Happy birthday, sweetie.
You’re growing up so well. I feel like you’re right on the line between a little girl and a big one. I’m sure part of this feeling is simply that you’re first. You’ve been the one that made me a mama, and then the one that made me the mama of a toddler and a preschooler and now a seven-year-old, so you always feel SO BIG. But that’s not all of it. Your heart and your mind are developing thoughts and words and feelings around big-people concepts in ways that you haven’t before. I’m not entirely sure how this happened; I only know that I’m not quite ready.
Last year, I watched you as you struggled with things I have wrestled with; this year, I am watching you fight with things I am wrestling. I was not prepared.
This birthday is the first I am truly nervous about. Not so much because you’re seven… it’s the day itself. This year, I’m blowing off parties, hoping to celebrate you in ways that allow me to be much more present and engaged in the day, and you’re really not sure how to deal. You keep telling me how boring it is that you’re not getting a party and how mad you are that you’re going to get fewer presents. It’s possible we won’t do it this way for you every year. Maybe this is a huge flop. But I so want you to learn the art of celebrating even in the quiet. I see your expectations and they just are not ones I can meet. (An Apple Watch and $200? Uh…) I want you to be happy and feel so very loved on your birthday, but with or without a big to-do (well, as big as my parties get, which is to say, not very big) I’m not entirely sure your happiness is up to me—it’s a matter of your attitude and expectations. I am trying to talk you through all of this, but I know in the deepest part of my gut and my memory: this lesson isn’t learned by listening to your mother. I remember these birthdays growing up where all my expectations (spoken or otherwise) were more than anyone could have fulfilled and I spent the day feeling sad and unloved. It’s hard for me to see this experience coming toward you, knowing that despite my best efforts and hopes, there’s not a lot I can do to teach you this lesson the easy way. It’s hard knowing I’m going to let you down today.
It’s hard to realize that I cannot be responsible for your happiness.
But then I remember our talk the other night. You told me, “I feel so small. I’m never good enough. I try to be kind to Katherine and Brian and they just ask and ask and it’s never enough for them. I try to be kind to Lilly, and she just shrieks at me.”
“I know this feeling,” I told you. “I know ‘never enough’ and I know ‘I can’t make them happy.'” The never enough is inside me. I have spent all of my years finding my worth in my usefulness, when the things I do were only ever meant to come out of who I am, not define it. I see this in you and I’m sorry. I still fight it, but I want you to know that you are lovely. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and so very loved. Your Daddy and I love you more than you can imagine (and you’re an incredibly good imaginer!) and God loves you so much more than we do. Your worth was clear to us before you ever did anything.
The can’t make them happy lives in the others. You can’t make Katherine or me or anybody else happy, at least not long-term, because her happiness is not your job. Watching you try to make me happy, especially on my hard days, is simultaneously the most heartwarming and heartbreaking thing. I love your compassion for others—that you want to make them happy—but then I see you assessing your value in your ability to pull it off, and you will come up short. Not because you’re not good enough, but because this job was never yours to do in the first place. We need to deal with our own expectations and insecurities and your job is simply to be kind and do right, not to make me or anybody else happy.
And here we are, with me struggling with my inability to make you happy for your birthday because I can’t do all the things exactly as you hope (and, truth be told, it wouldn’t be good for you if I did) and you struggling with your smallness and inability to make me and your siblings happy.
Baby, it’s going to be okay. Today might be tough as your expectations and reality collide. The story you’re probably going to tell yourself is that I don’t love you enough to do the things you want. Worse, that if you were somehow better—more worthy—I would love you enough to do those things. I know this because you’ve said as much and also because I’ve lived it countless times.
I will speak truth to your big, 7-year-old heart. It will take time for you to believe me—longer, likely years, before it sticks. (I’m still fighting this battle.) Eventually totes*, you will learn to recognize truth and speak it to your own heart and your own stories. It’s a really important part of growing up. I’ll show you how.
I love you, Jenna girl. You are such an incredible delight to my heart and a tool Jesus uses constantly to make me more like Him. I love watching you grow.
*for those of you listening in, “eventually totes” is a thing that Brian started saying a few months ago (“Brian, when do I get to go to bed?” “Eventually totes! Hahahahaha!”) It cracks us all up, and has become part of our family’s vernacular, so a lot of our “eventuallys” get followed by “totes.”