To Riona on Your Tenth Birthday

Dear Riona,

I have this picture of your eyes. You are looking back at me from the other side of the wall, through the slot of the mailbox. Your eyes, your hair, your face—they are surrounded by the golden light of an autumn afternoon.

It is my favorite picture of you. Even though I can’t see your smile, even though you weren’t posing perfectly like I always ask you to do. But because it fully captures who you are: a set of kind eyes surrounded by golden light.

You are turning ten today. Ten big, full years of life. Double digits! My baby, my youngest, my sweet child, it still feels like yesterday that I brought you into this world to be a part of our family.

When you were born, you didn’t want to come out. You clung to my womb as if your life depended on staying inside its warmth, staying inside of me for as long as you could. And now, ten years later, you’ll sometimes still grab on like that, wrapping your legs around me, your arms on my shoulders, holding on and keeping me from dropping you off at Grandma and Grandpa’s, from taking you to school, from making you take one step further towards adulthood.

You are my baby. You will always be my baby, my youngest child whose entry into the world, though delayed by your love for your place of warmth at that time, was as peaceful of a birth as I could imagine. The evening you entered and all throughout that first night, you hardly made a whimper. You lay close to me on the hospital bed and moaned a bit when it was time to nurse. You didn’t cry out or complain or scream bloody murder as each of your sisters had done on their first night.
There was a peace in you that was impossible to measure. A few days after your birth, your aunt Elizabeth called and asked how things were going. I was sitting on the floor of the playroom with your two older sisters who were chatting away happily, playing with their toys. She could hear their voices over the phone, and after a while asked, “I guess the baby is asleep then?” “Oh no, she’s right here, lying on the floor next to me, just checking out the world.”

She couldn’t believe it. Neither could I. A baby who doesn’t cry?

You are a gift, Riona, a gift of a third daughter. Your peaceful demeanor continued as you stayed home with your Daddy while I went back to work, when you started school and easily got along with other kids in your class, even when you went to camp and were mistaken for your age and not allowed to participate in some of the activities… You kept the peace, didn’t complain, and made the best of your small, introverted voice in the great world in front of you.

That voice, that sweet, giggly voice, is the one I hear when I question myself during those difficult moments of motherhood, when I wonder if I can do this, if I can raise you right and give you what you need and be sure that you are happy. You always seem to find a way to be happy, to make the people around you happy, by your frequent small gestures and gifts—fixing your sisters their drinks, offering them the best spot in the car, pouring Daddy his next cup of coffee, helping me fix dinner. You are always there with that sweet smile on your face, ready to make the world a brighter, calmer place.

That kindness, that calm demeanor, is something I hope that you will always hold on to and cherish. The world can be a cruel place, and you have faced life’s challenges—whether it meant moving away from everything and everyone to live in Spain for a year or saying goodbye to your best friend who moved to Thailand—with that kindness still in your heart. Still out on your sleeve as you bake your birthday pie or cuddle with your kitty. And that is what I love about you most—your ability to face adversity with kindness at the root of who you are.

Its roots go back to the night you were born when you gave me the gift of sleep. To when you were three years old and got bit by my sister’s dog, and when years later retold the story, recounted, “Remember that time when Lady and I got hurt?” To the gifts you hand-make and wrap for your parents and sisters for Christmas or their birthdays. To the daily hugs and cuddles that you offer us, that you beg us to offer back, your need for closeness and affection as contagious as your sweet smile.

As your mother, I have learned the beauty that comes in small moments. A cup of coffee. A clasp of my hand. The small fingers tickling my back.

Every day that you are here, you give me a gift. The gift of gratitude, of calmness, of kindness. You remind me of the person I have always wanted to be.

 Thank you, Riona Francesca Vittetoe, for being my daughter. For bringing such joy into my life. For turning ten. For being those bright eyes shining in the golden light. For being you.

 Love,

Mama 

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