Last week my oldest child, my only daughter, my Doodlebug, turned nine.

The event was met by the usual sugary celebrations, giggling girls and adorable handmade cards. We pulled out the red You Are Special Today plate and reminisced about all eight birthday parties that came before. Then we stretched the bedtime rules so I could tell her the long version of where I was and how I felt the moment she came into the world and made me a mother.

And it was almost exactly how we spend every birthday around here. In the best sense of the word: routine.

Yet, there are significant changes brewing. With the dawn of this last single-digit birthday, I am seeing glimpses of a fresh, uncharted era.

My daughter, she is growing up. She is proudly developing skills and talents to call her own. She is building trusted and loving friendships. She is becoming a delightful conversationalist and confidante.

She is also mastering the eye-roll, testing boundaries, and nit-picking my every statement like an over-eager law student. There are moments when she makes it easy to believe she will become a teenager in only a matter of years.

Though she saves her most brazen attitudes for home, my daughter is learning to speak her truths outside the nest. One day she mentioned talk of Popular Girls at school—that cringe-worthy phrase that I knew would come up eventually—but she matter-of-factly explained that she had no interest in chasing that label. She was a Smart Girl, she told me, and quite happy to stay that way.

Last week, as 8 years turned to 9, she started embellishing her signature with Amazing preceding her name. So now anyone who reads her letters, nametags, notebooks or artwork will know how amazing she is. See, there it is. In writing.

And I totally get it. I have been exactly there.

When I was nine, I took to signing my name Elizabeth the Great. Just like my daughter, this signature adorned every piece of paper I touched. Apparently my teachers condoned it. My mother, she encouraged it. That year Mom pulled out her sewing machine and made me a turquoise denim jacket. Down one sleeve, in colorful iron-on letters, she put Elizabeth. Down the other: the Great.

Let me tell you, I wore that jacket with gusto.

A year after the turquoise jacket was born, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We would soon find out that her condition fell into the worst possible category. Her disease would be steady and irreversible. There would be no remission, no turning back, no magic bullet.

By the time I was 11, my mother was confined to a wheelchair and quickly losing her sight. She retired from her roles as Book Club Leader and Girl Scout Mom. My father’s job moved us 300 miles across the state.

Somewhere in those couple of dark and foggy years, I outgrew the jacket and dropped my Great alias.

And along the same time, I shed some of my boldness. My steadiness and self-confidence wavered. Who can say if this change was all circumstantial or if I just realized there was a world beyond my own ego. Perhaps maturity would have shined its light on my bravado regardless of my family life. I don’t really know.

I do know this: 30 years later, when I think about my moments of personal power, I think of being nine. I think of that jacket and my audacious nickname. I think about how I owned my story and the image of myself I wanted to create. Even amidst the rules and expectations set by loving and devoted parents, I was once a 9-year-old who felt like she could do and be anything.

I am fast approaching my 40th birthday, and even still, every time I try something new or take a leap of faith, or need a jolt of self-confidence, I call upon my 9-year-old self. I wrap myself up in the memory of a girl strutting around in a turquoise denim jacket, brandishing her nickname and all the power it promises.

So here is my hope for this year, as my daughter begins her ninth year and I leave behind my thirties…I will find a symbolic jacket to share with her. I will tell her that yes, I believe she deserves her Amazing nickname but most important, that I’m glad she believes it herself.

I will pray that she holds on to her rising confidence and learns to shape it into something creative and compassionate. I will hope that no matter how her life changes, that the jacket I give will fit her long after nine.

Comments

  1. I’m sitting in the lounge at ballet wih tears running down my face reading this. What a wonderful gift you are giving your amazing daughter. And you are definitely still great.

  2. Wow, Liz, if this is blocked, I’ll take some of your writer’s block.

    This was beautiful. I love the idea of calling upon your young self to summon the confidence you need in adult situations.

    You could go with Sasha Fierce. I heard some weird girl used that once.

  3. 9!

    A very happy birthday to you, oldest.

    My youngest is now 9…and the difference in how 9 feels in my baby to how 9 felt in my oldest…can’t even bridge the chasm.

    Have a wonderful, special, day, big girl.

  4. Send this one in for publication Liz. It is powerful, poignant, personal and proud. It is a keeper and I am so glad you have your blossoming Doodlebug to cherish your sweet memories while you look forward to creating some new ones. Happy birthday Doodlebug!

  5. Aw, Lordy. This was so beautiful and touching, and brought tears to my eyes. I’m one VERY emotional mom, I have to say, more so as my children are getting older, too. I’m always worried, always thinking, always just amazed at how fast time passes. I wish we had a pause button. I really do.

  6. I loved this post! Beautiful story about your mom and the encouragement she gave to you. And, I think your Doodlebug and my Bean would get a long splendidly! :)

  7. Liz, I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’d caught up with your blog — can’t believe I’m just reading this now. I’m in ever-increasing awe of your ability to capture images, thoughts, emotions — the ones that I’ve always seen/thought/felt and rarely given their proper due, and the ones I’ve never knowingly seen/thought/felt but suspect were there all along. As always, thank you so much for sharing your world with us!

  8. Just read this, Liz, after reading your love letter to REM — which I loved (a favorite memory is eating at the bar at the fabulous NOLA in New Orleans (natch) at being seated next to a wonderfully shy and sweet and sexy Peter Buck. I almost moved from NYC to New Orleans based on that brief and indelible experience. Man. This is a powerful entry and I am in awe of your prose. Loved it.

  9. My oldest is turning 10 soon, and I recently gave up the baby stroller that all four of my babies used. I’m having a hard time with it still.

    I really enjoyed this story of growing up and your celebration of your turquoise jacket. My brother used to call himself Nate the Great when he played Little League.

  10. Such a beautiful piece, Liz! I grew up without a middle name, so I made one up for myself: Zenith, after a character in the Cathy cartoon. Even my yearbook was emblazoned with my bold middle name. I love the way your daughter signs her name, and you before her.

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