I open the door to the garage and Meadow bounds down the two steps in one big jump. She swings the car door open and I watch, holding her backpack, as she hops to the far side of the backseat. I swing her way-too-heavy backpack into the seat next to her, while she straps on her seatbelt for the ride to school.
I climb in the front seat and turn the car on, immediately reaching to turn the radio volume down, so as to not drown the sound Meadow’s voice.
Mornings with Meadow have become some of the best moments of my week.
We are researching animals for science, her sing songy voice rises from the backseat as I steer the car toward her school.
Oh yeah? I respond.
Yeah, she answers.
What animals are you researching? I ask her.
We got to pick any animal we wanted. she answers.
Oh, that’s fun, I respond. What animal are you researching? I ask, more as a formality, because I’m certain I already know that my dog-obsessed, dog-loving, daughter will be researching dogs.
I am surprised when she informs me, I’m researching albino lions.
Albino lions! Wow. I am unable to hide my surprise. What made you decide to research albino lions? I ask her, glancing back at her in my rearview mirror. I see she is looking out the window at nothing in particular.
I picked them because they are different, she answers matter-of-factly.
Of course, I say smiling to myself.
Nine years ago today, Meadow entered the world, our world. Nine years ago, the sweet, squishy baby brought with her lessons we didn’t know we needed, joy we didn’t know we were missing, and a stretching we would have never found without her.
Today, I write for our nine year old. Our baby who is not so much baby anymore. Today, I write for Meadow.
It’s your birthday today. You are NINE YEARS OLD. Nine.
I don’t anticipate that you will read these words on your birthday. I doubt you will read them tomorrow or next week and maybe not even next year. Instead, I imagine you reading these words when you are 15 or 19 or 25 or even 40. I imagine you stumbling across them one day and pouring through them. Maybe you will have a nine year old of your own. Or maybe, you will be having the kind of day that we all have–the kind of day when you forget the truth of who you are. When your history escapes you or your forget how much you’re loved. Or even, perhaps, there will be a day when you can’t remember exactly how far you’ve come and what your presence means in the world.
And while it might seem fitting to use this space to teach you all the things I hope you will one day learn, I’d rather spend the time reminding you of all the things you already know–the many, many things you’ve already taught me.
Meadow, you might think it a strange thing to hear that in nine years, it has been YOU who has been teaching ME. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? you might wonder. (Certainly, that’s what I believed when they put your tiny body in my arms for the very first time. It hasn’t been that way, though.
You, Meadow, have been one of my greatest teachers.
You see, somewhere along the way, maybe when I was teeny tiny–even smaller than you are today–I came to believe there was a certain way to live life. In my minds eye, there was a narrow line on which I was to walk and as long as I didn’t veer too far off, I’d be just fine. This, I believed, was the “right” way to do life.
Oh, but Meadow, you have taught me, that there is a different way.
From very early on, Meadow, we watched as you spread your arms wide and sucked all the marrow out of this life. You have loved fully, you have embraced life deeply, and you have invited all of us who know you to step off that straight and narrow line and live freely.
There is a joy that lives in you that can only be described as, well, Meadow. A lightness that exists in you not simply because you are still young, but a lightness that, I believe, is God-given and uniquely yours.
From very early on, we saw in you an inability to be anyone but exactly who you are. From your sense of style to your art and from your deep love of animals to your humor, we’ve never tried to put you on that narrow line, because you were never anywhere near it, anyway.
This is not to say that everything has come easy to you, Meadow. This is not to say that you have walked each day of your life carefree and without a fight. That you haven’t had to struggle.
No, we know this is not true.
But this year, more than ever, we have seen a fire in your belly. A fire of determination. A fire that burns fiercely and says, don’t discount me. This fire, Meadow? This is what makes your dad and I breathe deep and know, she’s going to be just fine.
You said to me once, my brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s. At the time, I didn’t know how to respond. I couldn’t yet understand what you already knew.
What I didn’t know is that you are living life in your own way. Without the narrow line, outside the box I am so familiar with, dancing to the sound of your own beautiful music.
Oh Meadow, on your birthday and every day, we celebrate the unique soundtrack that plays in your life.
We celebrate the deep love you bring to everything and everyone who crosses your path.
And today and everyday, Meadow, we celebrate the gift it is that you were born. That we get to watch you embrace life. That we get to learn from you and jump off the narrow line and experience the joy that exists in the unknown.
May you always remember what I’m certain you know today. . . it’s okay to be different.
May you always remember the albino lions.
Today and everyday, may you be exactly who you are.
I love you, Meadow. I am so proud to be your Mom.
Happy Birthday, Meadow.