Yesterday was Sydney’s birthday. Her fifth birthday. A milestone, really.
As I’ve stated before, I’m not a very sentimental person. I don’t tuck keepsakes away in my drawers. I don’t scrapbook (I tried. Really. It was not pretty. I just spent the time trying to organize all the little bits of paper and lamenting over the fact that it was making a complete mess of my dining room.). I don’t tear up when I see baby kittens. I don’t think nostalgically of my wedding. I’m merciless when I clean out closets and drawers and I’m unlikely to ever open the boxes in the garage containing piles of Drew’s childhood souvenirs.
But when it comes to my girl, and watching how much she’s grown this year, I tap into some part of myself that few ever see. The part that strokes her soft foot as I dry it after washing the dirt off in the evening. The part that reaches back and squeezes her leg while I’m driving, because I already miss the little girl that she was ten minutes ago. The part that swells with pride when she demonstrates a social skill that I’ve role-modeled but never explicitly taught her. The part that causes me to watch videos of her babyhood in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.
At night when I tuck Sydney into bed, I always search my mind for the one thing that I can say or do that will stay with her. Something that she will remember in times of distress or happiness and use to make her life better/more meaningful/less lonely. I whisper how proud of her I am, how I know she’s brilliant and beautiful, how she will be successful as long as she tries, how she needs to be a good friend to have good friends, how books and the characters inside them can change you, how she needs to take responsibility for her mistakes but forgive herself when she makes them, how she needs to understand that education is power, how she needs to never ever let anyone touch her in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable, how she needs to remember to make good choices even when she’s feeling sad or angry, how she needs to understand that people who live a different kind of life than we do can be wonderful . . . most of all, however, I tell her how much she’s loved. Because even the most loved people sometimes feel bereft of a kindred spirit. I ache at the thought that someday she will be laying in her bed and doubt that she is truly accepted and understood. I feel sick at the idea that she will ever feel lonely or helpless or hopeless. I know it will happen, but preferably not on my watch. Until the day I die, I want her to know that she can pick up the phone and call me and I will always hear both what she is saying aloud and what she is not.
Side note: Tonight we were reading a book called Barbie and the Three Musketeers (Wait! I know that the main character in the story is an anorexic fashionista who only becomes friends with skinny white girls and drives a sports car. Let’s not perseverate on that.) In it, Barbie (her name was actually Corinne in the story) wanted to become a musketeer (a person who protects the royal family), but common belief was that only men could be musketeers. As I read that portion of the story, Sydney asked disbelievingly, “Why could only boys be musketeers?” I stumbled. “Um, well, some people think that women aren’t as strong as men, and can’t do a dangerous job that involves using a weapon”. Corinne had a sword. “Really? Why?” I was like, “Well, it used to be that women weren’t allowed to do everything that men can do. Like become a doctor, decide who is going to be President, or keep their own money in the bank”. She shook her head in confusion and settled down to listen to the remainder of the story. As much as I wanted to launch into details about The Women’s Movement, I decided that Corinne’s beautiful gown, long hair, and heaving bosoms would detract from my overall message. As I covered her with her blanket a few minutes later, I settled for murmuring to her about not letting a man tell her what to do or make decisions for her. Do I think she will remember that? Maybe not today. But maybe she will after I say it a hundred more times during her childhood.
But, I digress. This post is supposed to chronicle her growth from this year. How when I look at my five year-old, I can almost see the young woman she has the potential to become.
I see a girl who adores and protects her brother. She holds him when he cries and reaches for her. She teaches him things, “Dylan, swing your legs like me. Move back and forth. Dylan, you can do it; you can learn to swing”. She shares beautifully with him, both because she’s a kind person and because she seems to want to protect him from disappointment.
Side note: Sydney had a birthday party with 10 of her friends this past weekend. That morning, as she and I were preparing for the party, Dylan started getting very ornery and naughty. I said sympathetically, “Buddy, are you feeling sad because you’re not getting a birthday party today?” Sydney immediately said, “Buddy, do you want to help me blow out my candles today?”. I was like, “Um, sweetie, you may not want him to help you blow out the candles at your party today.” Well, fast-forward 8 hours later. As the cake is brought out to the table, I see Dylan drag his plastic chair around the table and start to tuck it under the table next to her. I say, “Dylan, whatcha doing? Don’t you want to go sit back over there so you can have some cake?” He says, “I help Sissy blow out the candles”. Just as I was about to protest (after all, it is her party), Sydney reaches over, pulls him closer to herself and the cake, and tells him to get ready. We all sing happy birthday. In unison, they blow out the candles. I felt pride that she both recalled her promise to him and felt a stronger desire to share that moment with her brother than have more time basking in the attention of her friends.
You can’t see this in the video, but she helps him get his chair tucked up to the table and tells him to get ready.
I see a girl who is social and kind and fun. She understands how to give a compliment, even to virtual strangers (today, while at the pool, she called to a girl whom I had never seen, “Hi! I love your bathing suit!”). She will approach other children and say, “Hi. I’m Sydney. What’s your name? Do you want to play?”. While I feel blessed that she’s bright; I feel proud of her ability to interact with others, as I feel that this ability will aid her in life as much (or more) as her intelligence.
I see a girl who is competitive. This is a mixed blessing. I don’t exactly relate to this part of her, as I am not a particularly competitive person. I see that it drives her at times. I see that it causes her to persevere, to ask more questions, and to look more closely. But I also see that it burdens her, as she’ll cry when she sees I am winning at Memory, or will protest when Dylan is permitted to do something first. At times when coloring she will abandon the picture after noticing that she colored outside the lines. Where it has served her is in learning to read. She loves to play “learning games”, and as a result, she can read simple books, write simple sentences, use her decoding skills and picture cues to figure out new words, and is beginning to retell a story in sequence. When I work with her on these tasks, I understand how it is that some parents homeschool. To see your child listen to something you say and then apply it at a later time is so very satisfying. Although Drew works on math skills with her, I focus on reading. Reading is one of the greatest joys in my life, and I would love to be able to contribute to her finding this same joy. But I want her to love reading, not see it as a task to conquer.
I see a girl who is (generally) well-behaved. I hear stories from friends of their daughters rolling their eyes at them and saying, “I not like you!” at the age of two, acting terribly in stores and on playdates, and willfully breaking rules as they glare at their parents in defiance. Although Sydney has had her moments, she is not that girl. If she gets in trouble, it tends to be the result of her excessive slowwwwwness (I cannot relate to this part of her either. Drew is 100% responsible for this. He’d tell you this himself, but he’s still wandering around completing tasks that he started working on this morning). She also gets busted for riling Dylan, such as by encouraging him to act silly in the store, or by trying to “show” him how to do a trick on the swing that involves her getting to use the swing 98% of the time while he’s supposed to just watch). At her latest parent-teacher conference in May, her teacher described her as a behavioral role model for others. This made me more proud than hearing that she surpassed all of her academic goals. I like the fact that she understands rules and the need to follow them, but does not lose her ability to assert herself in order to express a need. She’s spirited but thrives on boundaries.
Now, that being said, I realize that she’s not perfect. If you scroll through other posts, you’ll see anecdotes which express some of her more mischievous moments. However, this is her birthday post. I’m not going to ruin it by qualifying my statements with details about her less-than-stellar moments. I just want to celebrate her on this day. Because as parents, we do not always take the time to do this.
Happy birthday, Sydney.
This is how it started:
This is her at age one: