When I think of all the things I didn’t let Caitlin Mary do when she was younger…no Spice Girls or Britney Spears (overt sexualization/objectification of women) or Rugrats (because the kids were such irredeemable brats) or Goosebumps books (because they were poorly written) or Pizza Hut Book rewards (because reading is a joy and you shouldn’t have to get an award in order to do it), and so many more…as a punishment, I once made her clean the oven, and then there was the list of “how you’re supposed to behave in church” that I made her write (when she was 6).

She’s now an hysterically funny, brilliant, accomplished young woman who has friends from childhood who continue to adore her and a husband and daughter who think she’s the best. She is decent and kind and lovely and my role model for that trait I have always been so aware that I lack: Gentleness.

In spite of the rules her shit-butt mother came up with, she’s everything I hoped she would ever be, and more. When she was born, I recall thinking someone must have given me the wrong baby – there was no was I could have produced something so transportingly beautiful and perfect. For many, many years, I felt unworthy of her, that’s how in awe I was of this spectacularly splendid little person she was. Damaged, rough-edged, clinging to the ledge by my fingertips people like me did not create such exquisite goods. Thank you, Jesus, that her father wasn’t a Transylvanian lunatic like me.

Being Caitlin’s mom has always been the hardest – not because she was the hardest, or because she was hard to love, but because she was the first, and even at 30, she is still the first, and I’m still learning how to be her mom. If her sisters have had a more relaxed, level-headed parent in me, they have Caitlin to thank, and as magnificently as she has turned out, there are so many, many things I wish I had done differently. It’s like they say about making pancakes…you mess up the first couple, and then you figure it out. Is it any wonder Caitlin prefers French Toast?

I wish I hadn’t called the dean of housing to insist a change of room for her when she was a senior. I wish I’d let her have the stupid Pizza Hut pizzas. I wish I hadn’t made religion such a big part of her early years. I wish I had limited my “you’re in trouble, and here’s how it’s going to impact you 20 years from now” lectures to 45 seconds (or just skipped them entirely).

I wish I had understood how sick she was her senior year of college, or that I had spent a few days before graduation helping her pack up her room. I wish I had let her play the saxophone instead of the flute, when she asked, and I wish I had noticed how thin she had gotten during her gap year. I wish I had said to her, when she said she wanted to go to med school, “are you crazy? That’s Steph’s dream, not yours. You want something else.” I wish I had made her and Meg MHart take that cross-country trip in 2014. I wish I hadn’t laid so much responsibility for her younger sisters on her at such an early age.

Mostly, I wish I had just listened a whole lot more than I talked.

Caitlin is now raising her own little girl – beloved Mimi – and I am in awe of the patience and joy and softness she shows, and mostly – oh, how I wish I could go back and do this for Cait – how she lets Mimi just be who she is.

I love that she regularly allows Mimi to paint. With paint. In. The. House. I think I let the kids do that a total of twice in 30 years.

I love that Mimi is allowed to wear her snow boots to the park in May, with shorts, if she wants. I love that Caitlin tells Mimi to use “kind hands” when she is petting the family cat and allows her to play in the sink for as long as she wants…man, do I wish I’d thought of that. She’s really just a great mom.

My oldest is about the best friend I have. During a very difficult week, I called to share with her how donkey-dick-sucking the last few days had been, and just having that calming, gentle voice on the other end of the phone centered me and helped me recalibrate. She is a gift, an example, a most grounding and graceful voice to my storms and doubts and fears.

I love you so much, Caitlin. Pizza on Wednesday?

Love, Mama

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