Friday, July 5, 2013

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

Dear Clio,

You have reached the Age of Reason.  Uncle Jim (or, as you used to call him, "Him," as in, "Him do it") has been telling me about this since you were born.  Seven is the magical age when children can finally follow logic.  Where they become, literally, reasonable.  In many ways, I have seen this coming for a long while now.  If something is not palatable to you, we can generally just explain it and you will come around.  You love being "in on it," especially when we plan an offensive to get your sister to do something--your sister who is the Child Who Can Not Be Made To Do Anything She Does Not Wish To Do.  Recently your dad decided to stagger bedtime, putting Eleri to bed first.  He called this "The Experiment," and every night you would whisper to us, or sometimes wonder aloud, if we were going to "do the experiment."  You love to be the big kid.  We often find you in the basement playing School.  You, of course, are the teacher, with Eleri and any number of stuffed animals as your pupils.  Yesterday at the 4th of July celebration my cousin Jenny referred to you as a "mother."  You do like to take care of your sister and of other, smaller children.  But then you remind us that you are small, too.  Today at your party you pointed out that you were "the youngest 7 year old there."

Sometimes, of course, you remain unreasonable.  The times when you are beyond reason, I don't always know what to do.  At Eleri's end-of-year celebration in her classroom, you wanted a snack.  It was crowded and I was carrying a big bag and the snack table was right there and at home you can make your own breakfast without even waking us up, you insist on learning to make pancakes and egg salad sandwiches, but you just stood there in that classroom looking at the table and insisting you could not do it.  There was a 2 year old helping himself to pretzels--it was that simple--but you would not budge.  You are capable--while this is obvious, I also can't overstate it, because you are so capable--and yet, for some reason you couldn't do it.

You like to be prepared.  I have learned this, sometimes, the hard way.  Lately you are very happy to try new things, but you need to know what's coming.  the more we can tell you about where we're going or what we're doing, the more comfortable you are.  Just this week alone you went rollerskating and tried your hand at archery.  You're finally biking on your own, and you would like to have free reign of the neighborhood.  One night we went opposite ways around the block, though (I was on foot, you and Eleri on bikes), and when I wasn't where you thought I would be, you got awfully worried.  See?  You were not prepared for that.

You were not prepared for moving up to Level 3 in swimming.  You passed up to it last summer, but we did not enroll you until this spring, and you barely swam in between.  While you had once been excited by Level 3, time passing meant you forgot.  You forgot the expectation but also the excitement, I think.  And I didn't think about what might have happened in the meantime...So you were surprised when we showed up and you had to get in the big pool.  That it was cold.  That learning strokes was harder work.  And you know what?  You just never recovered.  When I got your report card at the end of the session you got all "O"s.  I had to ask what it meant--I was used to check marks (mastered) and slashes (progress).  You know what it meant?  That you didn't even try it.  The weird thing is, there were lots of skills on that list that I know you can do--that I had seen you do.  You love to swim.  But you weren't prepared and you decided to sit it out for 45 minutes each session, for six whole weeks.  Something similar happened with your science fair project.  We forgot to remind you that you were going home with your partner one day after school to work on it and I found you in the office, sobbing, inconsolable.  and that was it: no science fair.

I wish I didn't get worried about this, but I do.  Like at your dance recital.  Not your first--you had one in Boulder when you were three--but I think it was the first that you thought about, that you anticipated, rather than just did.  When the costumes arrived earlier in the year, you wouldn't try it on like the other girls.  I finally talked you into trying it on in the bathroom, but I was afraid when the time came to wear it--to perform in it--you would balk.  I told people when the recital was, I bought tickets, but I also told them you may or may not perform.  This is what's weird about being a parent: is that me protecting you?  Or is that me not trusting in you?  I do want you to be safe, happy, comfortable.  But of course I also want you to push yourself, learn, and take some little risks.  (When you finally read these you will likely be a teenager and I may get that tossed back at me.  But what I mean is:  as people, we need to continually expand your horizons.  But I would hope--no, I expect--that you will be reasonably safe about it.)  I don't think I really believed you would not participate in the recital, but it's true that I just wasn't sure.  And I don't know if I would have made you.  I didn't volunteer to be backstage and this is partly why: while I don't think I am smothering by nature, you do tend to try new things more easily if I am not there.  I think it might just be easier to swallow your fear when you don't see an out.  And I understand that I am an out.

But you know what?  We walked in to dress rehearsal and you took it all in and you asked a lot of questions and then you went up there and you were wonderful.  The night of the recital, you approached the make-up wearing, something you had been adamantly against, as some kind of anthropological experiment.  I took you backstage and you dashed off with your friends.  And from the audience, I was so nervous when your class came on and then so very proud of you.  Because you participated, yes.  But really it was more than that.  It was because you led.  There were a number of parts where someone had to start off a sequence, or literally lead the other dancers across the stage, and your teacher gave you many of these parts.  Because she knew you were a leader.  A teacher. A "mother."  She knew you could do it.

Of course, I did to.  I do too.  But sometimes, as your mom, I get really scared that one of us--you or me, kid--will hold you back because we are afraid to push you forward.

Let's not let that happen, okay?

Now, this would be a good place to end this letter from a structural perspective.  But I'm not going to, because too many wonderful things have been left out, and since I have not been logging here, there's a lot I want you to be able to look back and know.  Like this:

It's nothing new that you love to read, but recently you've taken it to another level.  You have been watching My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic, and all the ponies get a "cutiemark" when they figure out their talent.  (For the record, this is very silly because of course we have multiple talents.)  But I bring this up because you say your "talent" is reading.  Your cutiemark would be a book.  I would accept this, because you are also an author.  You make books like trees make air.  I can't seem to ring myself to get rid of anything in complete book form, so expect to inherit a tremendous collection of your own work someday.  One of your "summer goals" that you wrote before the end of the school year was to read 7 books a week.  And I mean real books, like the Little House on the Prairie Series, or E.B. White's Stuart Little.  (though you also make premature judgments on books, like Charlotte's Web which you insist you will not like.)  You are also in a book club with some friends from school.  It's pretty darn cute.

You want to be funny.  I can't say you're a natural comedian, but you love to learn and make jokes.  Sometimes we don't get them, but that's okay.  It's fun to watch you build this skill.

You are a fast runner.  You are incredibly graceful when you run, like a gazelle.

You are strong-willed.  You will work so hard at something--like rollerskating--in a way that seems more determined than joyful.  But when you are done, you declare it AWESOME.

You are so creative, and a great maker of things.  Today you tied a cup to the balloons from your birthday to make a hot air balloon for your new "zinkies."  You used tape to tether it to the counter, and experimented with how much weight would hold the contraptions at floating height.

You go through a LOT of tape.

You leave the scissors on the floors all the time.  It makes me crazy.

You are also constantly scavenging cardboard boxes from Nonny to make things.  You created some kind of flying machine the other day with a complicated fuel system made up of fake gems, tiny buttons, and platic beads.  You hauled the whole thing back to Nonny's to do a "demonstration."  When we came home, you said "mom, let's video the demonstration, then we can get rid of this thing!"

Yet the whole taking-your-picture-thing is still mixed, at best.

We planned your birthday party together.  It's fun to see your tastes and ideas develop, and you do get more specific all the time.  You wanted a fruit platter for your party today, but not just any fruit platter: blueberries, strawberries (picked by you, Daddy, and Eleri), red grapes, cherries, and granny smith apples.  No bananas, which is funny because lately you insist bananas are your favorite food and tell me you would like to eat 10 a day.

You change your mind a lot.  I mean, a lot.  And you insist that you have not.  For example, tonight I was trying to hurry you along at bed time and put toothpaste on your toothrush.  But you insisted that you HATE electric toothbrushes, despite being on round 2 or 3 of electric toothbrushes that you absolutely had to have. The fact that you change your mind a lot doesn't bother me--I mean, you are figuring out what you like.  ut the fact that you pretend that you always hated electric toothbrushes?  Pretty infuriating.

I just lost the thread of this going upstairs to intervene in sleep shenanigans.  It's late and it has been a big week and Eleri should have been passed out cold but instead she is keeping you up.  When I came up to get you settled again, you insisted on one thing: you want your own room.

This is one place where you are NOT changing your mind.  So we'll see how that plays out.

So.  It seems that, structurally, I had the big finish in the middle of this little essay to you.  And I suppose I could go back and edit it to put this list at the top and the end at the end.  But I like that these letters to you are unedited.  That they come out the way they come out.  I learn a little something with each one.

Maybe you and I are not in some grand finish place, anyway.  I love our companionable relationship these days.  I'll take it, sweetie pie.

So happy birthday to you.  I love you beyond reason.  And I'm glad that turning seven, entering the age of reason, makes that concept that much more meaningful.

Happy birthday Clio.


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