To Ainsley on her 15th birthday

For a dozen years, I've dedicated my final column of the year as a birthday message to my daughter.

I hope Ainsley does not one day resent that her birthday letters were first conceived to fulfill a work assignment and instead chooses to appreciate her mother's functional approach to life. (And her mother's inability, after more than 30 years in the newspaper business, to write anything if she's not on deadline.)

I once again will offer my apologies to those who are tired of hearing about Ainsley in my columns and my deepest gratitude to those who tell me they enjoy reading about her (even if they are just being nice).

Dear Ainsley,

Most of the birthday letters I've written have been about you - how you had grown over the past year, milestones you had met, even cute things you had said.

I'll get to you in this letter, too, but first I need to say something about me.

I dreamt of being a mom for a long time before I had you in 2009. And then, miraculously, you were born - and I was in the club.

I was truly happy to be your mom. Unfortunately that joy, at times, was tempered - even eclipsed - by worry.

I've always been a worrier and perfected the skill once I became pregnant, which was no easy task in and of itself. Just when I was beginning to let go of my fears, we learned about the hole in your heart. Seconds later we were told it might indicate you had Down's syndrome. Then came the prognosis that you would be born too early. Of course you do not have Down's syndrome, the holes in your heart (there were two) healed on their own and, ironically, you had to be induced.

But there was more to worry about after you were born. One of your legs was shorter than the other! One side of your head was too flat from a lack of tummy time! Your iron levels were low!

By the time it seemed everything would work out OK, I was an expert worrier. And I've had a hard time letting go.

If you had had a brother or sister, some of my worry would have had another outlet. Instead, it's all been focused on you.

As much as I hate to admit it, I know my worry at times came across as disapproval or disappointment. For that, I am sorry. One of the toughest parts of being a parent is trying to help your child learn the lessons she needs to learn without making her feel bad for needing to learn them.

So, in 2024, as I begin my 16th year as your mom, I promise to worry less and affirm more. I will have an excellent opportunity to practice this pledge as you begin drivers ed (gulp!). Of course I have some time to adjust to the idea of you driving, as I have yet to sign you up for any such classes. I do know - from the driving tips you occasionally offer me - you will be careful and conscientious.

And the truth is, I really have nothing to worry about. At times you will stumble and fall. And it will be OK. You will learn the lessons you are supposed to learn, sometimes with help from me or with help from others or completely on your own. I will be there to walk with you when you are in pain, but I cannot take it away from you. Nor should I.

And at other times - most of the time - I know you will shine. Your generous heart (unlike the Grinch, yours is two sizes too large) and compassion and intelligence and talent and kindness will be on full display for all to appreciate. You will live the brilliant life you were meant to live. Your dad and I will be right there, cheering you on, always.

Happy 15th birthday, Ainsley. While I was busy worrying you turned into an amazing young woman, and I am so proud of you. Love, Mom.

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean