Today my daughter is 12. She should be. She is. But she’s not.

Today I want to celebrate all the twelve-year-old things. I want to take her to get her ears pierced and buy her first simple makeup. I want to revel in the transitioning from dolls to shopping at teen stores, and hold fast to the remaining glimpses of occasional doll play with her little sisters. I want to have a house full of raucous girls who keep me up way too late watching movies and eating junk food at a sleepover to celebrate my firstborn.

Most of the time I can see Gwendolyn so clearly. I can imagine how long her legs have grown and where the contours of her face have slimmed. I can see her once red hair, now darkened to brown, only catching those shades of auburn in the rare sunbeam. But 12? With puberty in full bloom and adolescent metamorphosis oscillating among her peers, I am now unsure.

When your child is born and you first hold their warm wrinkly skin thick with vernix, you make assumptions. You assume you will get to watch them grow. Flashpoints of their life reel across your mind as you gaze at their newborn peace. First steps. First dance classes and soccer goals. First days of school. And birthdays. Lots and lots of birthdays – forever.

That never changes.

I still want all of those things. I still expect them. The life I thought was mine imprinted into my bones from the moment I pushed her from my womb to my chest.

It’s disorienting.

I want to know how she’d look now. Would she still have long hair? I want to know her middle school obsession. Would it be fashion or music or a YouTube star? I want to know the minutiae of her day to day. I want to experience life with my growing girl.

Instead, I visit her gravesite, light candles on a tiny birthday cake she’ll never taste, and I imagine.

Birthdays are weighty and I now understand the haze in the eyes of the old when reflecting on a life they can no longer touch. The weathering of losses, the rebuilding after shattering, the carrying of grief and navigating perpetual longing, all tenuously arched between acceptance and bitterness… because we have no choice.

Today, I hold onto gratitude. It’s one choice I can make.

A life with SMA in a community among rare disease and child loss and the bereaved… impress perspective. And the priceless fortune I was gifted is what I choose to see.

I think of all the many ways I am so grateful for Gwendolyn and the time we did have together.

I was lucky enough to watch her move from babyhood through toddlerhood to becoming a little girl. And I was given the chance to marvel as her once blue eyes unexpectedly changed to green at 6-years-old.

Against all odds, I did get to hold her hand on the first day of school and dance with her at her first dance recital. And I also got to run races with her and take her ice skating and to Disneyland and on a cross country road trip.

I got to see her develop deep friendships and get to be one of the kids in the midst of fun. I witnessed the best in humanity over and over again as people fell in love with her and shared in her magic.

I became a mother because of Gwendolyn and it was my greatest privilege.

There is peace in her legacy of love and strength and joy ~ and I draw courage from that today. And I still wish she were here tapping my hand with her delicate little fingers.

Gratitude + sorrow. Love + pain. Peace + longing. All coexist. Side by side.


Happy Birthday, my beautiful butterfly, my Gwendolyn. You are so missed and so deeply loved