I don't know what it feels like to have a child and not have the dark cloud of cancer hanging over my head. I was diagnosed with Stage 3C widespread gynecologic cancer when my daughter was just five days old. So, despite my best efforts to live each day in the moment, there's almost always this niggling little voice in the back of my head reminding me, "you might not be here when that happens."
I've tried to document things much more than I might have otherwise. That's frankly one of the main reasons I did the CafeMom Studios documentary series, "It's Cancer, Baby." It's also part of the reason I blog and write. I want my daughter to know me, even if I'm not around. And I don't just want her to know about me. I want her to know about her as well, and how she was as a little girl. I love hearing my parents tell stories of how I was as a child. (Don't we all?) So I decided to start writing periodic letters to my daughter at particular times in her life. Here's the first one ...
I can't believe it has been nearly 16 months since you were born. You're almost a year and a half old! It seems like just yesterday that you were this teeny tiny baby in my arms. I look at photographs taken of you over the months and am amazed at how quickly you change and grow.
Your rubberband wrists, thigh rolls and knee chubb are gone ... you've gotten tall and slim. You don't look like a baby any more. You look like a girl. I still can't believe you came from me.
You've gone from standing to walking to running, although you still look like a drunk old man at times. You're so careful, too, when you climb down from a piece of furniture, or when you accidentally fall. It's like you know instinctively how to protect yourself from getting hurt. I hope this is always the case.
You're saying all kinds of words now. One I'll never tire of hearing is "Mama". You say "Da" and "Da-Da" and "Daddy" more than just about anything. (You're definitely a daddy's girl, and I'm so glad.) A close second is the word "apple". You refer to a lot of fruits as "apple", although you're learning to say "avocado", one of your favorite foods. You can also say "puppy" and "kitty" and "Ein-tine" (for our beloved Aussie, Einstein). You've said "Nana" and "Gigi" and "Granpa" and "JJ". You have no idea how much delight you cause others to feel when you call them by name!
You are so loving. Your teachers say that you enthusiastically greet everyone who walks in the door and say "Bye Bye" to anyone who leaves. You LOVE babies. You kiss photos of yourself as a baby and anytime you see a live one in person, you want to kiss him or her too.
You're intuitive. You seem to have a way of knowing when someone is upset and giving them a tight hug around the neck, even though you're not as hug-gy as you used to be.
You wake up happy almost every day. One of my favorite parts of the day is listening to you happily chattering to yourself in your crib as soon as you wake up. Sometimes you talk and play for a half hour or more, until I can't stand it and have to come in and get you.
You love taking showers with your Dad on school mornings, and you're fascinated with toothbrushes. You have the most beautiful, reddish, wavy hair. I hope you always have that hair.
This morning you made your first fashion choice. It was snowing outside and I put on little boots for you to wear with your leggings. However, you then went and got a pair of hot pink Crocs out of your drawer and pulled off your boots and tried to put on your Crocs. Even though they didn't match your outfit, I let you wear them. I always said I'd let my daughter where whatever she wanted as much as possible and I intend to stick to that vow (even though I can already tell that it's not going to be easy).
You LOVE to look out the window, and to be outside. You like all animals and don't seem to be afraid of any, no matter how large. You are (usually) gentle with them, too, patting them carefully and not tugging on them too hard. You also love to give kisses to our dogs (we now have four!).
It seems that you're going to be a reader. You love books and could probably read 100 a day (or read the same one 100 times). I always loved books too; still do. I can't wait to share my favorite girlhood books with you and am already re-reading them in anticipation. Anne of Green Gables, the Little House books, the Nancy Drew series, The Secret Garden, Charlotte's Web, the Ramona books, Harriet the Spy. And let's not even talk about Judy Blume. I hope you love them as much as I did.
So far you seem to be an adventurous eater. You like hummus and falafel and edamame and refried beans and guacamole. You love all kinds of fruit, especially strawberries and watermelon. You don't seem to like juice (which is great, because it's all sugar), but drink alkaline water and goat milk every day.
You're musical. You strum guitars and bang drums and rattle maracas and tamborines. You start dancing when you hear a certain My Morning Jacket song, and go nuts when the theme song from "Yo, Gabba Gabba" starts playing.
You're both funny and strong-willed. Smart and compassionate. It's amazing how much personality came with you into this world. And you are beautiful, both inside and out. I hope you always know how beautiful you are, and don't let any ever make you feel otherwise.
I can go on and on, but I won't. At least not for now. But I hope to be able to give you lots of these letters, even when you're all grown up. I have loved getting to know you, little girl, and can't wait for all that is to come.
Actually, scratch that. I can wait. I don't want you growing up any faster than you already are. I love every minute with you. I'm so grateful that you chose me to be your mom.
What would you tell your child?
Image via Brooke Kelly.