On the morning of Mary’s sixth birthday I woke up, made Mary cry, went for a run, came back and surprised her with cinnamon rolls and a gift I’d been excited about for weeks.
WEEEEEE! Having kids is a wild ride!
Perhaps that is an odd way to start a birthday letter.
Mary will probably forget the part where I made her cry. In fact, she probably already has. THAT’S why I’m writing about it here. Because as she gets older, I never want her to think that I believe I am perfect. In fact, I want her to know that when she was as young as six, I questioned myself, and I spent a lot of time asking for forgiveness. As our relationship continues to grow, deepen, and become even more complex, I want her to know that I am a sinner in need of God’s love and forgiveness. Even though I’m doing my absolute best, and I love Mary very much, I will always fall short. I will always make mistakes.
Even on her birthday, the most special of days.
Mary loves stuffed animals, flowers, wearing dresses, and having her hair straightened. (Or “flattened” as we say.) She spends her time making dresses with paper, and transforming the playroom or living room into a store, classroom, or home for all of her favorite stuffed animals.
This year she left behind Spirit, her former constant companion. You might have seen her (or more likely, me) toting around this giant stuffed horse. She brought her everywhere, including to preschool where outside toys weren’t allowed. So Spirit waited for her, every day, in the van. The frantic sprint around the house to find Spirit became part of our “leave the house” routine. One day she put Spirit in one of our stuffed animal bins, and didn’t bring her to bed that night. When we left the house, she didn’t ask to bring Spirit.
I have to admit, after years of toting that giant horse around wherever we went, I kinda miss the ole mare.
Mary has an imagination that knows no bounds — she is creative all the time, and opinionated about everything. Sometimes I think back to her at 18 months crying because the overalls I put on her made her “look like a farmer” and I laugh at myself because I thought it was just a phase. HA!
She is still incredibly specific about what she will wear. Her preferences are thorough. Clothing must be loose, but not too loose. Tight, but never too tight. Most importantly it MUST be fancy. “But Mary!” you say. “We’re going hiking! Don’t you think you’ll be more comfortable in a pair of sneakers?”
“Mom,” she deadpans. “Just because we’re going to be in the woods doesn’t mean we have to dress like an animal.”
Mary at age six is a bigger, bolder, more exuberant version of Mary at 12 months. She is still thoughtful, emotional, sensitive, hilarious, and the most verbal of all the processors that has ever processed.
Mary wakes up talking and she does not stop talking until she goes to sleep. She narrates everything she is about to do, is doing, and has done. Sometimes I legitimately wonder if she will hyperventilate in the middle of a 37-minute story about putting her lunchbox into her backpack.
Mary talks all the time, except when she is at school. At school she does not speak, and if she does, she barely whispers. The reports I get from Mary’s teacher are unrecognizable from the girl I see at home. “Mary is so quiet, she’s starting to come out of her shell and talk a bit.”
Mary is what? Who? When?
Speaking of school.
This year Mary took the gigantic step from my side and onto the giant yellow school bus. I held my breath and I felt the fear that I was terrified she was feeling. She let go of my hand, walked through all of her fear and uncertainty, and she had the most incredible first year of school anyone has ever had.
Unlike David, Mary comes home with details about every student, teacher, and visitor to the school. “Well, Mr. Peace got a haircut! And Mrs. Grant’s daughter hurt her foot! And Christopher is reeeeally doing better at sitting in his chair.”
After telling me about outfits and snacks each of her classmates brought to school that day, I’d cut my eyes at her and wonder why this girl, the same one who could at any moment tell me which kids play tag and which play in the sandbox, refused to memorize even one of her sight words.
School brought out a new side to Mary that I had tried to unlock for years, but never could. I think, perhaps, the reason was because she needed to unlock it herself.
Thanks to the confidence Mary found in herself, this year has been a year of one success after another. She went on playdates without a second thought, she became a confident swimmer, conquered the monkey bars, and was recognized with a special award in front of the whole school. This year was a year of Mary marching straight up to challenges and bursting straight through them. I have watched it all with a lump in my throat. This is a joy I never knew until I became a parent; until I saw my child take a step forward knowing that it will be hard, and doing it anywya.
I tell Mary all the time, “You are the bravest girl I know.” And I mean it. Sometimes my eyes brim with tears and I stare at her, hoping she sees the tears. I want her to know how proud I am of her. I tell her I’m proud, but does she know it? Perhaps my tears will convince her. And also because when I consider the strength and resolve she’s building, I can’t contain myself, I cannot hold back the tears. Someone who is deeply loving and also fearless? There are no limits on what she will do.
A few weeks ago we met a little girl in our neighborhood who is starting school in the fall. Her mom told us that she was nervous to ride the bus by herself, and so Mary immediately volunteered to sit with her.
Later, I told Mary how I thought that was really kind, and she responded, “On my first day of school I was sad because I missed you and I started crying on the bus. One of the girls sat with me and made me feel better, so I wanted to be able to do that for someone else.”
That story, that’s all you need to know about Mary.
You are obsessed with being older. As this school year went on, one by one your classmates turned six. Eventually you were the last five-year-old in your class. It was unbearable to you. For the past few months, your eyes have been laser-focused on June 7.
I gave you a hug on your birthday and said, “I can’t believe you’re already six!” And you responded, “I feel like I’m already seven.”
While you are imagining life as a teenager, I’m stroking your head and daydreaming about you as a sweet baby, the fine curls above your ear, your chubby arms, the way you nestled your head into my chest. The way you didn’t sleep for longer than one hour at a time and woke up at 5 a.m. every morning until you were three years old. (Oops, sorry. Turns out I’m still bitter about your ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE sleep habits…)
I tell you that it’s ok to want to be older, but don’t miss what’s right now. You only get to be six once, my dear. Six is special. Six is magic.
But here is a secret: I’m excited for you to grow, too. You want to be grown up being older holds an unattainable coolness in your imagination. I’m excited to watch you grow because I can tell there’s so much more to come. You are only just getting started. The thing that’s already unfolding in you in bits and moments will bloom in completion. God is making you into a phenomenal woman. It is impossible to deny, and it is a wonder to behold.
I love you,