Yesterday, the resident princess woke up one year older. She bounded out of bed, thrilled as any newly minted five-year-old and radiating enough energy to make her tired mother see stars.
Our pre-breakfast interview went thusly:
Me: “What is today?”
Natalie: “TOMORROW!” ::begins jumping up and down::
Me: “Uhh.. and what is tomorrow?”
Natalie: “My birthday! It’s my birthday! AHHHHHHH! I’m FIVE!” ::throws a balloon over her head repeatedly::
Sophie: “Sophie’s a five.”
Natalie: “And I have one heart balloon and other balloons, and I even got a heart balloon that’s the color green!”
Sophie: “Mine’s a purple.”
Natalie: “I want to do all kind of things today! Mommy, you know, I can look up and down and left and right, and I can do lots of jumps!” ::demonstrates:: “I can jump on one leg! Watch! I can do it with one leg! You know I like pink all the time?”
Sophie: “Orange balloon.”
Natalie: “I can do it so well now, but not when I’m four. Only five-year-olds are good at things. Just now. You like my long legs? My birthday! My birthday! You know? You’re probably right, it is my birthday. Woo-hoo-woo-hoo! You see the heart on my head?”
Sophie: “The color of all balloons!”
Me: “What are your favorite things to play with?”
Natalie: “A colorful piano, the pirate Legos…” ::goes to investigate:: “I can see a monkey, a shark, an alligator, a skeleton, lots of pirates with fish, there’s LOTS of pirates and a mermaid and a king, and I like ballet and my little toys and computer games and Super Mario Brothers.”
Sophie: “And Wii ‘ports!”
Natalie: “Mommy, you know I’m being good? You just know that I’m five now? When I go to sleep, I don’t suck my thumb anymore.”
Sophie: “Sophie’s sucking the thumb.”
Me, trying to stick to the script: “What can you do now that you’re five?”
Natalie: “Play with Barbies and open presents and play with some other toys. Oh, reading! I just know how to look at the pictures on my own, okay, Mommy? I can just look at my pictures. You see? I’m going to look at these pictures. Wow. Look at these letters, wow! Hey look, here’s my number that I turned!” ::points to the page number:: “FIVE!”
Me: ::nods and smiles while backing slowly toward my warm bed::
I was under the weather all day—as in, I couldn’t manage to lift my outlook above the low-lying clouds—but I loved watching her luxuriate in the occasion. It’s not every day a girl gets a custom-made pink layer cake and is finally allowed to use scissors at school. All the same, my mind would only grant that she was twenty-four hours older than she had been the day before, that the date was less worthy of celebration than the girl herself. The difference between five years old and four-plus-364-days wasn’t enough to coax awe, much less jumping jacks, out of me.
However, my stoic perspective lasted only as long as the tissue paper on her second present. It was a ring—a dusky pink jewel set in a gold circlet, misshapen from its former career as my fifth birthday present.
Natalie tried on the ring, admired it for approximately three seconds, and put it back in its scuffed velvet box. Oh, I thought. Knowing the kid’s adoration for all things pink and sparkly, I had assumed she would love my little heirloom… but she was more excited about the 49-cent pencil sharpener in the next package, and I wasn’t offended. I was jolted though. Watching my daughter twirl the ring in the kitchen light reminded me of the day I had gotten the ring. I remembered it. And the true weight of five-years-old landed squarely on my consciousness: She’s crossed the threshold from impression into memory.
The realization hummed in my background the rest of the day. Twenty years from now, would Natalie remember me sitting down to draw princesses with her? Would she remember me leaving the table to clean? Would she remember my frustration over the confounding Disney Wii game? Would she remember me leading her into the pages of Little House in the Big Woods and illuminating mysteries like venison and headcheese? What about me picking up my computer as a respite from several straight hours with the girls? Or me kissing the grumpiest part of her neck until the giggles burst out at bedtime?
It’s a sobering discovery that my parenting from here on out is being archived rather than evaporating with the moment. (Frankly, it’s terrifying, but that may be only because my brain hasn’t taken its Valium yet.) I have about twenty hours’ total experience raising a five-year-old, and I’m guaranteed to botch the job over and over again as I figure it out. Will enough standout parenting moments cancel out the flubs that go on record? Can my core-deep love make up for my core-deep imperfection?
I certainly hope so, because otherwise… ::starts backing slowly toward my warm bed::