This will be a happy blog post, and I won’t apologize for it. When you live with mental illness, the key to having a joyful life is learning to make the most of the window of opportunity between the symptoms. I have spent the last two weeks recounting my infertility journey. If you haven’t read those two posts yet, click here to read part one and click here to read part two.
Those three years were arguably the worst season of my life. I still feel the ripple effects nine years later. If I am honest, there are fissures in my faith and my mental health that may never heal completely.
The Day that Changed Everything
Everything I thought I knew about life and love changed on June 6, 2010 at 7:29 a.m. My daughter, Ava, was born, and my heart grew three sizes bigger—just like the Grinch.
There was a steep learning curve those first few years, but I finally learned the number one lesson every mom must learn to survive motherhood. But I’ll get back to that later.
Ava just turned nine years old. Every year I write her a birthday letter to capture the memories and chronicle the high points, so I will have something tangible to hold on to when she is no longer my little girl.
A Year in the Life
June 6, 2019
Today you are nine years old. It occurred to me you are halfway through your childhood. Where did the years go? Time is moving so fast. I often tell you to freeze, so I can memorize your face. I want to remember every detail as the years progress—the sparkle in your caramel-colored eyes, your long eyelashes, your cute nose, sweet lips and every freckle on your face.
Third grade was a wonderful year for you. The transition from learning to read to reading to learn was a smooth one. You loved your teachers—Mrs. Theriot and Mrs. Comeaux. You continue to excel in math and tolerate reading. You are an amazing writer. I don’t know where that came from. 😉
Third grade was also the year you chose the art you will focus on for the next two years. Your teachers highly recommended you for band, guitar and vocal music. I enrolled you at J. Wallace James Elementary because I wanted you to learn an instrument. I did not know that instrument would be your voice. You love singing as much as I do, but you have the one thing I have never had: talent. I can’t wait to see where that talent will take you.
When you grow up you want to be a math teacher during the school year and a swimming instructor during the summer. That sounds like a well-thought-out game plan to me. The math you do in your head astounds me, and each year your swimming gets stronger and stronger.
Each year, I try to record all of your favorites. Your favorite song is “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” by Danny Gokey. Your favorite books are Because of Winn Dixie and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Your favorite movies are Star Wars and How to Train a Dragon. Your favorite television show is ICarly. Your favorite color is blue, and your favorite foods are ham and eggs. You are obsessed with Chewbacca and Stitch.
Your best friends are Evie, Addison and Ashlyn. When I asked for the names of your friends from school, you made a list with sixteen names! Jordan, Leilani, Parker, Jillian, Ackerson and Izhar are worth an honorable mention. God heard my prayer asking for you to be likeable and made you one of the kindest and friendliest people ever.
As you grow older, we must search for creative ways to pencil in quality time with each other. This year my closet became our clubhouse. We brought in blankets, chatted and played The Game of Life and Uno. It became our special place, and we had loads of fun there.
You love to travel, and you look for any excuse to stay in a hotel. This year we went on two notable vacations—one to San Antonio and one to Disney World. Both trips were jam-packed with fun, but as always, Disney World was a magical experience.
The best memories from Disney World were Jedi Training School (You battled Darth Vader!), giving your buddy Chewbacca a big hug, Flight of Pandora, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the Carousel of Progress (I still can’t get that song out of my head!). You had fun meeting all the princesses and being pampered at the Bibbodi Bobbodi Boutique. We also spent time with Mrs. Brooke, Cooper and Harper. It was fun to catch up with our friends.
Some moments are so perfect they become etched in your mind and heart forever. One such moment happened just two weeks ago when me and Daddy brought you to the Paul McCartney concert. Words can’t describe what it meant to me to share such an iconic piece of musical history with you. If I close my eyes, I can still feel our faces cheek to cheek as we ugly-cried and sang “Blackbird” and “Eleanor Rigby” at the top of our lungs.
You continue to have a heart for those who are less fortunate. Cookies for a Cause came back this year to raise money for our church’s Haiti mission team. You were a little girl with a big dream that paid off. You sold enough cookies to buy 11 food boxes and a farm kit. You provided over 2,000 meals to hungry families in Haiti.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
You had a year filled with fun, friends, accomplishments and memories. Those are all good things. But none of it matters without the presence of Jesus Christ in your life. On May 30, I was honored to walk you through the salvation prayer. You have received many beautiful gifts in your nine years, but you just received the most precious gift of all: eternal life.
The most important decision you will ever make is the choice to follow Jesus. When you said “yes” and made Jesus the Lord of your life, the road you travel on did not become easier, but now you have a Wise Counselor walking beside you. And on the day you die, you will meet Him face to face and walk with Him forever.
As always, it is my greatest privilege and joy to be your mom. I am so proud of the person you are, and I am excited to see the person you will become. Remember, I will always love you more than the most.
Doesn’t the year described in Ava’s birthday letter sound idyllic? It was. And it wasn’t.
I did not mention I tried to manipulate Ava into choosing a “real” instrument to study at school.
And what about the early morning screaming match we had at Disney World? We were all exhausted, and Ava had yet another meltdown because her pants were touching her body.
Or the time we were at the Paul McCartney concert when Ava fell asleep at the beginning of the concert while I wondered if I had wasted the ridiculous amount money I had spent on the tickets.
The Simple Truth
Ava’s birthday letter is not just a great example of my cunning spin doctor abilities. Everything in the letter is true. It was a great year, but life is messy, particularly when there are tiny humans involved.
I am a recovering perfectionist, and I spent the first few years of Ava’s life being upset when life wasn’t perfect—which was every single day. I finally had an epiphany that changed my life.
This is the number one lesson every mom must learn to survive motherhood:
Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.
Life is filled with wonderful memories that are tempered by a dose of reality. These imperfect moments don’t detract from life’s beauty. They are simply reminders we are human, and we will smudge even the most picture-perfect moments.
You have inspired me to write letters to my kids. When you struggle with mental health you value healthy times and moments with your children.
Shermane, letters to your children are a great keepsake for them and you. You can look back later and remember all of the great memories. They are also a good way for us to remember what joy feels like when we are having darker days.
Love this, so sweet and touching and yet so real and raw at the same time! You are such a talented writer, and thank you for sharing a piece of your story each week! Love you and so proud to call you my friend!
I am so glad it resonated with you, my friend! I love you too, and it is because of the support of friends like you I am able to do what I do.
This is so sweet and so true. It’s hard to let go of perfection and enjoy what we have despite it.
Rachel, it is so hard to let go of perfectionism. I am still a work in progress, but embracing life’s imperfect beauty has changed the way I look at everything.
Hi Andrea, I really loved reading this…it actually brought tears to my eyes! It’s so honest and real. Life will never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace it and cherish all of the beauty and joy! Melissa
I am so glad you enjoyed this post! It’s hard to be honest about my human frailties, but I know how important it is for others to see that I am not the picture-perfect persona I present on social media. It has been life changing for me to embrace the imperfect beauty of life.