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9. Nine. Happy 9th Birthday Darling Love

October 04, 2016 by Victoria Strong

9. Nine. A big nine-year-old girl. Oh, Gwendolyn, my darling love, it seems hard to believe. It seems you were just born. You were just here. You were just blossoming into the self-assured young lady I knew you'd be. And, yet, this is our second birthday without you in our arms. Time has a way of playing tricks. Your birthdays stopped at 7, but we still celebrate you and you continue to grow. Because all of you, all of our memories, all of our hopes, all of our adoration of you still flows through us with so much life. A rushing river of love. And now you are 9. 108 months. Our beautiful butterfly.

9. This week I wore the same maternity skirt that I spent months in while pregnant with you. And I remembered how you filled my belly, a little torpedo, like your little sister does now. You liked to put your tiny foot right in my belly button, and when I'd tap it through my tummy, you'd tap back. Already so playful.

9. I remember so vividly when you arrived. You'd been making your way slowly for a week without much progress. But then my water broke (completely, just like the movies) and Daddy sweetly paced anxiously as I insisted on showering and eating macaroni before heading to the hospital. The contractions came fast and furious after that, but it would still be hours before we finally got to meet you. All 6 pounds, 9 ounces of the purest love I have ever known.

9. All of your firsts are imprinted like a fingerprint into my every fiber. I will never forget how I felt when I held you for the first time; you blinked up at me, focusing your blurry eyes on my voice, and all my Mommy worries washed away knowing, right then, that our souls were deeply entwined, and together, we would navigate this big world. I will never forget seeing Daddy hold you for the first time. You fit burrowed into his strong shoulder like you were made to do just that. He'd bounce you every night, sometimes for hours, right there with you nuzzled in on his safe shoulder. Our first family car ride, our first family outing to the park, your first bath... all like fingerprints on my soul. And so is that worried doctor's visit, that hospitalization, that diagnosis day... all part of a beautiful, complicated life with our incredible child.

9. I remember so clearly your first birthday and then your second. They were never just birthdays. They felt like miracles, gifts given on borrowed time. We were so grateful to get to see you relish the attention, the fun, the other children. We knew these were priceless treasures. We got to take you to Disneyland for the first time for your 3rd birthday with Hayden. You were so excited, full of that three-year-old wonder, truly believing in the fantasy, eyes as big as globes when Belle kissed your cheek. Or squealing with delight and tapping your excited fingers feverishly on the rides. Your fourth birthday we had a pony party in the backyard and Little Star even made a very special appearance. On your fifth birthday, we rented a catamaran and sailed through the harbor. You stretched out comfortably on the deck, wearing a cute sailor hat, watching the sea lions and happily squeezed between your friends. When you turned six we gave you a choice, a party or a special outing. You chose a fancy weekend in LA to see the Wizard of Oz on stage. And oh what a special time we had. On your 7th birthday, we ice skated and twirled and sang with Elsa and all your friends. Your birthdays were all filled with magic and wonder and childhood... and profound gratitude.

9. This week I was driving in the car and heard the new Pink song, "Just Like Fire." I instantly knew that was a Gwendolyn song, turned it up, sang along, smiled knowing that your big nine-year-old self would love it. And then I sobbed, missing you riding next to me, holding my hand, dancing and singing together. I can still feel how your tiny fingers and clammy palm felt in mine.

9. When I overhear little girls your age, I wonder if you, too, would be excited to collect Shopkins or Tsum Tsums or some other silly thing only the innocent child mind can understand. I'm not really sure how it works but I can imagine you and Daddy having fun searching for Pokemon GO all over town. And I'm certain we'd all love taking family Snapchat photos with the silly filters. You'd definitely like the animal faces.

9. You'd be so big now, using the new wheelchair we were in the process of ordering, rolling through school with your friends. A 4th grader. I know you'd love everyone having iPads in class now, just like you. I can see you proudly working on it, Team Gwendolyn by your side supporting your arm so your hands could navigate the screen, knowing you were always eager to get everything just right. I know you'd love the new library; I can imagine you wanting to hang out there a lot, surrounded by friends and books - your favorites.

9. I wonder if you'd still like princesses and fantasy. You'd probably like dressing up with Eleanora, indulging her whims while reliving your loves. I unpacked all of your costumes, still boxed away from our move to a more accessible house for you. But, I have only been able to share your earliest ones. They are so tiny and fit her just right. I can't bear seeing your most recent costumes get crumpled and tossed aside in play. Perhaps I long for the sibling squabble over them that won't take place.

9. Today we celebrate you. We'll open presents at your grave site and sing you "Happy Birthday!" Your little sister is so excited and thinks you need an orange cupcake (her favorite). We spent the weekend cleaning and decorating your special spot and Eleanora insisted you have a pumpkin. So, we're taking her on a drive up the coast to your favorite pumpkin farm. We'll feed the animals you loved and select our family pumpkins from all the different colors and varieties. You always chose carefully, not too big and not too small, usually orange while I opted for whites or greens. This year we'll get you two - one for home and one for your special spot. I already got a sparkly G to adorn one. And Eleanora will place stickers all over it for you. You are part of our every day, but today is just for you. Gwendolyn Day.

9. Today will be hard. Our hands long to have your little 9-year-old fingers and silky 9-year-old hair and lanky 9-year-old legs to hold on to. But, today will also be filled, just like it was when you were alive, with all things Gwendolyn. We'll feel the comfort from those who also adore you. Our energy is all on you and our river of love is overflowing, telling stories, sharing memories, and teaching your sister new things about the silly, independent, determined, confident, imaginative young lady you will always be. And that brings us joy.

Happy 9th birthday, our darling love, our beautiful butterfly, our magical unicorn. Thank you, Gwendolyn, for showing us how to fly in the strong wind and still see the lucky rainbows. 

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