Last spring, Felicity and I were in our building's laundry room on Saturday morning, moving piles of clothes out of the washers and into the dryers, and we started chatting with one of our neighbors, a young mom-to-be who not only lived one floor below us but had also recently started attending our church with her husband. She mentioned that they had two cats, so immediately Felicity invited herself over to their apartment to meet the kitties. The neighbor explained that one of the cats was sick and a veterinarian was coming to their apartment that morning, and most likely they would be saying goodbye to the cat that day. I told Felicity that maybe this was not the best day to go barging into their apartment for the first time, but Felicity persisted and the neighbor said she was welcome to come for a minute and that it might cheer up her husband. So we went to their place and Felicity loved all over the dying cat, who purred and snuggled with her in what would be one of his last hours on Earth. I was so touched by how the couple welcomed us into their home -- we'd only just met -- and allowed Felicity to share in their final moments with their cat (we did leave before the vet came because we do have some boundaries).
If it had just been me in the laundry room that day, I would have respectfully offered condolences and shut myself back in my own apartment, but that isn't how Felicity operates. She shared with our new friends the story of Miles's passing, and she told them with compassion and confidence that their cat would soon be frolicking with Miles and Molly the Dog (another neighbor's pet who had crossed over the summer before). She coaxed their reticent second cat out from its hiding place under the bed, which they said was a rare occurrence. She complimented them on their collection of matryoshka dolls and would have happily spent the entire day there if I had let her. But eventually, I wanted to give them their space before the vet came, so we headed back upstairs. As soon as we got inside, she ran to her room to draw a picture for them, and she asked if we could buy them flowers.
These neighbors have become dear friends, and now they have a baby daughter whom Felicity calls her "almost-sister." She says that's even better than a sister because "you can play together and then go back and have your own toys without a baby drooling all over them or a toddler breaking everything in sight!" The baby adores Felicity, too. Whenever she sees this tall redheaded girl, she giggles and opens her eyes wide and kicks excitedly. There's another little girl in the building we've gotten to know, too, and she also follows Felicity around and grins at the sight of her. Felicity has become a cat-sitter for our neighbors' cat; they have babysat for her when we've had a sitter crisis; at school, they had a Read to a Loved One day where she could bring a guest to school and she eschewed her own parents in favor of these beloved neighbors (baby very much included).
Also at Felicity's insistence, this past year she and I started volunteering at our church's soup kitchen. There's only space for us to do it once in a while (it turns out that there's a glut of volunteers from the neighborhood and beyond, which pleases me to know), but she wishes we could go every day. Her favorite thing to do is to greet the guests; she goes along the line that forms on the sidewalk, giving out water and offering a basket of small toiletries for people to choose from. She chats with everyone and upsells the items: "This hand lotion is GREAT for dry skin! Go ahead, take it! It's all FREE!" On one recent Saturday, two of the guests got in a bit of a row about who got into the line first, but Felicity didn't notice. She was too absorbed in handing out milk boxes ("This one LOOKS like it's chocolate but it's not! It's vanilla. The box says Hershey's so it's confusing!").
About a year ago, just after she turned six and while she was still finishing up kindergarten, Felicity decided that she wanted to do a reading at church. She was given the Epistle passage the night before, and over breakfast the morning of the service she practiced it a few times. Then when the time came, she stood at the lectern and delivered it flawlessly. It was the piece about spiritual gifts, which was somehow perfect. She did another one on Pentecost, and then decided she would take a break from readings in favor of serving at the altar.
Now, I grew up in the Presbyterian church, where acolyting involved walking up the center aisle, lighting a few candles, then sitting in the front of the church and passing notes behind the altar with Allison while her mother glared at us from the pews. Serving in an Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parish is a different ballgame entirely. There's a lot going on up there; you have to be alert and remember which way to turn, when to ring the bell, when to genuflect, how not to set the Gospel reader on fire, etc. Felicity is game for it all. Since we are a small congregation and the rota of servers is rather lean, I am typically conscripted into service alongside her. Sometimes I'm a vertically mismatched torch-bearer, sometimes the crucifer; once I was a last-minute chalice-bearer and completely flubbed serving the Blood of Christ, forgetting to wipe and turn the cup after each person and messing up the blessing. The first time Felicity and I served together, I dumped wax all over my head during the Consecration, then as we were cleaning the cruets after the Mass, a cut-glass stopper in the shape of the cross slipped out of my hand, and in slow motion it bounced off a sideboard and shattered all over the floor of the sacristy. Plus I shouted, "OH SHIT! OH GOD!" while it was falling. Luckily, we have easygoing clergy and a forgiving God, so no one made a fuss about it, but it was not my finest moment. Felicity, on the other hand, has been doing perfectly well, though she does like to climb on my lap and rub noses during the sermon, which is probably against protocol, but I'm willing to break form if it means I can hold onto my ever-taller daughter just a little bit longer.
Felicity's transition into first grade last fall was seamless. The year before, she had taken several months to feel entirely comfortable in her new school, where she knew not one soul. By the end of kindergarten, though, she had almost grown too comfortable; she was frequently cited for chatting at inappropriate times and she and her friends had to be banned from playing cats during roof time because they were getting too rough and often clashing about who got to be the kitten. First grade, with its lack of free-choice time and its structured lessons, has suited her much better. Like her mother, she is a natural-born teacher's pet and a die-hard people pleaser, so she thrives on being given assignments and modeling how to sit still and listen in class. She makes friends easily and seems to be looked up to by her peers (I think my daughter might be...cool?). Her school is so loving and so attuned to Felicity's personality and learning style and need for challenge that I wish I could go back in time and send myself there.
In her down time, Felicity loves most of all to read. She will not come to breakfast without at least one book in hand, and almost daily I tell her to get dressed and come into her room to find her standing in her underwear reading, her uniform still laid out across the bed. In the morning, if she wakes up early, she settles against a pile of pillows in her bed and reads. This has led me to sleep quite late on the weekends at times, and I emerge from my bedroom looking wretched and confused, dizzy from the extra hours of slumber. In the winter we had many blissful days sheltered from the cold on the couch under blankets, each reading for hours on end. Now that it's warm, we're getting out more, but many of our long sunny walks take us to the library.
Wherever we go, Felicity meets people. She goes up to people in the park and asks to pet their dog, then makes natural conversation with them. She has weaved her way into our neighbors' lives. She compliments fellow pedestrians on what they're wearing as she skips along. She chats up people in elevators. (Of course, sometimes she is Not in the Mood and I have to urge her to respond when someone says hello or asks how her vacation was -- she's still a kid, and a person with moods and quirks, after all, but that does not make it less frustrating when the usually chat-tastic child glowers at someone for asking her an unsolicited question.) She isn't the greatest lover of large birthday parties, but now it only takes her a few minutes to warm up and then I can even leave the premises and return to find her bouncing happily around, high on cake and the thrill of being with friends. This is the child who spent at least two years clinging to my leg and howling at every party we attended.
This past Labor Day, after an abortive trip to Martha's Vineyard, cut short by the threat of a tropical storm, we spent the weekend at our friends' house on the coast of Massachusetts. They hosted a huge party for family and friends, and we only knew the hosts. Felicity instantly hit it off with our friend's brother (she calls him "The Man") and went around asking every adult how she could help or if there was a job she could do -- cleaning, food prep, handing out drinks, she wanted to be put to work. She met a 12-year old girl and glued herself to the girl's side, willing her to become a friend. When it was time for people to leave, she gave huge run-jump hugs, throwing her long body at people she'd only met hours before, and wrapping her arms around them tightly. That's how she loves.
For so many years, when I was in my 20s and early 30s, I intended to do things that I never ended up doing: volunteering, being part of a church community, meeting more people. Since she was born, Felicity has continuously inspired me to actually do things. She doesn't see obstacles or reasons why not. She is rarely inhibited by feelings of awkwardness or unbelonging. She's a careful and thoughtful child; she has fears and concerns, but she lives whole-heartedly. She loves herself and her life -- she never wants to move from our (too-small) apartment; she doesn't want what other people have; she gives freely of herself and her gifts. She says, "I love you" to people who don't expect it, and signs every card, "Love, Felicity." She IS love.