Something amazing happened to me this weekend. Something profound and eye-opening. My child, my first-born, the daughter of my soul, turned 5 years old. Five. She’s been a real live person for 5 whole years. I find that to be spectacularly terrifying.
To be perfectly honest, the first week of her life, I didn’t think we were going to make it. I thought I had made a huge mistake, and in that mistake, I had unknowingly ruined both of our lives forever. To be perfectly honest, we had a bit of a rough start. Bringing her into this world, labor and delivery, exhausted me (duh.) and I was delirious for days afterward. We had a terrible time, at first, establishing a breastfeeding relationship. She made me work for it. She let me know right then that she was not one to be taken lightly. So I persisted. I worked harder than I ever had before. I nursed her all the time. I held her all the time. I made direct eye contact for 16 entire weeks. The first time I left her at daycare, in the loving arms of the heaven-sent Ms. Pat and Ms. Liliana, for her transition day, I cried so hard that I had to leave Wegmans and sit in the parking lot and wail. I actually cried my eyes out. That was then.
Since that day, she has continued to make me work. She is always one step ahead of me. And somehow, following those daily steps, we’ve spent 5 entire years together.
So what does 5 look like? Well, considering we made it through the first sleepless year, the birth of her sister, the terrible 2’s, the OMG so much worse 3’s, the I think this is better but I’m not really sure 4’s… 5 is glorious. She is a person, with thoughts, words, and deeds. She is independent. She is reasonable. She is confident. She is careful. She is aware of and concerned by others’ perception of her. She is the spitting image of her father, and at the same time has many of my personality traits. She wants to please, but it has to be on her terms. She wants to learn and is so frustrated by the many things she doesn’t know yet.
The more I let her go, the freer and happier she is – she loves that I let her ride her bike far away from me, trusting her to stop when she should and come back when I call her. I do this with my heart in my throat, one breath away from hysterics, my eyes never leaving the back of her head. I am hard on her, I have set Everest-high expectations, I believe in her.
So what does 5 look like? Well, 5 is a glimpse of the child that you’ll be molding into a teenager. It’s answering questions. ALL of the questions. Some are easy, some are hard, and some require very thoughtful and careful answers. It’s bringing everything back to kindness, respect, honor, and self-worth. It’s talking about friends: how to be one and what makes a good one. It’s longer books and bigger words and apologizing for saying shit all the time. It’s letting go of some of the habits that made sense of the chaos of infants and toddlers. It’s making sure that she knows she is loved and that her family is where her truth is.
Every night at bedtime, I spend an extra minute tucking her in, hoping that she’ll ask me another question. I end each tuck-in by thanking her for being such a good big sister, and acknowledging that Big Sister is a hard job. She thinks she knows how hard it is now, as her 3-year-old little sister competes with her, needles her, bothers her, and is otherwise excruciatingly unbearable. I thank her for including her sister, playing nicely, and listening and sharing, and reminding her how much that little girl loves her. She has no idea that this relationship will be the longest one of her life, the gold-standard relationship all others will be compared to, the link to her past, present and future, the one lasting gift we can give her.
So what does 5 look like? It looks like a long not-quite-blond ponytail flying. It looks like long arms, skinny legs, and shockingly big feet. It looks like a finger following words in a book. It looks like we’re taking off the training wheels. It looks like mis-matched outfits and denying the “take off one accessory before leaving the house” rule. It looks like independent showers and a flooded bathroom floor. It looks like “my butt” jokes aren’t going anywhere any time soon. It looks like singing all of the words to the Lumineers and the Mumfords. It looks like my work is not even close to being done. It looks like her.
** Thanks to http://www.lisashifflettphoto.com/ for the beautiful photos of my daughters **