My oldest turns 5 today. Unbelievable. I had no idea what I was in for.
Although all the photographic evidence suggests she slept adorably, and often, I remember the hard, sleepless reality of those first few months. I went back to work full time when she was 5 weeks old. I fell asleep at my desk more than once. I forgot my social security number at the bank and wept softly while the teller stared.
“I just had a baby,” I sobbed, “and I am just so tired.”
Still, as endless as those nights seem, the time passes quickly. She talked early and walked late. By her first birthday I was visibly pregnant with our second; my belly grew and grew and still, she crawled, asking or demanding to be carried, rocked, held. Sometimes I would peek around the corner from the kitchen into the living room and see her taking tentative steps. She would sit down immediately if she realized I was watching, refusing all my attempts to praise, encourage, plead with her to please, please, please, start walking. It was July when she finally walked, and October when Lucy was born. Dorothy sang the Itsy Bitsy Spider and the ABCs in the car on the way home from the hospital.
When D was about 3, she asked what a brain was. Tyler and I tried to explain:
“Your brain is in your head, and it’s in charge of your body. It tells your body how to work, when to breathe, what you’re feeling. And you think with your brain. When you imagine or pretend or think or wonder about something, you’re using your brain.”
“It’s in my head?”
“My brain is in my head?”
“With all the tiny people?”
It was impossible not to laugh. Turns out she already had a very clear idea of what was in her head: lots of tiny people, building houses and playing games.
This was perhaps the most surprising revelation about parenting, more surprising than all the conversations I have had about poop, more surprising than the realization that cosleeping is awesome because it means more sleep for everyone, more surprising than my apparent willingness to cook individual portions of everybody’s favorite foods rather than deal with hunger-induced crankiness:
Whether or not I had thought to tell her what was in her head, she had her own idea of what was going on in there.
Before becoming a parent, I had grand plans for my children. I thought about the books I would read them, the stories I would tell, the transformative experiences I would chaperone them through, the ways I would teach and influence and guide. I had no idea that children are full-on people from the moment they are born.
D is fierce, stubborn, smart, intense, imaginative, thoughtful, empathic. She is afraid to ride her bike and desperate to figure out how to get past her fear. She dresses the dinosaurs up in the My Little Pony skirts for the dinosaur ballet. She sings constantly, songs from my childhood and lately from the Muppets, songs like She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain and A You’re Adorable and You Are My Sunshine and Mana Mana. She screams bloody murder in time out, angry and frustrated not just that she isn’t getting her way but that she is being denied the opportunity to show us all that her way could work if we would just let her be in charge. She throws temper tantrums. She cries at the drop of a hat. She is learning to read, recognizing words and sounding them out, writing her name, her birthday list, little messages I find on folded scraps of paper all over the house. She talks to strangers, telling everyone within earshot how many cats we have, how many days till her birthday, Margueaux’s 2 middle names, her favorite princesses.
We are celebrating her birthday today with butterflies, puffins (the food, not the bird), a fruit rainbow, chocolate cupcakes, and rainbow sprinkles. I hung paper lanterns and bought her a birthday girl pin and a special cup and a Muppet CD. I’m postponing all the grading, all the laundry, all the email, all the phone calls, all the bills, all the worries. Today is a birth day, a day my heart and soul and body opened up and this amazing gorgeous being emerged.
Happy birthday, D. I hope all the tiny people got together to build you something awesome.