My letter to my firstborn

by Jen Rouse
The Short Years
Oregon writer

To my dear not-so-little girl,

You were the prettiest baby anyone had ever seen. I’m not just saying that because I’m your mom. People used to ask if I’d signed you up with a modeling agency, because you were that bright-eyed and smiley and just plain gorgeous.

You talked early. You walked late. You were obsessed with books and magazines from the time you could grab for them. You had very little hair. You loved to grab at the plastic chicken on your Fisher-Price toy farm and listen for its familiar cluck. Oh, how I can still hear that sound.
The books I can recite! Do you remember them too?
One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish. This one has a little star. This one has a little car. My, what a lot of fish there are!


In an old house in Paris, covered in vines, lived twelve little girls, in two straight lines. The smallest one was Madeline.


Goodnight, moon. Goodnight room. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight to the light, and the red balloon.
All those evenings, snuggled together in the big green chair. All those nights on the couch once your sisters joined us. Those words will live in my heart forever.


I knew you would be exceptional. I just did. But back then, I didn’t know how.


That’s the lovely thing about being your mom. I get to watch you become who you are going to be, every step of the way, and it’s something new with every step.


I could tell that you liked reading, but I didn’t know that by age 9 you would have developed a fascination with ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology–that you’d gulp down fantasy literature and sign up for classes on Egyptian history and be able to spout off the names and backstories of dozens of fantastic mythological characters.


And the clothes! I only wish I had your style when I was a pre-teen. I’m sorry, but when I look back at my own clothes and hairdos from that era, I made some pretty unfortunate fashion choices. You, my dear, have a really great and seemingly innate artistic sense that you did not inherit from me.


Other things I did pass on to you. The shape of my nose. My baby-fine hair. A tendency to get lost inside your head instead of engaging with the world in front of you. A desire to get things right immediately, or else not to do them all. Or maybe you picked those things up along the way, just by watching me muddle my way through life. In the line about “Good at organizing personal belongings and papers” on your school progress reports, you sometimes get marked “needs improvement.” Me too, kiddo. Me too.


I didn’t know that you’d end up liking to build highly complex Lego creations.


Neither did I predict that you’d dream of being a scientist of some sort. It used to be entomologist, but now a geologist who is also an astronaut is your current career plan.
There are things I’m still waiting to discover. Will you fulfill your dream of traveling the world? Will you ever see a platypus? Will you (one day, if I ever relent) chop your hair short and spiky and dye it a neon color?


Will you fall in love, and with whom? How are those difficult middle school years going to go for you, and high school, and college?
When you finally finish growing, will we be about the same size, or will you surpass me?


You’re nine years old today. Nine! What scares me now is that you’re halfway to technical adulthood. Is my job half done? There are still so many things I wish I could teach you, and every day you seem to need me less.


Nine years old. Still amazing me every day.


I don’t have to read to you anymore. You spend hours holed up in your bedroom, burning through book after book. But we do read together at night, just the same. You don’t really fit on my lap anymore, but sometimes you still request it, and I let you snuggle up and I perch my chin on your shoulder so I can see around you to the pages of the book.


These days it’s “The Secret Garden.” As together we follow Mary Lennox through the mysteries of Misselthwaite Manor, I hope you’ll remember these days. I hope that even as you venture further and further into life’s mysteries on your own, you’ll keep a little piece of this day, alive and growing inside of you.


I know I always will.


Love always,



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