You’re about to turn fourteen, and I can’t believe it. Sometimes it feels like you’ve lived two lifetimes in that body of yours. You have always given us a run for our money. You were born on the coldest day of the year in 2004, the Obstetrician was a doctor I had literally met once before. My doctor was sitting shiva, so I went with the new guy.
Like all births, it didn’t go as planned, but it was a relatively easy delivery as deliveries go, and you popped out healthy and perfect. Ten fingers, ten toes, and a loud strong voice. Your dad and I were thrilled and exhausted, and we went home as a family a few days later.
But something was up, you weren’t a strong eater and you didn’t nurse well. I also didn’t know what I was doing, and the long story short, I called the pediatrician and said, “I know we’re not supposed to come in until Monday but I think something is wrong.” Turns out, I had developed mother’s intuition. You went back into the hospital for a week, as a “failure to thrive” baby. Nothing was wrong necessarily, they kept you to put some weight on you after a lumbar puncture and sent us home again with a prescription for some drug to help me get my milk back, and a strong suggestion to supplement with formula.
You’ve never been easy. As a toddler you were willful and headstrong, testing the boundaries of everything all the time. You had so much energy that we called you an “Energy Vampire” because you only seemed to get stronger as we flagged at the end of a long day. You have been, and continue to be, my greatest challenge as a mom.
But as birthdays go, you’ve had some good ones and some bad ones.
On your first birthday, you received your bear Teddy, the companion through all of your hospital stays, which is good, because you’ve had over 200 of them. I have washed and mended Teddy more times than I can count, but I am grateful that you have him.
On your fourth birthday, you were in the hospital. You had to be readmitted because you were on too many oral medications and your stomach couldn’t handle them all. You were super weak and we asked all our friends to wear green and send us pictures because green was your favorite color. The hospital staff adopted a penguin at the New England Aquarium in your name, so you could go and visit him once you got well enough. You named your adopted penguin Poppy, and you had a plush animal that looked like him. Your cake had yellow roses on it, and no candles because candles aren’t allowed in the hospital, so I ran down to the gift shop and got colorful plastic frogs to decorate all over the cake. You celebrated with a little girl who had a brain tumor from Canada. We eventually, a few months later, got to go to the aquarium to see the penguin.
On your fifth birthday, we were waiting every moment for word that your kidney was going to arrive. You wanted a pool party, in the middle of January, so we arranged to have your party at the pool at Vermont Technical College. Your friends came and we had pizza and cake and played musical chairs, besides the swimming of course! You were super sick but you loved that birthday, just being a normal kid with your friends. Except you were on 14 medications that you took in 2 hour increments around the clock. Your kidney (whom you call Frank) arrived 22 days later. He was a little late to the party.
On your eighth birthday, you wanted to have a Fairy Princess Tea party, so we rented out the Three Bean Cafe on a Sunday (they were normally closed) and everyone got wings and tiaras, while you drank “tea” and ate cake. Even the barista Rex wore a crown to celebrate the day.
You missed your tenth birthday, which was going to be going to an indoor waterpark, but you had pneumonia and had to go into the hospital. They let you out pretty quickly because everyone in the hospital had the flu, but you were there for a few days under observation.
For your 11th birthday you wanted to go ice skating with friends and then for a fondue dinner, which we miraculously pulled off with no problems. It was freezing cold, but you had a good time, and I think it might have been one of your best birthdays.
Now here you are at 14, almost as tall as me, hair dyed purple, playing your ukulele all around the house. Life has not been easy for you, but you have been a vibrant presence in the lives of others for as long as I can remember. You are a good big sister. During the last snowstorm, while I was taking a shower, your sister came in from playing in the snow and you made her hot chocolate, just like that. You are fantastic with little kids, collecting them like the Pied Piper wherever you go. You’ve recently gotten your first job teaching soccer to toddlers, who adore you. You are a good team mate and a good friend, being attentive to them and being a good player on and off the field. You’re a good daughter, too, even though we sometimes butt heads, but all moms and daughters do. I just want you to know that I’m so proud of the young lady you’ve become.
Tonight is a good example. You went to yoga with your friends, and got a ride home. You realized that you forgot your glucometer at the place which was locked up tight. You told your dad, which I’m sure was not easy on you, and you went all the way back together to get it. Then, you went to swim practice, even though you were going to be late. That takes heart, kid, and you’ve got a huge one. I have checked your blood sugar in twelve different countries, on boats, trains, in cars and planes. I’ve changed your pod in Italian churches and at soccer games. I’ve given you back up injections at Swim meets and on mountain tops. And you just go with it, you roll with the punches. You’re the most resilient person I know.
I can’t wait to see how you grow up and use your talents as you become an adult. You have such a vibrance that’s impossible to miss. Last summer, when we did StoryCorps, I told you that you reminded me of Harry Potter, because the worst part of his life, losing his parents and getting his scar, happend in the beginning of the story and there was so much more that he did, and that happened to him and as a result of his ations. I still feel like your illness as a three year old was only the beginnning of your story. I can’t wait to be a part of the rest of it.
Happy Birthday, Wendy. I love you.