You are five today. Five! I say this all the time, but I am not sure where the time is going. In ways I feel like you were just born, and in ways I feel like you have always been here. I don’t remember much of what life was like without you, and your constant enthusiasm and curiosity never leaves a dull moment. You are always observing, asking questions, and exploring anything you find that piques your interest. You never slow down, and nothing is beyond the scope of your imagination.
I can count on you to make me laugh, everyday and without fail. Every time I feel overwhelmed or disheartened or just exhausted (which is pretty much everyday in this season of our lives together), you find a way to show me the light. Unlike your brother and me, it is pretty rare that you are serious about anything for very long, but I think God knew what he was doing when he placed you in our household because your sunshine brightens the room and lightens my load, and I am forever grateful to you for that. I can’t stay discouraged for long when you are here to cheer me up and remind me to see the good and find the playful in any situation.
Sometimes you and I are like oil and water. I look at you with frustration and wonder who this creature is and how she works because we are so different. But I think our differences are what make us work well together. I know I have a lot to teach you, but I think you have a lot to teach me, too. How to lighten up and laugh and say hello to strangers. How to ignore my best laid plans and be a little spontaneous sometimes. How to stay up late. How to laugh with your mouth wide open and touch frogs and worms without shuddering. People say we look alike, but in reality we are not mirrors at all. You are the yin to my yang, and sometimes I think you are a lot wiser than I am. Your demeanor always shows what you believe on the inside – that everything will be alright and that life is mostly good and fun and play. Grown-ups are quick to forget this, but I feel like with you I have this reminder every day.
For all your fiery energy though, you are still sweet and gentle. Your teachers tell me when other kids fall on the playground, you are the first to check on them. You are kind and earnest. You are easily impressionable and want so badly to please those around you – your peers and your teachers and your brother included. The sibling bickering feels like it will kill me on most days. (Mom, he’s touching me!) But every once in a while, I get to see a glimpse of how it used to be before you guys reached this age of competition – and how I hope it will be again one day when you are grown. He doesn’t admit it often, but he loves you just as much as I do.
This was a big year for you – you learned how to write your name and how to identify all your sounds and letters. You sort your own toys in a way that makes no sense to me, but it does to you. You dress your dolls in their clothes and throw them on your hip when we walk in a store like you have a real baby. You create these ridiculous scenarios of imagination and ask me to participate… Mama, pretend your name is Millie and mine is Hallie and we are kids but we live by ourselves, okay? Pretend you are cooking for us now and we live in a treehouse and this doll is our baby sister. You have a whole world inside your own head, and it is my favorite thing about this age.
Last week you learned to swim. I decided that my nerves could not handle another summer of two non-swimmers, so I enrolled you and your brother in a week of private instruction. By day three, you were jumping off the diving board into 8 feet of water and swimming to the edge of the pool. I’ve seen you do it with my own eyes, and yet you panic now when we swim and the water reaches above your own head. So here I am again for the summer – not teaching you to swim but teaching you to believe that you can swim. If that isn’t one huge metaphor for what it’s like to exist in the world as a woman, I don’t know what is. (And you know your English teacher mama loves a good metaphor to teach me the lessons I need to learn.) So let’s make a deal now, okay? I will remind you who you really are and what you are capable of, and you do the same for me. We both have what it takes to swim, even when the water gets deep. Sometimes people are the last to recognize their own power, so I am telling you now that I see it already in you – when I watch you explore or listen to you talk or even just see you sleeping at night in your bed. I know that what lies in front of you in your own life may feel insurmountable in the moment. I know because I’ve been there.
But I can also see so clearly that spark in you that tells me you can do anything you set your mind to. Five is just the beginning, and every day I find a new reason to love you. Happy Birthday, Norah.
** I write letters to my kids on their birthdays to give to them when they are older, and I post some of them on this blog. You can see past letters here.