This is big. Like, really big. Big for you, since Scott has been telling you for a year that when you turn 5, then and only then will you be a Big Girl. One of the big kids: going to school all day and having your ears pierced and learning to ride with no training wheels and being given regular chores and trading baths for showers and writing for-real letters and then putting them together into for-real words to express all the big ideas you’ve been carrying around in your brain all this time. It’s big for me, too, since you (my last little wonderful baby) are doing so much for yourself now and will soon be off to Kindergarten to have a whole part of your life that is separate from me, and my days will stretch out from bus stop to bus stop with no one following me around telling me all the big ideas they are carrying around in their brain all the time. This is big. And like all big things, it is wonderful and scary and exciting and exhausting and just completely weird all at the same time.
So many things about you are the same as they have been as long as we’ve known you, just grown up to fit into your 5-year-old self. You still love singing, only now that’s amplified into belting out songs from Frozen in the shower and making up tunes to accompany your own dances. You still can never get enough of pretty, and you still request a quick walk down the shoe aisle every single time we are at the store, but now you understand why we don’t buy all the sparkly ones we find. (You just start your Christmas and birthday lists reeeaally early.) You still love stories, telling them and hearing them, but now you love for them to come from books, and you sit still while people read chapter books and listen so closely it’s astonishing. You also “read” books to yourself, patiently explaining to me that you still don’t know the words but you can make up things that happen based on the pictures. You are still really good at explanations. You have an answer for everything and frequently floor your Papi with your logic. I will never get tired of watching that.
Your world has widened out this year. You are open to more new things than you ever were before, willing to try new activities, actually enjoying more than one TV show in the same week, able to eat more kinds of foods without balking. You’ve been going to preschool every afternoon all year, and you faced it bravely. There were some rough days, but you got through them, leading to our first discussions about strategies for dealing with those crazy tears that come all on their own for no reason you can understand. (I got through it, too, and let me tell you, even this unsentimental Mommy finds walking away from her crying baby to be one of the hardest things ever.) Drop-off tears are a thing of the past, though, and you sail off to ballet class now, too, with a confidence and excitement that would have been impossible a year ago.
You are astonishing. The things you say sometimes show that your mind is thinking with an originality and complexity that catches me off guard. Like the time that you told me completely out of the blue that you prefer stories to have sad endings. “All the stories have happy endings. That is boring.” Or the time you told me that it probably didn’t rain when we expected it to because the rain passed over another land that looked very dry and decided to fall there instead. Or the time you gave me the best opening line for a story ever: Once upon a time there was an unusual sea. (I’m totally stealing that one.) You have theories on the motivations of characters from Lemony Snicket; you have an answer to every single one of your brother’s smart aleck questions; and you lawyer your Papi on a regular basis. I don’t know where your life is going to take you, but I can’t wait to see the things that brain produces along the way.
You are blossoming at school, your brain fully engaged and alive, shedding the last vestiges of your shyness and radiating enthusiasm. Suddenly there you are, telling friends and guests and the checkout lady at Wal-Mart that you are going to start kindergarten soon. This has become a central fact of your life. Kindergarten is coming. It sustained you through vaccination shots. It is motivating you to practice your letters and learn to write your last name. It makes you glow as you tell me that soon you will know how READ. (No more begging and waiting for other people to read to you! Instant access to stories whenever you want! You can’t wait.)
Even though most of your shyness is gone, you still don’t really like attention from the world at large. You like all the things that gain people attention. You want to be pretty. You just don’t want anyone to look at you and comment on it. You want to sing and dance. You just don’t want strangers to notice. Not that you will stop just because you’re in public. You’ll just glare at people who give you compliments. Or duck your head. Or run away. We’ll keep working on that. On being gracious. But, oh, darling, I so, so hope that you will always enjoy creating and expressing and embodying beauty for its own sake and not primarily for the effect it can have on other people. That is something that preschool you does just right.
It’s just that you are, as you have always been, only your own self. You sail along without concern for what anyone else thinks of you, and let me just be honest here, that thrills and terrifies me in equal parts. Because you are the one, my child who gives me moments like this morning when I’m pretty sure you’re making me look like the world’s worst mother. It’s up to me to get over that, to worry more about your heart than appearances, but oh, it can be hard. It’s the same way I felt when I married your Papi because, I’m sorry to say, those of us who do care what the world thinks of us are going to be embarrassed for you and embarrassed by you from time to time. This is ridiculous, of course. You are not embarrassing. You are free. Free to make mistakes, but also free to do the right things for the right reasons, and the right people will end up loving you for this. I hope that means that I’m the right people. Because no number of uncomfortable moments could take away the incredible joy it gives me to see you just be. You are something else. Something wonderful.
You may not care about people’s opinions, but you do love the people in your life with some serious intensity. Your first thought whenever you get a new toy or book or learn a new skill is that you want to share it with Maggie or Laney. You’ve made friends with Addie at Ellie’s softball games and Tabitha at school. You trade presents with them and make up games and get so excited to see them.
And your love for your friends is nothing compared to your devotion to your brother and sister. You are a million times happier when they are around. You and Scott are a serious pair. For weeks now, he reads you chapter books for a long time every night, and he is impressed at how carefully you listen. He makes up sports training for you, teaching you basketball and t-ball and anything else that occurs to him, and you love every minute of it. You make each other happy, fitting together perfectly, and the older you get, the better it is.
Ellie is an amazing big sister, isn’t she? She looks out for you and gives you advice and makes plans with you and sets an awesome example. You aren’t the type to idolize or to imitate. (Did I mention that you are always JUST yourself?) No, you don’t want to be just like her, but you do very much want to be with her. To play, to read, to adventure. You love her company SO much. This makes me smile to myself because I know something you two are just now figuring out. You are two very different people, but you are also two of the most interesting people I know. You both totally lucked out because you are going to find that very, very few people are as fun to be with as this sister of yours, and guess who is going to be around forever?
Most of all, in the end, you are still ours. Mine and Papi’s. Our little darlin’ now and forever. Big you may be, but if given a choice, you’d still prefer to do everything with Mommy. You still want to crawl in bed and snuggle up and maybe get caught in Papi jail and have to struggle free. You still find hard truths much easier to bear when Mommy is the one telling you. You still let me be on the inside.
Happy Birthday, baby. I look forward to this forward-moving, head-butting, mind-expanding, heel-digging-in, eye-sparkling year with you. You are so much more than I could have dreamed.
Check out Lucy at 4. And at 3.