Today you are seven. I put you to bed last night and tucked you in as a six year old for the last time. You didn’t see, but I went into my bedroom and cried a little bit. Seven years. It is such a cliche, to bemoan time’s fast passage, to wonder where it went. But I do both of those things. Seven years ago was one of the longest nights of my life, certainly the most physically painful, but also the most incandescent. I’ll never forget any of it. When you – finally, after having taken your sweet, 38-hours-of-back-labor time – arrived, I was changed forever and I can never explain to you how grateful I am for that.
And how my scowling GBP (Gracie Big Pants) in a blue diaper cover has grown. The last year has been full of adventures and mishaps, lost teeth and found skills. Kindergarten already feels like a distant memory. The biggest breakthrough this year has brought for you is that you read. Gracie, this is such a delight to watch. Reading is one of the great joys of my life and I am so happy to watch you falling in love with it as well. You read everything – posted signs, the computer over my shoulder, magazine headlines. I’m sometimes reminded of that hilarious scene in Meet the Parents when one of the characters (with the onset of Sometimers Disease, I can’t remember who) reads every single street sign and billboard and store name as they drive past it.
Your favorite subjects at school are computers and math, and you continue to love PE. Like last year, you still have some anxiety about knowing who your close friends are, some fears about navigating the increasingly complex social waters. I fear you have inherited both my deep insecurities and my propensity towards solitude; you talk a lot about preferring to spend your recess swinging alone, but you also regret not playing with other kids. Gracie, my whole life is marbled with this tension. I’m sorry I passed it on to you, and I swear I’ll do my very best to comfort you when it feels overwhelming. I know. I really do.
The highlight of your summer was your participation in the camp’s performance of Peter Pan. You were a pirate. Your lines were spoken as a group with the other pirates, and you delivered them earnestly and proudly. When you walked into the auditorium I saw your eyes frantically searching for me, and I sensed the wave of relief that washed over you when you saw me (in the front row, where I told you I would be: I got there an hour early with my book to make sure I kept that promise).
As your physical competence and confidence grow, so does your emotional and social self-assurance sometimes seem to wane. I think this is age-appropriate. I really hope it is. I am doing all I can to reassure you that it is okay to be nervous about friendships and to feel like you don’t fit in. Everybody feels like that sometimes. You are intermittently shy and brash, depending on the day and the company. Today at the first meeting of our mother-daughter book club you felt very shy, so you just sat on my lap eating raspberries while I talked to the other mothers. You can do that anytime, Gracie, anytime at all.
You still struggle with going with the flow. Sometimes you can fall apart when things are different than you expected. You can flare into a tearful, emotional mess, and I sense that you are scared by the power of your own reactions. I know how all of these things feel, and I am sorry that this heavy freight is part of your inheritance from me. You come to me, often, with tears streaming down your cheeks, and ask for “deep breaths.” You curl into my chest and we take deep breaths together. Sometimes it is hard for me to stay calm when you react like this, but I realize that is just my being angry at these traits in myself. I’m sorry, Grace, for all the times I fail you by not being patient. May there be more deep breaths and less yelling in this next year.
You love Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” and Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb,” and we belt them out together when they come on the radio in the car. You are plowing through the Magic Tree House chapter book series. You remain disinterested in clothes and are happy to let me lie out clothes at night for you to put on in the morning. You wear jeans and your Merrill jungle mocs most of the time. Your hair is developing some curl in the back and your eyes are still the very same dark brown as mine. You sleep with brown bear, yellow bear, and a “mummy shirt,” a tank top I’ve worn. You say your prayers after we read a story together before bed. You fall asleep to the same lullabye CD that has played at your bedtime since you were born. You seem to have two modes: fast and stop. You run all day and then you fall into a sound sleep for 12 hours.
Despite the moments that your confidence wavers, you remain a fiercely independent child. You flew alone for the second time in May, adding a one-hour Boston Coach ride to your repertoire of solo travel. You’ve had several sleepovers with friends and I’ve never heard a peep. You jump off the diving board without hesitation and you and I have ridden our bikes on busy streets all over our town.
One of the things that is most important to me is that you and Whit be grateful. You’ve made me so proud this year by showing that you are aware of your good fortune. You have packed and given away bags upon bags of toys to Goodwill, coming with me to donate them. You’ve carefully chosen Dora books to put in the Room to Grow donation basket at Starbucks. You’ve volunteered with me at Cradles to Crayons and On the Rise. Noticing that many of your friends have multiple American Girl dolls, you have looked me straight in the eye and said with a certainty you may not feel but I appreciate, “You really only need one, Mummy.” You understand the concept of things costing money and that trade-offs and choices are part of life.
You have begun to exhibit a great deal of empathy, which is part of your exquisite sensitivity. You’re tuned into everyone around you, almost painfully aware of what is going on, quick to feel slights and much slower to feel embraced. When you do feel comfortable, whether it is with one of your oldest playgroup friends or your grandparents, you shine. You tell jokes, grinning your gap-toothed smile when you make someone else laugh. You demonstrate crow pose on command. You listen carefully to what others are saying. Your recall of books I read to you or stories you hear amazes me. Just today you remembered that Rink Bowagon’s mother carried a bowling ball bag instead of a purse. A detail that, needless to say, escaped me.
Grace, I’m watching you grow up before my very eyes. You are still a little girl but I can see flashes of the teenager you will be and, occasionally, glimpses of the baby you were. You are funny and feisty, warm and insecure, curious and nervous, graceful and awkward, all at the same time. You ride on the Delta shuttle with aplomb and you still need a tank top of mine and two teddy bears to fall asleep at night. You recognize songs on Kiss 108 but you are still glad to watch Clifford or the Berenstain Bears. You are caught in such a glorious, tumultuous, scary, wonderful moment that is so in-between and so right now. I am honored to share every day with you, Gracie.
Happy seventh birthday. I love you.