Mary started preparing for her birthday weeks in advance.
She decorated our house with little scraps of paper stuck in cabinet doors and along our shelves. She accessorized her stuffed animals with special clips and jewelry, and she did what Mary does best: she verbally processed. She talked about who to invite, what she would wear, what she’d get as gifts, what we’d eat, what the party activities would be, ad nauseam.
Then I would contribute to all the preparations by saying, “Mary. I’m not sure we’re going to have a birthday party this year.”
But then I rallied. I had to. How could I not?
This year has been a defining year for Mary Virginia. She gave up naps for good, and her baby ringlets grew into long, beautiful curls. Once terrified of getting wet, she became a confident swimmer. She gave up her obsession with ducks. She gave up Mary Virginia.
Now she asks me to call her Mary, not Mary Virginia. Sometimes I slip up and she corrects me. I always said that I’d let her decide if she wanted the double name, and so here we are. Already.
In just a few short months she will go to kindergarten. I will be honest and say here something I will never tell Mary: I’m terrified. Since she was born, Mary’s favorite place has been standing beside me, clutching my leg. And now I’m asking her to let go, to climb those giant school bus steps and be independent. It seems impossible.
I’m terrified and also hopeful that she will prove me wrong — that she will take on this new challenge with gumption, and discover confidence that has been there all along.
Mary Virginia at age five is a bigger, brighter version of herself as a baby girl, born on her due date, scowling and beautiful.
She is smart, thoughtful, deeply emotional, and still vying for a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for talking without stopping. (When she hears that the record is ONLY 90 hours, she will scoff. AMATEURS!)
She has an incredible memory for details, like where we went for Pops’s birthday last year, the names of the kids that were in David’s preschool class, or the type of stuffed animals my friend Amanda sent two years ago.
Mary is incredibly picky about clothes and won’t let me do anything with her hair. She only wears dresses, will not wear socks, and hasn’t worn pants with a button in over three years. She’s only five, so that’s a really, really long time.
She’s also very, very picky about food. She doesn’t like blueberry muffins (too spicy), strawberries (too sweet), and she recently decided that she doesn’t like Cheetos (too juicy). She can’t even stand the smell of rice, and when David eats eggs for breakfast she has to leave the room.
Mary gets all of her nutrition from a multivitamin and her daily helping of disdain for the plebeians she’s forced to live with — what with our chewing and swallowing. Disgusting.
Mary is always, always busy. When we tell her it’s time to go somewhere, she starts spinning in circles, running to gather all of the stuffed animals she wants to bring along. And she always brings something along — usually a stuffed animal, a snack for the stuffed animal, and a friend for the stuffed animal. No matter how quick the errand, she must be completely overflowing with stuffed polyester blend. If it’s too big for her to manage she asks me to hold it. All the better. (I’m looking at you, SPIRIT.)
“Preparing” is Mary’s all-time favorite past time. She spends most of her time making elaborate arrangements that require almost every toy in our house. She prepares blankets and pillows for her stuffed animals to go to sleep, she packs school bags, and gathers every azalea she can stuff in her hands to serve in curated plates and bowls.
All of this preparing is done with such care and imagination. She becomes completely entrenched in imaginary play, and each detail is selected with a measure of rumination. But I will admit, to me (and probably to you) it looks like she’s creating a corner of mess; piling up toys that we probably should have purged six months ago. I have to resist the urge to say, “Mary, you’re going to have to clean that up.” Because even though I’m already dreading the moment when she’ll fall to the ground screaming “THIS IS TOO MUCH TO CLEAN!!!” I don’t want to disrupt her. The little vignettes she creates around the house? They are extraordinary feats of magic; childhood unfolding.
Having a baby sister is the role Mary Virginia was born for.
She loves Anna so much, and when I look through pictures of Anna, Mary Virginia is in almost all of them, bending to kiss her or touch her.
She also loves and admires her big brother. More than either of them know; more than even she could put into words.
And her little brother? She tries hard to cram him into whatever mold she chooses. She prefers when he’s fully-clothed, and she doesn’t have time for his antics. Sometimes he plays along. He’ll pretend to be Mary’s son, or her wife (it is hilarious every single time they mix up the words “husband” and “wife” and I will never correct them). He’ll crawl around and pretend to be her puppy, or he’ll dance with her as her plus-one to an imaginary ball. But other times he just snatches her toys and goes to hide behind the couch while she erupts.
Mary is an observer and a thinker. She’s always been incredibly verbal, and now that she’s older I think her verbal aptitude is born from her attention to detail; her desire to understand.
Last week I used the word “acquaintance” and for the next hour or so she asked me questions about the difference between a friend and an acquaintance, rolling the definitions around in her head, making sure she fully understood each category.
She notices people, and feelings. She has a tender heart and deep empathy. She knows people and thus has a tangible desire to be known.
Mary’s heart is right below the surface at all times, and because she is five she is still figuring out how to process all of her emotions. Sometimes her emotions get in her way, but they also drive her to love, to kindness, and to pursue relationship.
Mary is the friend who notices a sad classmate. She will be the family member who remembers birthdays, and the neighbor who shows up with a pot of soup.
I often tell people that once Mary decides she’s ready, she will change the world. I say it in jest, but also in complete earnestness. She will, and she will do it the only way it can be done — by loving other people.
In Mary, God has created a little girl who is sensitive, thoughtful, hesitant, and absolutely magical. She sees the world through the eyes of a little girl — with wonder, delight, and with eyes and a heart that believe that somewhere, somehow, unicorns and mermaids might exist.
Every morning after we take David to the bus, I put Anna down for a nap and then clean up our breakfast dishes. While I was rinsing and wiping and secretly hoping that you and Thomas would play together so I could listen to a podcast, you sat down at the kitchen table and said, “Mommy, want to talk about horses?”
I did. I did want to talk about horses. How did you know?
When we are outside, I bend down and whisper in your ear, “Mary, look at that bird? Do you see it? Up in that nest?” Together we spy bunnies, turtles, ducks, and geese. We try to find squirrels with red tails, and we talk about horses.
You have taught me more about myself and challenged me so much. You remind me that I was once a little girl who used to wonder where bunnies went when it rained, and loved to talk about horses.
You are exactly what I imagined when I imagined having a daughter.