Tomorrow you are seventeen. How is that even possible? When I close my eyes and conjure your image, it’s baby-you I see. From the coppery-red whisps of hair (proof positive my Irish blood runs in your veins) to your cupid’s bow of a mouth, to the perfectly formed arches of your tiny feet — where I bestowed a lifetime of kisses long before the candle on your first birthday cake sputtered out.
As my last born – my final “baby” – I’ve cherished each milestone. Cheering with you in good times, and wrapping myself around you (a cocoon as soft as whisper & gentle as a kiss) when you’ve felt the sting of rejection or loss. You’ve learned the hard way that life isn’t always fair, nor is it kind. But you’ve also witnessed first hand the grace of strangers and felt the genuine warmth of lasting love & friendship.
You’ve ridden a camel in the shadow of the great pyramids and felt the gentle rocking of the ocean beneath you when, on a chilly July night in New Zealand, you gazed in wide-eyed wonder at the twinkling Southern Cross. And you are better for it, and all the other amazing things you’ve experienced in your seventeen years on this earth.
But with great privilege comes great responsibility. Make the world a better place, sweet girl. Don’t just say “please,” “thank you” or “I’m sorry,” but mean it… even especially when it’s hard. Do good for the sake of doing good, with no expectation of reward or recognition. Give a little of your time and money to those who ask – be it NPR or PP or the ACLU or PETA (so many acronyms) or the guy holding a sign on a street corner (regardless of whether you find his hard luck story credible or not). Lead by example, and speak up when those around you grow silent.
Forgive easily and love fiercely. Know that you are wise beyond your years (an old soul) and be patient when waiting for others to catch up to you. Understand that your lists and five-year plans and blueprints are just one possibility in an infinite loop of possibilities. As a wise man (also born on your birthday) once said: life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.
Sometimes, like Atlas, you are a mighty Titan bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders. Give yourself a break every once in a while. Be careful not to take on too much and delegate too little. Let others help — it’s as good for them as it is for you. Let ME help. It’s kind of my job, after all, and I’m pretty good at it if I do say so myself. Let your father and sister help, too. Know that you don’t need to be perfect all the time; flaws are part of what makes us wonderful and unique… and human.
So happy birthday, my stubborn, funny, whip-smart, beautiful baby girl. As I type this you’re three doors down sleeping peacefully in your room. But in my heart of hearts, I’m cradling you in my arms, smelling your sweet newborn head, and leaving butterfly kisses on the tiny arches of your perfectly formed feet.