Today is my daughter’s seventh birthday.
Happy birthday to you! Now you are seven, and you are becoming such an interesting person! I am writing this to you, and sharing it with the world, as a way to honor who you are.
Like me, you are gifted with curiosity, intensity, creativity, and emotional expression. You love life and meet it fully. Your passion for animals and stories deepens with each year. Your best buddies are the dozens and dozens of stuffies in our house. You make up stories with your realistic plastic animals as well as Calico Critters using teeny tiny toys. You make boxes into animals, houses, and caves. All objects are fair game for being morphed into different uses and incorporated into stories.
Right now you want to be a marine biologist when you grow up. This is a recent change from wanting to be a National Park Ranger. You’ve also wanted to be an animal rescuer, paleontologist, rancher, or veterinarian. You have watched so many David Attenborough wildlife specials that you’ve picked up the British pronunciation of some words, like “territory.” In the U.S. we say “tare-a-tory” and in Britain it’s “tare-a-tree.” You watch dinosaur shows and understand the classifications of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous epochs like nobody’s business, not to mention the Cambrian, Ordovician, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian ages.
Ironically, you are a reluctant reader. You are an auditory learner, and you have always loved being read to. You will sit for hours as long as the reader indulges you and her voice holds. You savor the intimacy of being read to. Although you are in first grade, you comprehend material that is several grades beyond. I suspect you can read more than you will admit. Remember the conversation we had about this?
I sussed out that you were expecting to learn the entire English language before reading on your own. I thought it was because you have a perfectionist streak and feared making errors. You told me it was because the work of de-coding words is hard. Once I clarified that there is no way to ever learn the entire language, and that reading is one of the crucial skills to doing anything in life, you offered to read. But you only do it on a barter basis — you’ll read one “baby” book (as you refer to with scorn anything you are currently able to read, like the Bob series) — if I read you a more complex book. You have a memory for concepts, words, and experiences that takes me by surprise.
Yet you are also visual. Only recently have you been able to tolerate watching movies. Your ability to slip into the story completely and the intensity of the visual stimulus bring the stories alive in a very real way for you. You understand intellectually about story structure — protagonists and antagonists, about plot, conflict, suspense, and conclusions — but understanding with the mind does not override your ability to immerse yourself.
You are a scientist. You form hypotheses about situations and test them. You engineer pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks into contraptions, and Scotch tape is your go-to adhesive. You like the Goldieblox toys and all the open-ended options within. You want to know why and how things work. You want to know the origins of words. You watched the Cosmos series by Neil Degrasse Tyson and it triggered a response of awe that brought you to tears. You love the Bedtime Math problems, which I apologize that we don’t do often enough for your taste.
You are a philosopher. You wonder if there is a god and imagine the possibilities of what that manifests. You view the cycle of life with equanimity. You ponder the ethics of eating meat. You are concerned about how humans treat each other. You worry about the fate of humankind and the environment. We have shielded you from much of the news of the world; soon enough you will learn harsh realities.
You are a visual artist. You enjoy a variety of media — pencil, crayon, pastel, paint. You enjoy drawing, sculpting, painting, and collage. Your favorite color remains yellow with pink being the next favorite. You enjoy crafts such as sticky mosaic, perler beads, and making no-sew pillows. You want me to teach you to knit and sew. (I will!)
You are a writer. You create characters and stories all the time. Every day we walk to and from school we make up a story together. Frankly, it exhausts me! You play on your own for hours making up intricate plots and conflicts for your characters to resolve.
You are a musician. While you haven’t yet taken up an instrument, you are an enthusiastic singer. You won’t listen to classical music because there is no singing (except opera which none of us likes). You want to be Melissa Etheridge when you grow up. You still love the Music Together CDs, and you also enjoy folk and alternative rock music.
You are an athlete. You swim and play in water like a fish. You love to run and feel the wind. Your body often frustrates you with its petite frame; there are tasks you want to do that you lack the hand and arm strength to accomplish. At the same time, you are stronger that you realize, and we encourage you to try several times before giving up.
As for your personality, you are complex. You have a strong will and a desire to direct your life as well as the lives of others. When you play with other kids, you have plots and roles for every person and a story you want them to play. Collaboration challenges you. You feel big feelings and they sometimes overwhelm you. It scares me, actually, because I feel unskilled at helping you calm down. (Which is an odd statement for a former therapist to make, but it’s oh-so-different when it’s a personal relationship.) You feel big love.
Here’s an example of the big love. At tuck-in one night, you began relating to me how you felt thinking about Voyager taking one last look back at earth as it passed Neptune, and how it felt so lonely. (This is from the Cosmos series.) It was leaving forever, would never see its parents again. You burst into sobs. Later you also asked if parents ever get rid of their kids (after I reassured you we’d only let you go when you wanted). I delicately answered that sometimes people aren’t ready to raise kids. You asked where they go, and I said there are foster parents and families, and sometimes they adopt the children they foster. You screwed your face up and bravely announced that if we ever fostered a child, you are willing to leave the family and go out into the world to make room for the child. And then you sobbed. We went downstairs to tell Daddy all this. He and I held you, loved on you, acknowledged the very brave gift you offered. We also told you we would never get rid of you, or disown you. I asked you if you felt like you needed more attention, and you clung to me and cried. If I could have brought you back inside my body to comfort you, I would have.
Seven years ago I met you and did not have an inkling of the richness you would bring to my life. I was born too, into motherhood, and you have been as much my teacher as I have been yours. You are marvelous and adorable. I am grateful to be your mother. I love you beyond expression or comprehension. Happy birthday, Sunshine Girl, my Claire Bear!