Today, my oldest turned five. When asked how she felt, she responded with adult-like awareness. “It doesn’t feel any different than four,” she said, as if she had somehow expected a massive change, as if she’d sprout up a foot and suddenly learn to read at a kindergarten level.
Truth is, it never does feel different. The shift between four and five is no different than the shift between 17 and 18, or 20 and 21. It’s just one more day in a grand march.
That’s not the point, though. Birthdays are rarely about a physical or mental change. They’re points of reflection, in which we’re reminded to look back over the past year and uncover our growth. That the past year has been boring, in comparison, is a blessing.
Boring feels like the wrong word. Sierra is no longer a toddler or preschooler – she’s a kid, with her own thoughts and feelings and reasons. She’s discovered music, with dad’s help, and she’s forming her own personality. She’s learning to read. She’s learning math. She’s learning the finer points of empathy and all of the struggles that brings with it. These things aren’t boring. They are wonderful. They are inspiring.
Relative to reality, this is boring.
She’s not sick. She’s not in trouble. Her parents are happily in love, and her brother adores her. She lives a life sheltered from abuse and to this day cannot understand why people are mean. As parents, we read about children who undergo serious trials of self-awareness and courage, who fight against life itself because life itself doesn’t seem to care, and we must force ourselves to understand how lucky we are to watch our children grow up without spectacle. With one day moving into the next. With age five feeling like a natural extension of age four.
Sierra’s afraid of tornados and bats and she’s not crazy about bugs but she tolerates them. She’s not afraid of death. She’s not afraid of abuse. She’s not afraid of hospitals or strangers, because she’s never been given a reason to be afraid.
Some day, that yearly reflection will change. No life moves forward without issue. Some birthday, we will look back – and Sierra will look back – and see the point when pain became a part of her life. She’ll grow up fast, and we’ll be unable to protect her from reality.
She’s a strong-willed girl who’s finding her voice. Gradually, from year to year, she grows stronger and learns how to navigate life.
And now she’s five. It doesn’t feel different to her, but it feels like a huge thing to me. Because I know what’s out there, and I know that each year makes me more and more proud. More and more happy. More and more in love with the girl who still can’t understand why today doesn’t feel any different than yesterday.
Happy birthday, pumpkin.