Four years ago, I was sitting in our green rocking chair, holding you in my arms and wondering what I did right in my life to deserve you as my own. Four years ago, I would watch your face as you slept and snuggle you close to my chest, breathing in your sweet baby smell from the top of your mop of black hair. I’d listen to your sweet newborn noises as you drank your bottle and slowly rock you back and forth, dreaming about what kind of girl you would grow up to be. I remember telling your daddy, as I watched the 2004 summer Olympic games, “Can you believe that the next time we’re watching the Olympics McKenna will be four?”. It seemed impossible then that you would someday be turning four years old, yet just like that – in the blink of an eye – we’re there. You are four years old today, and even though it’s so cliché to say so, I am left wondering where the time has gone.
Every year I comment to your daddy how much older you seem. Every year it’s like overnight you’re suddenly, just, more grown up. but this year it is more true than ever. The way you carry yourself, the conversations we have, the way you interact with others – you have left any remaining signs of babyhood behind and are moving full steam ahead into the life of a little girl. There are the obvious physical changes – you’re taller now, we’re moving out of toddler sized clothing, you’re not easy to pick up anymore – but even more staggering is your demeanor. I’m allowed to be prejudice because I’m your mother, but I have to say that you are one of the most mature preschool aged children I have ever come across in my life. Sure you have those moments of complete silliness and the occasional emotional meltdown which should be expected from a child your age. But the way you process things, the way you react to what is happening around you, and most of all your commentary on all of this is mind-blowing sometimes. You don’t miss a trick – you never have – and it’s a personality trait that certainly keeps us on our toes. You are always listening, always taking in information, always thinking two steps ahead of what is going on in that moment. We can see it in your eyes when those little wheels start turning (although I’m not they ever stop turning), and it’s only a matter of time before you provide an often amusing summary or opinion on the matter at hand.
You have continued to blow us away with your love for learning. You have shown particular interest in learning letter sounds as well as how to write the letters. You have almost perfected writing your first name and appear to be left handed for writing. Two of your favorite television shows are Word World and Super Why, both of which have fostered this desire to learn to read. You are starting to spot certain words in books that you know and are great at spelling and manipulating simple words with your Leap Frog Frig Phonics letters. You enjoy doing “projects,” and already I watch with nervous anticipation for what’s to come down the road as I see your frustration with yourself when you can’t get something just so. It’s another of my traits I see you have inherited, and it’s not one of my better ones. I’m crossing my fingers that you’ll learn not to be so critical of yourself, that you’ll find a way to laugh at yourself when you make a mistake. One of your favorite phrases lately is “practice makes perfect,” and I hope that’s a mantra you’ll continue to embrace.
You are still shy and reserved at times, especially when in an unfamiliar place or when approached by unfamiliar adults or when you’re feeling like being dramatic, but when you are in your element you have shown over the past year a true penchant for bossiness. Perhaps it comes with the territory with your role as big sister, but you show no hesitation in telling other children what they should do and how they should do it. Your sister falls victim to this most often, and you and I have had several long chats in recent weeks about how you can’t always make someone do something they don’t want to do no matter how much fun you think he or she will have being your baby or your pet dog. Screams of protest or outright refusal tend not to deter you when you have your mind set on a particular role for that person, and only after several attempts to get them to comply do you usually come to me to complain about that person’s lack of participation. Your negotiation skills are improving, however your go-to phrase when Elaina doesn’t want to go along with your suggestions is, “You sure?” so you obvious still have a long way to go.
I was watching you play with a group of your friends the other day, and I remarked to your daddy that you would make an excellent teacher someday. The way you direct a group of children, the way you command their attention, the way you are able to express yourself so that others understand you…it’s like seeing into the future. Of course, teaching is a job you already take very seriously. You have dubbed yourself a teacher to your little sister, showing her the ropes and leading by example. It’s no easy feat, yet it’s one you seem to relish. You love the role of “little mommy,” one you tend to embrace a little too firmly at times which then requires the occasional reminder of who is technically (or perhaps theoretically) in charge. You love Elaina so much and are usually very patient with her. You don’t like it when she takes your things and you’re definitely not okay with her acts of physical aggression, but you are eager to take her by the hand and show her the way. As she gets older the two of you are starting to play better together which is something I love to watch. You are eager to include her in whatever it is you are doing and both she and I are very grateful for that. She loves you so much and is always asking where you are when you are not within her sight. It’s not often the two of you are separated by more than a room’s distance, and I can tell that she’d be lost without her Sissy. I’m already wondering what she’s going to do when you go to school next year, but that’s a topic I can’t even begin to go into for fear of hyperventilation.
You have very little tolerance for someone who breaks the rules. A few weeks ago you told your sister, “Elaina, only adults are allowed in the cupboard.” Your next statement to her was, “Only mommy, daddy and me can get in there,” which I suppose speaks to your notion of entitlement. Anyway, in addition to your bossiness is your incredible knack for tattling. While your daddy is just fine with your habit of running to the nearest adult to tell on someone when they are doing even the slightest bit of unacceptable behavior (a trait that your daycare provider is also quite appreciative of, she has reported), I am less likely to embrace it. Your Grama comments on a very regular basis how alike you and I are, how watching you now is just like rewinding time to when I was your age. Anyone who knows me and watches you for any period of time knows this is true, and I am reminded on a daily basis of this as well. When asked one day by daddy why your tattling bothers me so much I realized that it was part of my desire to break a cycle. I was never one to stick up for myself when I was little, never one to speak my mind in uncomfortable situations. Daddy will argue that I’m still not able to do this which brings me to my point. When you come to me to report the latest misbehavior of either Elaina or one of your friends I encourage you to handle the situation yourself first – tell them it hurts your feelings when they do x, ask them to stop doing y. Then, if that doesn’t work, go to an adult. It’s not that I don’t want you to feel comfortable asking for help because that’s an important life skill too. It’s more that I want you to be able to stand up for yourself. I want to do everything I can to teach you how to be strong and stand on your own two feet, how to face adversity, and to grow up to be an independent woman who can handle any situation on her own when necessary. Then again, maybe I’m being way too philosophical about this with my four year old.
This year your imagination has really taken flight. Sometime since your third birthday you have brought two new members into our home – Wyatt and Joy. They’re not always around, but the two of them (Wyatt especially) usually makes an appearance at least once a day. From what I’ve gathered from your descriptions, Wyatt and Joy are brother and sister. Wyatt is older, and they both are small enough to be carried in the palm of your hand. The other day you informed me that Wyatt has a dad named Dave, although I have yet to be formerly introduced to him. There was one night where I was starting to think that maybe you actually saw Wyatt, like you thought he was really there. You and I were playing Candyland and you were insisting that Wyatt play too. You kept looking behind me as you were trying to convince me that Wyatt could play, and you were putting forth a compelling enough argument to make me turn around to make sure someone wasn’t actually standing behind me. While I don’t want to discourage your active imagination I also don’t want to be frightened in my own home because of a fear that my daughter can see people who aren’t there. You assured me that you were just pretending and after I explained that only people mommy can see can play Candyland you were happy to let Wyatt sit next to you as an invisible observer.
The great love of your life in this past year as been your stuffed dog, Gunner. You received him as a gift from Great Grama and Grapa for your third birthday, and this deep love affair with Gunner sort of came out of left field. You didn’t really seem to have any particular attachment to him for the first part of your third year and then one day, out of nowhere, he was your constant companion. There aren’t many places you go where you don’t ask if Gunner can join you, and he has to be in bed with you every single night. I didn’t realize children found their “wobbie” this late, but apparently for you it just took three years before you found “the one”.
Next month the 2008 Olympics begin. You will be there with me as you were four years ago while we watch the athletes compete, but this time it will be a much different experience. This time you may still sit with me in the green rocking chair, but there will be no rocking you to sleep. You may let me smell the top of your head, but that newborn baby smell is long gone, replaced by the smell of a little girl who spent her day playing in the sun or riding her bike. Bottles of formula will be replaced with animal crackers and apple juice, and the noises you make will be giggles or words formed into questions – countless whos, whats, wheres, and whys – about what is happening thousands of miles away.
Every dream I could have dreamt for what these four years with you would be like have been far surpassed. You are a sweet, polite, appreciative, loving, and compassionate girl. You make us laugh every single day, and you are often a voice of calm and reason when I’m feeling otherwise overwhelmed. Your sweet gestures and gentle nature often remind me, in your own subtle way, to get a grip. Your daddy and I are so proud of you, McKenna. It is a privilege to be your mommy, one for which I thank God every day.
Happy 4th birthday to you, my Shortcake. I hope every one of your wishes comes true.
All my love,