Family life

To Avery, on her sixth birthday

An open letter to a six-year-old birthday girl.

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Avery turns six. Photo: Tracy Chappell

Last night, I did something I haven’t done before: Long after you’d fallen asleep, I crawled into bed beside you and just watched you sleep for a little bit. I know it sounds all I’ll-love-you-forever creepy, but those were my last moments with you as a five-year-old, and I needed every last one.

You have a big sister, so I know there are so many things for us to look forward to as you get older, but you’re my youngest, and you growing up means truly leaving behind a world of parenting that I sometimes don’t feel quite ready to relinquish. I knew five would be an incredible year of change—and it has been. We’ve seen this enormous jump in your knowledge and creativity and confidence. You’ve graduated to first grade. You’ve learned to read and to swim. You went to overnight camp. You’ve made sweet friendships. Your imagination has exploded, with you able to entertain yourself and others with games and activities you’ve created all on your own. You’ve become incredibly helpful to me, eager to set the table and water the tomato plants and crack the eggs as we make muffins. The other morning, you woke up early and cleaned your room, put away a pile of clothes and made your bed. You couldn’t wait to show me (even though it was still very early!). You don’t want to be a little girl anymore.

Except when you do. You’re not quite ready to face the world on your own, and I relish every moment you grab my hand as we’re walking, crawl up on my lap, or, yes, approach my bedside late in the night and whisper, “Mommy, can I come in?” I love that you want to be that close to me, and I adore our bedtime talks, where you tell me about your daily “high and low” and we kiss each other’s hands and place them on our hearts for safe-keeping, and you hold my arms around you and say, “Stay with me just a few more minutes.” I always stay as long as I can. I love talking to you, and getting insight into how you see the world and what unexpected things occupy your thoughts. I know the day will come too soon when this all-consuming affection will be a wistful memory, and I cherish these moments with you.

There’s so much to enjoy about life as your mom right now, especially all the new things you’re attempting. You were determined to learn to skip rope this summer, certain that kids in grade one spend their recesses skipping. So we’d go out after dinner, tying one end to the railing and you’d practise and practise, never giving up until you could skip 10 in a row. And you did it, all giggly smiles and floppy arms, and I couldn’t help but beam at the pure joy of it—not just your accomplishment, but the incredible enthusiasm and positivity you devoted to the process.

You didn’t quite master riding a two-wheeler this summer, but it will come. I know that. You get the benefit of being the second child, and having a mom who knows that it all eventually happens in its own time, not by some universal schedule. It’s a good thing, too, because you’re a child who needs that patience, and needs time to figure out what you want and when you want it. Nothing upsets you more than being rushed or not having your voice heard when you’ve got something to say. So I’ve been reminded of the value of slowing down and listening. You’ve taught me so much about how unique every person is, and how each deserves to have her individual needs and skills and gifts appreciated and respected. I’ve learned not to lump you into a category—the shy child, the quiet one—but to recognize your incredible drive and strength and beauty, wrapped up in a one-of-a-kind package. I hope you’ll forgive me for the times I’ve misunderstood what you needed from me, or pushed too hard, thinking I was doing you a favour. Quiet doesn’t mean passive, and introversion isn’t a problem to be solved, but a gift of its own. That’s one of the many things I’ve learned from you.

This week, you started grade one. You voiced some nervousness about this new school year, wishing you could stay in kindergarten forever (believe me, I’d freeze you in that moment, too). You had been teary over the summer, missing your teachers and friends, and I cringed a little when I saw the group of kids that would be in your class this year. There were only two that were in your class last year, and I watched as you were led in a line by a teacher new to the school, to a doorway at the other side of the school from your cozy kindergarten courtyard. So much change, so much unfamiliar and new. I saw your serious face as you walked away from me and it stuck with me all day. But then you came home, full of smiles and giggles. “There’s hardly anyone from my last year’s class in my new class, but I already made a new friend today!” you told me. Then, “And I can still play with my old friends at recess, because they’re in the class right beside me.” It was the best thing you could have said, reminding me that you’re resilient and adaptable and so easy to like, and that, no matter all my motherly concerns, you’re going to be just fine.

You’re a truly beautiful soul, Avery. Your bright smile lights up my days. I enjoy listening to you figuring out a problem or putting things into your own lovely perspective, and watching you grow into a strong, smart, funny, interesting young lady. Today, I may be a little nostalgic for the years gone by, but I know they’ll pale in comparison to the mountains you’re set to climb. No longer a baby, for sure. But always my baby.

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. Read more of her Tracy’s mama memoir posts and tweet her @T_Chappell.

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