To My Daughter on her Birthday

On July 14th, 1999, you made me complete.

A nurse slipped you into my arms (all four pounds, fourteen ounces of sticky skin and soft bone), and I looked down at your tiny face and knew you for my own.

These shaking hands cradled the first great-granddaughter; the first niece; the first sister of a generation.

My last child (I wish I had known that). My only baby girl.

You were so little and people asked:

“Was she a preemie?” No. “Did you smoke?” Of course not.  “But she’s so small!”

You grew and people asked:

“Is he a boy?” No. “You named your son Karly?” Of course not. “Look at those ears!”

But you were perfect in our eyes. You are better than we deserve.

Ever our even girl.

“I love you, Mama,” you said, eyes darting to your father. “I love you too, Dada. Maybe just a dot more.”

You looked between us then. “Actually, (ac-ti-dee) I love you both the same.”

A hug for me. A hug for him. A hug for your big brother.

For all these years you’ve wanted everything to be fair, to never hurt a feeling or ruffle a feather.

You smooth each rough edge you encounter, offering compromise, a hand, placation.

But here’s a secret I’ll share today, a wish I have for you besides constant equanimity:

I want you to love freely, without measure or fear.  Be extravagant with your emotions and seek, at times, the ends of the spectrum instead of the careful balance of middle ground.

Don’t be afraid of ruffled feathers, of being out of joint or sorts.

You should love some more than others. You will give (inevitably) less than is required but also sometimes more.

We can always only try our hardest and hope our intentions speak loudly. That our actions (overall) speak louder still.

I wish for you a path that brings you joy, goals with both purpose and strength. I hope you find true friends you rightly trust, and a partner in this life to hold your hand.

If I could, I’d choose for you an open mind that keeps learning, and a spirit that willingly shares what you know.

After all, you’ve been sharing since your brother first climbed onto my lap to be held alongside you.

People clucked and comforted. “Don’t worry. When you have another baby, your heart stretches.”

You’ll see. But I didn’t believe them, and I don’t believe them now.

I’m certain I grew a new heart in the wake of your arrival. The one I’d been using (testing, building, breaking) couldn’t have fit all that flooded me the minute I suspected you were coming (in the middle of a Sunday brunch with Jack and Daddy; I was eating eggs and I just knew).

Cows have four stomachs. I have two hearts.

(I know they don’t really; and neither do I. But still.)

My Girl of the Bright Side, you were born second; you wore navy blue sweatshirts and dinosaur pajamas; you slept in hand-me-down beds and chewed on plastic blocks that someone else had gummed before you.

Your baby book is half full and most of your pictures contain another grinning face (also covered  in cake or standing before the giraffe’s habitat or washing the car with one bucket of soapy water and two rags).

But there is one thing you’ve never had to share: you claimed the whole of the heart I grew for you.

For whatever’s longer than forever. Plus a dot more.

Happy birthday, Kaker-Baker-Candlestick-Maker; my daughter with long(ish) legs and wide(ish) shoulders and the quickest smile.

You make me proud and astonished and terrified and awestruck and complete.

And I’ll always love you more than all the words.

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And stay tuned for updates on FORGETTING OPHELIA, the third book in the Friendship & Secrets series, launching this October!


71 thoughts on “To My Daughter on her Birthday

  1. This? I absolutely beautiful. Perhaps your best writing . . . I just want to know how a blog post on the other side of the country made it all dusty in my office.

  2. Oh Julie.

    Congratlations on another birthday.

    For creating another beautiful, loved child.

    For providing roots and wings.

    And a dot more.

    Will you write my speech for Monkey’s bar mitzvah? 😉

  3. Ok, those photos made me tear up. So sweet and precious.

    I hope I adore my daughter as much at age 12, though if she’s anything like me at that age, she will do her best to test me…

    What a beautiful showing of how full that second heart is.

    Much love, my friend.

  4. You make me sob every time you write of your love for your children.

    Will you be my mother?

    Happy Birthday to your sweet girl.

  5. Diane

    Through tears I read with joy and love for you and Karly and Jack and Bill. You have a beautiful family and a beautiful voice. Happy, happy birthday KK, we all love you!

  6. Just beautiful, Julie. Truly, truly beautiful. Your love for your kids shines through in everything you write.

    After hanging with you guys Sunday, I wanted to be a C. sister. Now I think I just want you to be my mommy. But not in a scary, icky way.

    Much love to you and your special baby girl – can’t wait to meet her someday!


  7. People always SAY they get tears in their eyes from reading posts and maybe they DO, but I have always doubted them. I now know, when warranted the tears DO COME. I am fighting them now.

    Your children are so lucky that you can express yourself the way you do in writing. Your words are not only a gift to them but also contain so much they can learn and grow from. That we all can learn and grow from.

    Julie— I’ve learned so much from you.

  8. Jbutt

    Two hearts. I love that. So much. How else do you explain the ability to swell and mourn over the passage of days and months and milestones at the same time for so many people. Happy birthday Karly. You have the makings of a beautiful, eloquent, enthralling young woman. It’s in your blood.

  9. KLZ

    I’m sobbing at work. Again.

    Happy birthday sweet little girl. You are so loved.

  10. What a sweet post! Happy birthday to your daughter. You are complete.

  11. It feels superfluous to add any words to yours. 🙂 This is beautiful. Beautifully written, beautifully described. Thank you for sharing.

  12. What a beautiful, beautiful post, Julie.


  13. well there goes my resolution not to cry today. gulp.

    awesome words. and i mean the ‘awe’ part – truly awesome.

  14. Julie! I’m going to cry. And those pictures are priceless.

  15. Michelle Langer

    Julie….you bring me to tears. Karly (and Jack) are so lucky to have you as their Mom as I am lucky to have you as my friend!!….xoxo

  16. Larry Enright

    Thanks, Julie. That was heartwarming, something we all need more of.

  17. Happy Birthday, Karly!

    Beautiful, Julie. Such a lovely legacy.

  18. Your children are oh-so-lucky to have you as a Mama. This is just beautiful. Happy birthday to your sweet one…I know that sensitive heart, it’s one I have too…hope she gets everything you wish for her!

  19. “I have two hearts.”

    Julie, this was incredibly beautiful 🙂

    — As a mama, I have 2 heart, as well.

  20. nannyk

    Kaker Baker Candlestick Maker! Can’t explain why THAT was what made my eyes well up. go figure

    Your precious little Kaker Baker is a blessing to all who know her. Today, I couldn’t be more proud of the young lady she’s become or more nostalgic for the day I watched her enter this world. It’s amazing that she not only outgrew her fear of our household pets (and uncle Randy), but now lives her life quite fearlessly.

    Happy Bday KK. With MUCH LOVE from Auntie Nancy xoxoxox

  21. I hope my younger children grow up to realize I have three hearts. Gosh, I hope they never suspect I have four stomachs…it could happen, I like cake.

    This was gorgeous. I loved it, and you made me want to cry AGAIN. Your posts are always so well thought out and just…beautiful.

  22. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

  23. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

  24. This is just beautiful. Two hearts sounds right to me. How’d ja get so smart?!

  25. This took my breath away. I’m just happy to have found you and your blog. Just amazingly wonderful.

  26. I’m crying over here! This was so, so awesome. Your daughter is so blessed to have you and you are blessed to have her. Thanks for sharing her with us!

  27. Abby

    How do you DO this? How do you capture in words what it’s like to love more than one child…two hearts…f’n BRILLIANT, Julie!

    Macy turns 6 a week from Saturday; Gage turns a year this Sunday. Can I just save your posts and pass them off as my own when the time comes?

    From now on, I’m arming myself with a box of kleenex before I read your blog. I’m amazed my laptop hasn’t stopped working as a result of the tears that have landed on the keyboard.

  28. I love this. I love that you grew another heart. I know now no fear on how I’ll be able to love a second child in my already full-to-capacity heart – because I will grow another. Because you said so, and your words, I love your words, are what I hold to be true.

    Happy Birthday to your baby girl.

  29. Damn, you rock these birthday posts. Moms and daughters. Good stuff.

  30. Julie

    Thanks so much for all the beautiful comments. We had a fabulous day celebrating (beginning yesterday at 7AM when she woke up and continuing through until 2:30 this morning at 2:30 when we returned from the midnight showing of Harry Potter…)

    Today we are tired but happy.

    (so in other words,

    Love to you good people ~

  31. This is such a wonderful tribute to a wonderful girl who blessed her mama’s life.

  32. Julie

    Thanks, sweet friend.

    My girl is the definition of “a blessing.”

    (I know. every mother thinks that about her children. but really. she is. for real ;-))

  33. liz

    This is so beautiful! Touching yet funny – a skill only the best like Julie C can write.

    Happy 12th birthday!

    (And now I cringer because Maddie’s birthday is next week and I didn’t have nearly as sweet a post planned).

  34. You, with your beautiful words, make me so, so happy to have a daughter.

  35. Julie

    Liz – I am sure your post for Maddie will be perfect! And I only write sweet stuff to my kids on their birthdays because the rest of the time I ignore them completely (hee hee). But thanks for the lovely compliment. And I suggest eating lots of cake as a great way to celebrate! (skip the Chinese food, though. I have a total MSG hangover right now…)

    Kristin – Yes yes yes to having a daughter. And oh yeah, YES. Couldn’t love her more. I just don’t want her to grow up yet. Gulp.

  36. I don’t know how you did it…because they’ve been boogers all day…but you made me want to hug my little girls anyway.

    Gorgeous prose.

  37. It’s so true that our children complete us. Congrats and happy birthday to your baby girl

  38. Julie

    SDM – Thank you so much. I hope you enjoyed the hugs…

    Mrs. Tuna – Thanks, lady. I know Sheldon is so lucky to have you, too.

    Don’t we just love our girls in spite of them, in spite of ourselves sometimes?


  39. That is beautiful. Happy birthday to your wonderful daughter. You do seem complete.


  40. Julie

    Oh, my lovely Suniverse…

    I am complete. And you’re a part of that. So thank you.

    Very much.

  41. I looooooooooooooove this. I’m trying to sob quietly as my husband is sleeping next to me.

    Maybe I have two hearts too. No, that would be three. Unless the boys have to share one like they share their room? No definitely three.

  42. Oh sweet Julie- this is so very beautiful!

    Your love is so very BIG and those babies of yours? So very LUCKY!


  43. Julie

    Lady Jennie – Yes. Go for that third heart for sure…(and third helpings of macarons are okay, as well).

    Galit – BIG is a great word to describe my love for my kids. Yes! I could have just said BIG and taken care of it in one syllable. But Today Call Me Big didn’t have the ring to it I was going for – ha!

    Thank you, sweet friend for the support and the RT. Very much.

  44. This post was very sweet! Happy Birthday to your little girl! 🙂

  45. Julie

    Thanks, Taylor.

    I can’t make my own jam (and I didn’t even bake her a cake!) but I did try to celebrate Karly in my own non-food-related way 😉

    It was a lovely day, indeed.
    And she has since promised to slow down the whole growing-up process.


  46. Your writing, when you write about your children, makes my heart ache. I know those words just flowed from you, because the biggest truths do that to a writer. The words come unbidden, pouring out so fast, that typing fast is a necessity to capture them all. I’m sure this post was like that for you.

    Your girl is beautiful. Happy birthday to her. May all of your gorgeous motherly wishes come true for her.

  47. Julie

    Yes, Joann. That’s exactly right.

    The words do come unbidden (and then of course I edit them obsessively trying to achieve perfection before eventually letting that go).

    But I never will let go of those motherly wishes.
    One of the best parts of the cake are the candles…

  48. I hope your daughter read this!

    And when she is older and becomes a mother herself, I am sure this will mean three times as much as it did on her 12th birthday.

    Very thoughtful love letter, as only a mother can write….

  49. Julie

    Yes. I hope it means three times as much to her, too.

    But I’m so not ready for her to get older yet.

    I’M the only one allowed to age for a while around here…

    But thank you, France. You are so lovely.

  50. What a beautiful post. A mother’s love – there’s nothing that measures up against it.

  51. That was beautiful. I love the idea of growing a new heart…because we love our children completely…but almost in completely different ways.

  52. Julie, do you know what a stunning tribute this is to your daughter? I hope so. It is the essence of love, the kind of words we all ache to hear our mother’s say one day. Thank you for sharing such beautiful thoughts. I am profoundly moved, my friend. xoxo

  53. Julie

    To Ally, Stef, and Heidi:

    Thanks friends for the lovely compliments. This post meant more to me than most so your supportive words are more welcome and appreciated than ever…


    Thank you.

  54. So touching. So perfect. What a beautiful way to look at love. I feel the same, now that I’ve seen that’s what it is. Such a beautiful tribute.

    I could also say the same of my daughter, always wanting to please others, to see justice in the world, and yet she always puts herself last. I remember once asking her why she always lets everyone cut in front of her in line. Her answer? “Because they care about it more.”

    Ah well. This is where my sense of justice would kick in. But for her, she just wanted others to be happy. For her it was fair because she didn’t care about it.

    Happy birthday to your sweet girl, Julie…

  55. Wow! That was beautiful! That birthday girl you have sure is lucky to call you mom! Happy Birthday to her!

  56. Well, I loved the one you wrote for your son – and this one is just as beautiful. I know just what it’s like trying not to ruffle feathers and please everyone and it’s so liberating to let that go as you get older! I hope Karly is able to do the same.

    And how adorable was she as a little girl? So sweet.

  57. Julie

    Carol – Wow. Your daughter sounds a lot like mine, and also so mature and insightful (which I’m not sure Karly is…) I, too, am often the one to acquiesce in a situation because I don’t feel as strongly about the outcome as the “other party” (no. I don’t mean my husband. or kids. much.)

    Tayarra – Thank you so much. And I, for sure, am the lucky one.

    TFC – She was so. damn. adorable. Talk about being wrapped around someone’s finger. And if you think she had me? You should have seen her dad. Holy Canola that man loves his girl. Daddies and daughters. There’s nothing else like it.

  58. Wow Julie! That was just breathtaking. Your writing has such beauty. I’m simply in awe.

  59. Thank you so much, Charlene. Your words mean a lot to me because I respect your taste in writing.

    I can’t put DOWN the Book Thief. (Well, I have to because it’s summer and my kids are keeping me on my toes…)

    but I would read it all day if I could.

    So I appreciate this lovely compliment AND the book recommendation.
    Very glad to have connected with you!

  60. Holy shit, your words…

  61. If I I write even one thing to my children that is THIS beautiful, it will be my greatest writing accomplishment.

    I can barely see through my tears.

    It made me think about my mom, who passed away, and how she viewed me. Her second child. Her middle kid.

    It made me think of my second child, who will also be my last, for reasons I also won’t go into. And her hospital pictures which all also include my oldest daughter.


  62. Julie

    Erin and Amanda – Thanks so much. This one? Really meant a lot to me.

    I think that one of the best parts of motherhood for me has been seeing my mother in a different light (my father too, as a parent; but really, it’s the MOM thing that you can’t get until you’re there).

    Your girls are so lucky to have you. And all our children won’t know how much until they become parents themselves…


  63. Oh Julie…big tears here.

    My girl? The almost-thirteen one? Was second, tiny, and wore navy blue hand-me-downs.

    And I wish for her exactly what you said. And couldn’t have said it better.

    Happy Birthday to your girl…

  64. Oh Julie. I am in love with this post. In love. For reasons I cannot find words for nor should I right now. I am bawling.

  65. Julie

    Sherri – Oh I’m so glad to hear I wasn’t the only one putting my baby girl in Old Navy sweatshirts from the toddler boy section…she looked so cute it never occurred to me people wouldn’t know she was my little lady. And now, she really is a young lady. Sigh. At least I have you, someone else on this journey with whom I can commiserate. Thanks, friend. We’ll get through this growing up process. Right?

    Katie – Thanks for the lovely words and support. I know all about those tears. Hugs to you and your beautiful boy whom I know you love with all your heart…

  66. Allison

    Wonderful. You and Karly are lucky to have each other– both so fun and special. Happy (belated) birthday, Karly. I am so proud of you.

  67. Julie

    Thanks Allison ~

    And you know how our whole family feels about you!

    Hope you’re having a spectacular summer, my friend…You deserve it.
    (although you’re probably back to work already???)

    Hang in there. You make such a difference in so many lives.


  68. This. Thank you for this. I had my third and last baby nine months ago. A girl named Elsie Jane. She has two older brothers and I didn’t know how to describe what she is doing to me. You said it. I have another heart now.

    This is a gorgeous treasure gift letter for your girl. Thank you for sharing it.

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