the perfect ten

September 11, 2012 | 53 Comments

Emma with dark rim glasses and fake mustache

Dear Emma,

Holy bazookas you’re ten. I may seem to be handling it well, but it’s making my brain hurt. Why are growing kids so surreal? Maybe because they mark the passage of time like a brick to the face. Growing kids and movie release dates. After watching “Back to the Future” this summer and remembering it was made in 1985, I reflexively began researching retirement homes for your dad and I.

I’ve never written you a birthday letter, and I can’t guarantee I’ll ever do it again because, as you’ve discovered, I’m not the most organized or consistent of mothers. But I’m funny, right! I can fart on demand, do that thing with my nose, and impersonate Beaker, so it’s not like you lost out completely.

You’re going to discover things I’ve written about parenting. The majority focus on how overwhelmed I sometimes feel. I don’t want my writing have you believe I’m sorry you’re in my life. This isn’t the case, Em. I don’t always like parenting as much as a parent maybe should. I always like you, though; you’re my favourite.

When you were little your dad and I went to a church-planting bootcamp with other young couples who were candidates for baby churches. Over the weekend we participated in various getting-to-know-you activities. One was writing two truths and a lie on a piece of paper and taping it to the wall.

Everyone had to circulate and guess each author’s lie. “Parenting overwhelms me,” was one of my truths. The majority guessed it as my lie. I remember feeling profound disbelief followed by shame. I was certain every other parent in the room would latch on to my truth with head nods and chest-pounds in solidarity.

I spend unhealthy amounts of time consumed by the effort it takes to keep pace with high-functioning peeps. While the average person practices a little positive self-talk here and a some shrugging off there, I’m hiding under the table sucking my thumb because the wind blew the wrong way.

There are times it’s impossible to believe I possess anything worth offering beyond a fermenting junkyard swollen with anxiety. You know on airplanes how they ask parents in case of an emergency to put on their masks before their kids’? It’s as if my plane is always about to crash and I’m stuck in a time loop of putting on my mask, putting on my mask, putting on my mask. I wonder how to offer you goodness when your existence orbits a broken axis.

Best birthday letter everrrrr!

What I’m trying to say is I fight a lot of gross in my head. There’s a stupid troll on duty that doesn’t sleep. (She comments on YouTube while I sleep.) I’m looking into having her terminated, but there’s resistance and paperwork and I lost my pen.

But you, Emma: you make every healthy thought and habit and action worth the fight. You are hope and joy and love rolled into summer-bronzed skin and bouncy blonde hair. You remind me not everything has to be complicated and other things just are. You show how me to sit with Happiness and have delicious slow bites of gooey donuty goodness. You challenge me to focus on being me, worry less about appraisal, and say what I mean because I want this for you.

You teach me to celebrate people. Since toddling you greeted everyone like a moonstruck groupie with smiles, giggles and running hugs. Even when only minutes passed since your last encounter. My little goldfish, you are a party. People have always said that about you: Emma is a party! And it’s the truest.

You teach me not to vilify my tender heart. You feel the world as deeply as your mama, and I didn’t see beauty in that until you happened. We ride joy and sorrow full bodied. We get deep in the trenches of hurt and healing.

My angst with parenting is a result of how desperate I am to do this right, and the fear I won’t. When I look at you, there is no denying your wonder; it fills a room. All of the rooms. And every space in my heart. You help me believe I’m doing some things right. Maybe enough things.

I love you Emma. You’re the most beautiful part of my world. You lock light into place. You are the perfect ten.

Happy Birthday,


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