As I did with your sister I am starting an annual tradition of writing you a letter on your birthday, starting with this, your third. And you know what? I hardly know what to say. I could write a book about you, about how much I love you, about all the things you are, so how can I possibly hope to distill it down into only a few pages? But for you, I’ll try. For you, I’ll try anything.
You were born three years ago today, on a typically beautiful mid-December afternoon – breezes off the hills, nicely warm temperatures, blue blue skies that were crystal clear to all horizons. Small wonder then that we named you for this Costa Rican sky, under which we have found such a deep and satisfying contentment. Cielo, a word that means sky but also has other meanings – Heaven, angel, darling – and oh, how very aptly you would turn out to be named.
It’s a funny thing having a second child. I had a one year old when you were born so I haven’t always had much time to enjoy you – in fact you spent a good part of your first year sitting in your bouncer chair in a mostly observational capacity while I ran around after a busy toddler. But just the fact that I was already comfortable in my skin as a mother meant that I didn’t waste as much time worrying as I had the first time. So when I did have a moment for you it was almost always a happy one, a snatched minute of pure unadulterated joy, during which I could get drunk with love on the smell of you or the feel of your little arm curled around mine.
At first we had no idea that you were blond, or that you would have the same chocolate-brown eyes as your sister. You were born completely hairless, blue-eyed, and though your eyes changed quickly we didn’t see that beautiful bombshell-blond hair until you were more than six months old. This was around the same time we heard that infectious giggle of yours too – the one that elicits a reciprocal laugh out of everyone who hears it.
Even from the start you had the most expressive, mobile little face. You never need to tell us what you’re feeling because we already know – it’s right there in that gorgeous pout, those drawn together eyebrows or that light-the-room-up smile. Even before you could talk you had us all wrapped around your little finger. No wonder men already fall in love with you. Despite being the quieter sister you still charm the socks off nearly everyone you meet and I have watched people fall irrevocably under your spell. In Tortugero you bewitched our tour guide – who even told me he planned to come to England in eighteen years to find you… bit sinister really, let’s just hope he isn’t a man of his word.
One of the things he found most adorable about you was the fact that you are, at heart, a true Tica. Being born here you automatically qualified as a Costa Rican national (earning us permanent residency as your family into the bargain) but it would appear that there is more to this than simple paperwork. Somehow being born under these peaceful skies ensures a nationalism that is bone-deep, soul-deep… certainly, in your case, stomach deep. You are a fantastic eater, you love your food, but nothing more than the classic dishes of your nation – Gallo Pinto, Tres Leches, Cas juice – these are you staples, these are always your first choice in any given situation. What’s more, you even sleep patriotically – taking up the position of that most emblematic of local animals, the tree frog. You grab your pillow into your chest and draw your knees up on either side of it, and there we find you when we come to check on you each night, just as if we had turned over a big banana leaf and discovered you there.
How appropriate then that your first best friend should be a fellow English-speaking Tico, born just six days before you and a main character in your everyday life ever since. Your friend Ian has been at your side from day one, but there was no reason to assume that you would actually get along the way you do. But, almost as if he was the brother or cousin you have never yet had, you and he are the perfect little pair, comfortable undemanding companions, an invaluable source of support, and I don’t recall that I have ever seen you fight or disagree. How wonderful it was that you started school together, hand-in-hand on the first day in this new stage of life so that you instantly earned the reputation of being best friends and have done nothing but reinforce it ever since.
I think one of the things people find so irresistible about you is your vulnerability – that sweet little worried frown you have above your smattering of freckles, your little bell-like voice, porcelain skin, the way your lips turn blue when you are even slightly cold – no-one can resist coming to your rescue. But heaven help anyone that should under-estimate you, because beneath this exterior lies an inner-strength forty times that of anyone else you know. In truth you are tough, you are absolutely confident, you know exactly what you want and, crucially, how to get it. As your grandmother put it, you are a force of nature – you are as strong and utterly unstoppable as an ocean. Up until just lately we never saw any evidence of ‘terrible twos’ in you – you were always able to get what you want without resorting to these kinds of tactics. But as you have become more vocal, grown up a little, and the things you want have become a little more difficult to get, you have employed some of the more classic tactics of your peers and have experimented with the tantrum. And my oh my, what an expert in them you are. You could teach a class. Yours, though less frequent than those of most people your age, are more like seismic events in size and scale, and have you absolutely incandescent with rage. But hey, Dad and I have been here before, and we know it doesn’t last. We just need to batten down the hatches and wait for Hurricane Cielo to pass.
And you have another little secret – you are fiercely intelligent. All we need to do is see you complete a jigsaw puzzle in record time (studying each piece before slotting it into the correct location) to see that you are an engineer, a scientist or an academic in the making. You might disagree with this however, since your current ambition is to become a princess (Cinderella to be more exact). Knowing you, you’ll probably somehow manage to be both.
Considering how precious you are to us, I find it bizarre that we’ve managed to lose you twice. Once in the market – we got distracted buying green coconut drinks and before we realized what we’d done you were gone. I don’t think you were gone more than fifteen or twenty seconds but for me it was an eternity. All there was in this world was my inability to breathe; I couldn’t see, couldn’t think, until you were back in my arms. The second time was at the children’s race – you ran the race, got to the finish and there was such a scrum of parents that I couldn’t get to you. I swear I tried to rip the world limb from limb to find you, while everyone stared at the crazy woman screaming in English and flailing through the crowd, fighting tears. This time it may have been as long as two minutes or so, during which I aged fifty years. And then you were there, fished out of the pack by your dad and it transpired that you were being looked after by a kind stranger (that irresistible vulnerability of yours) and not trampled underfoot, which had been among my worst imaginings. On these occasions one of my other worst case scenarios is generally that you’ve been taken by someone. I know fine well you are a prize worth risking it all for so why wouldn’t other people think that too?
I know some day someone really will come along and take you from me. I know I won’t always be number one in your heart the way I am, unabashedly, now. At this point in your life, given the choice you will always choose me. You want me to hold you, me to help you get dressed, me to strap you into the car. And though it drives me nuts sometimes, it also makes me proud to be chosen by you. And when whoever it is that usurps me in your heart comes along, all I know is they had better deserve it – because it is the greatest honour in the world and I will have loved every single second that it was mine.
All my love, as always,