My sweet McKenna,
Today you turn five years old, and I refuse to believe it. No. No, no, no. It just can not be possible for you to be turning five years old. A full hand worth of fingers showing the world how old you are. One of many milestones birthdays. A birthday which marks the beginning of one of life’s most amazing adventures.
In the first five years of your life you have changed so much but really, when I stop to think about it, I realize that you are exactly the person you were the day you came into this world in so many ways. You are mild mannered, friendly and loving and compassionate to everyone around you, eager to please, and afraid to miss out on all the fun stuff in life. You are observant and continue to amaze your daddy and me with your ability to pick up on everything going on around you. As you have since your days as an infant, you continue to take in the world around you and quickly process all that is happening. You also have an amazing memory, recalling events that happened long enough ago that there’s no way we’d think you’d remember it happening. It’s come to a point where Daddy or I often have to say to you, “Don’t you already know the answer to that question?”, as you continue to ask endless questions. You are a stickler for rules (although you’ve becoming slightly less consistent on following them immediately as your independence as increased recently), and you are adept at organization and order with little tolerance for those who are not in group situations (i.e., your little sister).
You are still a snuggler, curling up with Daddy on the couch in the middle of the afternoon or crawling into bed with me first thing in the morning. I think that body-to-body contact is your way of connecting, of finding reassurance and comfort even as you have gotten older. You love hugs, are the first to come snuggle up to me when I sit down on the couch or rocking chair, and at least once a day you will throw your arms around me and tell me, “I love you, Mommy”. Just so you know, I will never get tired of that.
Perhaps the greatest joy in your life right now is your friends. More than anything else, you crave the interaction of being around other children your age. It does not matter where we are or what we are doing – you will find another child of similar age and try to make friends with him or her. You show no hesitation in approaching a group of peers even if you have never met them before, and there’s not a moment where you stop to contemplate the pros vs. cons of joining them in their activity. This past spring you went to the high school’s playschool for five days and when I would ask you at the end of the day what you had done in school your first story was always filling me in on which of your friends had been at school. You have groups of friends everywhere you go – the babysitter’s, the children of Mommy & Daddy’s high school and college friends, your cousins, friends at Gramma & Papa’s church – and they are all so important to you. It’s hard for me to admit this, but this is the first year that I’ve come to realize that Daddy or I are not your favorite playmates and even though you and your little sister can play wonderfully at times you’ll ditch her at the first chance for another friend whenever possible. I suppose that’s the way it should be, but still it stings a little.
Finishing the subject of friends, I suppose that provides a good transition to this next topic, one which is the giant, looming pink elephant in the room. A topic which is equal parts thrilling and terrifying, exciting and nauseating. Now that you are five, you are eligible for kindergarten. You have been counting down the days until you are able to start school for at least two years now, and it’s almost impossible to believe that we’re a few short weeks away from the day you have been looking forward to. You may find this silly, and on the precipice of sending your own first born son or daughter to school for the first time maybe you’ll understand why, but tears are streaming down my face as I write this paragraph. I have to say this first: I am so excited for you to start school. I know that you are going to love it, and I know that you are going to do just fine. School is a place for fun, discovery, adventure, growth. You have not even started school yet and already you have declared that someday, when you grow up, you are going to be a teacher (and a mommy too, an equally rewarding profession). You will soak up all the knowledge that your teachers put in front of you like a sponge, and I’m looking forward to evenings spent listening to tales of all the mayhem that unfolds in a kindergarten classroom. I can not wait to watch you grow academically and I have no doubts that you will continue to amaze me with your love for learning.
That being said, here’s where I need to be really honest. As excited as I am for you and all that this journey has to offer, I am also scared to death. This is a huge step for all of us – for you for obvious reasons, for Elaina who will probably be completely lost without you by her side for the majority of the day, and for your daddy and I for what amounts to giving you over to the world. It feels as though Daddy and I have been able to keep you in this safe little bubble for the past five years of your life. We’ve closely monitored what happens in our house, what people we bring into your life, how we treat each other and those around us, the words we use to convey our thoughts and feelings about and toward one another. To this point we have had a fairly tight grip on what you have been exposed to and have tried our hardest to keep you away from those situations that might bring you anything but happiness. I realize living an entire lifetime like this is an idea not rooted in reality, and really if given the opportunity to continue to shelter you from the larger world would I? It’s a tempting thought but no, probably not. Even so, there’s a part of me that feels like when we walk you through those front doors your first day of school it might feel oddly similar to walking into a lion’s den. I know, as an adult, that there are people who do not hold the same morals and ethics that we have tried to instill (and which I see) in you. This is a fact of life which everyone must learn. Unfortunately learning this fact the hard way is often the rule rather than the exception. As important as this life lesson is, it’s one I don’t want to have to watch you discover. You are so innocent and compassionate to everyone you come in contact with, and nothing will break my heart more than the first time you come face-to-face with another child who treats you badly. Let’s face it- kids can be mean, and there is nothing I want to shelter you from more than the pain another child may inflict on you. Call it the mama bear phenomenon, the natural instinct to want to protect my child, but anyone or anything which causes you any pain will just be too much. Man, it’s so hard to let go!
Am I comfortable handing you over to the (very capable) hands of another adult for seven hours a day in a setting where no matter how vigilant that adult may be there will certainly be opportunity for hurt to come your way? No, I can’t say that I am, not if I’m being completely honest with myself. I believe these thoughts and feelings that I’m wrestling with are precisely what caused your Gramma to utter, “I’m feeling urpy” as her initial reaction to hearing that I was pregnant with you. I’m struggling with endless internal questions, playing that maddening mind game of “What if…”. Have we taught her how to stick up for herself? Will she be strong enough to stick up for another person rather than join the ‘mob mentality’ to avoid becoming a target herself? Will she know who to turn to for help? Will she find friends who embrace the same values that we have tried to teach her? Does she know that she can always – ALWAYS – come to me when she’s feeling down? Will she let me in on her thoughts, let me help her walk through solutions to problems that she might be facing?
I hope, more than anything else, that you know that is true. Your dad and I will always be here for you. It does not matter that the majority of your day will be spent away from home, it makes no difference that the circle of people in your life will expand with each passing day. Your core, your center, is and always will be your family and we will always be there for you. Mommy and Daddy will be here to listen to your worries, to ease your fears, to celebrate your accomplishments, and to share in your disappointments. This new beginning of school is a new beginning for all of us. There are big changes on the horizon and there are bound to be some bumps along the way, but with all of us in it together it’s sure to be an unforgettable journey.
You bring so much joy into the lives of those who love you. It is an honor and a privilege to spend each day with you. I marvel at the person that you have become in this relatively short period of time. I am so proud of who you are and of how you treat others. These past five years have been among the greatest of my life; you are a gift to our family the likes of which I would have never thought I would be lucky enough to call my own. But you are – you are mine now and forever, and I am the luckiest mommy in all the world for being able to say that.
Happy birthday, little girl.
With all my heart,