Paloma,

One month ago you turned sixty months old. Five years old. You are now five.

I haven't written this letter until now because I am terrible with endings. This is the last letter, for now, and it will be hard to end this project.

On your birthday I gifted you a book of the first year of letters. You cannot read yourself, yet, but you adore your "baby book" and even shared it at school with your class on your sharing day. If I make a book a year of each year of letters for every birthday from here on out, you will be getting books until you're ten. TEN! Doesn't that sound crazy? I say yes.

You are now five. In five years you have learned to walk and talk and sing, to be a big sister and a friend, to eat and drink and laugh and scream, to dress yourself and walk the dog, to write your name and Arden's name and the word "love".

In just a few months you will go from a care-free preschooler to a full-blown Kindergartener. At once I cannot fathom how you are so small and so big, which is why I am grateful I stuck with the letter-writing. I now have written proof of every month of your life, and, without this, I may not believe it all really happened. It goes by so fast and so slow; it's a blur of a marathon, and we ran it together, you and me. My first baby, you will forever be.

Happy Birthday.

Love,
Mama

Paloma,

Two days ago you turned fifty nine months old. This letter will be hard to write.

This is the second to last letter I will officially write to you. I may write to you on your birthday every year, but I may not. I have yet to write your sister a single letter, and I feel terrible about that.

Sibling difference has been a theme for me this month. The two of you continue to find your way through sisterhood. You fight. You hug. You play. Rinse. Repeat. It has been a gift to watch you two build a relationship, and it has also been a blessing to have two so very different people in my life.

I love you both. I love you differently. You are my soul, and your sister is my heart. Or the other way around. I’m not sure. It changes every day; you two occupy different parts of my body at different times. I feel you differently. There are ways I mother your sister that I have never experienced with you. And the opposite is true. But without you as my first baby and Arden as my second, I would not know any of this. It is because of you I can know her, and because of her I can love you more. I love you more, it’s true. More than I did before. More each day. More than I ever knew.

Five years old sounds incredibly big. You have grown physically, yes, but you are also at a new stage of maturity - one I cannot say I ever thought we’d reach. There were days of you babyhood that I thought would never end. There were times I thought you’d stay that way forever. But you didn’t. You’ve grown, as you should, and you are a new person every day.

Happy Fifty Ninth Monthday.

Love,

Mama

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Paloma,

A week ago you turned fifty eight months old.

I can feel the momentum of your letters slowing down. I said I would write until your fifth birthday, and I can feel that day approaching. It’s not that there’s nothing to talk about, but it feels so personal now. Less about me as your mother, and more about you as a child. A growing child. 

You are suddenly big this month. Your words are different. Your body larger. Your thoughts have advanced.

You are rhyming words, and writing names, and memorizing spellings of things.

I filled out your Kindergarten paperwork and had a moment. A joyful moment - I am so excited for the years to come, and a mournful moment - I will cherish the precious few days that remain of your early childhood.

I have been working. Working consistently and quite a bit and more than I ever did, really, until now. It has been very tricky. I have struggled to figure out who will watch you and your sister while I get things done, and in the last few months it’s been especially hard as things have shifted and gaps have opened. I felt swallowed up for several months, but then I decided to call it good enough. It is enough. It’s not perfect, there’s a wonky balance, but it works for now. I suddenly saw the summer on the horizon and then Kindergarten starting and I began to appreciate the few days we have left together, in our jammies, unshowered, never going anywhere at anytime. These days are numbered.

These last weeks of considering which school you should attend have had your papa and myself reflecting on who you are. You are smart, yes. You are challenged and challenging, yes. You have the full spectrum of strentghths and weakness. You are a complete person. It’s utterly beautiful.

Happy Fifty Eighth Monthday.

Love,

Mama

I am ashamed
I never had the words
to carry a friend from her death
to the stars
correctly.
- "The Creation Story" Joy Harjo 

I will not pretend that I know her as a mother. Nor a wife. And hardly as a woman. Every woman knows you take many secrets to the grave.

I will not use these words to summarize her life. I will not declare this anything but my own truth.
 
I know her as my grandmother. My mother's mother. A sharp, witty woman.

In this year 2015, nothing is private. Moments are torn open by the connectivity of technology, and it is rare I can hold anything close for long. I do not want to announce her death. I did not want to say the words: My grandmother is dead.
 
That's not who she was to me. That's not the image I want in everyone's head. She was not your grandmother.
She didn't cook family recipes. She did not cuddle nor spoil nor make things better. That image disgusts me. She was not that person.
She was a survivor. She out-lasted medicine's best prediction. She was time and again The Comeback Kid.
She raised four children. She told me secrets no one else would. She didn't cut corners, and she didn't mince words, and she didn't take shit from no one.
She was my mother's mother. She was a woman. She was my inspiration. My high bar.
 
She made dessert first. She valued family and tradition. She respected integrity. She was the matriarch.
Her house was a museum. A gallery. One curated for her, by her, and I explored every nook and cranny with open eyes, my aesthetic forming under her tutelage. I might never sew a seam as fine as hers. I may never piece a quilt with her deftness. 
She was my favorite person. There. I said it. I have a favorite, and it is her. I give her so much credit for who I am, and she is to blame, as well. I hold both equally, with love for both sides.
 
It is said she never wanted to reach the state she spent her last years in. Roll me off the cliff. Smother me with a pillow. We all say that now, don't we? We do. We all do. 
 
And we all dread being the witness to that state. Watching your own mother decline and sit, and rot, and shit themselves. Revert to a child, a toddler, an infant. Swing back towards the beginning of our own circle. The place we all begin: as stardust, as a cluster of cells. 
 
But as I sat at her side Friday night, late, her body quite warm, I saw the beauty in it all. 
 
I believe in time travel. I believe in the expansion and contraction of time. I believe that we live a million tiny lifetimes during our years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds in this body we call home in this life right now. We pass through states with such fluidity that many never realize their own watery habits.
We are fearful children trapped in grown bodies. We are adults screaming for autonomy as toddlers. We are infants again, needing to be swaddled and shushed. 
 
I have said that the woman we knew as Mary Ellen passed on Friday the 13th of October in 2000 under a full moon. She died that day. She came back to life. And she was different.
We all mourned the woman that faded out, and learned to love the woman she then became. Her hands curled in. Her words decomposed and were never to be heard again. But her eyes twinkled. And her smile said EAT SHIT when it needed to. And we could guess what she was thinking because we knew her. She had let us in.
 
Friday afternoon I rifled through my fabrics, searching for a single piece long enough for a new window covering. Coming up short, I went over to her bins. As I unfolded some yardage, that smell – her smell – the scent of so much smoking and sewing and old furniture, entered my nose and I buried my face and cried. I sat there, face in fabric, crying, connected to her and all her lives lived.
 
I arranged to visit her Saturday. I knew it would mean sitting by her bed. Talking to her. Or knitting a bit while sitting at her side. I knew it would just be the two of us, alone. Abandoning the drapery project, I finished a photo calendar, using an image of her from this last Christmas, knowing, in all likelihood, she wouldn't be alive when we flipped to that month, but that we'd appreciate the memory.
 
She died hours later.
 
So late Friday night I took her in one more time. Her skin had yellowed with jaundice. Her mouth gaping open from labored breathing. Her hands in knots. Her knees much larger than the femur. And she was beautiful. Here was a body, a being, who had let herself be cared for by so many hands. She had been washed and fed, dressed and groomed. Read to. Talked with. Loved. And loved. And loved.
 
Her circle had closed.
 
We are cared for, then care, and, if we're lucky, we get cared for one last time. We spend one half our lives growing up and growing old, and one half grown. The tragic death is one that occurs before the circle can spin back upon itself. The tragic death is the one that robs us of that last quarter-life of being rocked and cradled and cared for, once again.
 
I will remember her as the toddler I cared for before she became an infant who needed more care than we could give. I was grown, and incubating my own first child, so I had the time, and was in the place, to be there with her. I will remember with tenderness the scared child I tucked into bed one night. I took her for drives to see former homes, in search of the next place she needed to go. She was in transition, and she knew it, too. I am grateful for that time spent together, just the two of us. It was time I had pined for as a child.

I will remember her as the smoker. The swimmer. The coiffed woman just back from the hairdresser. The quilter. The woman who put my playdough up on the highest shelf when I mixed the colors. The tap dancer. The ice skater. The collector. The hoarder. The hands that could morph trash into treasure. The sharp eye that never missed a damn thing.
 
I sort out my feelings by thinking them. And then I write them down. I write and write and write until it's wrung out. I type them out and move them around until they're arranged just so. That is the only way I know. This is my best defense.
 
But once it is written I'll be buried in calicos, inhaling memories.
 

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Paloma,

Today you are fifty seven months old.



Before I forget, and how could I!, this month, you cut your hair. Yes, technically, YOU cut your hair. But then we had it cut professionally, as well.

My stance on hair cutting for babies is that hair should do its thing until the baby decides it's time for a trim. We've floated the idea past you a couple times, but you were always adamant that you liked your hair the way it was, and so we let it grow. And grow. Fifty six months of growth, to be exact. Then one day you said you'd like it cut. And you said it again a few days later. And again. So you and I sat down and looked at what a cut on someone your size would look like, and we established that you'd like something shoulder length.

Then you decided this was all taking much too long, and you took the scissors you'd just begun to be proficient with, and you did a little trimming yourself. Very subtle in looks, but a strong, clear statement of intent.

As with all things we do in this family, your first cut happened at home. A preschool mama who is a professional came over and had you trimmed and blown out in no time at all.

The best part? You are so, so proud and happy with your haircut. That's the best part.



As we put up our Christmas tree this year, I had one of those moments where I'm suddenly aware that your mother isn't coming home; I am your mother. It was one of those times when I'm wondering how the heck I know how to stand up a chopped down tree inside a house. It's not as if my parents sat me down one day and taught me how to do this; it's something I've figured out because (not that it's difficult) I've been taught how to problem solve and think analytically. This is one of those times when I wonder how good a job I'm doing at teaching you these things. Not the literal-putting-up-a-tree things, but, rather, the more nebulous-thinking-for-yourself things, which will take you much further in life than if I simply taught you tree-standing.

There are some days when I can't believe anyone let me be a mother. Not that I'm bad at it, just that it has such great responsibility. I hope I'm doing it well enough.



Happy fifty seventh Monthday.

Love,
Mama



Paloma,

Yesterday you turned fifty six months old.



Four days ago your little sister turned two, meaning you've been a big sister for two years. It is not an easy job. I know this, firsthand. Little sisters have the better deal.

Little sisters know not what it was ever like without a big sister. They only know the family they were born into, how it is now. As Arden opened her gifts on the night of her birthday, you were right there to micro-manage the entire affair. All of us adults were horrified as you "let" Arden open her gifts. You didn't let her. At all. You opened every gift and flashed the gift in front of her and then moved on to the next gift as fast as humanly possible.

But the thing is, Arden doesn't care. She doesn't know that you're stealing the show. She only knows that you are the coolest thing on Earth, and if you want to open all the gifts, that's fine with her. As the adults, we gently reminded you to slow down, let her look, give her a task or two, but overall, we let it go. It was hard to put a damper on your excitement.

The highlight for me, however, was how celebratory you were, the entire night. You could have been sour and jealous, but instead you enjoyed helping us celebrate your sister. You wished her a happy birthday at dinner, you sang while I carried in the "cookie cake" lit with two candles. (You're the one who got the two candles for the cake from the drawer.) And best of all, for me, you happily wrapped the two gifts you'd made for her (a "game" on paper, with her name on the back and a Cinderella coloring page). At the last minute we decided the little plastic puppy set we'd found at Target to decorate her cake should be a gift from you. In all honestly, and I'm not just saying this, the puppy set was her absolute favorite gift. I don't doubt she loved it best because it was from you. It was truly a gift - it was something you would have wanted for yourself - it was very hard for you to give. She appreciated it.



I want you to know that I understand how difficult it is to be the oldest. I wouldn't wish it on any child. It comes with great responsibility and loss. But so far it appears you're balancing the negative with the positive, and I couldn't be more proud.



Happy Fifty Sixth Monthday.

Love,
Mama

Paloma,

Forever ago you turned fifty five months old. I am late with this letter. There's a draft saved on my desktop computer, but I'm never in front of it, these days, so I'm scrambling to write this letter before you turn fifty six months old in two weeks.



This last month has challenged me in a way that I didn't see coming. Not now. Not this soon. You have said things that have hurt me at my core, the very essence of who I am. As a parent, I had assumed that my own values would transcend the placenta, nourish you from the inside out, and become a part of your DNA, as much as any other inheritable characteristic.

As it turns out, this is not how it works.

Then, by chance, I stumbled upon these words, and they hit just right:

"You can not save people, you can only love them." -Anaïs Nin

Perhaps my second mistake, after believing that you'd come hardwired to think like me, was that I was going to fix you, but that is not going to happen. Instead, I will love you. That I can do.



Happy Fifty Fifth Monthday.

Love,
Mama