When you turned 10, I was dumb enough to ask the internet for their thoughts on bringing food into the movies, which—let’s face it—we have always done because we are a family of hoodlums. After receiving more comments on that post than on the one where I totaled the car or when Otto and I got engaged, I sat you down and asked you if you thought that rules could be ignored whenever we felt like it, just because sometimes we bring our own snacks. You rolled your eyes. “Of course not! You always follow the rules! It’s just that that rule is dumb.” It brought a tear to my eye, truly.
When you turned 10, I told you to go clean your room and you actually did it. Your closet—a.k.a. The Dumping Ground—resembled a military locker when you were done, and I was astonished by your conscientiousness.
(We won’t talk about how later on, I stepped on some doll clothes peeking out from under your bed. “Do I want to look under there?” I asked you. “No, I’m pretty sure you don’t,” you answered. “I forgot about that part.”)
When you turned 10, you wanted boys to come to your party, and you didn’t think it was weird. You elaborately planned out how you would sit between Nightingale (your female BFF) and Hawk (your male BFF) at the movie, and how the OTHER boy in the group could sit on Hawk’s other side, away from you. Because you have a leetle bit of a crush on this other boy, darling, and I can feel the winds of change blowing as you carefully prepare for your day by making absolutely certain that you and this boy will never actually be near each other at all. When you are 10, the way you express your undying devotion is by pretending the object of your love is INVISIBLE. I am planning to give him extra cake tonight, just so you know.
When you turned 10, I let you pick the activity (a movie) and dinner (make-your-own pizzas) and the dessert (white cake with chocolate frosting, and Otter Paws ice cream to go with it). The day before was punctuated with unexpected squeezes and declarations of love (“You are my MOST FAVORITE MAMA in the WHOLE WORLD!”) and even a few unsolicited thank-yous. Because when you turned 10, you were still a child, and even still a child with a propensity to focus on yourself, but you were just beginning to bloom into a new level of understanding human interaction. You know what I don’t say, and you’ve figured out that it’s important to voice appreciation and caring.
When you turned 10, you spent weeks fretting and crying that you didn’t WANT to turn 10, that you wanted to be little forever. But by the night before you were bright-eyed and ready. “This is my last 9-year-old sleep!” you declared, hugging me close. “Tomorrow, I’ll be BIG!” I told you that you would still be you, just a little older and wiser.
“You are going to be the most amazing adult I know,” I told you, tracing the curve of your nose. “But not just yet. Plenty of time.”
“How do you know, Mama? How do you KNOW I’m going to be amazing?”
“Because you already are,” I whispered. I dropped a kiss into your hair while your smile curved up to meet me.
When you turned 10, I went downstairs after bedtime to start baking, and you appeared twenty minutes later insisting that you needed “just one more 9-year-old hug.” I obliged and gave you a lick of cake batter, too, because you’re only nearly-10 once, after all.
When you turned 10, I baked fifty cupcakes and made your stepfather come help me frost them when it was late and we were both wishing we were already in bed. While you slept, we discussed icing styles and how many we’d done in each flavor, and when I tried to put the cover on the cake-taker I knocked a cupcake onto the floor. Otto insisted on taking a picture of the mess before we cleaned it up. Of course.
When you turned 10, we woke you up and sang to you, as we’ve done for years, only this time Otto was there, too, and though it was the most tuneless rendition of Happy Birthday the world has ever known, you flung your arms around me and then reached out to encompass Monkey and Otto, too, so that we were a serenading birthday blob.
When you turned 10, your father called to sing to you, too, and so by 6:45 in the morning you’d already been regaled by song TWICE. Some people are never so lucky.
When you turned 10, the birthday fairy brought you 10 presents in a straight line down the stairs, across the dining room, and ending with a package at your seat at the kitchen table. The birthday cards that had come in the mail this last week were taped to the wall in a wild pattern, and your cup of orange juice seemed out of place amongst such a festive scene. You emerged for breakfast both confused at and delighted by this bounty, and after asking permission you scooped it all up and brought it to the table.
When you turned 10, you carefully opened wrapped packages inbetween mouthfuls of cereal. “Ooohhhh!” you declared with each new discovery. “Chickie LIKE! Yes!” (I am hoping that when you turn 11 you will stop referring to yourself in the third person.) You admired each gift (books! karaoke CDs!) and showed your brother every one, and periodically your hand snaked up to tuck some hair behind your ear without conscious thought. We watched you unwrap and I watched that gesture—so very you and so easy to envision on the teen you, the adult you.
When you turned 10, you put on your backpack and grabbed a container of cupcakes and hugged me tight. “Bye Mama, love you! See you after school!” And then you pulled away to head out to the car, and I watched you bounce away, tall and strong and happy and calm, and I gently closed the door and sat down at my desk and wept a little.
When you turned 10, you were more than I deserve, and everything I never knew I needed until I got it.
Happy birthday to my very favorite girl. 10 is going to be your best year yet.