Today is Ella’s seventh birthday, and we’ve been celebrating since this morning. She’s enjoyed some special treats throughout the day, and expects even more this weekend at her birthday party. I guess you could say we spoil her.
But we don’t see it that way.
We’re celebrating her life, which is something we don’t take for granted. Believe me when I tell you that there’s nothing on this earth that makes my heart swell like her slipping her hand into mine as we walk. Sure, the hand that’s reaching out for me has gotten bigger than I’d like to admit, and yeah, my heart breaks to think that I might only have a few more years of such unfettered, un-self-conscious love to enjoy, but it’s still overwhelming to be loved so innocently.
Sometimes when I look at her, I find it hard to remember what she was like as an infant. She’s so much more herself now that’s she’s older that those early months/years seem a blur. To watch her float around the house, dancing to music only she can hear, making up words to songs that only she understands, is to watch my daughter without a filter. To see her as she really is, all the way down to her soul.
When she sits down to draw a picture now, a clear figure emerges – complete with perspective, shading, detail – and fits within a larger narrative picture. She tells you the whole story when she shows it to you, and even gives you a hint of character voices. It’s impressive.
She still sleeps like a wild animal. She’s all over the bed, arms and legs akimbo beneath the covers, breathing so deeply you would think her near comatose. Trying to wake her up on a school day is sometimes like arguing on the internet: pointless and not very productive. Then, on days when she doesn’t need to sleep late, she’s up by 6:20 and racing through the house like a deranged cat.
Talking to her has become an adventure. It’s a combination of her high-level reading skills, ever-listening ear, and decidedly animated friends that produces the first grade equivalent of a Robin Williams stand up, which is to say that she’s hysterical and full of non-sequiturs. What’s really funny is when she throws in an inflection that quite obviously came from someone else – an adult, one of her school friends, her mother – and it sounds like an entirely different person but still fully Ella. And the best part is, she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it.
She looked at me this morning in the car. We were waiting for her bus to arrive, and she had this funny expression, a mix between sheer joy and hopeless confusion. Finally she looked at me, eyebrow raised and said, “You know I’m only three years away from ten, don’t you? Today I’m seven, then eight, nine, ten. I’ll be practically grown up. And then I’ll be a teenager. You can handle that, right?”
I looked at her and lied. “Sure I can handle that.”
But my heart knew it couldn’t. As much joy as there is in watching my child grow up, I can’t help but feel the tinge of sadness that comes as she passes ever farther away from the little girl she once was. I know I still have a lot more time with her before she starts hating my guts, but the weight of those days, the preciousness of them, makes me wish they could linger a bit.
And then she drops something on the floor, or accidentally spills grape juice on the freshly cleaned carpet and I wonder, “How long ’til college?”
The birthday princess is growing up. The world is slowly becoming hers; I find that instead of her encountering things through my eyes or Rachel’s eyes, she’s seeing things through her own eyes more and more. And it’s a fascinating world to view, even if it sometimes gets a bit myopic (“When can I have a snack again? You said fifteen minutes fifteen minutes ago. It’s been fifteen minutes. So I can have a snack now, right? Because it’s been fifteen minutes. It has. Really. Why is your eyeball suddenly bleeding, daddy?”). Here’s to enjoying the ride through her childhood, to infinity and beyond.
Happy birthday, Princess Ella! Your mommy and daddy love you very much.