So the Golden Birthday gauntlet had been thrown down.
Read more about that here
Twenty four years of my third-born's life to celebrate.
Twenty-five photos to be carefully chosen; one for each year of her life.
Twenty-four hours to post them.
Here are my final selections, in all their chronological glory, along with a few notes about why I chose each one.
24: Taken just a few weeks ago, this is a perfect capture of my daughter's working life. For the fourth summer in a row, she's teaching English to a group of Vietnamese teens who have qualified for a special program called East Meets West. Her year-round students are 7- to 10-year-old city kids, but these East Meets Westers come mostly from the surrounding countryside. Their families are typically poor, but the program pays for the teens to come stay in Danang for the summer and study full time.
My daughter not only helps teach them, but also invests her time in eating, sightseeing, and just generally hanging out with them. Oh, she poses for pics with them too. Peace signs preferred.
23: For the past two years, I've been lucky enough to buckle on my Birkenstocks and go visit my girl in Vietnam. Last year, she hiked me up to Marble Mountain, a Hindu temple in the hills, where we explored the gardens and sought sanctuary in shady places.
22: Here we stand, mother and daughter, in the peaceful shade of a massive sequoia, deep in the forests of Yosemite National Park. We look so calm and centered, don't we?
But my adrenaline still surges when I survey this scene, as the backstory is ever fresh in my mind. Forty eight hours earlier, after spending three months in Malaysia, I had flown directly to Los Angeles. After a six-hour wait, my three elder daughters picked me up in the family van, which they had driven 1163.9 miles south to fetch me. Then we turned east, and drove another 500 miles to collect the fourth sister home from college for the summer. After a whirlwind of packing, we headed back up to Washington, pausing long enough for a day's tour of Yosemite. Toss in a few good sisterly fights and a series of challenging phone calls from my dementia-suffering mother, and you get a much better idea of what's going on in my artfully tilted head.
21: Freshly graduated from college and anxious for her new life to begin, this is my daughter on a suffocatingly hot and restless day at home. I convinced her to come on a photography mission with me in the back streets of our hometown downtown, and ended up taking shots of her against a variety of interesting backgrounds. America's Next Top Model.
20: For the spring quarter of her second year at college, my baby studied in Europe. Prancing across France, Switzerland and Italy, she practiced her French, prowled through cathedrals, pierced her nose, and made precious new friends. And thanks to the magic of Facebook Messenger, I did not worry one little bit.
19: In what is still standing as our last full family camping trip, the seven of us (Ranger counts) headed down to Nevada's Great Basin National Park for a week of hiking, star-gazing, and forced family fun. En route home, we toured Crater Lake National Park in Oregon where my third-born adopted her newly minted favorite pose, as shown. Since then, this has become her iconic photo look, and we have an ever-growing collection of her salute to gorgeous scenery.
18: You see a girl with short hair and a brown coat sitting on a little metal elephant. I see a lifetime of memories.
The brown coat belongs to my second-born, and my mind stirs up volumes of clothes-sharing "discussions" that those two enacted over the years.
The short haircut resulted from a regretful highlighting episode, and my ears ring with the agony that ultimately led to chopping off the offending strands.
I loved every minute of my daughter's teenage years. But I will never pretend they were placid.
The elephant, though, conjures up only sweetness. During my daughters' young childhood days, we hung out at the zoo like it was our backyard. It was nothing to go once a week, and we knew every inch of the place. Then the middle years came along, and suddenly, the zoo was no longer cool. Sigh. I marched on with the times, and left those precious days in the past. But lo and behold, something interesting happened when my older girls got to wrapping up high school. The zoo became cool again! So my heart was duly warmed when my girls begged to go back, and these photos of them seated on their old childhood statue friends are a precious reminder that life has many seasons.
17: If Photobooth was not created for teenage girls to kiss themselves, then I can't imagine what it's good for.
16: My daughters were born with the digital age, and they grew up alongside of Magic School Bus computer games, Kiwibox, and the emerging art of the self-portrait. Many a time did I catch my teenage middle two engaged in such a session with the camera, and on some occasions, like this seaside moment in Northern California, I snapped a few shots of them snapping themselves.
Mothers of teenage girls have to amuse themselves somehow.
15: On the way home from a camping trip, we impetuously stopped at Crescent Lake for a swim. The sunny day was just hot enough for the crisp mountain water to feel refreshing, and the whole spontaneous experience was a giant win.
Until, on the way back to the car, I realized I had locked my keys inside.
14: Although she had already been a teen for a full year, the cool jean jacket, on-trend side-swooping bangs, and closed, braces-hiding smile all scream "Welcome to the Teenage Years!"
13: When I began this Golden Birthday project, I knew that my daughter was sensitive about pictures from her early teens. Despite my motherly protestations that she was always adorable, my daughter often cringes over pictures from this era, pointing out what appears to be a chubby tummy, an awkward outfit or a double chin. Well. I still hold to my claim that those are mere photographic illusions, but I brought plenty of caution to my photo selections for this age.
Sorting through a box of random film photos that I discovered in her bedroom, I found this gem and immediately knew it was sure to please. The Pacific fog is magic, the clothes are just right for a camping trip, and those skinny little legs are undeniably adorable.
12: Our kids grew up with kids of all ages, and I'm especially happy that my third- and fourth-borns had plenty of family friends to be their younger brothers and sisters. This trampoline shot shows a happy menagerie of psuedo-siblings and when I first saw it, it awakened in me the reality that my baby girls were growing up.
11: Posing at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Though our daughters were all born and raised in Seattle, my husband and I both grew up in Great Lakes territory - Ohio and Michigan, to be exact. Over the decades, in order to keep family ties strong, we earmarked virtually of our vacation dollars for return trips to the homeland. When the girls were babies, we flew. But once the youngest was out of diapers, we embarked on a long and glorious tradition of cross-country road trips.
These three-week sagas brought us the best of both worlds. Granted, the middle ten days were devoted to descending with full force upon innocent grandparents, running wild with Midwestern cousins, and going along with whatever the locals planned for us. But thanks to the miracles of road-tripping, we also enjoyed family time for the six of us as we adventured back and forth across the northern tier of the country.
As the years flew by, though, we realized that we had never actually taken a proper family vacation. And perhaps even more shockingly, though my kids could name the exit of every McDonald's along two thousand miles of Interstate 90, they had traveled only east and west. Never once had we ventured south from our corner of the Pacific Northwest, and there were some places we needed to go.
So during this particular summer, we gassed up the car and headed to the great Southwest Desert:
Bryce Canyon National Park
Zion National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
and this lovely day tour of San Francisco all made our must-see list.
As it turned out, this solo family vacation marked the first of many trips to California, Arizona and other parts of the sunny Southwest.
But this visit - the one in which we finally claimed our right to take a family vacation - will always be near and dear to my heart.
10: Sisters on the beach at sunset. And I should probably mention that the orange fleece pullover modeled here on my second-born now serves as my favorite Ranger-walking jacket which I wear about 330 days a year.
9: Tomboy or princess? Easy answer. This girl was the epitome of both. As shown, she could wrestle with sticks, dig holes, and throw stones like any self-respecting boy. But always with her hair styled, earrings in, and a super cute outfit.
8: Oh, I remember this day perfectly. These two had cooked up a wild game of hospital drama, complete with a dying patient whose oxygen tube was held in place by toothpaste, and were only too happy to enact the scene for the camera.
But looking back now, I am transfixed by the changes in my baby girl. Those new big girl teeth and the freshly pierced ears (for which she mounted a three-year campaign) mark a momentous moment in her transformation from little to big. Honestly, I tear up every time I look at this one.
7: She loved that rainbow-striped tee shirt so much that we ended up with two of them. If one was in the laundry, the other was on her back. Life was so simple back then.
6: By the time my fourth-born (on the left) turned two years old, these two were often mistaken for twins. For almost a full decade, their height differential was never more than an inch. They loved to dress alike and clearly shared the same sense of humor. We have many fond memories of this season of life, which is especially hilarious now that they have assumed their adult heights, and our fourth-born "baby" is ironically ten inches taller than her "twin."
5: I love everything about this pic of my wild five-year-old romping in my mom's backyard. The only drawback to this afternoon of great fun was the unending torment of Michigan mosquitoes.
4: I know it's hard to believe that this precious birthday princess could be anything other than perfect, but I'm sorry to say that she was going through a bit of a rough stage.
Sadly, my angel had been unkind to her little friends and I could not in good conscience offer to give her a birthday party. So, in order to find compromise within my torn and tender mother's heart, I planned for her a surprise party. While the big sisters and I set up for the secret event, I sent my birthday girl to spend the morning with her most tormented playmate (on the left.) Thankfully, the girls enjoyed a delightful time together, my four-year-old was thrilled to discover she would have a party after all, and we all had a sweet afternoon.
3: During my third-born's third year of life, she made a special friend named Mrs. Lohr. The Lohr boys were age-mates and play partners with my two older girls, and my newborn fourth-born was but a lump in my front pack, so this lucky little toddler had Mrs. Lohr all to herself. Whatever my girl wanted - piggyback rides around the zoo, an extra strawberry in her bowl, or someone to hold this somewhat frightening baby chick - Mrs. Lohr was always there to provide.
2: "Where's my cake?!" So glad that I occasionally wrote direct quotes in my photo albums because those words make this birthday portrait that much more special.
1: Oh. Those big blue eyes, expressive little eyebrows, and ever-ready smile. Babies make me drunk.
0: Here is a undisclosed truth about motherhood that no one ever told me. Birthday are actually for moms.
My children's birth days hold secrets that no one else will ever understand and each year I quietly celebrate those mysteries in the deepest places of my heart. Though twenty-four years have passed between this moment (from the third day of my daughter's life) till now, I remember every detail of her arrival with startling clarity and intense emotion.
Happy Golden Birthday to my adorable third-born girl.
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See more of my Golden Birthday stories and photos here: