Today, you visited your "new" preschool classroom. I say "new" with a smile, because you have already been a student at Total Child for the previous two years. And before that, you were a baby who came to this school every day to drop off and pick up your big sister Annie Rose when she was in this classroom.
I can close my eyes and see you toddling over to the sink, lining up behind the 4 and 5-year-olds to wash your hands at morning drop off because you wanted to be just like your sister.
And if I dip back into my well of memories, I can see Annie Rose as the 18-month-old lining up behind her big sister Katie as she waited for the ritual of hand-washing with the older kids. It's a dance I know well, a joyous celebration of growing from infancy into childhood and yearning to belong.
But the final steps of this particular choreography are drawing near. Even as I eagerly await the next phase in your life, part of me was hoping for an encore, one more chance to escort a baby through toddlerhood and into childhood, because it is a process more miraculous than anything else I know. But time has marched on, and so must we. You will always be our last baby.
It is my tenth year in a row as a mom at this nursery school. The spacing worked out just perfectly. No gaps, no seams. Each time one of you girls moved to the public school to start Kindergarten, your little sister was gearing up to enter the 2-year-old class at Total Child.
And so it has gone, year after year, from the 2's class to the 3/4's class to the 4/5's class. Step and repeat. Step and repeat. In the blink of an eye, a decade has passed.
When you started in the class for 2-year-olds, you were so tiny -- only 17 lbs!! -- that your teachers had to bring in a stool for you to stand on so that you could reach the water table. I remember my first parent-teacher conference about you. Your teacher was going through the developmental checklist with me, and when she got to the part about whether or not you could speak in two-word sentences, she laughed and said, "Cleo speaks in paragraphs, always with a huge smile."
That sounds about right. You wake up at a ludicrously early hour and start singing and talking at the top of your lungs. You have a fierce temper, something that seems to run in the family, through my children both adopted and biological. When you were six months old, I called to vent to my mom about how stubborn you were. She laughed and asked, "How can a 6-month-old baby be stubborn??"
Trust me, Cleo. You were stubborn then and you are now. A mother always knows.
But your stubbornness will serve you well in the world. A world that tends to push at little girls and tries to chip away their gumption. Cleo, one of the most charming things about you is your absolute self-confidence. At the tender age of 4, being the shortest person in your class with the biggest hair is celebrated. The truth is, as you grow older, you will find that you are a short person in a world that values height. You will be a woman with tightly-curled hair in a culture that values females with long, straight hair. Even now, you love watching movies with Disney princesses, and you noticed that none of the princesses looks like you. That's OK. You can be more than a princess when you grow up, despite what the Halloween costume choices may tell you.
My hope for you is that you will continue to find your differences are your strength, that what makes you beautiful as a toddler will also make you beautiful as a teen. All my life, I have been the smallest person in every room I enter. It doesn't matter. If I have something important to say, I make sure people hear me. My wish for you is that you will internalize all the good feelings you have about who you are and carry that inner strength with you throughout your life.
Don't let the world push you around, my daughter. Fight back. It's OK to get mad. It's OK to rock the boat. Just make sure you and the people you love know how to swim. It's OK to yell bad words when you are mad -- goodness knows mommy drops the F-bomb sometimes -- but it is not OK to do bad things when you are mad. Remember that there is a difference between yelling a bad word and saying something unkind to people. The former is harmless; the latter is harmful. But you already know this. ou know more about equality than many adults, and I trust you will continue to live these values.
I love you fiercely, Cleo. Once I thought I was going to lose you, and I am grateful every day for your strength and the miracle of your presence in my life. Your sisters adore you. They will always be your best friends, your pack, your protectors. Look out for them, too, because when the rest of the world melts away, your sisters will still be there. I know, because my three sisters are more dear to me than I could have possibly imagined when I was young. You fight with each other now, but you will fight for each other later.
You have told me time and again that you are scared of going to Kindergarten next year, that you will miss your time with Mommy. And then you soothe yourself with the knowledge that there will be wonderful parts about Kindergarten, such as learning how to do new things. It's okay to be scared, Cleo.
There will be many many times in your life that you feel scared, but if you can talk yourself through it and do what needs to be done, most things will work out. I won't lie to you and say everything will work out. Some things will happen in your life that are painful, and even I can't protect you from them. What I can do is promise to teach you how to find your supporters and live a hopeful life.
The past decade has been the most profound of the four I have lived thus far. I can't wait to see what comes next, even as I cried today for the sweetness of the days that have gone. The days and nights are sometimes impossibly long, but the years are oh so very short. Keep growing up, keep doing amazing things, my lovely last baby.
WATCH: Cleo's Thoughts on Her Last Year of Preschool: