Dear Pearl

For your second birthday, you got an ear infection, a beanbag turtle from Aviva, and an hour of solo time with me early this morning, whispering little nothings to each other on the purple couch.

You got an antibiotic, an afternoon with Grandma so that I could work, and a nap in Aviva’s big-girl bed. You got a homemade cake with two layers of pastel-colored frosting and three candles (one for good luck) that you blew out perfectly, one at a time.

You got wrestled in and out of diapers; you got furious at me for cutting your burrito into small bites; you got snuggles and Sweet Baby James and the sound of my heartbeat in your ear as you fell asleep on my chest in the glider next to your crib.

This is the place where, for two years now, through colic and croup, I have felt the presence of angels on the tops of our heads. This is the place where gratitude waves through me, bringing with it a deep, lucid, quiet knowing that always delivers me safely to shore.

I spotted the first crocuses in our yard today, small purple ones, right there in the middle of the grass. They look like the fell from space and bloomed right under our noses while we slept. When you were born, I looked at you the way I look at these tender spring flowers, blinking incredulously. I’ll never forget seeing your face and wondering who you were, not recognizing you immediately. Your nostrils seemed very round to me – they still do; your features struck me as African. I didn’t know what to call you. It was Dada who said, “I’m getting a strong Pearl.”


On April 9, 2006, at 5:12pm, after 36 hours of long, erratic labor, after doing sun salutations with Greg in the fancy new birthing center at the hospital overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks across, after stuck shoulders and a few moments he would later tell me had scared him, seeing her head there, blue, not knowing if she was breathing; after giving birth to all seven pounds, fifteen ounces of her, there she was, a strong Pearl: Pearl Strong, after Pearl Primus, the Trinidadian dancer of West African descent who called me “Daughter #3” and predicted when I was in grade school that I would one day be president of the PTA or ambassador of some small nation. Who knew that the small nation would be the four of us.


Greg called home and asked for Aviva. “V? We have news!”

“What is it?” she asked.

“You have a baby sister…”

“I wanted a girl!”


Pearl, your name suits you so well. You have the soft, round aura of a pearl – and the toughness that results from becoming that polished. We joke that you will play women’s rugby or field hockey; before you could walk you mystified us by picking up a plastic golf club and swinging it like a pro. You refuse tights and dresses. But lest we type-cast you before you can write your own letters, we will instead look to you as we look to the crocus in the yard, a marvel, revealing itself petal by petal: As a miracle we’ve come to expect but never take for granted.

Thanks for choosing us, for being here. I love you. I love being your mama.

Updated on April 9, 2013. Happy 7th birthday, Pearlie Girl!


10 thoughts on “Dear Pearl

  1. Anna says:

    Jena- this tribute to your (not-so) baby daughter is so lovely.

    I don’t know if it’s that my son is 2 weeks from turning two or that I’m still wiping the sleep out of my eyes, but the mere power of your unabashed, tender outpouring brought forth many tears this morning.

    I sometimes get so lost in the business of each day, the task-doing, list-managing, lunch-packing, house-tidying that Silas can get swept up in it too. It is the moments that I can step back, take it in, nuzzle his soft head, admire his determination, wonder at his evolution that truly give me pause. Force me to be.

    Thank you for this.


  2. Meg Casey says:

    What a sweet and tender love letter to a little girl with an amazing life before her. Thank you for pouring out your raw mama love here for us all to bathe in. It is light.


  3. Lillithmother says:

    jena, what a heartfelt letter to pearl…and so very real about what it’s like to be her mother. thank you for sharing it with us…



  4. bella says:

    Happy Birthday sweet Pearl.
    And happy birthday to you mama.
    We never forget that moment of birth and who we became in giving life to another.
    I love you both.


  5. PixieDust says:

    Happy (Belated) birthday to your angel… oh, she melts my heart… a moment of bliss for both you, that moment of birth, yes?




  6. Shelli says:

    She is adorable. Happy Birthday to Pearl! What a wonderful letter for her to read someday.

    And for the record, I like your hair up or down! Looks great either way!



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