Monday, July 9, 2012

A Letter From Your Mother on the Occasion of Your Fourth Birthday

Eleri bellery pudding and pie,

Eleri belle, belle-belle, baby noodle, noodley toodles.

Today you are four years old.

You're a funny girl, did you know that?  You have this amazing natural comic timing that makes us all laugh.  To be honest, half the time I'm not sure you know why it's funny, which part was the punchline, but of course you love cracking us up just the same.  Your silly faces and crazy dances.  Your jokes--it feels like you have been telling honest-to-goodness jokes since you could speak.  Remember the one about the eyeballs?  I think it was one of your first full sentences.

When you are not being silly, you are working with laser focus.  You are so deep in concentration (or in your own little world) that it can take physical intervention to get your attention.  Just saying your name is not enough: we need to put a hand on your shoulder, brush back your hair, lift your chin to make eye contact.  Then you can hear us.

You continue to do things all in your own good time.  And let's be honest, your speed settings do not include "quick."  In your end of school report, your teachers wrote that you understand the rules of the community, but take your own sweet time complying.  We are no strangers to this at home.  When you change outfits a million times a day, it is because you are "too sweaty."  When you do not want to pick up toys (and really, do you ever?), "Clio left it out."  But when you want to help, oh you are marvelous.  Scraping carrots (to their core.)  Mixing batter for cake or muffins (and licking the beater as reward.  Did I ever tell you that you got your chin stuck in one of those once?)  Watering the plants or folding napkins.

You are also stubborn, and will do it your way or not at all.  Luckily, your way is usually agreeable.  But not always.  You sure do know how to stonewall your sister.  In the car on the drive to school, you often want stories.  You two never, ever want the same one on the same day (even though the list we choose from is only  4 or 5 long.)  You would rather have no story than not-your-story, and compromise often means Clio caving.  At night, too, when you each choose songs, you are not very diplomatic if you don't like Clio's choice.  You will simply shriek over me singing.  The solution has been for me to whisper-sing Clio's song right in her ear, and since she loves this, it works out just fine.  But why does it need to be this way, my dear?  And really, enough already with the shrieking.  I have had to pull the car over and park until you stop.

You are fond of "trickin."  (Clio is too.)  Like pretending to suck your thumb pretty flagrantly until we tell you to stop, and it turns out you were just pretending, your thumb tucked inside your fist.  You use "trickin" as an excuse sometimes, too.  You do not like washing your hands, and sometimes after you use the bathroom you lie and say you have; when called out, you say you were "just trickin."  We got good smelling soap now, so the new drill is to let us smell your hands for proof.  Now when we ask and you have perhaps misled us, you just say "oh, I forgot" and wash 'em up.

You hear everything.  Yesterday, walking to your birthday party, I heard you saying "god dammit god dammit god dammit" under your breath, just totally matter of fact.  You must have heard me say this (probably in the car under poor driving conditions) and you were just testing it out.  Right?  But it was somehow so endearing, and also funny, and we often have to remind ourselves not to laugh at things we don't want repeated.

You (still) don't like change.  At the beginning of the summer program, when the class size is down and the groups get mixed, I walked you to another classroom and you just pointed at yours and burst into tears.  But maybe, as things change less for you and you gain a sense of security, this will begin to ebb. Tomorrow you will go to summer school in the school's new building, and when I mentioned this yesterday your response was unbridled (and uncharacteristic) enthusiasm.  We'll see what tomorrow brings.  This fall, though, you will return to the same class and the same teachers as last year.  With four different classrooms under your belt in four short years, I think this is the year where you finally get to really settle in.  I'm curious to see what that will bring for you.

As I think about it, four may also be the last year that is sort of "simple," from a parenting perspective.  This is the funny thing about parenting: the second time around, we recognize our own phases, not just yours.  Perhaps this means I will remember to slow down and enjoy it just a little more.  I can't wait to spend it with you.

Happy Birthday, big four year old.



A Letter from your Mother on the Occasion of your Sixth Birthday

Dear Clio,

We have been playing this little game lately, you and I.  You tell me you have a birthday coming up, I ask how old you will be, and when you say "six" it is my job to fall of my chair in shock.  Six!  Impossible!  Aren't you turning five?  No?  Then you must be just about four.  Right?  No?

You love this.  Love it disproportionately, actually, and the funny thing is, despite all those tropes about time flying and how it all goes so fast, you are, indisputably, ready for six, and I think we are too.


I think, the bigger you get, the harder these letters get.  When you were little, writing them was a way of creating or preserving memories when you would not have so many of your own.  As you grow, you will remember more, and I think my job is more and more about sharing just this one unique perspective, the mom's-eye view of Clio.  Sorting out what I want you to know about how I see you at just-six is not an easy task, like choosing which of your drawings to put in the box that you will inherit when you are grown.  But all I can do is share what seems important today.  In no particular order, some things I want you to know:

Your creativity knows no bounds.  In your mind, a bunch of toilet paper tubes are far too valuable to be recycled or tossed out.  In your hands, they are kittens, mountains, self-portraits.  An old spool of green ribbon had about 100 uses and counting.  I have started taking books of crafts out of the library and you want to do them all, will do them all, without supervision if that is what it takes.

You are a generous teacher, showing Eleri how to do your projects, reading books to a group of younger children.  Sharing is rarely a problem.

You are a collector.  You love boxes and containers of all kinds, and filling them up.  Cardboard boxes covered in stickers and glitter pom poms, filled with Littlest Pet Shop.  Small bowls filled with shells.  Stacking containers with plastic fruit.  You taped together two cups to collect seeds and pits and things that grow.  The cup contraption is called "Mr. Seeds" and you are intent on feeding him regularly.

You are a gardener.   This is your thing, yours and Daddy's.  Nothing excites you quite like the micro lettuces you have grown in the raised bed, the blossoms that herald the arrival of squash, the tiny yellow tomatoes you eat off the vine.  When anyone comes over, you want to bring them out to harvest raspberries and check for the tiny alpine strawberries that taste so sweet.

You are a voracious reader and a lover of stories.  After your discovery of a certain wizard, each morning began with one demand: "Read Harry Potter."  On your actual birthday, when you got to decide how to spend your day, half of it was devoted to reading, as your dad read you many chapters over the course of 2 or 3 hours.  If the house is quiet and we haven't seen you in a while, your nose is in a book somewhere,  breathing in the adventures of Ivy and Bean or Junie B Jones, or plowing through the recent haul from the library.  You keep your children's dictionary in my car for the not infrequent occasion that you would like to look up a big word (yesterday it was "awkward").  You love movies, too, and demand stories told in the car.

You are a natural athlete.  You are tall and swift and lean.  You run fast enough that it is common to hear people say we should put you in track, fast enough that I might sometimes call you my little Olympian.  You can swim to the bottom of the pool and from one side to the other, and I think you might be happiest in the water.  Slippery fish.

You question everything.  It is exhausting.  But I applaud you and will encourage you to continue.  Seriously: ask as many questions as you need answered.  Fight for what you want.  Think about why you want it.  Also--this is key-- know when to let it go.

You love me to the ends of the earth.  I don't always feel like I deserve it.  Truly, I am bringing out all the cliches now, but you make me want to be a better mom.  It is difficult, motherhood.  If you choose this path someday, you'll see.  If I read back through these annual letters, I know I will see themes, these things that make you who you are, that have been in you since birth.  That is what it is: it won't change.  (If I have learned anything, it is that people don't change.) So I hope I can encourage pride in the good things and acceptance of the things you don't love about yourself.  It's no use to pretend: we all have them.  By the time you read these letter, you will probably have a list forming somewhere in your mind.  The things you wish were different.  At six, I see a tiny bit of it already, the way you try on other traits, talk baby talk with certain friends, try to repeat the funny things that your sister does even when you don't totally get the joke.  So I tell you today, I don't love you in spite of those things and celebrate you for the most wonderful things you are and do.  I love you for all of it.  All of you.  Even if some day you make me crazy. And if you ever feel like you are forgetting that other list, the list of all the terrific things you are, I hope you will come back to these letters and see what I see.

I love you to the ends of the earth, and back again.