make me realize there are entire worlds working away in your little mind. It’s fascinating, watching this shift from toddler to little girl. While you are still often controlled by your primal feelings – hunger, fatigue, overstimulation, an overwhelming desire for whatever crappy toy your brother is holding – it’s clear you are evolving, trying to figure the world out, and working so hard to be a big kid.

Sometimes, I catch you in a moment of concentration as you bend over a puzzle, an expression on your face that gives me a glimpse of what you will look like as a teenager. You love art, and you’ve started drawing actually recognizable figures – people with stick arms and legs and these awesome crazy spiral eyes. You invent elaborate games and “take care” of Zach. One day, you sidled up next to me in the kitchen like a co-conspirator, whispering, “He’s being really good for me today.”

While you are truly one of the most amazing people I have ever known, I don’t want to totally sugarcoat this letter. Sometimes, you push us to the brink, sweet girl. You are opinionated, headstrong, and so, so stubborn. Your fourth year was marked by periodic epic temper tantrums. Sometimes well-meaning people say, “Oh, just ignore it” while you’re in the midst of a meltdown, or “wait it out.” They don’t know that you have stamina to spare, and you will not give in. I don’t know how many minutes (hours) I spent over the last year, standing with my back against your door, while you were in time-out inside your room.

We knew pretty much from day one that you might not be our “easy one,” but you have this amazingly rich personality that makes the challenges more than worth it. I know your will and spirit will serve you well in life. As I near my 40th birthday, I am suddenly more aware of time, that our days here aren’t infinite. Somehow I know that you won’t waste yours. Even at four, you have this strong internal compass that points you where you want to go, with passion and purpose. I hope you will always follow it, even when it goes against the grain.

A little more about you at four:

You love to give “tight squeezes.” You were never much of a snuggler as a baby, but now you enjoy it, and I will eat it up as long as I can.

You like to put music on and dance around the living room.

You love to read books, to color and draw.

You love to bake and make pancakes with me. Favorite foods include cantaloupe, honeydew, “special treats” (i.e. fruit snacks, cookies, popsicles), cheese (so much cheese), yogurt, and milk. Good thing you’re into dairy, because you still rarely eat meat, so at least I know you’re getting some protein.

You adore the movies Tangled and Moana.

You are still very attached to Hugo, your stuffed giraffe. Every night at bedtime, I sing you four songs – Raindrops on Roses, Jingle Bells, Tomorrow, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. You don’t like it when I try to deviate from this repertoire.

You love to do anything outside – blowing bubbles, hiking, going on picnics. Most of all, you love running. When you were three and a half, we entered you into a kids’ fun run, and you ran an entire mile, holding my hand. When we go for family hikes or walks on the C&O Canal trail, you like to run as much of it as you can, your blond hair swinging, your expression determined and happy.

You love your brother, often calling him “bud,” in a very endearing, big-sisterly-way. I love nothing more than glimpsing a special moment between the two of you – sometimes he’ll lay against you as you watch a movie on the couch, or you’ll teach him how to build a puzzle with a patience that belies your four years. You fight like crazy sometimes, but you can’t stand to be apart. I am so happy that you have each other.

You are so beautiful that I sometimes catch my breath when I look at you. I tell you all the time how strong you are, how smart, how brave, how kind. I am mindful even this early in your life that I want you to define yourself in these terms, not by your beauty. But still, I call you “my beautiful girl” nearly daily. Your beauty – inside and out – awes me. I am so grateful to guide you and bear witness as you discover your life. I know it will be amazing.

I love you, always, always.

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