Family life

To Avery, on her fourth birthday

Tracy writes her annual birthday letter to her baby, who will always be her baby, even if she's turning four.

By Tracy Chappell
To Avery, on her fourth birthday

Photo: Melissa Hardman Photography

We’ve talked about your birthday quite a bit over the past few weeks. It goes something like this: “Avery, will you stop growing up? I want you to be three forever!” You burst into giggles and squeak out, “Mommy, I can’t! I just have to grow up.”
And that you are. I can barely remember you being just two — a toddler, in diapers, needing me to lift you up to reach things, instead of you dragging over a stool and getting it yourself. I feel like you’ve been three forever and I’ve loved every moment of it. Your innocence, your hilarity, your softness and sweetness. I think you may just be the most adorable little three-year-old in the whole world.
This year, I’ve watched you grow so tall and strong. You’re also growing more brave and independent by the day (even if you still refuse to dress yourself). This past weekend, you weren’t afraid to feed goats at a farm and you fearlessly leapt into a pool on your own, when, even a few months ago, you stood nervously at the edge, begging for hands to hold.
I see you opening up to people more (guaranteed if someone slips you a little chocolate, which turns you into a giddy wild woman), sharing your sweetness with them. You have always been a slow-to-warm up kind of kid, and you’ve taught me to appreciate that, rather than seeing it as a habit that needs to be broken. You’re an observer (a very good one) and need time to think and process before joining in. And you do, if given time and understanding. I’ve learned not to push, to help you get comfortable, and to defend you against those who think you’re standoffish. Because that’s not it at all. Those who get to know you find you delightful — silly and funny and kind, with a smile to light up the world, even if it takes a little coaxing.
Despite my wishes otherwise, you’re eager to grow up. You work hard at your letters and numbers, wanting to write notes to us like your sister does. You want to read chapter books and cut up your own apple with a very sharp knife. You love to belt out Taylor Swift tunes in the back of the car and think I pull your pants up too high (“They shouldn’t cover my bellybutton, Mama!”). You love to act all grown up, saying things like, “You don’t have to worry about me,” Or if I tell you to be careful, you’ll reply, “Oh Mommy, you know I always be careful.”
I see you blossoming socially, enjoying the company of other kids and treating them with such care and respect. I see you growing in compassion. Last weekend, we went to a festival. You and Anna each got balloon animals, and before we left, Anna’s popped. Your big sister was in tears. Your reaction was to offer up yours to her. It made my heart soar to see you show such unprompted kindness. Indeed, you are a pleaser. You have learned the art of compromise and use it keep the peace. I used to worry that you gave in too easily, that you weren’t standing up for yourself enough, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. At three, you have already learned the important skill of picking your battles — to stand your ground for the things that mean a lot to you, and to compromise when they don’t. I think it is a tremendous quality.
You like to help — whether it’s sorting laundry or weeding the garden — and you’ll turn it into a game: Setting the table evolves into playing restaurant, and you’re the hostess. Really, I think the goal is being with us. You always want to be close to me or your dad. Even when playing on your own, chattering away to your dolls or doing puzzles, you stay near. And you know what? I love having you near. Listening to your clever, funny observations and being in your easy-going, sunshiny space always makes me feel good. I thank you for the simple pleasure of your lovely company.
You even make shopping fun. You are my partner in retail crime. While Anna was in school this year, you and I ran errands like a well-oiled machine. You crossed things off the list (and discovered so many things we never knew we needed). At clothing stores, you bust out your best dance moves in front of the mirror. You make friends with the mannequins, chatting up a storm with the short ones and admiring the long legs and pretty dresses on the "mommy" ones. You meticulously reorganize the shelves for the sales clerks (I’m sure you have some OCD tendencies). And we have a deal to leave time to go up and down the escalator once before we leave.
Things like that remind me that you’re still small. You’re only four. You’re still my baby. Your happiest place is still snuggled up with your mee mee (we found the missing mee mee!). You still have your “Jersey accent” and B and V issues (“Are we going to drive the ban or the caw?”) and pronounce past-tense like this: “We all go-ded to school” or “Anna hitted me!” I can’t help it. I hope I’m not ignoring something important, but I love it (and you’re getting better, so I’m sure it will be fine).
You just started Junior Kindergarten yesterday. I always feel a bit sad for you that you’ll celebrate your birthday in the first week of school, when people haven’t had a chance to get to know you and realize that you’re so incredible and worth celebrating in the grandest way. But maybe it will be an opportunity for you to be noticed, since you don’t do that yourself. Maybe it will be a chance for the new people around you to get to know you amidst the sea of faces. You have those big, beautiful blue-grey eyes and you know how to use them — you have wrapped us around your little finger, and I know that all the new people you meet will discover the beauty you carry with you, inside and out. 
When you grow up, you want to be a mom, first and foremost. Also either a bus driver or a garbage truck driver — it’s a toss-up these days. One thing you’ve promised is that you’ll never leave me. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” you told me this week. “I’ll always live right here with you.” I’m sure someday I’ll be eager to give you the boot, but today, that promise feels pretty perfect.
Happy birthday, my sweet Avery. I can’t wait to see what kind of four-year-old you become.

This article was originally published on Sep 05, 2012

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