Happy 13th birthday to you, my sweet flower child. You were in 7th grade this year and you learned so much about yourself this year! I think I say that every year, and every year I totally mean it!
Your love of plants and animals continues. This year you grew cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and lots of sunflowers. You thought that growing cucumbers was so cool! And some of those cucumbers got huge!!!
You do love your flower, my sweet girl. I always say it's because you were born at dawn outside in a flower garden.
This year you joined FFA. You loved riding your bike to school in the morning and then staying afterwards to help take care of all the animals.
Your favorite FFA animals are goats and chickens. I don't think a day went by when you didn't ask me if you could have a goat. It broke my heart to keep telling you NO, but we have Matthew, so you understood. But we would go out and let you find ways to interact with goats.
But then you started asking if you could have a chicken. As much as i'd love to allow you to have a chicken, that's not going to happen either. You can have a school FFA animal, it just can't come home.
We kept to our yearly traditions, too. You and I did our annual Howl-O-Scream event and we had a GREAT time!
Scary stuff does not seem to phase you at all. You started watching the TV Show The Walking Dead and you love it so much. You even cosplayed as Negan for Megacon!
We went to Walt Disney for the Dark Side Marathon Weekend. You and Ronin did most of the race together. But you did it in jeans? I thought you were crazy, but you said they were more comfortable than shorts...
We also drove up to visit Nanny and you got to see snow for the first time! It was so cold! That's a sheet of ice you and Ronin are each holding in your hands!
This year you also decided that you wanted to no longer take medications for ADHD. Let's be honest here, Ella. You struggled the first semester, but by the last quarter you figured it all out, got your grades up, and as your good grade reward, you got the loft bed you had been wanting since Haley got hers in January. Haley was even nice enough to put it together for you. I know this letter is all about you, but I'm still so impressed that Haley can put together IKEA furniture!
We also had quite a few mama/daughter date days at the Straz Center. We'd go out to lunch (usually Ulule) and then head over to the Straz for #BroadwayInTampa. Together we saw On Your Feet, and The Bodyguard.
We were also invited by the Starz Center to come out and hear Jeremy McCarter speak about the book that he co-wrote with one of our (okay, mine) favorite people, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
You also learned this year about taking a stand and being socially active. After the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, you stood up in front of your school and was the ONLY student who had the guts to stand up and talk about how this event made you feel and what we can do to prevent these types of things from happening again.
You and I also participated in the March for Our Lives walk! We made our own signs, and despite the fact that I was in a boot and walking with a cane, we did it!
And then just like that it was time for your 13th birthday. We were in North Carolina on vacation and would be leaving to drive home to Tampa ON YOUR BIRTHDAY so we celebrated in North Carolina.
This year there were two sayings that sort of took over your daily speech: Slay Queen and YEESSS KWEEN!!
We had a great time in North Carolina. We went to Pisgah National Forest and Sliding Rock (Ronin was with Nanny, so he's not in this photo.)
You LOVE Sliding Rock and this year you must have gone down at least 20 times!
We even went to Dolly's so you could get your favorite summer ice cream treat!
Our cabin was right on a like so you got to do all your favorite things. You went swimming every day. You went fishing. You slept in. It was wonderful and so relaxing.
On the morning of your birthday we left our North Carolina cabin at 8:00 am. We had a good drive in the morning and early afternoon. There was lots of joking around about all the gas stations (NOT!!) on the back roads that we were taking. We let you pick our lunch pit-stop and you chose Chick-Fil-A and it was good and you were happy. We anticipated being home by 7:30 pm.
And then when we were just 42 miles from home, at 6:22 pm, the unthinkable happened.
I won't go in to the details because you were there and you know what happened, but I'm so sorry that your 13th birthday started so wonderfully and ended with us in the hospital. But you know what....even though we were hurt, and scared, and our poor BB8 was destroyed, we were alive and we were together. That brought a smile to your face even in the most horrible of circumstances.
Ella, you are my sweet girl and I love you so much. I'm excited to watch you continue to grow and mature this year as you navigate your last year of middle school. I will always be here for you, and I am so proud of the young woman you are becoming.