Letter to Camille: 136 Months

Hello sweet girl, and Happy 136 months to you. Aren’t these some gorgeous pictures of you? I know I’m your mother and I’m supposed to think these things, but I do believe I’m right.

All these pictures I post on this blog – I wonder what you’ll think of these pictures 20 years from now? 40 years? Looking back at some of my childhood snapshots, I giggle at the glasses and the hair spray, the perm and the clothes. Will you? But I see a happy childhood shining through my old photos too, and I hope you will as well.

These latest pics are from our annual family photo shoot with Ashley, and I love them. But oh man, that photo session involved more parenting than I initially expected.

When you were a very young child, the annual family photo sessions were all about bribery. If you would just sit here, just smile like that, just walk this direction and look over your shoulder, then when it was all done you’d get some big payoff. I remember one year we ended the photo shoot in a candy store, holding that finale over your head the whole time to elicit your cooperation.

I thought we’d moved beyond that. But this year your independent streak was showing. We’d plan a lovely photo of the three of us strolling down a marsh side path, but you’d decide to take off running into the distance alone. Then we’d call you back to us, and you’d be miffed and the smiles wouldn’t come as easily.

You love to be silly and goofy – and that’s fine until we need you to sit still, and stop laying on top of the dog, and smile, and no please don’t make that face we’re trying to get one good picture here. Instead of bribing you with candy, we threatened to take away allowance money. But hey – we did get some good pics, we just had to work at it.

For a portion of the photo shoot, you insisted on wearing your new favorite accessory – grey furry wolf ears.

I actually think they’re really cute, and they’re some of my favorite from the session, but it did remind me of that phase you went through when you were 2 or 3 years old when you wore a cardboard Burger King crown everywhere you went. Again, these preteen years seem to have a few things in common with those toddler ones. You have your own idea about how things should be, and sometimes a stubborn streak to go with it.

But that’s ok. Really, most of the time you’re still your happy, agreeable self – still willing to snuggle in close at the end of the day for a cuddle and a bedtime story. But you’re also growing up, exerting free will and independence, and that’s good too.

Another sign of the times – over these last few months your friends have become more and more the focus of your free time. Phone calls between you and other kids used to be so awkward and forced, but now you’ll talk and talk with your classmates after school – either Facetime or messaging –  until we tell you screen time is over.

And as for middle school – you’re loving it. I must confess to being pleasantly surprised – isn’t middle school supposed to be so awful? I know there’s still plenty of time for drama that’s bound to come, but you’ve made a good group of friends and you all seem to laugh a lot. That makes me happy.

This is your first year in a non-Montessori school, which means it’s also your first year getting a report card. In your previous non-traditional education, parent-teacher conferences took the place of progress reports, and kids were tested but weren’t given grades.

So as the issuance date of your first report card grew near, you got excited. “I can’t WAIT to get my report card!” you gushed on the way to school that day. And your anticipation was rewarded with high marks in all your classes.

I’m glad you’re doing so well in school, although I’ll be forever grateful for all those years with the Montessori method where you couldn’t get caught up in measuring yourself. From one perfectionist to another, let me tell you – it can easily become a burden when you can score and mark yourself, wondering if you could have, should have tried harder. Of course I want you to do well and I want you to work hard, but I also want you to be a well-rounded kid. I want you to be happy – not a stress case over this test or that standard.

I found myself getting tripped up when having a conversation about this with you not too long ago. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but it was one of those, “It’s ok if it’s not perfect, I just want you to do your very best,” moments.

But then I started thinking about the word “best,” and how utterly impossible it is to be your best all the time. To truly be your best at something you’d need to dedicate all your time and energy to it. And then how would you have time and energy for anything else? I bet if you practiced your viola 3 hours a day you’d be amazing. But I don’t want you to. I bet if you studied math equations all afternoon you’d score higher on the SAT. But I’d rather play a card game with you, or watch you put on your wolf ears and go skipping down the marsh side path. I want you to work hard. And then I want you to be lazy and goofy.

When you grow up, you’ll find that there’s no way to be the very best mother, and the very best spouse, and the very best professional, and the very best church member, and the very best PTA member, the very best yogi, the very best chef, and the all around very best citizen – all at once. And if you try, you’ll be setting yourself up to fail.

Maybe your best self is the one who allows room for balance. For work and for play. For excellence, and sometimes for failure. For pushing hard, and then for letting go. In whatever you do, I wish for you a life that is light on judgement and heavy on joy, with plenty of room for love, peace and happiness.

I love you so much, my wolf-eared girl. My best Camille.

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