A Letter to Simone on Her Fourth Birthday. Eleven Months Late.

{In the course of my annual January bustle—cleaning, list-making, etc.—I found a file on my laptop’s cluttered desktop containing a letter I wrote to Simone for her fourth birthday, meant to be posted here. It never was posted here because, if I recall correctly, I wanted to post pictures along with it, but I never seemed to find the time to decide which ones and get them all uploaded and whatnot. It wasn’t terribly timely at the time (Simone’s birthday is February 8th, and I think the letter was written piecemeal and only finished at the end of March or beginning of April) and it is certainly not timely NOW, when Simone’s FIFTH birthday is a scant four weeks away, but I wanted to post it anyway because this is where I put these things so that I don’t lose them.}

Dear Simone,

Not long ago, you turned four years old. Honestly, I have a hard time believing that this is true. You are my baby, and babies are not FOUR—that’s just common sense. The other day, you were singing a song you like, about sea creatures (“Humongous Whale,” to be specific) and I remembered our primarily marine-themed anthem, “Oh I Wish I Were a Little ‘Lectric Eel.” It has been years now since we’ve sung that particular song, but it feels as though it’s been about six months. It seems as though there was a gap somewhere, like you went from being nine-months old to FOUR, skipping the ages in the middle, but I know that isn’t so. I even went back to the beginning of our photographs of you, scrolling up through the ages, waiting to find this gap, this something that would explain the strange acceleration of time in uneven glops, but there was nothing, just a steady progression as my baby thinned and stretched upward and grew (some) hair on her way to kidhood.

I admit, you are especially delightful at four. You make up elaborate imaginary scenarios, you sing songs. You have a particular love of HELP!-era Beatles. Your favorite song in the whole world is “Ticket to Ride,” which you sing even without accompaniment, belting with particular gusto the phrased “SHE DON’T CARE!”

You are a long, skinny 30 pounds. You are rarely without your beloved Baby Thomas/Baby Muno (his/her name changes frequently), to whom you minister with great care. You took Baby to the park last week, and flung him/her lovingly down the slides and demanded he/she be pushed in a swing.

You are affectionate and imaginative and thoughtful, and you laugh easily and often.

We had a birthday party for you this year for the first time. Last year was your first year not in quarantine during your birthday season, and you spent the whole winter sick with one thing or another. This year you are unquarantined and have had only the commonest colds, and it seemed as though it was time to celebrate. We invited your fellow Billy Goats from preschool—Austin and Anna and Hailey and Maddie and all the names you rattle off to me as a reminder that your world is getting bigger and reaching further and further beyond your father and me. The party was held at The Children’s Museum and was a great success; there was a visit from a live turtle, an art project, and cake, and as things were breaking up you and your guests suddenly began to run in a happy, loping circle around the room, as people so often do at the end of fine soirees.

I am mindful of the fact that now that you are older, we are very much On The Record. I have many memories of being three, but four is especially clear to me. It can be nerve-wracking to know that your wee brain is storing things away for later perusal, but it is also lovely to be able to reminisce together about our first real family vacation this past summer. We are returning to the same spot in Duluth this year, and I hope you will have years of happy Lake Superior memories, just as I do. I am glad, too, that you had one year when it was just the three of us at the lake, and maybe the reason this particular birthday of yours has me so wistful is because it was your last as an only child. I am terribly excited for your sister’s arrival this summer, but I worry about how our relationship will change once she comes. I am so besotted that sometimes I stare at you while you sleep, feeling almost ill with love. This sounds creepy, I know, but then you did use my phone to videotape me taking a nap recently, so we’re probably even.

Happily, you are excited for our new arrival as well, and keep pressing me to commit to a date. (You seem attached to “June Four,” your Nani’s birthday, but I tell you that this is about a week earlier than I’d like. “June Six? June Seven?” you suggest agreeably). What’s more, you have at last accepted that your sister’s first name is not “Baby.” For a long while she was “Baby Twyla,” and if we referred to her without the modifier you frowned and corrected us, no doubt wondering just how ready we were for another child if we couldn’t even remember its name. Now she is just “Twyla,” and you pat at my belly, calling out to her, and when you receive an answering kick you laugh, informing me that “she feels like a fish.” Coincidentally, you are expecting your own baby, Baby Carrot, who resides in your leg. This might sound odd to some, but really, looked at from your perspective, is one body part a stranger place than any other in which to harbor another human? And so I inject my stomach with bloodthinners and you apply your large plastic syringe to your leg, administering medicine to Baby Carrot. You invite me to put a hand on your leg, to feel her kick. You don’t seem to mind my much-expanded midsection—or, as you refer to it, “BIIIG belly!!”—though I regret that it has made it near impossible for you to sit on my lap. In a recent discussion about mammals, you informed me that while you and the cats are small mammals, I am in fact a LARGE mammal, “like a whale.” So. Thank you for that.

I’ve been trying to squeeze in as much Mama & Simone time as possible before the baby’s arrival, and a few weeks ago we spent a particularly enchanting day together. We went to lunch and then The Children’s Museum again, where you played in the same exhibit that was my favorite as a child. This exhibit is constructed like a small town, with a store, restaurant, clinic, post office, etc., allowing children to perform tasks that they haven’t yet found to be tedious—things like grocery shopping or mopping the floor.

After, we went to the bookstore and then out for ice cream—the lone customers in the ice cream shop on a day on which, after all, there was still ice on the ground. Ice cream has assumed a large importance for the two of us, and constitutes what has become one of my favorite portions of our nightly routine. When the day is over, I scoop out two bowls of Haagen Daaz (lately chocolate chocolate chip) and carry them down the hall while you skip ahead of me and into bed. We settle in under the covers and against our pillows and eat, MMM!-ing and AHHH!-ing and smacking our lips. Later, after the lights are out, we face each other in the dark to cuddle and talk. Every night, you want to have the same conversation: “What babies can do a lot?” you ask, and I tell you that they sleep, and drink milk, and wave their arms and legs about. You want to talk about Twyla, specifically about what we’ll do with her, come June. Mostly you look forward to pushing her on the swing, though I have tried to warn you that this is a ways off. We enumerate the things babies can and cannot do, and then we are quiet until you think of a new question: “Do babies have feet?” you asked last week.

A few days ago I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and so our nightly ice cream socials are likely over. Next month you’ll move into your new bed, and bedtime will change even more drastically. We never set out to be co-sleepers, and weren’t until you were well over a year old and suddenly stopped sleeping any other way—it was so pleasant, having you there with us, that the practice stuck. Sometimes I would feel vaguely guilty about letting you sleep with us, but it seemed silly to insist you sleep elsewhere when anyway, as I reminded myself, it wouldn’t be long before you’d be too big for such things—it all goes so fast! And I’ve proven myself right: now that you are less baby, more long-limbed person, and especially keen on picking out your very own bed (from “I-Kee”), it is time to move on, and it has gone fast.

The weather has been shockingly, unseasonably warm, in the 60s and 70s, and a few Sundays ago your father and I took you out for brunch and then to the park for our first visit of the season. It was glorious, and we watched you running, and practicing pushing an imaginary Baby Twyla in an empty swing. We reminded each other aloud that there was a time, not long ago, when you refused to walk on sand, when you let yourself hang limply in swings or flopped down a slide without engaging your muscles. I would see you next to other children and notice how different you seemed, how much more cautious and inept, like a visitor from another planet. That’s all gone now. Now you are chatty and fleet-footed and adventurous—far more adventurous than I ever was, as evidenced by the fact that on a recent amusement park trip you threw your head back and laughed and whooped on a ride that even now I refuse to get on, instead perching on a bench and waving at you where you sit next to your father. Admittedly it is a ride geared for toddlers, but I am impressed all the same by your derring-do.

The sun was so bright on that Sunday, and our little family felt so content—one girl singing outside, another one kicking me from in—and I realized that I was happier that I could remember being since the summer we brought you home from the NICU. I don’t write these letters to you regularly, and in fact the last one I wrote was during that time, to commemorate your turning four months old. I looked back at it, to see what I’d said, and the last line was this:

“Every minute I spend with you is a good one, and there will never be enough of them.”

Still so true, my little goose.


  1. Jeanette says:

    What a wonderful way to celebrate Simone’s birthday…and a great way to help you remember these happy times. Thanks for sharing with us…your blog followers.

  2. Serina says:

    Oh, Alexa! That was so beautiful it made me cry! Happy tears, though! Wishing your amazing little lamb an outstanding birthday xxx

  3. Sandra says:

    Beautiful sentiments all. You make me cry for missing my babies… now 14 and 12… just WAIT to see how quickly that arrives for you and your beautiful girls!

  4. Kristin says:

    Oh lady! You are SUCH a good writer; you and Holly Burns are my two favorites on the entire internet. Write another book, pretty please?

  5. Laura says:

    Oh, Alexa, just beautiful. I love “every minute I spend with you is a good one, and there will never be enough of them.” I am besotted with my 3-year-old twin girls, I admit. I even tell them, “I love you so much it FREAKS ME OUT!” There is a snippet of a song on one of their kiddie classical music boxes that is popular “walking down the aisle” music at weddings. It fills my head with pictures of them getting married (even though I’m not married) and leaving me and I get teary every effing time. How did I get so sappy?! They just laugh at me.

    Happy 4th and 5th birthdays to our Girl Wonder, Simone!

  6. Lisa says:

    My daughter was off school, sick, this last week. Nothing critical, just high temps and aches. But it meant 3 days of just her and I during the day. When her fever would break we’d play a little, and when it was up she would snuggle up against me the way she used to, before she became this spindly skipping dancing 6 yo. I felt terrible she was sick but at the same time it was so nice to have a calmer and snugglier little girl! And I totally understand what you mean about feeling such an intense love you’re almost ill.

  7. Tree Town Gal says:

    Per usual, you just leveled me with the beauty and truth of your sentiments. It is too fast. My memory too dim. My time to record so very limited. Thank you for sharing this post.

    Just enjoyed all the photos in the past posts… and wow, those are some supremely precious girls… and Simone… how did it happen? How is it that she nears five…

  8. Amy says:

    This is so beautiful. I feel the need to congratulate myself for not completely crying my fricking eyes out. Makes me wanna leave work early and go snuggle Ike and think about having another one, even though I know that I am nowhere near really ready for that. Just beautiful.

  9. Anne says:

    I love this letter! So beautiful and sweet, especially that dang last line. I love the way you write. I do have a kind of random question: I’m trying to plan a quick Duluth vacation for our family this summer and when I went back to read about your previous trip up north I was totally charmed. Do you have any lodging recommendations? There are so many options (condo, hotel, cabin, cottages, etc.) I am totally overwhelmed. (I hope it’s not weird that I’m asking!)

  10. Scarlet says:

    Aww. How touching. I have never done this before but I think it is a great idea for a keepsake. I think I will do it for my kids on their 10th birthday to be extra special. Thanks for the idea!

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