What a Difference a Year Makes


Friday was Katie’s last full day of first grade.  It was also Cleo’s first birthday.  Andrew, Annie Rose, Cleo and I joined all the other first grade families at noon to participate in the first grade barbecue.  I sat on the ground with my hot dog and chips and reflected on the difference a year makes.  

On the last day of school last year, it was a warm and sunny summer day.  This year in Chicago, June apparently still falls in the winter, and it was a chilly 50 degrees as we sat down to our outdoor picnic.

On the last day of school last year, Katie only had one sister.  I went into labor on the kindergarten playground.  I remember calling Andrew to tell him it would be his last day of school, too, because the baby was coming.  Our family of four spent a beautiful day together, walking to lunch and visiting the bookstore and the library to sign up for summer reading programs.

Katie had a very loose front tooth, and all afternoon, she wiggled it each time I had a contraction.  It was a race to see which would come out first- the new baby or Katie’s front tooth.  Katie beat me to it by a few hours, and she started the summer with a gap in her smile.

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup a year ago.  Andrew watched the game as he perched on the edge of my hospital bed.  I labored through the night, and Cleo made her debut at 7 am the next morning. And, just like that, we were a family of five.

Annie Rose went from being the baby to the middle child, a role she has embraced with every ounce of her being.  She knows how to access our tenderness at any time of day or night.  “Is there anyone who has time to give some love and attention to a middle like me?” she will ask, gazing at us with her large doe eyes.

On the last day of school last year, Katie did not know how to ride a bike, nor could she hold a tennis racket or play a game of chess.  This year, she joyfully rode her two-wheeler every chance she got, participated in chess tournaments and took tennis lessons every Tuesday.

On the last day of school last year, Katie carried her Tinkerbelle backpack, and she drew no unusual attention, because she neatly fit into society’s expectations for little girls.
On the last day of school this year, Katie carried her Star Wars backpack, bolstered by the forceful support of thousands of Star Wars fans who came together in November and December to defend Katie’s right to be a female Star Wars fan.

On the last day of school last year, the only people who celebrated Katie’s achievements were her family and close friends.  This year, whenever Katie has a notable moment — a goal in soccer, a win in chess, a recital in piano – I proudly post it to the Portrait Facebook page, and a legion of people who have never met Katie but care about her nonetheless offer her their congrats and support.  It brings joy to a mother’s heart.

Katie has absorbed this outpouring of kindness, and she carries herself with more self confidence.  She defines herself less by her Otherness, such as her adoption and her glasses, and more by her interests. 

I think about the year to come, and I wonder what unforeseen developments await us.  My head is up and my eyes are open.  It will be hard to top the year we just had!

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