Motherhood & Words

It’s hard to believe that on Saturday my little Zoë turned three. For weeks, whenever someone asked her how old she was, she smiled that huge Zoë smile and held up three fingers. And now it’s official—my baby is not a baby anymore.

On Friday we took cupcakes to her preschool and her friends gathered in a circle to celebrate each year of her life. Z was feeling a little shy, so she didn’t walk around the candle, which represents the journey of the earth around the sun. And she tucked her head into my lap when one after another of her friends raised their hands to offer their wishes for her birthday: “I hope you get good presents.” “I wish for you a good birthday.” And my favorite: “I hope your cupcakes taste good.” But after each friend expressed his/her wish, she quickly lifted her head and said a quiet thank you.

On Saturday morning, Stella and I went to return Zoë’s presents (a frilly pink dress with a tulle skirt and sparkly pink shoes) because Zoë said she didn’t like them. “I want an American Girl Doll,” she said. Fair enough, we said, so Stella and I headed off to the store to make our returns and pick out Zoë’s doll. (Note: we buy the affordable Target version of AGD rather than the real AGD.)

After Stella deliberated and deliberated about the perfect doll for Zoë, she settled on Jenny with her long blond hair, and then decided we should have party bags with candy for the kids who would be at Zoë’s party. The candy bags turned into bags with party blowers and rubber lizards and little parachute men who turned out to be quite difficult to assemble. (I know, I know.)


Zoë ended up loving her doll (whose hair is already a tangled mess that Stella has had to brush through three times). And she had a wonderful time at her party, up and down the stairs with her friends and cousins.

When she fell into an exhausted sleep that night, I stared down at her (before also falling into an exhausted sleep) and took her in: her tangled red hair, which she insists on brushing herself even though she can’t actually reach the majority of the tangles; her still toddler-chubby body, which is often without clothes, running around the house, jumping from the couch; her round face, which, when she is awake is almost always lit with a smile.

I love the way Zoë still sometimes says “shoppy cup” for “coffee shop.” (“Mom, I’m going to the shoppy cup to work.”) I love the way she picks out her clothes every day, insisting on all stripes (of varying sizes, colors and direction), a tulle skirt, and her patent leather white “dance” shoes that she inherited from Stella. (She’s the only kid I know sporting white patent leather in the middle of a Minnesota winter.) I love that she and Stella have memorized the lyrics to “So Long, Farewell” from the Sound of Music and that they perform it daily for anyone who happens to stop by our house. (The performance includes Zoë being Gretel, pretending to be asleep on the stairs at the end of the song. Stella drags her up the stairs, waving and singing a high-pitched, drawn out, “Goooooood-byyyyyeeee.”) I love how in the morning, she wakes up (inevitably between me and D) and reaches her arms out to encircle our necks. “Let’s snuggle,” she says. Or, if Stella is up first and wants someone to go downstairs with her, Zoë jumps out of our bed and says, “I go with you, Stella!” (Happy, always, to be her big sister’s side-kick.)

As part of the Friday’s circle of life celebration at her preschool, I read a little bit about each year that Zoë has been alive, and then I got to say what our hopes are for her future. This is what I read aloud to her and her classmates: “We hope that Zoë will continue to be a healthy, happy girl, bursting with life and laughter. We hope that she will always wear her joy openly, sharing her smiles with everyone she encounters. We love you Zoë.”

Happy Birthday, three-year-old! We love you!

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. kristenspina on March 8, 2011 at 11:48 am

    What a beautiful post! It goes by too fast, doesn't it?

  2. Mary on March 8, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    A beautiful birthday tribute! I'm so glad you wrote it all down, for us, but also for Zoe to read someday.

  3. Amber on March 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Happy Birthday, Zoe! What a wonderful ceremony at the school! I loved this post. Such love.

  4. Andrea on March 8, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    So sweet! What a big little girl! And so wonderful for you to slow down and reflect on all the things you find wonderful about your girls. She sounds like tons of fun. (I have to admit when I saw your title, I thought you were going to announce another baby!)

  5. kate hopper on March 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Thank you, everyone!

    And Andrea, when I read your comment, I started to choke on my sandwich. Clearly that's a sign that there will not be a #3 at our house. 🙂

  6. Myrna CG Mibus on March 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    "Shoppy cup" – that's the best phrase ever. I love this entry – of how you spill out your love for your little girl Zoe and for Stella, too.

    Zoe, with her white patent shoes, reminds me of my son who used to wear cowboy boots and shorts in the summer. And of my Rose, who used to wear stripes and checks and flowers and whatever seemed right to her. I love that kids don't care and just wear what feels right to them!

  7. cath c on March 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    happy birthday, zoe!

  8. Myrna CG Mibus on March 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Oh, and I thought "3" meant a third little person, too 🙂

  9. Elizabeth on March 9, 2011 at 1:16 am

    Happy Birthday little Zoe! And happy birth day to you, Kate!

  10. Andria on March 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Happy Birthday, adorable Zoe!!

    Zoe's preschool sounds awesome. I love that you read something about Zoe to the class. They don't even allow cupcakes at Nora's preschool…you have to bring a "healthy" treat and it can't be homemade. Good grief, this is Illinois, not southern California!

    Your Zoe sounds like an awesome little spirit. I love all the girl-ness in your house. And I want to be serenaded to "So Long, Farewell."

  11. unfinishedportraitofsam on March 11, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    too sweet. gah. i love three-year-olds. happy birthday, kiddo.