Sunday, December 7, 2014

On Your Fourth Birthday

Dear Hannah,

I don't even know how to start this particular letter. It seems impossible that we've spent 4 years with you, 48-months of non-stop parenting. Last night, as I was putting you to bed, you told me that you were so excited to be four years old, and you immediately followed it up with, "But I'm still little Mommy, don't worry." Oh, my heart!

I'm certain I say this every year on your birthday (and if not every day, then close to it,) but you are one funny kid. Truly, you're hilarious. Sometimes you mean it, sometimes you don't. But trust me, kiddo. You're a laugh-a-minute. Your comedic timing is nearly impeccable, and while I'm certain that it's unintentional 99% of the time, you still slay me with your one-liners and your running commentary about everything under the sun. (Literally. Now that the days are shorter, we have a conversation that starts with you asking me or your dad, "Hey, where's the sun?")

This has been a pretty incredible year for you. You started preschool. You traveled to Michigan and got to stay in a hotel and eat at restaurants, "like a big girl does!" You got your first haircut. You have learned to write your name, and you're learning to read. You're learning more and more how to play with other kids and be around bigger groups. You know all the things you "should" know at this age, and you're constantly soaking up more and more. Nothing gets past you. Eventually, you'll realize this is something that all parents say about their children, and it's probably true. Kids are sharp, and as a demographic, you don't get half the credit you deserve. But you, my dear. You miss nothing. You will ask me questions about people and places and things we haven't seen for months. You ask the tough questions.

"Mommy, how to airplanes work?"
"I dunno baby. Magic?"
"No, Mommy. How do they work?"
"Extra-special magic. Airplane magic."
"Ugh, fine. I'll just ask Daddy."

You keep me on my toes. You always want to know what's next, what's coming. You love your daily schedule and the calendar we keep with you. You also love your independence. You are an independent woman, and you'll be damned if someone will make you do something that you don't want to do. As trying as it is most days, I always remind myself that this trait is a blessing. It's true I always wanted a daughter, but I never wanted her to be passive. You are every bit the strong-willed, stubborn girl I wanted. Don't ever change. Would it be easier if you were more "agreeable" or yielding? Absolutely! But you wouldn't be you, my dear. You are stubborn and strong-willed and determined and every bit the challenge I'd hoped you would be. I never wanted to be complacent as your mom (or as anyone's mom,) and you do your best to make sure that never happens.

I never quite know how to describe you to people. At this stage, you're pretty "girly." Your favorite colors are, "pink and purple and lellow and green and....well, actually, I like ALL the colors!" You would rather wear a dress over pants any day, and your color of choice is pink. All that aside, you still love to get dirty. You prefer when your hair isn't combed or pulled back, and there is literally nothing you won't climb. You're happiest outdoors with Daddy, and when you're reading a book. I think if I dumped you in a princess dress, barefoot, in the middle of the woods on a rainy day, you wouldn't mind a bit. That is exactly the type of environment where you'd thrive.

You and your dad. Daddy and Hannah. You are exactly the pair I envisioned long before you were even born. You feed off of one another and you get sillier and sillier. I can usually find the two of you in the backyard digging up something, planting something, or in the middle of an impromptu session of Nature 101. I'm so glad you have a dad who is not only willing, but eager to teach you all about the outdoors. Because of him, you aren't afraid of animals or insects or anything I hate. You have so much power in such tiny little fingers; you can convince your daddy to do anything or take you anywhere. It's not always that you're foxy, more that you're having so much fun together, you can't stop. I think that's why you have such a tough reaction to any sort of discipline from your dad. I think you expect it from me--you know I'll make good on my promises to pull your privileges or put you in time outs--but I think from your dad, it hurts more. You know you've pushed when Daddy is the one putting you in time out and not me. But really, after a few minutes, you're the best of friends again. The two of you make my heart so happy.

Of all the traits that make you who you are, the most surprising to me is how much you love art. You LOVE to create and paint and draw and color. Those aren't traits or skills that either of your parents have, and truthfully, painting bores me. But you? Oh, you love it. When you get to go to "the studio" at school or when we bust out the finger paints on a rainy day, you are at your happiest.

Music is another one of your great loves these days. I swear, you can hear a song once, maybe twice, and you've got it down. Hilariously, your artists of choice are very Top 40: Maroon 5, Katy Perry, Charli know it all. I know it bothers you, but do you know how hard it is not to laugh when you howl with Adam Levine during "Animal" or when you ask for "the boom and clap" song for the fifth time any given morning? I don't care if it's all bubblegum and nonsense, they're you're favorite songs, and no matter where I'm at any time or any day, I think I'll always smile when I hear "your songs" come on the radio. (You still have like, 10 Beatles songs committed to memory, so you're doing okay there. Hilariously, you knew very few nursery rhymes when you started preschool.)

Your imagination never stops, and I love the crazy things you come up with. One minute you're "building a hiding place" with Sofia the First and whatever stuffed animal (your "pets," as you call them) is your second favorite at the moment. The next, you're deep-sea diving or climbing a mountain or huddled under a blanket reading a book. I get so blown away by you sometimes that I forget to join in the fun with you.

You have always been such an active little girl. I don't know that I recall a time where you didn't love moving around and jumping and spinning. My little sense seeker. Even when you're asleep, I feel like some part of you is moving or wiggling. You love to dance and spin and go on adventures--and everyday with you is an adventure! There's nothing you won't try at least once, and if it gives you the chance to jump and get some of that much-needed sensory input, then everyone better stand back! Hannah Grace is ready to have fun! It's one of my favorite things about you.

This past year, we got a diagnosis for you that I'd always suspected. Something in me just knew, long before we knew your name. The thing is, I don't even care. It's part of you, it's who you are. Before you were born, and when you were a tiny baby, it was one of my greatest fears. Before we knew definitively, there were days when I worried how we'd get through it all or what our next steps would be. Would you truly be okay? What if we couldn't give you what you needed? Once we heard officially, I'd made my peace with it, and my primary concern was you. Hannah, I want you to be the best version of you. No matter what it takes or how long it takes, I want you to be the best possible version of you. It's a marathon, not a sprint, but we're getting there, baby. Everyday, we're getting there.

Sometimes you get overwhelmed or scared. Sometimes you don't know what to do, and you insist that you can't do it. Here's the thing: you can do anything you want, and you will. Like I tell you almost everyday, you can do hard things. You WILL do hard things.

I don't want to say what the dx is right now because frankly, it isn't important. We will cross that bridge eventually. But here is what I want you to know:

Your diagnosis does not define you.
You are not your diagnosis.
I will always be on Team Hannah, and I will be your strongest defender.

What defines you is your sense of humor, your impish smile, your full-body belly laugh, your love of reading. You are defined by what you bring to this world, and you have brought so much joy to so many people. You are defined by what you do and share, not by any diagnosis on a chart or in a folder.

You are a smart, happy, curious human being. You are important, not just to me and your dad, but you are important and you have a role to play in this world. You refuse to settle for less than your best. You are active and sharp. You are funny. You are a constant truth-teller, and if there's one thing you literally can't do, it's lie. You are Hannah, and you are not your diagnosis.

You are NOT broken. You are not weird. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with you. I know I will spend a lifetime saying this, but you have to trust me here. Everything about you, every little quirk and smile, every giggle and puzzle piece, you are the summation. If anything about you were different, you wouldn't be our Hannah.

There will be days that are hard. You've already had some bad days, and they broke my heart only because I was angry that people couldn't see you. There will be people who only see your diagnosis, people who have their own definition for it. There will be people who see a problem to be fixed, people who will make assumptions about you based on your diagnosis alone. Those people won't see the bright, silly girl you are. They won't see how smart and curious you are. They won't see how much you love to read and dance. They won't see you and they won't see all the wonderful things that make up Hannah. And baby? Those people suck. Trust me on this one; you don't want to be around them anyway.

I can't promise you everyday will be easy. I can't promise you that every child will want to be your friend. The day someone rejects you outright and you realize how much it hurts is still in the future, but I'm already steeling myself against it. The thing is, you're a pretty resilient person, so while I tell myself that I'm preparing for you to be upset and devastated, it's entirely possible you will be comforting me.

I can promise you that everyday (yes, even the bad days where I threaten to leave you at the zoo or sell you down the river,) every single day, I will be on your side. I can't live your life for you, and I don't want to--you'd miss out on so much! But I will be there every step of the way until you're ready to fly. I promise that together--you, me, and Daddy--we will keep working on Hannah. I promise that I will never try to "fix" you, only that we will teach you the skills you need. I promise that if anyone in our lives tries to put you down or insinuate in any way that you are "less than," I will Shut.It.Down.

I can't wait to see what the next year will bring you. You've already had so many adventures! How will you grow? How will you change? How much fun are we going to have together? I don't know the answer to any of those questions right now, but I know that we will have so much fun finding out together. I love you, baby. Daddy loves you. You are loved so, so much.

Happy Birthday, Presh.