Dear Sweet Mary Hazel,
I just scheduled your two-year-old well visit. As chance would have it, the appointment falls on the anniversary of the day we first learned of your cancer diagnosis. Almost to the hour. When I clicked on my Google calendar to record the appointment, I noticed that my hands were shaking a little bit and my heart rate thumped up a few beats. So many thoughts, so many feelings, so many memories. I consider June 29th to be one of those bookmark days in my life. One of those days that you can rattle off, without referencing a calendar, when life became different. The date is etched in my brain. I even notice the sequence “629” in license plates when I’m in traffic. It was a game changer, for sure. I can recall, with infinite detail, those seconds before, during, and after I got the news. I remember being incredulous, slowly walking backwards (stepping on toys in the pediatric waiting room), hyperventilating. With the diagnosis still ringing in my ears, my very first thoughts took me to a very dark place. Perhaps it was my own sense of self-preservation that catapulted me to the worst possible scenario. I experienced the worst sadness of my life within just a very few seconds. It was the loneliest, scariest, darkest place I’ve ever been. But once I was there, in that cave, my next thought was, “How do I get out of here?” My focus shifted. I looked at you, playing happily two feet away from me, and realized loving you with all my heart was what was going to bring me back to the surface for fresh air. Now, one year later, I feel such joy, such gratitude, when I think about June 29. This is the day you started to heal. This is the day I learned to love more deeply. This is the day by which all my other days can be measured. This is the day that taught me true humility.
You are going to be two tomorrow! All birthdays make me feel nostalgic, but this one is especially sweet. Let me tell you a little bit about this last year. Not all the cancer stuff. The other stuff. In no particular order…
Your siblings adore you. Poppy loves to be your mother and mentor. She is happiest when you ask her to paint your fingernails, play “Bunny Jengo”, and allow her to give you piggy back rides around the living room. Charlie would be a delightful playmate for any two year old, but you especially love to hang out with him. You tell each other nonsensical secrets, where you reply with a genuine, “Really?!” every single time. You chase each other under the covers and tickle fight until you are both exhausted. You like to “scare” him with your scary frog impersonation. “Grrrr…..grrrr!” You spend lots and lots of time with Charlie and Poppy. From what I observe, you have no idea that you are not a six year old, too. Maybe it’s all the time we spend on the playground after school with the other kindergarteners. Maybe it’s because you spend more time with your older sibs than you do your own peers. Whatever the reason, you simply crack me up and impress me at the same time. You climbed to the top of the play structure in Croft Park when you were 18 months old. You learned how to pump your legs and swing by yourself years before I expected. You are recognizing your letters, numbers, and shapes with regular ease. You can order my coffee for me when we pull up to the drive-thru at Starbucks. (“Grande coffee with milk and sugar…pleeeease!”) Just this week, you started sight-reading the word “coffee” on the side of the building. I am both proud and terribly embarrassed.
A happy memory this year is of you exploring Pawley’s Island for the first time. Hard to believe, but in October you weren’t even walking yet. Didn’t matter. You scooted on your bottom up and down the shoreline with infinite enthusiasm until the sun set and I had to carry you inside all brown and worn out. You helped DanDaddy build his ritual sand castles by collecting shells and splashing in the moat. You rivaled Charlie with your obsession of water and you spent hours shuffling beside him in the wet sand. It was a peaceful, restorative time for us all. We were all still glowing in the news that your cancer was gone.
You were a healthy, round pumpkin for Halloween. Your costume served as the perfect cushion for you as you learned to steady yourself in those early walking days.
You love to read. For as long as I can remember you have collected the M and the H magnets off the refrigerator (and Mrs. Barb’s desk at school) to spell your name. I have yet to convince you that you do not have to turn a book upside down whenever you encounter a W.
You say “dude” a lot. And “thumbs up”. The jackpot for me is when you combine them for an exuberant, “Thumbs up, dude!” with both of your thumbs pointing skyward.
When you walk in a room, you bounce when you stop, wave, and loudly inquire, “Watcha doing, guys?”
You referred to yourself as “Mayche” for the first part of the year. Then you moved on to Miss Hazel before you mastered your whole name. Yeah, I miss that.
You personally found and invited Blackberry to come live with us this winter. She reminds me of you. Silly, self sufficient, and easy to please.
We still snuggle in the bed every single morning after Daddy’s alarm goes off but before it’s my turn to get in the shower. This is by far the most peaceful, warm, satisfying part of my day. I feel like a hibernating bear with my baby cub. When I eventually have to peel myself away to start the morning chores, you sometimes roll over in the place I left behind. The other day you sleepily thanked me for “making you a warm place”. I will always make you a warm place.
You love school. You adore your teachers. You idolize Mrs. Barb. We joke that you are the unofficial vice principal as you welcome your friends into the lobby every morning. I look forward to those ten minutes we spend reading books on your special bench before the clock strikes 9. These pockets of together time are the most special to me.
You regularly wear tea bags in your shoes and sport Mr. Potato Head glasses when you leave the house. You are actually quite insistent on both of these events. We’re still trying to figure out why. No matter.
You participated in your first Relay for Life celebration last month. You were officially the youngest walker making the survivor’s lap. You raised over $1650 dollars. In all my days, I will never forget the look of pure joy on your face when you took off around the track, running as fast as your chubby, healthy legs would carry you. You wore your purple shirt (which looked like a nightgown on you) with pride. With your pom-pom in one hand and me on the other side, we raced around the track three times before you even slowed down. On the last lap, you tripped on an electrical cord and skinned your knee pretty good. You paused long enough to grimace and ask for a kiss, but then you got back up and finished what you set out to do. I loved seeing the look on people’s faces as we passed by. It was a look that expressed gratitude, hopefulness, and inspiration. What a victory! It is this joy that you contain within you that makes me love you more with each day. You are a happy girl. Naturally, truly, and completely. How did I get so lucky?
I did not plan a big party for you this year. I don’t know exactly why. Several people have even asked me why I’m not pulling out all the stops, planning the biggest celebration ever. Part of me wonders the same. After reflecting upon it for a bit, I think it’s because I feel like everything has returned back to “normal”. Yes, we still have to dose you up with radioactive dye every few months and take some fancy pictures of your insides, but for the most part, our life has returned to normal. I don’t want to draw attention to the cancer so much any more. I want to focus on you being healthy and happy as all two year olds deserve to be. We will share a birthday cake with DanDaddy and Uncle Scott and watch you make a terrible mess of it. We will give you a scooter so you can keep up with Charlie and Poppy at the park. We will take a hundred pictures of you in hopes of capturing the energy of the day. In hopes of remembering you exactly the way you are at this very moment in time.
How different this June 29th will be! How different I am because of last June 29th. I love you for always my sweet, perfect baby. Come what may.