Today is your fifth birthday. Before you were born, I spent a lot of time wondering what sort of person I was growing inside of me. I had wishes, of course, an idealistic dream of the child you’d be and the adult you’d grow up to become. If I were the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty, the traits I would have blessed upon you are these: curiosity, strength and joy.
Why curiosity? Because it’s one of the things I always liked about myself and I hoped we would share it. It also tends to go hand in hand with an open mind, a tolerant heart and a love for lifelong learning, all of which are important to me.
Your eyes were open and alert the moment you were put in my arms at 20 minutes old. You’ve been hungry for knowledge ever since. At one, you made me read an alphabet book to you over and over again until you knew all your letters. After that came the numbers book. You could count to twenty and recognize a handful of words before you were two.
You adore numbers still. You’re in your second year of preschool and can add double digits in your head. You’ve begun to learn multiplication. You’ve never once gotten tired of reading with me, not after five books or ten. I can read until I lose my voice and you’ll still ask for one more chapter.
We spend a lot of time explaining how things work. Plumbing. Birds. Gravity. At every piano lesson you beg your teacher to let you look inside the piano again. You haven’t quite figured out the mechanics and you likely won’t stop harassing her until you have.
I love teaching you and I love learning with you. Promise me you’ll never stop asking questions and I promise I’ll never stop doing my best to answer them.
Strength was the trait I worried about most. Would you be confident and decisive like your father? Or would you follow in my footsteps? Fear and anxiety were my constant companions as a child. I didn’t want that for you.
Already, at five, you know yourself. Even when you’re changing your mind for the third time, you’re definite about it. You know what you want and you’re not afraid to ask for it. You’re an expert negotiator and you love to argue your case. Some people would call this defiant; I call it resourceful. You’re already a better problem solver than most adults I know.
You’re also constantly pushing boundaries. It’s exhausting. But even when I’m frustrated I love your stubbornness. I didn’t learn how to speak my mind until I was in my thirties. I hope your strength continues to grow as you do.
That’s two of my three wishes for you come true. All that’s left is joy.
No one who’s met you would doubt your joyfulness. There’s the jumping, for one thing. I don’t know anyone who jumps more than you do. It’s often accompanied by hand flapping, giggling, shouting, dancing and singing. You love to sing, songs you’ve learned and songs you make up on the spot. It’s not unusual for you to fall asleep singing, or to wake up singing.
Then there’s the face. You’ve been making it since you were about a year old. When you get excited, you make fists. They pop up beside your head and shake, and your mouth opens wide and your eyes squeeze shut. The joy bubbles up and out and it’s so intense that you can’t stop the face from happening. It’s funny and infectious and wonderful, and you make it several times a day because there are so many things in this world that bring you joy. Balloons. Yam rolls. Running into a friend at the corner store. Cherry blossoms.
I hope you are still making that face when you’re 95. Your joy lifts everyone in your presence. It lifts me every day. And for that I am more grateful than you’ll ever know.
Happy birthday, my beautiful girl.