She smiled and laughed easily, always ready for fun. She looked at the world with such openness, trust, an expectation of good. Yet, she also possessed a wisdom. “Wise beyond her years,” we often heard. And she was that too. Self-assured and confident. Humble and kind. Even as a baby.

My child is 11 today. My beautiful firstborn babe. While I don’t have a pre-teen by my side, full of sass and hope for the future, I am the mother of an 11-year-old just the same. And she taught me more about life and humanity than I could have ever possibly taught her. She still teaches me.

Today we will celebrate you, dear Gwendolyn. We will deliver freshly painted rocks to your special garden at your elementary school, we will water the new plants and show your sisters your former classrooms and where you raced through the halls. We may see your friends and I can promise I will give their awkward 11-year-old bodies big Mama Bear hugs. We will visit the cemetery and shower your resting place with flowers and decorations, a pumpkin or two. We will continue our tradition of doing something you loved; this year Eleanora chose ice skating – what we did for your 7th birthday party. It is good to remember you by doing something we got to do together. To laugh with your sisters and tell them stories of your joy.

But I’m not going to lie, I will be sad, too. My shoulders are already hanging lower with the heaviness of missing you. And as much as I try, birthdays without you just don’t fill me up the way they did when you were here. But I’ll keep trying – I’ll always keep trying… for you. And I will always, always be so grateful to be your mother.

Happy 11th birthday, beautiful butterfly. I hope you are soaring with the wind in your hair the way I know you loved. Thank you for being you.