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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ella, a portrait of a young lady

Today our baby turns twelve. Twelve. 

To raise a person from an infant to a twelve-year-old is an unparalleled experience. It is not the same as simply loving someone for twelve years or being married for twelve years. To have a being created by you, who depends entirely on you, evolve into her own existence, grow into her own skin, begin to find her own identity is the stuff of magic, of wonder, of indescribable beauty.

I took the puppy on a trail run in the Bangor City Forest, a place I used to frequent many times a week with a different set of canines and before children. As I ran with Piper around the familiar curves and turns, keeping close tabs on my little brown rocket, I was thrown back twelve years to when I walked these trails with a different baby on my mind.

Being pregnant with Ella was like a part-time job.  Type I diabetes qualified me as a high-risk pregnancy and I spent hours at OB appointments, endocrinology appointments, perinatology appointments, ultrasounds, tests and yet more tests. Being pregnant was sort of like a job. My blood sugar control needed to be near perfect and part of that was achieved with routine. 

So I walked the trails at the City Forest, two dogs in tow, as my belly grew through the spring and summer until, eventually in the fall, I lumbered through the five miles. I spent my time imagining our baby and my life as a mom and Sandi's and my partnership shifting from couple to family

There is something about a first baby, the one who makes you a mother. The one whose presence forever changes not just how you feel, how you love, how you see the world, but actually changes who you are.  

On Ella's birth announcements we had the quote: "Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body." (Elizabeth Stone)

I have had twelve years of having my heart walking outside my body and I can attest that nothing will tear you apart and put you together quite like motherhood. I have watched this adorable, cuddly, tenuous, discerning baby:

bloom into a confident, caring, sensitive, daring young lady.

It is a metamorphosis I am awed by.

She has gone from her fancy petticoat dress phase (an entire year, no pants whatsoever) to a fashionista phase (6 years), and has landed soundly in athletic mode. This past year she has done basketball, skiing, gymnastics, field hockey and is now trying her hand at cheering.

There were several gymnastics related injuries this year including a broken arm,

an X-ray to rule out a broken foot.

 and a gashed shin that required stitches and a sunny July afternoon spent in the ER. (Talk about FUN.)

There are so many things Ella loves. She loves holidays, homemade macaroni and cheese, when it gets dark outside, cheesecake, the beach, having people visit, interior design, music, salt and vinegar potato chips, clothes, art, slamming doors, writing, her friends, anything made by Apple, chai tea, movie afternoons, a day packed with things to do, photography and getting lost in a good book.

Above all, she loves her family.

She ADORES her puppy.

And, most of the time, she even loves her sister. 

She dislikes:  Sunday evenings, surprises, a day with no plans, when Maya crosses the line (any line, which she does every single day), being told what to do, cheese sticks, endings and goodbyes. And, alas she still does not love her vegetables. (This was actually an April Fool's joke when I told the girls I had made them a super special, yummy breakfast and made them close their eyes.)

Sometimes, in the part of my brain where I make illogical bargains and deals, I think, "I would be such a better mother now than I was 12 years ago. If we started over, with these same kids, imagine how much better a mom they would have now than they had then."

I'm pretty sure that is like being 20 and wishing for the wisdom of an 80-year-old without living the years in between. 

In truth, I would never be the person I am today, the mother I am today, without each and every moment I have shared with Ella: the beautiful, the treacherous, the terrifying, the joyful, the maddening, the miraculous...all of it. 

Ella and I have grown up together.  She has evolved into her own person, with her own hopes and dreams, fears and strengths, successes and failures, joys and pains. And I have grown into a better human being, a better mother alongside her.

I asked Ella if eleven had been a good year. She shrugged. I said, "What would you say your best year has been?"

Without hesitation she answered, "Ten."

I said, "Really? Why?"

"Because that is the year I was homeschooled." I nearly fell over. That year was HARD.

"But you weren't doing so well that year. That is why you were homeschooled."

She said, "I know. But that helped me get better."

There are so many things to love about Ella. She has a quiet demeanor that is very peaceful to be around when it is just the two of you. She has developed a quick sense of humor that catches you off guard in the best moments. She can let go of little things in favor of peace and harmony. She has the most contagious laugh and gives such heartfelt hugs. Her heart has become full of compassion for other beings and she holds a newfound sacredness for them. She is sensitive and feels things deeply. She is generous and kind, brave and adventurous.

There isn't a time that I have been more proud of our girl than I am right now. The growing pains have paid off. The struggle and strife have carved her from a block of clay into a work of art. She has found a place to land with both feet on the ground, her two feet, no one else's, and she looks up at us and smiles. And we smile back because we know she didn't get there by accident or by luck. She got there because she persevered, she traveled, she was gritty, tough and determined.

There is an Buddhist quote about the necessity of struggle that I have thought of countless times over the years of raising Ella. I couldn't find it exactly but I found this quote from "Lost" which succinctly says the same thing:

You see this little hole? This moth's just about to emerge. It's in there right now, struggling. It's digging it's way through the thick hide of the cocoon. Now I could take my knife, gently widen the opening, and the moth would be free, but it would be too weak to survive. Struggle is nature's way of strengthening it.

Letting your child struggle can be excruciating. And, as with all things where the risk is high, the payoff is enormous.

Our girl...our girl is flying.

Happy Twelfth birthday, El. We love you to the moon and back. We love who you've become and we are excited to see all you have yet to be.

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