How can it be that you are six years old today? Your age, slipped in between the ages of Oldest and Tiny, has caught me by breathtaking surprise. You are short enough to look like a preschooler, but oh you possess such verbal skills, the ability to set the record straight, explain the rules, detail an injustice. "Just for you to know," is how you often begin a dialogue with me. "Just for you to know, I'm leaving my Barbies out while I get a snack and then I"m going right back to playing." You have a knack for anticipating my responses and you understand how our family works, how I work. You know I'll see those Barbies scattered all over the floor and request their return to the box they are usually stored in.
Rare are the days anymore that you get in bed with me in the morning, throwing an arm around my neck. But, once in a while, you return pajama-footed to what was never a family bed, asking for a sippy cup full of warm milk. And you recline on our pillows, the cup in one hand and a lock of hair twirling between the fingers of your other. I know now that if I repose with you for long, you'll take advantage of the opportunity to ask for a story. If I'm sitting, if I'm lying down--it is story time. Your interests run deep, meaning lately we read the same story over of Sir Lancelot's boyhood and coming-of-knighthood. Initially, I replaced the more obscure phrases like "courtly arts" with words such as "reading" and "writing," but after our fifth read, as you've begun to appreciate the scope of the narrative, I returned to its original wording, which now, I can see by watching your face, you grasp unblinkingly. You laugh at the ridiculousness of Lancelot's arrogance and furrow a brow at the death of his parents because your heart is enlarged enough for indignation, empathy, pathos, and compassion.
Your feelings at times fizz right at the surface--giddy delight or frustrated stubbornness. Most nights you can't remain seated at the dinner table for your excitement over all the stimulus surrounding you. Tiny, in her little seat, smiles up at you, inviting you to entertain. Or there is a squirrel at the window, or a picture in the living room you have drawn and want so very badly to show us. You are an oft-silent observer of the world, your curiosity revealed in a choice question, a slew of words that suggests prior reflection, like when you eyed my postpartum body the other day and, without judgment and with some nostalgia, asked, "Mom, when are you going to get skinny again?" And that question is because your world has changed so much in the last year, your own mother has changed before your eyes and produced a tiny human who cries and smiles and spits up and laughs at you. Sisterhood with the Tiny becomes you. You are a star, the apple of her eye, and you take great delight in falling over with giggles, dance-walking across the room, peek-a-booing until her face erupts with gratitude.
Sisterhood with Oldest looks different, as it should. You are her mentee in many ways, emulating her drawings and her literature choices--everything but her blue jeans, which you flatly refuse to wear on account they "itch." But that's okay because you are coming into your own--it's inevitable and subtle right now, but you are differentiating, deciding to play outside because you want to, even if Oldest stays inside to draw. And there you go, off to jump on the rusted trampoline, off to rake leaves into an awkward pile in the front lawn, off to get the neighbor girl for fort play.
I said you were deep, and this is another reason I know: when something wounds you, either in body or in spirit, you keep silent while the pressure of your pain--and the shame you seem to carry for feeling it-- mounts unto bursting. And then you sob, five minutes or several hours after the injury. You weep and choke and wheeze because you've held it all in for so very long. Then, I want to race backwards to that moment you remained silent, when your lip quivered and nobody noticed, and when your eyes grew red with tears yet unsprung. I want to hold you in that place, assure you there is enough comfort to go round, and convince you that wounds are not suffered better in silence. And perhaps I will yet. That's part of my job, and there is still time.
You're only six, you know? (Don't, please, try to grow up too terribly fast.)
So, Miss Middle, I raise a glass of apple juice to toast in your honor, in reverence and celebration of all you are and all you are to become.
[Trumpets blare. Confetti scatters through the air. I lift you high in a great big hug.]