my mother’s birthday
surrounded by flowers, kids,
laughter in all forms
a birthday ski day
followed by badminton, cake
and these perfect blooms
There is no way to prepare for this moment. It is on the calendar from the day you are born, as if we needed a reminder: Isabella’s Birthday. Alerts appear across our screens for the week, the day before, as if we had an appointment to fulfill and not an eighteenth birthday to celebrate.
The day arrives under clouds unusual for Denver, a sticky fog that walks the dog with me in an otherwise sunny city. It’s a cold, snowless, winter day.
Winter is your season, and my season, of motherhood, with your joyous arrival to and imminent departure from our home. Winter, filled with your favorite sports: ice skating, skiing, and snowboarding. My Colorado girl through and through.
There is no way to prepare for this moment. The government calls you an adult. You’re going to college soon, so far away. Yet I can still feel you inside of me, in my womb, reluctant to emerge into this season that surrounds us. I can still feel your fat cheeks, your warm skin, you nursing me, you cuddling with books on the couch, your chattery voice that began when you were a baby and carried you through all the years of love and pain.
Every moment of your life, I have loved you. Even those dark moments of anger, of bitterness and sorrow, even when I’ve said things I regret saying and when you’ve said things I hate to hear you say. The love is deeper than this snow, this sand, this world that buries you.
Today you turn eighteen. Today my motherhood turns eighteen, and what a motherhood you have given me. Filled with adventure, with that shiny, green-eyed smile, with sass and sweetness in a perfect concoction of passion.
You are my oldest, the leader of three girls. The oldest grandchild for my parents, the leader of five girls. And with this title comes great joy and great responsibility. Everyone watches to see what you will do, and you can feel the pressure. Everyone watches to see what you will do, and you can feel the hope.
I hope you will always feel the hope.
I hope you carry it with you whether you are navigating a stream, snowboarding down a mountain, taking a test, finding a spouse, raising a child. Carry that hope, that weight, that blessing of being the oldest with you wherever you go.
Because I know you. I have known you since your first moments, moments filled with joy and strength and love. Moments where I carried you everywhere, in my arms, on my back, across the country, across the world. And you took them in, these moments of awe and enthusiasm, giving us all that coy smile, that wondrous look, that candid examination of your world.
There is no way to prepare for this moment. This moment where you will emerge into the adult human you are bound to be, and I can no longer carry you.
I can no longer drag you on the sled; you have learned to ice-skate on your own. I can no longer put you on my shoulders; you have learned to hike, begrudgingly or not, to the top of every mountain I’ve made you climb. I can no longer push you on the bicycle or teach you how to drive; you have to take the handlebars of this life and steer your way into your future.
And what a future you have before you, my child. A girl whose obsession with dresses lasted until the moment we moved to Spain, my fashionista from day one, who’s always had a better sense of style than I’ve ever known. A girl with big dreams for a star-filled world of aerospace engineering, of flying a rocket ship into the galaxy you’ve been reading about in fantasy books since you were a kid. A girl who isn’t afraid to test the waters of a new country, a new language, a new school, a new neighborhood, a new sport, a new foster brother … a whole new life.
My girl, now a woman, turns eighteen in this moment. This moment trapped in time, in history, your late adolescence plagued by a pandemic whose sorrow has engulfed you top to bottom, whose dark hours steal your joy, whose grip clings to your happy memories and tears at your confidence.
Yet here you are, as beautiful as ever, standing in our kitchen. Grinning with our family. Finding a way to make your senior year work.
Take this moment, Izzy–this day, this year, this family, this love, this hope–with you wherever you go.
This moment and every moment since you entered the world eighteen years ago, I have loved you, and I will love you for every moment that we continue to share this world together, no matter how many miles apart we may be.
Take this moment, Izzy, and be the person you have always wanted to be. The person you have always been, the star in our sky, the oldest of three girls, the leader of the pack. Take this moment and cherish it as much I have always cherished you.
Happy, happy birthday, my oldest baby girl.
and the wheels still spin
and we try and wish and blow
and hope for a change
ice-cold Tuesday night
(ice skating on a weeknight?)
icing on the cake
we must stay outside
we must wear masks, be cautious
we must learn to live
all out of the house?
all the teens out together?
all the miracles
the boy taught himself
the boy had never skated
my boy taught himself
a personal gift
from her aunt, for Sweet Sixteen
ripped open, stolen
how dark can it get?
two Honduran hurricanes,
pandemic, no school?
and now birthday gifts
being stolen from our porch
while we sit like sheep?
found in the curious eyes
of a young child
now masked by sorrow
even with her birthday gift
her eyes say it all
the day starts with tests
to secure her friends’ safety
in this COVID year
negative is good
whoever thought it’d be good
to be negative?
and so, she smiles
and we blow up the balloons
(losing one to wind)
and the four friends come
and she’s happy for just a day
of this lonely life
On Monday she starts high school in the middle of a pandemic, and can I say how scared I am that she turned fourteen today? Not because of remote learning where she’ll miss out on all the things she loves the most–the feel of clay spinning on a wheel, chatting with friends at lunch, swirling her beautiful dress at the Homecoming dance–but because I’m afraid she’ll lose her sweet self to adolescent angst and hate me, and all of my words and questions and worries, as bitterly as her two older sisters seem to on any given day.
I can’t ask, “How was your class?” without it seeming like an intrusion. If one is crying, I am not allowed to know why. If one is angry, I must leave the door close or there could be an outburst. If one is happy, it’s not because of something nice I did or something funny I said–it’s something I couldn’t possibly understand, some teenage colloquialism or TikTok phenomenon.
And my baby is sweet, kind, and generous. She has her faults, as everyone does, and probably doesn’t get the attention I need to give her, and her studies have suffered because of this. But the thought of her entering high school terrifies me because parenting is so hard on a good day and so horrible on a bad day, and how many good days do I have left with four teens in the house?
It becomes a daily mental battle: what did I do wrong this time? What could I/should I have done? Why didn’t I…?
And I just want that sweet face. That eternal gratitude. That picture-perfect family that is really anything but. I want her wishes to come true because I helped her, not because she had to figure everything out on her own.
I want to feel safe, not scared. Because if I lose her sweet love, what love is left?
a family birthday
every year is a blessing
that we’re on this Earth