September 26, 2001
What happened to that funny face?
— Neil Sedaka, b. 1939
It is a tradition at Lynn’s school for parents to place a congratulatory message in their graduating child’s yearbook which includes a baby picture. Lynn loves this snapshot taken in the summer of 1988 when she was two and a half and has said it’s the one she wants used for this.
Lynn is the only thing in my life I ever did right the first time. Once, after I’d kissed her goodnight and tucked her in, I stopped halfway down the steps when I heard her singing: “Oh I love my mommy and I love my daddy, and I love myself!” That’s not ego, I thought, that’s self-esteem. And then she said to her bear, “Oh Snuggle, you are just the best bear. You are everything I ever wanted a bear to be.”
She was doing me, paraphrasing me, saying to the bear what I said so often to her. I’d been able to give her what my mother had been too overwhelmed or too absent of emotional resources to give me — unconditional love, unconditional acceptance, a strong sense of self worth. I sat down on the steps and wept.
I called her “Wunski” then, a spelling I chose because it looked better than “Oneski” or “One-ski.” I made up the word from calling her “my little one.” She did wear “onesies” then, the Gerber garments that are made like an undershirt that extends into a diaper cover and snaps between the legs. We still have one from those days. It remains on the anatomically correct, realistically proportioned, vanilla-scented baby doll that has never made it into the “let’s give this to a child who can use it” efforts I periodically stage. That doll, heavily swaddled to conceal both the anatomical female correctness and the purple Magic Marker earrings Lynn drew on it when she was about four, has represented Baby Jesus for several years now at our congregation’s Sunday School Christmas program, so of course we need to keep it around.
The earring application occurred about the time I started saying to her, “My goodness, Wunski! I just love the way you are today! I have to find a magic spell that is going to keep you four years old forever!” And she would say, “That won’t work, Mommy. I have to grow.” The next year I would tell her that I was glad I hadn’t found the magic pill, because I liked the little girl she was now just as much as I’d liked the one she’d been.
I’m not permitted to call her “Wunski” in public now, and she calls me “Marm,” but I’m still wishing for that magic spell. Today is her birthday, and there aren’t words sufficient to say how much I love her, enjoy her, take pride in her, hope for her, pray for her, how much she has enriched and enlarged and blessed my life. My mother used to belittle parents who praised their children. “They think their kids are hanging with diamonds!” she’d cluck. On Sunday we gave Lynn a ring — a thin white gold band channel set with some small diamond baguettes. It seemed appropriate.
If I should smile with sweet surprise, it’s just that you’ve grown up before my very eyes. You’ve turned into the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.
Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen!