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Janell Burley Hofmann Headshot

A Puppy For My Girl

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To Ella,

I am about to make all of your dreams come true. See, this week, while you're at school -- working and playing and weaving your way into a new year as a fourth grader, Daddy and I will kiss you good bye, travel over that great big bridge in the middle of the day and bring home a puppy. Not just any puppy, Miss Ella. Your puppy. The puppy you thought of since you could think. The puppy you researched and read and talked about. The puppy you begged and borrowed and waited for. The puppy you met this summer that bowled you over with his excited kissing and panting and pawing. The puppy that made you look up at us with your giant blue eyes and say "This must be heaven."

But we were unsure. See, we have a dog. A great big family dog -- more like a gentle polar bear than a puppy -- but she's plenty of dog to go around. And we have you, and your two sisters and your two brothers. And we have jobs and schedules and activities and places to be. And we have a yard with a crooked fence and a torn screen door. And we are hurried, scrambling for socks and tossing lunches at each of you, in a frenzy to get out the door each day. And well, we have a way of not really knowing when it's enough, when to say satisfied and went to say overwhelmed. Just like life, it usually blends all up and comes out right. But still.

Then there is you. You, Miss Ella, are right in the middle of it all. You take your time. You are careful. You are gentle. You are soft. You are just different enough from the rest of the pack. I see it as special. You don't always. You have cried long, painful bursts of sadness and howled "Everyone is good at things except me. Everyone says 'Wow! Amazing!' about the other kids. They are smarter and do better cartwheels and have stronger muscles." I want to carry on, outraged at this untruth. But I don't. I just hold you against me -- a piece of me lost, a piece of me understanding, all of me accepting that this is your place in the world.

I have tried to help you blaze your own way -- horses and kayaks, book clubs and tea parties. Shamelessly, I raise you up. I defend you. I push you to be proud of you. We save piles of handwritten welcome cards celebrating the day you were born and dig into them often. We praise you for reports from teachers and parents and friends -- bright, kind, happy. We stand on the corner of the soccer field, cheering and jumping and hugging, on the day of your first goal. It's not enough. And even though I look at your siblings after their games, surprised and ask "Just one?" And I look at their math facts test and say "Faster!" And I whisper to them on a starry autumn night, "Lead!" You don't see what they carry because you carry something different. Just like your gifts are different. You are outstanding in the quiet corners of life. You will learn to love that beauty, like I do.

You made me a list: wash, feed, brush, water, walk, scoop, clean. I saw the seriousness in your words, in your eyes. I saw the potential -- the power and pride -- of owning and caring and working for something other than yourself. Doing something no one else wants to do. I look at you, precious and perfect like a 9-year-old should be. I look at your girlhood peaking, where everything is still possible. I look at you, at what you love, at what makes you light up. It is this puppy. And even though I know it's deeper -- what you will learn, how you will grow -- it is this puppy.

So Miss Ella, I hand you the keys to your own heart. Unlock all that is uniquely you and hold it dear. I give you this gift because I believe in you, I believe in your dreams. You will work in sun and rain and snow. You will work in night and day, in the busy, the tired, the frantic. This is your path. Make your way. And for this puppy, his only job, is to help you see the wealth that has been within you, bursting to shine out, all along.

I love you wildly.
Mom

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