18 July 2007

Five Years Old

Dear Katrina,

You turned 5 on Sunday, a day that must have seemed anticlimactic to you after your birthday party on Saturday. Papa mentioned that you actually, truly didn't turn 5 until sometime shortly after midnight here, since you were born round about 6 pm Eastern Standard Time five years ago. I had to laugh at his detail-oriented brain. But I think you also have his attention to detail, so maybe you'll be interested in that bit of trivia if you ever read this.

Yesterday afternoon, you wanted to sit on my lap as you watched TV. Your head rested just below my chin, and your legs stretched almost the length of mine. Your feet reached the top of my feet. I told you that, once upon a time, your whole body fit on my chest and stomach. Even I find that hard to believe, and I'm the one who remembers it.

At five, your personality is already well-established. Looking back, I can say with certainty that it was established when you came into the world. Determined, gregarious, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, observent.

I've told you so many times, "You have a sharp eye," that you now say it about yourself. It's true: we recently went to Rheinland-Pfalz State Fair, and while walking down the street, with a parade going on beside us and people all around us, you pointed upwards and said, "Look! Somebody lost a balloon!" At least a block ahead of us, high up in a tree, a blue balloon was indeed caught. It took us a good few minutes to see it ourselves.

What I often think, but don't say, is that you are a force of nature. When I watch you run, full-out, I think that nothing can stop you. When you demand something, and jump up and down and scream when denied, it's just "the dark side" of the determination and passion that marks your character. And I pray that your Papa and I can help you channel those intense feelings in positive ways. Because if we can, with God's help (and only with God's help), you could truly be a force for good when you grow up.

We've had some difficult months this year, you and I (and sometimes Papa, too). As you've gotten more articulate, you're also more capable of talking back, of taking on a tone of disrespect, of being outright defiant, and usually about what I think are small things. And yet, you're also still young enough to go into a full-on tantrum when pushed too hard or when you're tired. Our personalities clash, sometimes, my darling, but not in the way you probably think. Because in the moment you think I'm the meanest mom in the world and you the most put-upon child. But I feel my wavering, my wish to give in to you to keep the peace. And my secret admiration that you have the gumption to stand eye-to-eye with an angry adult and stand your ground. I don't have that kind of natural determination, dear heart. You are teaching it to me. You probably wish you weren't, though (for despite my wish for peace and quiet, giving in could be disasterous, for both of us).

Ah, but when you're happy, the world lights up. You've taken to saying "Mama, I love you," at random times, out of the blue. I think it's your way of maintaining a connection when you're unsure of yourself or me, or when you want to talk but have nothing much to say. You've also become more physically affectionate since you've gotten older. Now that you know how to sit still once in a while, you're more amenable to hugs and kisses. I'm certainly enjoying more cuddle time.

Maybe it's just mother's bias, but there is something about you...some spark that I don't see in most other children. When you're at your best, you draw others in...adults as well as children. You want to share your enthusiasm with everyone around you. I suppose that is a mark of your outgoing personality, but you do seem to end up leading your friends (and random kids you introduce yourself to on the playground) into whatever pretend adventure your creative mind dreams up.

And you do have a creative mind. Your current obsession is Star Wars, with a healthy dose of princesses thrown in for good measure. You are Princess Leia or Queen Amidala or Aurora. When you're not a cat or a mouse, that is. You love to be read to, and ever since I made a story up to kill time waiting for you to finish in the bathroom, you periodically ask me to "read me a story from your MIND, Mama."

And how can I forget the sheer number and variety of questions you ask in a day? You may not want to narrate what you did at school, but you sure want to know where the water goes when you flush the toilet, why God is a spirit, how sausage or houses or flour or paper is made, what animal the meat on your plate is from, why Rapunzel would marry "the bad guy" in the newest Shrek movie, why bad guys are bad, and why and how people die. Both practical and philosophical, you have demanded to know on a number of occasions exactly when Jesus is coming back and why doesn't God talk to us like he talked to Moses in "The Prince of Egypt."

Your teacher says you're a happy child, and a confident one. I hope that confidence stays with you. I think it will, for I recognize the same combination of optimism and confidence in your Papa. Your teacher also says you have a "boy brain," which I found hard to believe given your refusal to wear anything but skirts and dresses, perferably pink. But looking closer, I agree that you are a girl of action, much preferring hands-on experience to sitting still at a desk. You also seem to have an affinity for numbers over letters. You're already beginning addition and subtraction, and asking you to count something is a sure-fire way to capture your interest. And your many questions about how things work sound like a little scientist in the making.

In the fall, you start kindergarten, which is all day here. I worry that it will tire you out, that all day is too much. But you will probably thrive, as the oldest in your Montessori school and eager to help your younger friends. September is just the start of your all-day school experience, and the end of weekday afternoons spent on the playground or at the library or at a friend's house. We'll still do those things, but time will be shorter.

I remember little about my own younger childhood, but I think you will remember much more. I hope you'll remember a few of those long, sunny afternoons running around the playground. I hope you'll remember the picnics, the pool, the hugs, the strawberry patch, the dinosaur park. I hope your preschool memories are hazy in that wonderful way summer afternoons are hazy. I hope you'll forget the times I'm impatient with you or lose my temper. I want your memories to be good.

Just after we moved here, when you were three, we walked a trail through the woods near our house. You broke into a run, and I watched your ponytail bobbing and your little arms pumping as you ran ahead, eager to see what was coming up next. I thought then that that sight would become a familiar one, and I was right.

Mama and Papa will always be behind you on your life's trail. Just don't run too far or too fast, baby. I'm not quite ready to let that little ponytail bounce out of sight.

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