Happy 8th birthday, my delightful daughter. Happy birthday, my darling.
I got it wrong, didn’t I? I’ve always said you’re tough, resilient. I never worried about you in the way I did about your brother. You’ve always been the strong one; the one who shrugged off upsets and insults, the one who didn’t need reassurance.
But you do.
The problem is that you don’t like to admit it, and so I’ve missed out, so many times in recent months, on being able to give you the time and words that you’ve needed. Sometimes it’s been because I’ve just been too caught up in everything else that’s going on, sometimes it’s because your brother has got in first with his feelings and need for cuddles, but mostly it’s because you hide your feelings too well. Your real feelings, I mean. You’re never quiet, we always know when there’s a triumph or disaster unfolding, but you don’t often open up to me. And that’s my fault.
I have always believed that of the two of you, The Boy is the one most like me. Quiet, shy, reserved, so I’ve always given him more attention to encourage his confidence. He gets my time because he’s always asked for it. You never do. It’s taken me a long time – too long – to realise that you are more like me than he will ever be, because you have that sheer bloody minded refusal to depend on other people for help, and an iron will to Just Get Stuff Done. Remember that time on the climbing frame a few weeks ago? When you got stuck and panicked a bit? And I said to you, in exasperation ‘Why do you always have to go on it, when you always get stuck?’ And your reply was ‘Because I was determined I could do it on my own.’ Sums us both up…
It doesn’t have to be like that, though. Honestly, sweetheart. It’s probably a bit late for me to change too much. But you’re so young still, even as you seem to be racing through the years. It is ok to tell me when you’re not ok. I’m your mum. I want to make the world as easy for you as I can. Sometimes I won’t be able to help, but I’ll always listen. I can’t bear it when I see your face crumple with disappointment and how you turn away to hide that from me. The times when I see that you're upset, but you tell me that whatever's happened doesn't matter. You don’t have to live a life where the only person you can rely on is yourself, please believe me. I will almost certainly let you down without meaning to, because I’m just as human and fallible as everyone else, but I am here, I love you, and I will do anything for you.
I treasure every moment I have with you. The hours we spend in the grotty pub next to school, waiting for your brother to finally traipse out of whatever after school club he’s doing. The times you come with me to the shop in the evening, and carefully buy sweets with your pocket money, the pride showing on your little pearl of a face. It touches me even more that you always buy something for your brother too, unasked and unprompted. I am honoured when you give me your notebook to read a story you’ve been writing. You are a writer, my beautiful, precious girl; you have an almost unnatural talent already. I know that one day your words will change the world of other people, not just me. I am so proud of how you are, who you are, and what you will become. I’m sorry that I cry over you as often as I do, but I don’t always have the words to tell you how happy you make me.
So, today, on your birthday, I’m sorry I haven’t been able to buy all of the presents you asked for. I wish I could have done. But I can offer you something I haven’t been too good at doing up until now. I promise you that I will be a better mother to you, in that I will make sure you know that you don’t have to do everything on your own. And I hope, in time, you will give me the gift of telling me honestly your truth, and asking me to help you.