Somehow, my child turned five years old back in March.
I really don't ever think of her as a tiny baby anymore, and haven't in such a long time, because for most of her life she's been this chatty, hilarious, delightful small person, just with longer and longer legs each year. The infant months are a distant blur; I almost feel as though they happened to someone else, as if that expressive, bald-headed, strong-lunged butter-bean had nothing at all to do with the lanky, golden-haired gal I have before me now.
At age five, Felicity is full of observations about everything: life, death, humanity, God, love, justice, nature, science, art, language. She makes arcane connections between concepts and raises hefty philosophical questions, yet she can also get cracked up by the word "underpants." She has boundless curiosity, as all children do, and although she seldom answers direct questions about things she's learning at school, she will unleash detailed facts about plants or break into a series of songs in Spanish at the most unexpected times.
She develops deep emotional connections to people, of course, but also to objects and even activities, which I now realize is what has always made transitions difficult for her. When I pick her up from school on Fridays, she and her friends exchange countless hugs in various configurations ("I love you! I'm taking home a big bag of children's love!"), then she invites anyone in the vicinity to come to lunch with us at the diner. As we depart, she becomes introspective. "I'm really going to miss my friends," she'll murmur as we head down the stairs hand-in-hand.
The child who used to cling to my body like a barnacle at every birthday party, and who once had to be carried screaming from the room during a magic show, is now the one planted right at the front of the boisterous crowd of children, waving her hand in the air to be the magician's assistant. When it's time to depart any place we've been, she is stricken with grief. One evening we went to dinner at her best friend's house, and as we ushered her out the door well past bedtime, she dissolved into tears. On the walk home, she wailed, "I don't want to leave! We go together like peanut butter and jelly!"
Taking our leave of playgrounds, museums, ballet theaters, and restaurants likewise exacts a heavy emotional toll. Recently, I took her to the school where she's going to spend the next thirteen years of her life, and we took a brief tour of the kindergarten classes. She was a bit clingy, though she chatted happily with the tour guide about the school as if she owned the place ("Oh, look! It's a statue of Jesus! How beautiful! He's reaching out his arms to give everyone a hug! Look, lockers! That's where you keep your extra clothes and your swimsuit! Hey, on your birthday you get to wear anything you want instead of your uniform!"). By the third classroom we visited, she left my side and went hand-in-hand with one of the girls in the class to check everything out. Soon I heard her chirpy voice from across the room; in the reading corner, the teacher asked her what her favorite book was, and Felicity said, "All of them. Every book!" then launched into a discussion of Elephant and Piggie with her new friends. When I shuttled her back to her preschool, we stepped off the crosstown bus and suddenly she was limply sagging into my body and crying. I thought she might be upset that she had missed part of the morning with her friends, but instead she sobbed, "I didn't want to leave that nice school and all those sweet girls!"
Her defining characteristic continues to be her outsize, exceedingly tender heart. As we were going through the kindergarten application process, she fell quite in love with one school, which thankfully is indeed where she is going to go ("Daddy, you just call them up right now and tell them I am going to kindergarten there!"). When we told her that in fact she would be going there, that night as she and I snuggled in the dark as we do before saying good night, she asked, "Mama, is it the lovingest school? Is that why you chose it for me, the girl who loves love?" She made a heart with her hands, her thumbs held just apart: "Look, it's open at the bottom. That's where the love comes in and goes out."
During our nightly conversations ("snuggling with the lights off"), Felicity brings up whatever is on her mind, which usually involves some social or emotional complexity from school that requires extensive analysis. At five, fairness has suddenly become a central concern in her life, and the words "always" and "never" get thrown around quite a bit, as does her verbal expression of discontent: "Hmph! Grumble, growl."
A while back, we spent weeks parsing out a situation that had upset her, in which a friend had gotten some special attention at school ("she ALWAYS has something special happening and I NEVER do!"). Felicity was quite put out by it, and it became an ongoing example of the grave injustice in the world. "I just think that if ONE person gets a special compliment, then EVERYONE should get one," she would lament. We discussed (beyond ad nauseum) the ways in which she might develop a different perspective on the scenario, or choose to react to it differently, or, perhaps (as I suggested in the gentlest of terms), could just get over it.
In one of these marathon bedtime therapy sessions, I told her a story about how when I was in grade school, my best friend had broken her arm and instead of being a caring and thoughtful friend about it, I instead became crazed with jealousy that she was getting so much attention and I wasn't. (My Hello Kitty diary saw some strong words about that broken arm, let me tell you.) Felicity asked whether I had talked to my mommy about it at the time, like she was doing with me now, and I confessed that I hadn't told anyone about how I was feeling because I thought I must be a really bad person for having that reaction. She sat straight up in the bed and absolutely exploded into tears. She reached toward me and cried, "But Mama, you're not bad! Nobody is! Nobody is bad!" She was inconsolable for at least ten minutes.
We go to church almost every week and she's in my Sunday school class ("Mama, your Sunday school stories are AWESOME!" she told me just this week). She sits through Mass attentively, watching and listening to everything that's going on (it's a High Church Episcopal parish, so there's plenty to see) and even made it through the 2.5 hours of incense-laden Good Friday liturgy. She asks so many questions and thinks so much about faith and religion. She is growing up with a different relationship to God and Jesus than I ever had as a child (my experience of the church we attended was a vague but nagging sense that I was in trouble for something that I didn't even know I'd done). She routinely says things along the lines of, "Mama, I want to snuggle with Jesus! I wish he was here right now. I want to SEE him and give him a hug! When can I hug him? What if I went to the place where Jesus lived -- could I see his footprints? Maybe if I hugged his cross, he would rise up again!" Once over her dinner, she said out of the blue, "I wonder what Jesus is up to." (She concluded that he was "busy living in everyone's hearts.") Our priest likes to quip that she's going to grow up to become a 17th century French nun.
Despite its many upsides, age five has a bit of an attitude. In addition to her prevailing concerns about fairness, Felicity at five can be bossy, intractable, sassy, and frankly downright rude. I have no compunction about taking her down a peg, pushing back against her boundary-testing, and calling her on her bad behavior (even in front of her friends, and yes I am going to be That Mom as long as I shall live, don't you speak to me in that tone, young lady). I have usurped her ploys for sympathy when I've seen that she was in the wrong, and I've cornered her into confessing when I've discovered that she'd told me some half-truths to get me on her side. I may be gentle and loving, but I'm not a panderer or a pushover -- nice try, kid. Every time, I bring her back to what I know to be true about her: that she's a generous, loving person with a huge heart, and that it's my job to help her remember that.
She's so wide open to the world, so up for anything (except roller coasters, it turns out, but that's another story entirely). She has so much to offer and so much to learn. She's so fun to take places, even when she's constantly haranguing me for a treat. I enjoy her company immensely. I would say that she's the best in the world, but once I told her that and she said, "Mama. NOBODY is the best in the world" -- and fine, she's right -- so instead I'll say that she is my dream-child, my soul's delight, the answer to every wish I never even knew to whisper into the darkness.
Five. A whole hand; my entire heart.