It may not be as monumental as an 18th, but her 4th birthday still felt pretty big to me. Not long ago, I could account for what my little girl was doing every moment of the day (except, of course, for those occasional deeply silent moments when she was having clandestine adventures with whiteboard markers and quilt covers or patches of mud and her legs). Now she is away from me – either at childcare or kindy – three days a week. And she knows things that I never taught her.
One evening before Australia day, I caught her sitting on the toilet belting out, “Orstalya all let us rejoice, for we are young and free!” She was amazed when I joined in too, “I didn’t know you knew that song, Mummy!” Yep, I know it (at least to the half-baked level of most Australians), but I didn’t teach it to you, my girl. She can count to 30, she can count by twos, she wants to be a childcare teacher (“Or maybe a school teacher, so I can be at school with you, Mummy.” Aww.), none of which came from me.
It’s a good thing. It’s healthy that there are influences apart from our family. But it’s the teeniest bit disconcerting, when you feel the distance between yourself and your child widening for the first time. You recognise that this is the first step, that in another year it will be school and then there will be no stopping that bullet train to independence.
We delight in talking with her, and marvel at her funny, curious, sometimes surprising thoughts (“Jesus could have got down from the cross if he wanted to, couldn’t he? He could have got away from the bad men and climbed on the roof. He could have climbed on a ferris wheel, couldn’t he?”). We pray for God’s grace to cover her. But no longer can we protect her mind, guard her heart completely. She is learning so many wonderful things about the world, but it is inevitable that at some point she will be confronted by some not so great ideas too. And of course there is the fear of every parent: what if the other kids are mean to her?
We hold her close as long as we can and as often as we can: our big-little 4-year-old girl. She has lost her delicious baby-fat; the round belly has flattened and the squishy thighs have stretched into lanky legs. Her hair is darkening, but the tips remain the straw-yellow of babyhood.
She has had a few sleepovers at her cousins’ house, and loved them so much as to declare, “I wish I could stay for 60 days or even one week!” She loves holding her daddy’s hand and jumping waves at the beach, but becomes hysterical if her brother splashes water in her eyes in the bath.
She has a complex relationship with her imaginary twin/best friend Mia. Complex in that sometimes she is Lily and Mia is the invisible friend, and sometimes she is Mia and Lily is the friend. She likes to play childcare/kindy/school, and often refers to herself in the collective third person (“’Hoorah! We love pizza!’ say all of the kids”). ”). Playing it doesn’t always prevent tears at the drop-off, however, although she usually ends up having a good time.
She had her first camp-out in a tent in the backyard with her daddy this summer. We had a BBQ dinner and icecream cones in the backyard. Then after the baby was asleep, the three of us stayed up to watch a movie together, make glow-stick flowers and arrange sleeping bags in the tent. It felt special to watch a movie with our big girl at night, albeit the Winnie the Pooh Movie.
On the eve of her 4th birthday, I was tucking my little girl into bed and lamenting the fact that she was growing up so fast. “Don’t worry, Mummy,” she implored. “Maybe you can say a prayer to God. He made the whole world, so I’m sure he could make me be little for a bit longer!” It’s tempting, my sweet girl.