Friday, December 30, 2016

Dear Ainsleigh

I dropped the ball this year on your birthday and neglected to write you your annual letter. Proof that often, if you don't do something when you're supposed to, making it up is difficult and maybe impossible. I have had to relearn lessons in procrastination over and over. I hope I can save you some of that.
This has been a big year for you. But wait, I think I always say that. This year you wrapped up middle school. You had some teachers who were ok and some teachers who were positively wonderful. Your english teacher, Mrs. Klinkerman, was so loving and supportive. I hope Donovan gets her some day.

You continued to take ballet lessons at the studio and participated in the Nutcracker last Christmas season. This was not a very good experience for you. I'm not sure if it was the long hours, the stress of the teachers/director spilling over, or other things (hormones?), but it seemed like a big relief when it was over. Couple that with some comments you reported hearing a teacher say, and I became increasingly uncomfortable with our attendance. This was a difficult decision to make because I know how much you love it there (with the other girls, if not this particular teacher) and it has increased your abilities tremendously. And I do think it's important to do hard things even if your personalities don't match with coaches/teachers. However, it became too much. We knew we'd be gone a lot for summer, so we withdrew for those months. And then, we just never went back. It takes time to get to/from the studio, you were heading into high school (and early morning seminary) with an increased workload and decreased time for sleeping, and, quite frankly, you seemed increasingly grumpy. The other problem is that Gemma was forced into ballet because it was what you were doing. And she liked it, but it wasn't what she chose. She wanted to try tennis, or take more swim lessons, but she couldn't because she was at the mercy of your and Donovan's practice schedules. And that isn't fair. When you were her age, we did whatever you wanted.

You were fairly upset when we decided ballet wasn't in your future. But, over time, I think you've come to recognize how impossible this semester would've been, had you continued at the studio. You still miss it. And I know that. And my heart hurts that you can't pursue it. You are enjoying some free time, though, that you've never had. Time you can spend with friends or, and more importantly, with your siblings. This fall semester, as you and your brother and sister have come home from school, you all sit around the kitchen island or at the table and I hear things I've haven't heard for a long time: giggles. All three of you laugh and talk, ask each other about their day, express indignation when someone has been slighted, etc. As much as I get after all of you to DO YOUR HOMEWORK and STOP CAUSING DISTRACTIONS, the sound of you getting along is really beautiful.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It was only like the third day of summer break when you headed out to girls camp. It was at a YMCA in the Rockies, so not really camping - more like cabins, but big cabins, so really more like a hotel. You had fun, but missed the camping aspect. Next year you'll have plenty. You were home only for a couple days before we drove to southern California for the Hill family reunion. We played with family and went to Disneyland. Then we were home for a couple weeks and drove to Utah for the Ostler family reunion in Park City. We had lots of fun with the Whitley kids and meeting your little cousin Finn for the first time. Then you were home for just a couple weeks and headed to EFY. Dad and I were nervous about sending you, hoping you'd have a great time, but not knowing for sure. We were relieved when your first texts came through that you were loving it. You continue to talk about it and look forward to next year. I'm so glad.

You returned home to discover we had painted your room for you. And by "we" of course I mean "mostly me." Donovan did help a little, but the majority of the time devoted to painting is spent prepping, which is incredibly boring, so he flitted in and out. We got you a unicorn head for your wall because why not. And you seemed thrilled when you got home. I don't know why you thought a pink room was babyish, but it's definitely no longer pink!

You turned 14 this year and have gone to many dances, which you love (for the most part). I think it was after the second dance you attended that Donovan (who was still awake, for reasons I cannot remember) and I were asking how the dance went. When we asked if you danced with anyone, you said yes. I asked if you danced with any boys, you said yes. When I clarified slow dancing and you said yes, it was magical how Donovan and I, in sync, nodded our heads and responded with an approving, "NICE!" We sent you a video of that when you were at EFY and dancing up a storm.

You got your braces off in the middle of the summer and holy cow you look so grown up now. Part of that is because you've really matured (physically, if not mentally, goober) in the last couple years. And you got contacts this year, so that also helped. You're just growing right along, aren't you.

We went to see Chris Colfer, author of the "Land of Stories" series. He was charming and wonderful and you were giddy to see him. It was a fun experience, especially since it was something you asked to go do and it was to see AN AUTHOR. I will take you to see authors every day, if you like.

So then you started high school and early morning seminary. I was pretty nervous about how this would go, thinking I'd have to wake you up every morning. But you have surprised me yet again. I've had to wake you up maybe three times this whole semester, because you set your alarm clock wrong or something. Sometimes you sleep enough that you only have time to throw your hair into a bun and stick in your contacts, but you're on time every time. Dad and I take turns getting up and making you breakfast before driving up to the school. I'm really proud of you for taking the initiative to do all the reading on your own. You're a good kid - while others apparently play on their phones the whole time, you put it away and pay attention. I am glad you are considerate and respectful that way.

One of your electives this semester has been fashion design, and you've really loved it. I've wondered, for a while, if you might like that kind of class. Initially, when you saw that on your schedule, you were annoyed. You like to draw, but I think you like to draw on your own terms, not how others dictate. I think this has been a good experience for you. That, and beginning dance (which counts as PE) were your electives (besides French). This high school is so much cooler than mine was. Next semester you're taking broadway dance and catering. I can't wait to sample some of your delicious food.

A few weeks ago, a friend remarked that when she saw you walk into church, she thought, "Ainsleigh has Sarah's walk." This caught me off guard because I didn't realize I had "a walk." When I asked her about that, she said, "Oh yes, it's just very strong, with a purpose. Determined." I guess that's not a bad thing. I have to laugh about it, because when I mentioned this exchange to a couple other friends, they both nodded and said, "Oh you totally have a walk." So there you go -- you have my hair and my walk. What they don't know is that most of the time I'm so focused on getting somewhere and not being distracted and wondering if I've forgotten something but just trying to hurry up and sit down! And maybe it's a bit of false confidence. Whatever it is, I think I like that you have it to. So even if you don't know what you're doing, project out there that you do and maybe it will happen. Or something.

This year you were introduced to the beauties of a flat iron. When my mom was here for Gemma's baptism, she used it on your hair and you thought it was amazing. And although you do often opt to put your hair up, you also like the option of flat ironing it, which you've been doing more frequently. You have so MUCH hair - just like your grandma. You see it as a curse, but most people would give a lot to have the head of hair you do.

Last year you quit taking any medication relating to ADHD. That was your choice, and one that made me nervous. But you stuck to it. Schoolwork will never be easy for you, I think, but you've figured out how to work more efficiently, study more effectively, and stay sort of organized. And, most of the time, turn your work in on time.

This semester has been tough when it comes to math and biology. We've learned some valuable lessons in talking with the teachers, doing your work on time (see above), and working hard. These subjects do not come easy for you, but you're trying your hardest. Your biology teacher, known to be pretty tough, is one of your biggest fans, and that's because you've gone to see him after school for extra help/advice. If that's the only thing you learn from high school (though I hope it isn't), then that will be worth it: talk to your teachers (or whoever is in charge) if you are struggling. People who have the information are happy to share the information with those who are humbling seeking the information. Got it?
Dad and I are kind of freaking out that you only have 3.5 years of high school. It seems like just yesterday I was marveling at you going to first grade because then you'd be in school ALL DAY. While we still have arguments and don't always get along, I really do like who you're becoming. I'm really proud of the way we can be at odds with one another, and then we can resolve the problem (or come close to resolving it) and you really do let it go. You aren't a grudge holder. I've heard stories from others about you standing up for what you believe in, and I am incredibly proud of you for that. You don't make a big deal, but you've let people know that if they continue speaking poorly of someone, that you'll walk away, and then you've actually followed through. That says a lot about your character, and I'm so glad you have the backbone to do that. I love that you don't have an interest in or patience for gossiping. There are some adults who still haven't figured that out. Good for you.

You're a good kid, Ainsleigh. Your brother and sister adore you. When you laugh at their jokes, it instantly makes them feel important. When you interact with them and treat them as equals, I feel fairly confident that they would do anything for you. They may be louder and more obnoxious than you, but you have the power to make something go from good to awesome, merely by showing up. Your support of family prayer and scripture study makes the younger two much more compliant. And, when we're all done with our family hug and you hold out your arms and say, "Can I have just a mom hug now?" My heart is soft and I feel like I'm hugging 4 year old Ainsleigh all over again.

So happy end of 2016 to you, my little lady. I feel like this has been a really good year, and I think next year will be even better.

Love you,