Family life

To Anna, on her seventh birthday

Or, how Tracy stopped worrying and learned to watch her spirited daughter fly.

By Tracy Chappell
To Anna, on her seventh birthday

Anna, age seven.

This morning, you woke up ready for adventure. “I’m finally seven! Can I go find my presents?” you said, with a big grin on your face. We hide birthday presents here and send you on a quest through the house to find them. It’s one of your favourite things — along with lots and lots of balloons.
I always thought I’d let my kids play hooky from school on their birthdays but, at this stage, there’s nowhere else you’d rather be today. So I sent you off to be celebrated there — a building that has become one of your favourite places — with your teacher and classmates. You went off confidently and enthusiastically, which is how you face just about everything these days.
This is a new norm for us. I feel like I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time in your young life struggling with behaviour issues — trying to figure out how to help you manage your emotions, your temper, your approach to people and situations. But somehow, over the past year, discipline no longer seems to fill all our space and conversations. I don’t know if it’s because of all of the efforts we’ve gone to, or something that would have happened as you grew anyway, but it feels so good. It’s like this bright, glorious light inside you was too often cloaked in anger and frustration. Those who knew you well saw that sunshine plenty, but we also knew that storm clouds could roll in any moment.
You still have days where anything will set you off, but then again, so do I. So does everyone. Outbursts are no longer part of our daily life or something that keep me up at night fretting over solutions. You still can get easily frustrated, and often want to have things your own way, but life no longer seems to be this constant thorn in your side. It’s making room for so much more joy. I wish I could have known this calm would arrive — and stick around! — so we wouldn’t have wasted so much energy worrying. But I guess that’s just parenting.
On our trip, I saw a side of you that made my heart swell. You were in your element, using your manners with serving staff; telling our room attendant the details of your day and giving her hugs; declaring yourself the elevator operator and chatting with vacationers between floors of the ship; gently patting the heads of younger kids and helping them along. You love people, and it shows. Everywhere we went, I saw others responding to your light with broad smiles and chuckles. It made me so happy for you — you seem so at peace, and so proud of how grown-up you’re becoming.
What are you like, at seven? You are very tall (people are always commenting on that). You have a love/hate relationship with your adorable freckles and have accepted that your hair is thick and unruly (“It has its positives and its negatives,” you’ve told me). You love playing hockey and swimming, and claim to be Taylor Swift’s biggest fan.
You’re doing extremely well at school, and love being able to communicate your own thoughts in print, exactly right. You are very organized and have an incredible memory. And while you generally like a good challenge, you told me: “When my teacher is testing my reading now, I don’t read as fast as I really can, because then she’ll give me harder work.” Too smart, really.
I think of you as unquenchable. You are full of energy, questions and ideas, eager to offer up your own clever insight into any situation (if only people would just be quiet and listen!). You need to run and jump and climb and bounce. You are absolutely hilarious, and honest to a fault (“Mom, if you keep dying your hair, no one will ever guess you’re so old!”). You are vibrant and fun-loving, fearless and strong, charming and sweet, full of hugs and “I love you’s.”
You’re trying hard to show how much wiser and experienced and patient and cooperative than your four-and-a-half-year-old sister could possibly be. You’ll tell Avery, “that’s just not appropriate!” and, with a world-weary sigh, you’ll moan, “Kids Avery’s age just don’t get it, do they?”
I see you getting it. And I’ve stopped worrying so much about how you’re going to manage in the world with your fiery temper and my-way-or-the-highway attitude, because I see you out there now, managing quite well. I especially used to worry about you making friends. But tomorrow, 10 excited little girls from school are coming to your birthday party. I’ve seen the camaraderie build slowly but surely over the year and have reminded myself that slow is OK — more than OK — as long as you’re feeling secure and happy.
So yes, I used to worry. About everything. And it’s nice to be able to let some of that go. What I see in you is real self-confidence, which is one of the biggest things you can hope for your kids. To know who you are, and to feel good about it, is a precious thing in this world. And, frankly, you have a lot to feel confident about.
One more story about our trip: While we were waiting for the dining room to open one night, you wandered around and, after a while, asked me to come and meet a friend you’d made. I expected to find some little girl; instead, it was a grown woman, probably in her late-60s, from Serbia. Much to her delight, you had decided to strike up a conversation and entertain her with tales of your life. Each night after, you went over to say hello and tell her about your day. It was such a sweet, strangely random thing. On the last night, the woman got teary saying goodbye. There were big, warm hugs. She looked up at me and said, “I don’t know what to say to you, except that you have a very, very special child.”
Indeed. I can say with certainty that this has been my favourite year of your life — my favourite year being your mother. It’s like you’re alight from within, preparing for take-off in a future overflowing with possibility. Sharing life through your eyes is infinitely more interesting and complex and beautiful than I anticipated — and growing more so each day. I feel pretty privileged to have a front row seat for your next act.


This article was originally published on Mar 08, 2013

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