Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Seventeen years ago we were in Florida for spring break, and our youngest child was about to turn four. But instead of getting ready for a sunny Florida birthday, we found ourselves in the midst of an emotional storm. The problem? Em didn't want to celebrate her birthday. She didn't want a cake, she didn't want presents, and most of all, she didn't want to be four. One of the books she liked at the time was I Like to Be Little by Charlotte Zolotow, which begins,
"Once there was a little girl.
"What do you want to be when you grow up? her mother asked.
"I just want to stay little right now," she said.
"Why?" said her mother. "It's nice to be grown up. Why do you want to be little?"
"Because I am," said the little girl, "and because when you are little you can do things you can't when you grow up."
In the rest of the book the little girl describes things she can do because she's little that grown-ups don't do (skipping when she's glad, making a house under the dining room table, going barefoot in summertime, eating snow when it first falls). Em had taken all that to heart and had decided she didn't want to get any older. Another one of her favorite books at the time was The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, and what finally calmed the storm and eased Em through the transition from three to four was the promise of a rainbow fish birthday cake. Before long she discovered being older meant she could do more tricks on the playground and keep up better with her brothers, and she sailed through the rest of being four, and five, and six . . . and really all the way through being nineteen. Last year around this time, there were echoes of that long ago birthday. Whenever I started to mention her upcoming birthday, she stopped me and said, "I don't want to talk about it." Once again she was struggling with getting older; she wasn't one bit excited about turning twenty and leaving her teen years behind. There were no tears or tantrums this time, but there was a bit of sadness in her eyes as her birthday approached. So now here we are on the eve of her twenty-first birthday; tomorrow my daughter will officially be an adult, a grown-up. I don't really know how she's feeling about it; she's been through a tough week, so her mind has been on other things. But I've been watching her over the past year, and I can see that she's ready. What the little girl in the book didn't yet know is that there are a lot of great things waiting for you when you grow up that you can't do when you're little. And I think that even though Em liked being little, she's going to love being grown up. Happy 21st birthday, Em!