Tonight I made two dozen cupcakes with PINK frosting, because it HAS to be PINK, and no, it could not be the convenient can of STRAWBERRY frosting, it needs to be BUTTERCREAM. Pink buttercream. With sprinkles. Flower-shaped sprinkles.
The cupcakes in question are for school tomorrow, assuming that there IS school tomorrow, which is not a foregone conclusion, you know, because we haven’t had school yet this week. (In fact, I’m having a bit of deja vu, although fortunately this time I am enjoying the periodic glugging of my sump pump rather than bailing out my basement.) But you assured me that there WOULD be school tomorrow, because you need to bring in your cupcakes.
This year you haven’t exhibited your usual glee about the big event. I think maybe you’re thinking about how this is your last birthday here, with this group of friends. You say you’re excited, but then instead of asking for things and pestering me to allow you to have a party with a dozen of your closest friends (except the one who was mean to you last week, because maybe you don’t like her anymore, but you’re still deciding), you just do that half-smile you’ve developed and say that whatever we do is fine.
Tonight at bedtime you grabbed my face and drew it close to yours. “MOOOOOM!” you exhaled onto me, nose-to-nose, “This is my LAST NIGHT as an eight-year-old!”
“I know! Tomorrow you need to go out and get a job.” I backed out of your grasp as you giggled, plucked your glasses from your face and set them atop your clock, in their usual spot.
“Noooooooo. But this WILL be my LAST YEAR in the SINGLE DIGITS!” Now you did a Macauley Culkin Home Alone face, hands on cheeks, mouth dropped in horror.
I wanted to tell you that you can’t scare me; that I can still close my eyes and picture you as a round-faced baby, even as I look at you and see how your waist is already starting to nip inwards.
You drive me crazy. You torment your brother until he cries, then tell me you “didn’t mean to” or that he misunderstood something you said or did. (Yes, I totally believed that he “misunderstood” when you hit him in the stomach with that book you didn’t want to share. He can be so obtuse, you know.) You sass me and when I call you on it you look right at me, grab that shovel, and just keep digging deeper. And you hate—absolutely HATE—to apologize.
But you are also hilarious, and insightful, and tender with compassion when you choose to be. None of this is new, of course, but your awareness of it is. I see you glimpsing yourself, considering your impact on the world, struggling to choose your approach. You don’t always choose correctly. But your average is improving.
Sometimes if I look at you sideways, or let my focus go a bit soft when I’m gazing at you from across the room, I can see the teenage you. She’s full of emotions and quick to laugh, and even quicker to lash out to ward off tears. She’s very familiar to me, you know.
There was a time when I dreaded you growing up, becoming someone I wouldn’t be able to handle. Now I know it’s more a fear of you feeling uncomfortable in your own skin. But maybe I don’t need to worry about that when you can behold my displeasure and quirk your eyebrows and intone, “I am being a brat. I need to stop. You want to strangle me. But you LOOOOVE MEEEEEE!”
It’s true. Sometimes you’re a brat. Sometimes my fingers twitch with an urge to grab you a little too hard, to snap you to better behavior, back to the kindness I know you possess. But I see you. All of you. You are the girl who leaves little presents for her brother and reaches out to the child who is left out and knows when I’m feeling stressed. You are the girl who sparkles when you get a laugh. You are the girl who hugs me tight in the dark and tells me “Not yet, don’t go yet… just hug me a little longer.”
You are my one and only Chickadee. You are my heart, little claws and all. Happy birthday, baby.