Family life

To Avery, on her fifth birthday

Tracy Chappell writes an open letter to celebrate her daughter's fifth birthday.

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Avery turns five. Photo: Tracy Chappell

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

To Avery,

It’s every cliché in the book come true — time flying by; you being a baby only yesterday; blink and you’ll miss it. I was right here, present and attentive and not rushing any of it, but still, five has arrived so quickly.

Here you are, now tall and strong, with a sprinkle of freckles, a smile that lights up the room, and the most gorgeous grey-blue eyes I’ve ever seen. You bounce through your days, singing to yourself, plucking cherry tomatoes from our garden to snack on, wearing swirly dresses and sparkly shoes, asking silly questions, kissing my hands and making sure I press them to my heart for safe keeping.

“Stop growing up!” I insist every time you master something new. “I can’t!” you giggle back to me, and no truer words have ever been spoken to a mom — especially from her baby. You don’t understand that you’ll always be my baby, even though you’ve just started senior kindergarten, finally joining your sister at “big school” after years of watching from the other side of the fence.

You’re ready. You have had a tremendous year of growth, in every way. You spent your JK year at your preschool and I think it gave you the time and space you needed to find your voice, and your enthusiasm for learning, participating and making friends. While you still can be standoff-ish around adults (at first), you are quite the social butterfly among your peers, forming easy, adorable friendships. This summer, you were so excited about going on field trips, something that would have made you nervous earlier on. You’ve suddenly become so brave and independent and eager for the next stage to begin.

You’ve learned to swim. Last year, swimming lessons were a bit of a nightmare, and it was tough to get you in the pool without holding on to us, but now you cannonball in the deep end with confidence (and water wings), a happy smile spread across your face. You adore playing cards and riding your bike. You love to print, and play teacher and write notes on your white board and just last week said, “I wish someone would teach me to read!” I’m sure, now that you’ve put your mind to it, it won’t take long. As with all things, you take your time getting comfortable with the idea, then suddenly knock our socks off.

You have a very logical mind, one that often calls me out on my parenting shortcuts. You don’t let me get away with lazy, offhand comments and will reply: “I am being careful,” or “You haven’t told me that a hundred times,” or “You’re asking me to do two things at once!” You refuse to be pulled along in my hurried day. Because you’re not in any hurry — not at all. You sometimes cry when rushed or frustrated, or when I get upset with you, and it’s an important reminder that although five is a big number, you’re still a little girl, trying her best, and that it’s me who needs to slow down, and smarten up.

You love to help, and I hope that doesn’t fade away at five. You like to hang out with me in the kitchen, chatting away as you set the table, bake muffins, blend smoothies, and now, help pack your lunch. You want to put a smile on my face. I make sure you know that you’ve “filled my bucket,” because that seems to be all you’re looking to do.

But sometimes, late at night, you put all that big girl-ness aside, and crawl into bed with me. You want to cuddle, and hold my hand, and just be close. I don’t mind; I know that wanting will fall away someday too soon, despite my intensive efforts to stop time.

It’s already begun. You’re known to hide behind my legs in new environments, but this week, you boldly marched into your new schoolyard. There were no tears or pleas for me to stay. On the second day, you said, “Moms and dads are allowed to come into the classroom for a little bit, but you don’t have to. I don’t need you.”

I was both completely verklempt and insanely proud at this empowered (albeit heartbreaking) statement. That you felt confident to face this big step — and that big room — on your own is monumental. For so long, I worried you’d hang back in the shadows and only let a precious few of us enjoy the beautiful spirit inside of you, to know your silly side and your sweetness and your good, good heart. But like all those other perfectly over-used clichés, I’m watching you slowly spread your lovely wings and take flight, a little bit away from me, exactly where you should be. It’s a beautiful thing, even as it puts that lump in my throat.

I loved four. I secretly wondered if it could ever be better than you at four, but now I don’t worry. Every age of yours has become my favourite stage, full of happy surprises and amazement at the funny, generous, affectionate, kindhearted girl you’re growing up to be.

Read more: To Avery, on her fourth birthday >

But don’t forget that you’re my baby. It’s something, thankfully, that you never get to outgrow.

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