Friday night, you wake up three times: 2 a.m., 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Each time, your cry (“Mommy! Mommy!”) rouses me from a deep, confused sleep. I hurry into your room and find you standing in your crib. The overhead light you’ve switched on blinds me. I lift you up and say, “What’s the matter?” and you say, “I want to rock you.”
And so I flip off the light-switch (blessed darkness) and rock you for two minutes, maybe three. Your arms and legs are so long now that they dangle off my lap. I wrap my arms around your sweaty little body and you snuggle into me.
I return you to your crib and say, “Night-night” and worry that maybe you’re getting sick. You normally sleep from 8:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. without waking. I worry this each time you wake.
But at 7:00 a.m., you’re awake for the day. “Today is my birthday?” you say. I say, “Yes! Today is your birthday!” And you are content to watch a t.v. show while I stumble back to bed.
By 10 a.m., we are in the van, you and me. We’re running errands. First stop: the bank. You are determined to close the van door without help. Every single time you slam the door, I hold my breath in terror that you will slam your little fingers in the door. You never do.
You will not hold my hand while we cross the bank parking lot. You are independent. You refuse to make small talk with the bank teller, and I can’t blame you. I’m not big on small talk, either.
I finish my transaction and we detour through the other bank doors so we can throw a penny into the fountain. You toss it hard but wildly, and it lands on the sidewalk. You try again. I haven’t told you about wishes and fountains. You just like throwing the penny. (You do, however, believe in the power of dandelions–in fact, you call the dandelions “wishes.”)
You climb into the van, but refuse to buckle your own seat belt. Sometimes you insist on doing it yourself. Not today.
Next, we drop off film at Costco. You hold the Costco card as we go in, waving it at the card-checker. I drop off film and then relinquish my perfect parking spot to another lucky shopper. We’re off to get donuts.
You love donuts, especially Krispy Kreme. While you pick out two donuts (chocolate frosting, with sprinkles), I see apple fritters coming down the conveyor belt, glaze still wet. But I refrain from donuts. It’s my job.
You pick out a seat and dig into your first donut. Instead of being distracted, I watch you eat. I concentrate. I study you on this first day of your fourth year. Your blue eyes stare out the window, mostly, watching traffic on I-5, I guess.
Your blond hair has never been cut, yet it barely reaches your collar–it’s grown longer, but you’d never know because the more it grows, the curlier it gets. You have one curl that swoops down into an eye and you wipe it away with the back of your hand.
Do we talk? I’ve already forgotten. We probably chat about your birthday party. You want it to happen immediately, but first, we have to shop.
In the car, you tell me you want to buy “bunny underpants” and “teddy bear pants.” I warn you that we probably won’t find that. I’m always trying to soften the blow, preparing you for the worst case scenario.
We return to Costco to pick up the film and buy fruit and snacks a jumbo sized box of Zip-loc freezer bags I hadn’t realized we needed until I saw it.
You spot a pink outfit, pants and jacket, with a castle logo on the chest. “I want the Dora castle shirt!”, you say. Since it is your birthday, I agree. (You will change into this outfit the second we get home.)
You get a Go-Gurt sample and love it so much, I buy a gigantic box of Go-Gurts. On the way home, you eat one, which gives me a moment of silence. You talk a lot and I answer a lot, but most of the time, I must not be paying attention because I can’t remember the content of our conversations.
As soon as we get home, you change clothes and disappear upstairs. I’m grateful because I have another batch of cupcakes to bake. I baked two dozen the night before, but now I worry I won’t have enough. While two dozen more bake, I cream the butter, add powdered sugar, vanilla, milk and pink food coloring. I use a whole stick of butter to make a big bowl of frosting and almost have enough. Four cupcakes end up without frosting.
You wear a hot pink swimsuit, the kind with a little ruffle around the bottom. The weather is hot, so the pool is crowded with people. While I set up the half of the pavilion we rented, you shadow me. You stumbled and skinned your knee (barely) as soon as we got to the pool and have a spot of blood on your knee. We ask the lifeguard for a Band-aid, which then worries you. Will it come off in the water? Will it hurt?
Daddy has to go back home to get the four helium balloons and underwater camera I’d forgotten. While he’s gone, I hang up a “Happy Birthday” banner and spread out the snacks. I put a yellow tablecloth on the picnic table and anchor the four corners with balloon weights.
Our friends start to arrive, bearing gifts. First Baby Luke and his mommy and daddy, then Ruby with her friend, Ben, and her mommy. You finally get into the pool with Baby Luke and his dad and I am relieved to see you relax.
Grandma comes and then Hope, Nat, Toby and their parents. (The last time we saw them was at the beach, the day you fell and cut your hand on the barnacle.) Your Aunt Becca and Uncle Dennis and your cousins arrive.
You have learned to dog-paddle. You submerge your head under the water, but always pop up quickly, rubbing your eyes and pulling at your ears. You’ve come a long way from the baby who screamed if her toes were dipped into the pool. You love to swim.
Later, when everyone finishes eating hot pink cupcakes with pink sprinkles, I place a present in front of you. You finger it cautiously and I say, “Just rip it! Go ahead!” and you pull at the paper shyly. You weren’t expecting presents.
The first gift is a pink-clad dolly, one that makes baby-noises. Then you open a highchair for dolly. Next comes a dolly diaper bag, complete with dolly diapers and bottles. One of the moms says, “This is just like a baby shower!” I have an unsettling flash to twenty (thirty?) years in the future when it will be a baby shower and know that I will remember this foreshadowing. The years blink by.
But first, you will be four years old for a whole, glorious year.
You unwrap a Curious George monkey that giggles, a fluffy ball, an Olivia book, a bumblebee purse, a colorful necklace, a fancy tiara and boa-adorned dress-up shoes. The boy, Ben, narrates the unwrapping of gifts, concluding with “And now, you have to go hug everyone.”
We laugh at him and you do not hug everyone. You are not a hugger. That’s okay. I’m not either.
Everyone swims some more then, soaking up this late summer sunshine.
And when we return home, you change into your pink “Dora castle” clothes, your fancy shoes and your sparkly tiara (you wanted to wear the earrings, but I said, “They’ll pinch” and ever since you say, “Will they pinch?” You want to wear them but you are afraid of the pinch. I will finally hide them to stop your obsession.).
Then you pack up your dolly diaper bag, fling it over your shoulder like a messenger bag, and cradle your dolly. You look exactly four years old, both plastic high-heeled shoes firmly planted in girlhood. I cannot stand how cute you look and think, “I need to take a picture,” but I do not.
But I will remember this day when you told someone, “I am thirteen years old,” even though you are just four. I will remember your curls, the donut frosting and sprinkles on your cheeks, your devotion to your newest dolly (named “Alda” you said). I will remember your head held out of the water while your hands and feet paddled madly.
I will remember because you will not, probably. But on this day when you turned four, you were happy, innocent, beautiful.
The next morning, you woke and said, “I want to have my birthday again.” But, you only get to turn four once.
Happy birthday, Grace.