My dear girl,
I am standing on the sand, watching you run away from me. There is a perfect evening glow and your hair is even curlier than usual. It bounces around your shoulders as you race around, heading toward the crashing waves and then away from them, shrieking with glee or terror or maybe both whenever the water approaches your toes. Your feet are bare, your dress is pink, your eyes are the same blue as the sky behind you and just as sparkly. The beach is narrow here, but we have it to ourselves, and so you run as fast as you can, as far as you want.
So much about you mystifies me. You are constantly unexpected. Sometimes when you were a baby, I would hold you and gaze into your impossibly blue eyes and wonder where you came from. You seem to be taking everything in, your eyes wide and questioning, absorbing all the things you see and pondering them someplace inside yourself. I wonder if pondering is part of what you do when you are not sleeping, when the rest of the world is exhausted from the day. Whatever it is that drives you seems unwilling to be turned off just because it’s bedtime. I wonder if I will ever plumb the depths of your energy, your questions, your relentless quest to see and understand everything.
A couple of weeks ago, you decided it was time for you to learn to ride your bike. Watching you do this was almost exactly like watching you when you finally decided to start walking. No one could convince you to try it until the day you decided you were ready, and then there was no stopping you. I was afraid- afraid you’d catch your foot in the pedals and fall, afraid you’d pitch forward over the handlebars and fall, afraid you’d topple over sideways and fall, that you’d be hurt, that you’d knock out another tooth, that you’d scrape up your face or break your arm. I didn’t tell you, but I was afraid.
Often when I’m most afraid for you, it’s because I know you are about to do something and that there’s no way I can stop you. I’m not so much afraid of what is going to happen to you as I am of the knowledge that you will, in those moments, only listen to yourself. My fear is because I know from knowing you for six years now that once you’ve gone out to do something, you won’t stop until you’ve finished it, no matter what.
Were you afraid, that day on the bike? You say you’re afraid of so many things (stinkbugs in the car, spiders at the science museum, the page of icky insects in the encyclopedia on the living room shelf) but no one was going to stop you from riding that bike that day, by yourself, without help. You dragged it up to the top of the driveway, tugging at the pedals until they were where you wanted them, threw your leg over the top and coasted a few wobbly feet before putting your sandals flat on the ground again. “Again,” you said, and pulled the bike back to the top for another try.
I’m not sure how long you worked at it that day, but I watched you for at least an hour. I heard you tell yourself over and over, “One more time!” and “1, 2, 3 go!” and even once, “Don’t worry, you can do this!” I fetched three band-aids and one ice pack for a few brutal falls. I saw you almost get it so many times before you finally managed to get your feet up to the pedals and pedal down the driveway, beaming. And I was so proud. You got frustrated, but you didn’t quit. Getting the hang of things because you work hard at them is so much better than getting them because you are naturally good at them. You didn’t learn to ride a bike that day because you have a natural gift at balancing or pedaling. You got it from sheer will, because you decided you would, and you did.
This is the most encouraging thing to me as your parent.
Sometimes, as I watch you floating through the world with your feet barely touching the ground, singing a little song to yourself and taking it all in with your wide wonder-filled eyes, I worry for you. I worry that you’ll be hurt. I wonder how we can protect you forever from pain and suffering, because you seem so lovely and fragile.
But you’re not fragile. You’re gritty and determined, and you’re going to be more than fine. Life will knock you down sometimes, but you’ll get back up again, because at your core, you’re made of strong stuff. And if you ever forget that, I’m going to be right here to remind you.
Happy sixth birthday, my brave girl. I can’t wait to see what amazing things you’ll do in this next year.