I wish I could say that I have no idea how it feels to be a 14 year-old girl whose parents are divorced, with at least one of them remarried. I wish I could say that I have no idea how it feels to have a step mother or step siblings. I wish I could say that I have no idea how it feels to see your friends finding themselves in a world that doesn't exactly fit with the finding of myself, and that we never went separate ways. I wish I could say that I have no idea how it feels to want a part on stage so badly that I could taste it, only to feel rejection when I didn't get it. But I can't say any of those things...because...life. What I do know is that all of those things helped shape me into the woman I am today...a woman of faith who fell in love with a man who had 2 wonderful children...my bonus kids...whose lives I get to be a part of. We get to do this together. And if we're really smart about it we will. We are more alike than you know. We can lean on each other. We can learn from each other. We can love each other...together.
I can describe in three words how I felt the first moment that we met: I. Was. Terrified. I had no idea what you would think of me, and I hoped that you would like me...that we would connect. We went to the zoo in Chicago, and your smile lit up the city. Your hair was like spun gold. Your eyes were so wide. You were like a little sponge, soaking up everything around you...full of things to say, you never lacked in drama when it came to telling stories or corralling the boys. All I could see was this delightful little girl who skipped through the zoo...and you accepted me right away. It didn't take long before I wasn't scared anymore. I knew we were going to get along just fine. The boys ran ahead with your daddy, and you stayed back with me. A butterfly caught our eye, and in an instant I prayed for something. I prayed really intently for God to help me make friends with that butterfly. That was the first time I taught you anything. We were patient. I think that each of us was holding our breath as I lifted my forefinger beneath the butterfly's legs. It tickled as it walked gently onto my finger. Your eyes were so wide! We both smiled. I asked if you wanted to hold it, and you nodded enthusiastically. I coached you through it. You gently held your finger out and we transferred to the butterfly to you. And there it stayed...long enough for me to take my phone out and snap a quick picture. It is still one of my favorite pictures on the family wall...not because it was so sweet or indeed a little perfect, but because it is my first real memory of you...of us. No matter what happens, we will always have the day that we made friends with a butterfly...and we did it together.
We've actually done a lot of things together...we have danced to "Shake It Off" more times than I can count, though it's been a long time since we danced together without caring about who was watching. We have made shells stuffed with broccoli and chicken, smothered in Alfredo sauce...a modified version of one of your favorites. We have painted, picked out decorations for your bedroom, and shopped until we dropped at the American Girl store. We were together the first time you skied, the first time you realized you loved cheese curds, and the first time you rode on an inner tube.
We were together when your daddy proposed to me...you took the picture...and you were so happy! You ran over to the boys and said to Jimmy, "You're going to be my brother!" He laughed and said, "I already am your brother!" You shook the confusion right out of your head and ran over to Logan and Parker Dean. You were so very happy. We were all so very happy.
We were even together on our honeymoon. People thought we were crazy because we were taking four children on our honeymoon...but we kept telling people, "We got married so that we could all be together...so we're going to be together as much as we can!" The six of us sat together at a table and worked on a puzzle throughout the week, and we were so bummed when the week ended and there was a missing piece! We had a challenge on that trip for no one to eat the same meal twice, and boy, was that a challenge! But you did it...everyone did. Do you remember the video that you and Logan made? It was a news show about the Dickens and Frey Family Show...I can still hear you two singing it in my head. You told a story about me turning on the shower with clothes on, and jumping and kicking because it sprayed all over the place. "and then she was like this! And then this!"
The distance makes it very difficult to do things together. While your daddy and I have made every effort to have game nights over Facetime and dedicated calls at specific times, it gets more difficult the more busy everyone's schedules get. But we try...and we try hard. Technology makes that so much easier...it really can bring us together. But when we are all together in the same city, it becomes so much more important than being together...it's about connecting. We live in this world where we are all so connected to technology all the time...your daddy uses his computer and his phone to connect to work. I use mine to connect to work and the rest of the world. Logan, Parker Dean and Jimmy use theirs to connect to their friends and to each other). And you use yours to connect to whatever it is you connect to...friends, Pinterest, school...So when we are all together, connecting to each other becomes so incredibly important. That's why, at the dinner table, we ask you a million questions about your day. It's why we don't pull our phones out. It's why we take that opportunity to connect together.
I love that you are full of drama...the good kind of drama...singing, dancing, acting. I was always on stage as a child and teenager, and I feel like I get you. I don't know how you feel about it, but when I was on stage, I always felt like I got to be someone other than myself. I could be sassy or evil or overly silly or super serious...and I was none of those things (but all of those things) in real life. I never had to share that part of it with anyone. But I had a Mama (DotDot, of course) who shared in the experience - she was always with me. She was at every show, sometimes backstage...sometimes watching with the audience. She really believed that no show was the same, and if she missed one it would be the best one. I genuinely want to be there for every performance that you are in. I have some major FOMO when it comes to missing you on stage. That is one of the things I hate most about this distance...not being together for those moments.
And now we are here...at the place where I have to say this: I am not your Mama. You have a good, strong, beautiful mama. You are blessed in that way. You are also blessed that I am never going to try to take her place. I understand my role...I hope and pray that you do, too. I will listen to you. I will support you. I will challenge you. I will correct you. I will wake you up by drawing butterflies on your sweet face. I will make you green beans and sprinkle pancakes until you ask me not to (not at the same time, though...that's gross). And I will love you. I will always be here when you need me. While I may not be your mama, you are the daughter I always wanted but never knew I would have.
The way I see it, you were a cute little caterpillar when we first met...perfectly happy just beebopping along to Shake It Off. But something changed at some point...you started to transition. You are growing. You are changing. You are transforming into something so much more than a cute little caterpillar...you are turning into a fascinating and beautiful little butterfly. And part of my role is respecting that. Part of my role is simply admiring the young lady you are becoming. And part of my role is to help guide you so that, when it is time, you can spread your wings and fly. When it boils down to it, I am still terrified, praying every day that I can make friends with a butterfly. I hope you will let me.
I love you, Lizzy. Even when you don't love me, I love you. Even when you don't love yourself, I love you. Because...you.