My dear Caroline,
I can hardly believe it was 11 years ago this morning that I was packing up to go to the hospital, my 3 best friends gathering to meet me there for your birth. I knew you were fierce the moment I met you and you asked for what you needed, not with the shrill screams of a newborn, but with the quiet cooing of a child who owns her place in the circle of love.
This year has been one none of us will forget. Your journey through a time when life nearly ended so suddenly. As we loaded you onto that helicopter I knew deep in my core that you would make it. I knew this would be your year of grit— a year you would show the world your true colors, a year that the rainbow in your soul would shine out for the world to see. As they wheeled you off the landing pad and into the trauma center I understood for the first time just how brave you are— thrown from a boat and sliced through by the rudder, you lay stoically resolved to endure. Toxins had been spilling within you for hours and you were never more clear that you may need help, but you would also fight like hell to make it through this your own way.
As I watched you heal through pain still unimaginable to me, I saw your bold hunger for life emerge time and again through your tears. When turning over was excruciating yet necessary, you dug deep to get there. The first time out of bed caused you pain which left you shaking, and you steadily moved forward. When the doctors and medical students moved too fast for you, you asked them kindly (and then told them politely but firmly when they didn’t listen) that you needed them to slow down.
Your thirst for a joyous life has come through again and again. Through multiple surgeries, and more pain and uncertainly than most adults can tolerate, you have shown the world a path of hope and joy. When you were still in the fog of pain from surgery, a nurse informed about your colostomy, teaching you how it works, and why, showing you how to empty it. My heart broke thinking of how your princess soul would react. I had misjudged your soul. Discounted the one that truly matters: the fierce one that runs your life, not the dazzle soul you usually wear on the outside.
You calmly absorbed the information, your only questions “Can I still go swimming?” and “Will I be able to go to camp?” Your goals were set, and they guided you through healing and infections, and back to healing again. When the surgeon said 4 weeks before athletic activity you waited exactly 3 weeks and 6 days, demanding that rounding up was allowed, then jumped into your first swim practice. When you needed to be your own colostomy nurse to go to camp, you figured out the whole system and earned your place at sleepover camp. When having a bag of poop hanging off of you was unappealing, we made a pretty cover for your bag— and then you wondered what all the other kids with bags did? So you made a batch for the hospital to give out. Superheroes and flowers, polka dots and sports teams would adorn the bags of other Riley kids.
Your heart is a giving, strong, kind, thoughtful, creative garden for your soul, Caroline. You have written many lessons for me to learn this year. Sometimes we think moms have it all figured out— I want you to know that this year I learned far more from you than I taught. I am more than ever honored to be on this journey of life with you and your spectacular soul.
Happy birthday, brave, strong, kind, joyful, sparkly strong girl. You earned your Super C credentials, and I can’t wait to see what you do with them this year!. I will be cheering you on and taking notes on how to live a fierce life undaunted.