A birthday letter to my 11-year-old daughter

Another year, another birthday, another annual letter from your dad. Yeah, I know: I’m so embarrassing. But while they may mean nothing to you – at least not right now – they mean a lot to me. And I remain hopeful that one day you will read these letters and appreciate these little snapshots of your speedy passage through childhood.

And ‘speed’ is the operative word. Everything you do is done at a full-on sprint, eyes front, striving towards an imaginary finishing line. I just want to catch those little moments in time so that when, one day, you want to glance backwards, you see your younger self as more than a blur of motion.

Anyhow, to change up the format a bit this year, I’ve grouped my observations under the titles of relevant songs. Why? Well, why not?

I’ve got the music in me

Your eleventh year started with a father/daughter birthday trip to the West End to see the musical Matilda. It ended with an (early) father/daughter birthday trip to see the musical &Juliet. In between we fitted in another, Six, and your first live concert (Suzanne Vega, where you were by some distance the youngest person there).

Both your brothers also like their music – Isaac in particular. The two of you are often curled up together testing each other on song intros.

But music/musicals are a distinct part of your relationship with me. We listen together in the car on our frequent runs to and from cheer or martial arts. You pride yourself on recognising songs from the 80s or 90s, even if your frame of reference is often that you heard it performed on The Masked Singer or it featured in a film. And your capacity for learning lyrics to entire musicals after just a couple of listens is quite something: you’re a sponge.

I guess a love for pop music is hardly unusual for a pre-teen girl. But you definitely have the music in you: a bit like Kiki Dee. (That’s another one for you to file away in your memory banks.)

I’m not a girl, not yet a woman

I don’t have a sister. So watching your girly side develop, particularly over the last 2-3 years, has been… educational. Your continuing love of cats. (We still call you Kat more often than we call you Kara.) Makeup. Dressing up. Boyfriend. Endless hours of TikTok and YouTube Shorts. (You do realise your phone isn’t surgically attached to your hand, right?) You finally had your ears pierced a few months ago.

You’re a proper girly girl, with all the slings and arrows that come with it. Racing through your pre-teen years: 11 going on 21. Loving every minute of it. Woe betide anyone who stands in your way.

I don’t know how long this period will last. You’re growing up so fast and you’re fiercely independent. But you’re also the girl who still occasionally sneaks into our bed at night for a snuggle. You’re still the girl who breaks off from her friends at the school gate to run over for a cuddle or a fist-bump when I pass by on my morning walk. And you’re still the girl who sings along with me in the car, who asks me to test her on maths problems when we’re out for a walk together, and who still talks to me about (almost) anything.

That girl will disappear one day. I know it will be sooner rather than later. Frankly, I’m amazed it hasn’t happened already. But as much as I can’t wait for you to grow into the woman you will become – can we just bypass the moody teenage years? – you will always be my little girl, aged nine or ten, frozen in time and etched permanently into my memory.

What I go to school for

You’re less overt about it than your brothers, but there is a sharp brain inside that head of yours. Maths is a particular strong suit, but your English skills are equally impressive. You display an incredibly mature turn of phrase when you speak, and you pick up on subtle nuances of expression brilliantly. With all your sporting and social interests, I do wonder if you will pursue academic excellence to the same extent as your brothers, but there’s no question you have the capability to do so if you’re that way inclined.

I’m fascinated to see what happens when you move up to secondary school in September. You’ve been waiting impatiently for this to happen for months now. You’re more than ready. And I have no doubt you’ll conquer whichever mountains you choose to climb.

Born to run

It’s been a year of change on the sporting front. Cheer and martial arts remain your constants. Another year or so and you’ll be eligible to try for your black belt.

Football fell by the wayside after a single season. Something had to give. And while you showed flashes of real potential, I can see that you never had the same passion for it that you do for cheer. But you’ve also taken up running. This started with after-school cross-country sessions, where it wasn’t in the least bit surprising to see you develop rapidly. But now you’ll happily take yourself off for a quick run at the weekend, or even occasionally first thing in the morning.

Watching you has got me thinking about getting my shoes on again so that I can start running with you. I’ll never have your long stride and easy, bouncy gait – quite the opposite, sadly – but it’s something I’d love to do together with you.

You’re gorgeous

As I often have to remind you, I will never say that you’re my favourite child – but I can assure you that you are definitely in the top three.

While you have your flaws – we could do with you improving your strop-to-smile ratio, for starters – there’s so much to love about you. I love your fierce competitiveness. (But sometimes just accept that, while you more than hold your own, you’re not going to win every game we play through sheer force of will.) I love your confidence. (I wish I possessed even half of it.) And I love the way you take on any challenge by running headlong towards it at full speed. (Where does that come from? All the rest of us are naturally cautious.)

I thought you were gorgeous the day you were born and that hasn’t changed one bit. You are smart, brave, kind – well, maybe not always to your brothers – sassy and you see life as one big opportunity to stamp your mark on an unsuspecting world. Most of all you are you – all you, all the time (and then some). What father wouldn’t love that?

Happy birthday, Kat.



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