For my daughter on her birthday

Pink birthday cupcake

All my life I dreamed of you … and then you came.

From the time that I was a small child I had imagined what it would be like to have a daughter. I envisioned a girly girl with a powerful sense of self, and you have wildly exceeded my every expectation.

Your personality was apparent from the day that you were born: you have your own ideas and you won’t settle for substitutions or diversions. I remember trying to give you a pacifier when you were fussy, just like I had given your 3 brothers. They took it happily; you, on the other hand, immediately spit it out and gave me a look like “you cannot possibly be serious; this is plastic and I don’t do plastic.”

You talked clearly and imperiously before you turned one (your first word was “ring” because you wanted to wear my engagement diamond) and you picked out your own outfits from the time you were 18 months old. I learned early on that disagreement was pointless, but that reasoning with you was highly successful. When you wanted to wear plaid with stripes I didn’t say no; I merely told you that most people felt that they clashed, but you were free to make your own choice. After careful consideration, you put the plaid back and picked something that matched better. Your fashion sense has been unerring since those early years.

Second birthday small

As a preschooler you had 8 Barbies and two Magic Attic dolls, wore dresses every day and princess costumes for Halloween. I sewed for you and your dolls so you could have matching outfits for special occasions like your 2nd birthday above. Others cautioned me that dolls and frilly clothes would give you the wrong idea about about girls and ambition, but I’ve always felt that femininity and ambition are not incompatible. At six years old you asked me what you should do after you won the Nobel Prize.

When you were 11, you told me that your goal was to be a published author before you turned 16. I didn’t want to discourage you, but I thought that it was a goal much more difficult to achieve than you understood. Indeed, I pointed out for years I had written professionally (as a freelance medical writer) and for every 10 articles I sent out, 9 got rejected. “Well, yes, that’s you,” you replied, “but this is me.”

So we went to the bookstore and bought The Writer’s Guide to Children’s Literature, which listed all the magazines that accepted submissions of writing for children. That was on Saturday. When I came down on Monday morning, there was a neat stack of large, white envelopes on the kitchen table. Each contained a story and a cover letter, and each was addressed to a different publication. On top of the stack was a note asking me to mail them. Within several weeks you had an answer. You were going to be published. Your story, was published in Stone Soup, a national magazine for children. You had achieved your stated ambition, and you had achieved it ahead of schedule.

When you were 12, you asked me, “Why don’t you work?,” and more specifically, “Don’t you feel bad that you are not an important person?” We talked about it when you asked me, and I’ve thought a lot about over the years.

The third question you asked at the time was much easier to answer. “Don’t you feel bad that Daddy makes all the money, and you don’t have any?” No, I don’t, because, as I told you, Daddy may make all the money, but all of it is mine! “How does that work?”, you said. Marry the right guy, and it’ll work for you, too.

I understood that what you were asking about was not that mothers aren’t important; you were curious whether an ambitious person can be happy if she does not have professional success to point to, and if no one is paying her for the work that she does. The answer is yes. Because when it comes right down to it, it is the ordinary joys of life, the ones that are available to everyone and require no fancy skills that are the warp and weft of a happy life. Therefore, I recommend to you some ordinary joys:

Marry a good man. There is nothing better than being married to your best friend.

Pick interesting friends. Your friendships will be the backbone of your life. (Oh, be sure to have some friends who are doctors. That really comes in handy).

Do what you love, even if it’s hard. A satisfying career usually takes a lot of work to get started. Don’t let that stop you. Do the work, and you will be glad that you did.

Have professional colleagues whom you admire and respect. It’s even better if you can have professional colleagues who you admire, respect AND can call your friends.

Have children. There’s an upside and a downside to this. Children are extraordinary, but they are also a lot of work. They can bring joy and meaning to your life, and they can also point out that you are the dumbest person on earth, and the most embarrassing.

Read books. I cannot recommend that highly enough. I know that you love books as much as I do (we share a Kindle account and we are Amazon’s best customers) and they will always be a source of joy and comfort to you.

Have a hobby. I highly recommend sewing. Not only is it practical, but it is a way to shower attention on your children without actually being with them.

Finally, if you can manage it, have a daughter. It is every bit as fun, exciting, challenging and meaningful as I imagined it would be; you are the daughter of my dreams.

Wait, let me amend that, you are the daughter who has exceeded my fondest dreams!

Happy, Happy Birthday!