You have been surprising me ever since.
Somehow, despite being surrounded by intense, mercurial people, you manage to keep a smile and come out with a cheerful “I forgive you!” almost all the time. You are one of the kindest people I have ever met, always quick to fetch an ice pack or a blankie for a sibling in need. You love being a sister.
You remember first thing to ask your father how his day was at work every single evening. You twirl through life, stopping to pick every flower you see and hand it to me with a grin that lights up your whole face. You brighten up every room you enter.
Until someone touches your hair.
It’s irresistible, of course- your springy gold-tinged curls hang nearly to your waist now. I remember wondering if you would ever have hair at all. That seems like such a silly worry now. When you take your bath and lie down, your “mermaid hairstyle” extending behind you half again as long as your body, your hair seems to be everything.
People comment on it constantly, asking if they can “have” your hair or telling you how lovely it is. Your normally sweet expression becomes a fierce scowl. If there’s one thing you cannot abide, it is people (especially strangers) staring at you.
Everything about you seems more sensitive than other people. You can smell a piece of gum a mile away. Within a second of my opening a box of Altoids in the car, I hear your little voice from the second row backseat: “Can I have a mint, too?” Refrigerator odors, however faint, make you feel ill. Your ears are sharp, too- you’re always among the first to pick up the hint of a beloved song in a store or coming through the windows of someone else’s car. A mean look can reduce you to tears.
We come up with little strategies together, you and I. We’ve agreed that you’ll look down and say that you’re shy instead of hiding behind me or glaring at the curious hair-loving strangers. We avoid the hand dryers in public bathrooms, and I carry post-it notes in my purse for covering the sensors on those automatically flushing toilets. I put “fidget” toys out on the table when I’m reading aloud or we’re doing our morning time for school at home so you’ll have something to keep your hands busy. We got you a chewable necklace so you’ll always have something safe to put in your mouth.
I’m not always sure that I’m doing a good job understanding what you need. Sometimes you puzzle me, but I promise always to try and to listen to the things you tell me.
I love to listen to you.
You tell colorful stories with fascinatingly-named characters. You seem to pluck their names from a special place inside your brain, just as you do the names of your dolls and “special friends” - Blue Eyes in the Curtain, Yellow Submarine, Piggory, First Day of Christmas, Princess AnnahWannahThinkSo and your beloved Suzenuh. You sing little songs you’ve made up that turn into opera recitative as you narrate in song whatever you are doing (“and thennn…she was putting on her shoooooooe!”) You’ve even started to pick some of your favorite melodies out on the piano.
I know when you call out, “Mama! Listen!” that I don’t always respond as quickly as you’d like. We’ve worked out a strategy for that, too, where you put your hand on my arm and wait beside me until I can give you my full attention.
You absolutely deserve my full attention, and I know it’s hard to wait. I see you struggling to do it, the way you struggled to walk, and I know you are the kind of person who always does your best, in her own way, in her own time.
I promise to try my best as your mama, too. Your unique perspective is a gift to all of us. The world is a more interesting place because you are in it, and I am lucky to get to be your mother.
Happy birthday, my darling. I love you a hundred ice cream sundaes and forty-seventy milkshakes much, and I always will.