I was watching you from the stands as you clung to the edge of the public pool. Your swim instructor, floating a few feet away in the water, held her hands out. I held my breath as you, without hesitation, leaped and splashed and kicked and paddled your way out to her and back. I held my breath, resisting the urge to jump into the pool and help you. I held my breath as I watched you do something on your own, like so many things you do now.
This was another reminder of how you have grown into a strong, vibrant, and capable girl. Today is your seventh birthday. When I think back on all that has happened, it has been a magical year for you.
Your biggest accomplishment by far was completing first grade. We did homework every week day, read every night, and I routinely pestered you about your sloppy penmanship. You just wanted to get through all of that homework nonsense so you scribbled your answers as fast as you could and dashed off to play in the sun, just like a little boy I remember from years ago who looked a lot like me.
Reading has become a staple in our home thanks to your amazing teacher. She required you to read at least 15 minutes a day so we incorporated that into our bedtime routine. We loved it so much I had to adjust your bedtime several minutes early to compensate. Your advanced reading skill has opened up the world to you. Now you read signs, newspapers, magazines, movie subtitles, and food labels. This has caused you to ask even more questions than I thought was possible.
First grade was a 180-day program of fun, learning, and great memories with friends. I know it went well for you when at the end of the last full day, I found you sitting in the chair, wrapped in a blanket. A tear rolled down your face-painted cheek as you watched your yearbook video for the seventh time in a row. You kept telling me, amid the sniffles, that you didn’t want first grade to end. Then we had our first real conversation about what it means to grow older.
You seem to fight a lot with your… no, scratch that.
You perpetually fight with your brother about the most mundane things, be it possession of a toy, deciding which cartoon to watch next, or where you sit at the dinner table. Most of those dust-ups occur, however, because you have perfected the art of annoyance and instigation. If you feel like I lean on you harder than I do him it’s because those two years of playground experience are serving you well in the fight for dominance. (Yes, I know he is often to blame, but this essay isn’t about him.)
Despite all of that conflict I see evidence you love your brother more than most things in life, even sushi. You cried for him at the doctor’s office when he was wailing in pain from shots. You held him in your lap when he saw something scary on the TV. If he falls down you are the first to help him up. When his balloon pops you give him yours. He has the best sister ever, just like you said.
What I understand from friends with older kids is that I have until about this age to be the primary force in your life. Now your peers will become more influential than me. I witnessed some of that earlier this year when I visited you at your school for lunch and we were confined to a table alone, away from the rest of the students. For a brief moment you watched wistfully as your classmates filed into the cafeteria together. I knew you felt conflicted. In the end you chose to stay with me but I don’t think you will make the same choice next year. That’s ok. We always have those Dads and Daughters games you love so much.
Seven is roller blades and playgrounds and picnics and camping. Seven is crayons and art classes and pony tails and birthday parties. Seven is the start of the serious business of being a girl. Seven is magic.
Today we celebrate you, my sweet and special girl. You are the kindest, most gentle-hearted daughter a Dad could ever have. I love you more than everything all of the time, forever and always.
Happy Birthday to you, my Sweetie Pumpkin Pie, my Darling Doodles, my Norah Grace.