My dearest Tala,
Today you turn four! I almost don’t want to believe it, I wonder if I’ve made a mistake and you’re only really just three. (Some of your friends at crèche are only three, but already taller than you are.) But there it is, written on the card I kept from your newborn bassinet at the hospital. You were born on March 15, exactly four years ago.
Four is a big birthday. Yesterday was your last day at the toddler group at the crèche. Papa and I stayed up late making Minion bananas (you’re probably the only kid who doesn’t know what a Minion is, but they were really cute!) and cadeautjes (loot bags) for you to give away to the kids at crèche.
Mama made a card for leidsters Gerben and Marieke, thanking them for taking such good care of you. You were still such a baby then. The transition from a home environment to a daycare, with what seemed like so many kids, had me all knotted up in anxiety and worry. But you amazed us all, and everything worked out wonderfully.
Today we celebrate together, just the three of us—lunch with Papa, a visit to the museum with Mama, and an early dinner and cake at home. Tomorrow you officially start school. And on Saturday you’ll have a small, simple party with our friends. It’s the first time we’ve invited the neighborhood kids to your birthday, and I’m a little bit nervous. I hope they show up!
The last few weeks have been filled with firsts. Like violin lessons. The first time I took you to to pick out your violin, you were so excited. But you completely clammed up facing all those grownups and big violins. You bowed your head, put on a sad little pout, and wouldn’t say a word. You do that a lot when you are confronted with new and strange people.
But the moment we stepped out, with the tiniest violin carefully packed into a case and strapped onto your back, how bright and bubbly you became! Within minutes you declared: “I love my violin!”
It was an emotional moment for me. While Lola made sure I never wanted for anything as a child, I only really discovered music late in life. Quitting piano lessons was a big regret! And here you are, barely four years old, learning what I never did. It never fully hit me until then that Papa and I are already giving you opportunities we never had (and I think we had a lot!). To be able to do that is a feeling that defies all description.
Your trial afternoon at school was another emotional wringer. We stayed home together in the morning, then I took you on my bike to school at 12:45.
Your juf (teacher) gave us such a warm welcome. She took your hand, and you went along just like that. She held your hand the entire time as you hung up your coat and scarf, looked for a chair, and took a seat in the kring (circle) beside her.
I could see your eyes becoming red and your lips setting in a line. I know you so well: you were dangerously close to the point of overwhelm. You looked like you wanted to withdraw or flee. It was all so new, all so much for you. I waited for the tears to spill, but none came. You never cried. You never ran. I’m so proud of you.
When I came back two hours later the juf had nothing but glowing praise for you. “Ze doet alles!” she said emphatically. “Het ging heel, heel goed. Echt. Fantastisch!” “She did everything! It went very, very good. Really. Fantastic!”
When I walked into the classroom, you ran to me and threw yourself solid against my legs with a huge hug. “Mama!!!” I was overwhelmed with relief. You looked so happy.
I live for those moments of certainty—when I feel strong and confident in your future, when I know you’re going to be all right. Like finding hand- and footholds while scaling a rocky cliff, I grab onto them as securely as I can and keep going.
There are a thousand things about you at this age that I want to remember, but I can’t hold onto them all. Like how perceptive you are, seeing details that I otherwise wouldn’t have spotted—a balloon stuck in a tree, a crescent moon in a piece of bread, even the Stedelijk Museum in an upside-down nail cutter.
Or how affectionate you are. When we’re together you always say “I love Mama”, or “I love Mama pwet!” which always makes me laugh. I love Wednesday mornings when we don’t have to get up early and go anywhere, and we have time to just cuddle in Mama and Papa’s big bed. Or weekends, when we all have breakfast in bed together.
I love your imagination and how you act out your world when you play. You love nail polish, coloring, stickers, and puzzles. You discovered Instagram Stories on my phone, and you love writing “spaghetti” and putting stickers on pictures. You like painting and playing ball with Papa, and going to cafes and museums with Mama.
And you love to practice writing on your wipe-clean books. Whenever you tell me you want to write, it makes me so proud.
You often mix two or three languages in one sentence, and your sentence structure can be all over the place sometimes. You’ve started resisting when I ask you speak Tagalog, and you often need prompting. But you know all the important words (and funny) words like kulangot, utot, tinga, pekpek, and your favorite, kiliti.
You are extremely sensitive to loud sounds, and you hate crowds. You hate having your hair brushed, but you always let Marjory at the crèche style your hair into beautiful elaborate braids.
You’ve started surprising me by referring to memories from as far back as two years ago, like when you asked for the cardboard boat I made for you when you were two. You don’t have a sense of time yet, but you always seem to know to sleep in on weekends. You’ve started saying niks (nothing) when I ask you what you did at the crèche, but I’ve learned to prod gently. When you do start recounting the events of the day, the details always delight me.
You amaze me with your perceptiveness, gentleness, precision, and incredible ability to focus. I wish I could remember the sound of your voice as it is now, forever. I’ve already noticed you starting to become bolder and more adventurous at the playground, and I wonder if we’re already seeing the last of our shy, sensitive and gentle little girl. I hope not.
For me this week is all about you. Although there will always be work and things I’m itching to do, I’m so glad I can take this time to make you my star. Because you are.
I can’t believe how much you changed my life and completely reshaped me inside and out. I hope you will always know how much Papa and I love you and how lucky we are that you were born to us today, four years ago. I hope I will always have what I need to be a good Mama to you.
Happy birthday, my love.
I love you always, more than anything,