My dearest Elizabeth,
Enough is enough! You’re to stop growing right this moment, and you’re not allowed to have any more birthdays. You don’t have permission to reach stuff in the upper kitchen cupboards, and I don’t want to hear any more talk of imminent visits from the tooth fairy, understood?
It is hard for me to see you grow so quickly. But so amazing.
Over the past year the little that was left of my toddler has disappeared, replaced by a tall, graceful little girl. Somewhere you’ve started reading and doing sums, and I’m already dreading the day when I’ll have to admit you’re smarter than me. More and more, lately, I find myself in serious, real-world conversations with you, as you question the world around you and start to form your own opinions on how things are, and how they should be. More and more, lately, your mother and I butt heads with you as you develop your own self, and insist on finding your own ways of doing things (usually in your own sweet time as well, thank you very much!).
It’s terrifying and exhilarating. Mostly terrifying 😅
It has become customary for me to impart some fatherly advice in these letters…
I’m sure I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating: Be kind to yourself.
One of the more dubious gifts you’ve received from me is a hunger for perfection, a striving to get things right. That sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? It kinda is. Excellence is never bad.
But it’s a mixed blessing, as perfect is often the enemy of good (apparently this comes from Voltaire, though there are many variations on that saying, attributed to everyone from Winston Churchill to Mark Cuban (some rich guy I’d never heard about until I tried searching for the source of the quote)). What does that mean?
Well, here’s the thing: the first time will never be perfect. Nor the second, nor the fifth, nor even the 100th time. In fact, your first few attempts at anything will most likely be absolute rubbish. You realise that, and every day I see that realisation paralyse you before you even start something. I understand that. You don’t want to make rubbish. You want to succeed.
But the only way to succeed is to push through the rubbish, and for that you need to allow yourself to produce rubbish. And be kind to yourself and recognise it’s not actually rubbish. It’s not perfect, maybe not even passable, but it’s not rubbish, it’s just the first step towards something beautiful. You might still decide the end result isn’t worth putting out into the world; you might decide a particular path or activity isn’t for you. That’s okay, as long as you tried.
And for that thing you decide to stick with, that you decide you want to be great at? Remember Cat in the Hat: the only way to get good at something is to “practice, practice, practice!” (I’m sure of that attribution, as we watched that episode together and I constantly quote it to you.)
So I’m going to keep pushing you to try new things, to do things you feel you’re not good at, exposing you to new situations, and forcing you to stick with those things you start with until you can say you’ve given it your all and can walk away with your head held high. You’re going to hate me for it. One day you’ll thank me.
In the year to come I look forward to many more conversations about the universe, life, and everything, to playing soccer in the street, teaching you to ride your bike, exploring the amazing world around us, reading to you, praying together, and being silly.
Thank you for being my pirate scientist unicorn-wrangler space-cow-a-girl princess. You’re the only one of you there is, and it’s the greatest blessing to have you in my life. Keep doing you.
With all my love,
P.S. Oh, Happy Birthday Aapstert!