Family life

A birthday letter for Anna

As Anna turns eight, Tracy reflects on the milestone.

Photo: Tracy Chappell

Anna, age eight.

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

To Anna on her eighth birthday,

We just had a weekend full of cake and balloons and friends and family and guests and gifts and giggles. All for you. I’ve never seen you so excited by a birthday (and that’s saying a lot, because you live for celebrations). “What’s making you this excited?” I asked you as we snuggled in bed the night before the big day. “Because I’ll be eight. I’ll finally be eight!” There were no concrete ideas beyond that, just a promise of all that could be to a lowly seven-year-old.

Read more: Birthday party ideas>

I hope eight will meet your high expectations. It’s a big year. I’ve seen eight transform others from little kid to big kid at almost lightning speed, and it makes me wonder how different you’ll be when I sit down to write this letter a year from now.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, because there’s so much to enjoy about where you are right now. I think the last couple of years have been a true “golden stage” for us and I don’t want to let it go, and let you slip into that tween world that is dangling in front on you like a carrot. I see you nibbling here and there—complaining that you don’t get to watch things that kids in your class do, how you’ll ask tentatively what a “crush” is, or how that snotty tone creeps into your voice when you don’t get your way.

But there’s an innocence about you that I hold on to so tightly. I love how you prefer to be comfy over trendy (wonder where you get that from?); how you still hold my hand on the way to school; that you want me to read you Berenstain Bears books even though you’re on to your own chapter books; your preference for a bath over a shower; your squeal of delight when your grandparents come to visit. Your unquenchable thirst for knowledge is one of my favourite things about you (and reminds me of how much I don’t know): How exactly does a nail gun work? Why do things taste good to some people and bad to others? How does religion cause wars? I love your energy and enthusiasm. I love your sense of humour. You still have a fiery temper, but you’re working harder to control it, and understand how it affects the people around you. I see you taking much more care in your relationship with your sister, and while we’ve always told you that because you’re sisters, you’ll be forever friends, I see you realizing that. While she is the one who tries your patience the most, she is also the one you’re starting to turn to for camaraderie and comfort.

The last few months, I’ve seen something else unexpected: a bit of hesitancy where there used to be bold fearlessness in certain situations, like standing up in front of a crowd, a dentist visit or going to overnight camp. In some ways, I feel you’ve gained great confidence in yourself and your skills over the past year, but there’s been an emergence of self-consciousness. It’s as if you know what you’re good at, but have become nervous about attempting things you might not be. You’ve spoken more frequently, and with more emotion, these past months about missing me during the day when you’re at school and not wanting to be away from me. Where you once couldn’t wait for a sleepover, now you fret about being away from me. It’s a fragility I’m not used to and I’m not sure where it’s coming from. Maybe it’s a push-pull of emotions that’s typical at this stage, when you’re growing up so fast—but still have so far to go.

Read more: Strategies for separation anxiety>

I know it’s not about school. School is a happy place for you. You’re reading well beyond grade level and love math and all the technology you’re learning—especially Twitter and Storybird. You’ve started writing stories and songs (which excites the writer in me) but don’t want to learn to play an instrument yet. I’ll give you some time, though I’d love to see it happen. You have a love/hate relationship with hockey this past season (your fourth); you love games and hate practice. You’re starting to see that some of the girls are faster than you and are more invested in the outcome. While I want you to realize the important of always trying your best out on the ice, I’m OK with you not pushing yourself to elite level. It’s most important to me that you have fun out there.

You are a strong-willed kid, no question. You’re a beautiful, sparkling, fascinating, loving challenge. I know there are people who don’t understand you or don’t think they could handle the tougher parts of raising you. I admit I used to worry about that, too, but I recognize how far we’ve come since those feelings were the dominant ones. I see how much you have to offer the world. I have probably learned more from you than from anyone in my entire life—not that they’ve been easy lessons. You’re like that really hard teacher in high school, the one who always seemed to be pushing you harder than everyone else. You couldn’t figure out why he was being so unfair and demanding, why even your best efforts didn’t seem to impress. By the end of the term, of course, you realize you’re not an idiot and he didn’t hate you; you were his favourite. And not only did you emerge a better student, but a better person, too, walking away from the experience with skills you’d never find on the curriculum. I think of all the lessons I might have missed if you’d been “easy” and know how truly blessed I am for all of it.

We haven’t reached the end of the term—thankfully, there’s still a long road ahead—but that doesn’t stop me from taking this day every year to reflect on where we are now, and to mark how much we’ve grown and all that we’ve learned. All of our hard work—especially yours—is paying off, and I’m very proud of the person you’ve become.

I remember writing that the last couple of years seem to be you hitting your stride. I didn’t think you were growing up too fast, I thought you’d finally reached a stage where your age had caught up to your incredible brain, and you seemed to be gradually finding your groove in the world. Eight feels like growing up too fast, even if I’m enjoying you so much.

So I’m OK with this emergence of clinginess. It feels good to provide reassurance and affection if you need a little extra right now. You asked if you could sleep with me one night a few weeks ago. It was unlike you, and I was happy to say yes. I watched you sleep for a while, outlining your freckles and smoothing your unruly hair and wondering what you were dreaming about. I’ve often felt I have no idea what’s going on in your head, but these days, we’ve had so many sweet, soft moments that I feel more connected with you than ever, more in touch with what you need, more equipped to help you make this a year where you shine even brighter.

Happy birthday, love Mom xo