Last week, somewhere between a family party on Saturday (with my brother and his wife in town from Milwaukee), and a weeknight meal and another get-together that went late, a sudden cold that required two days of school absence and a good dose of Free Willy and Dolphin Tale 2, a Friday evening pizza party in our house with seventeen first-grade girls (yes. You read that correctly), our oldest daughter turned seven. There was a cake in there, too, and two nights of cupcakes, and dinner at a sushi restaurant because Saoirse really, really likes “the orange kind” and doesn’t get it often, because, you know, it’s sushi, and then, like that, she turned seven. Seven. All she really wanted–besides the salmon–was a helium-filled balloon shaped like a dolphin. All I wanted was to keep her six for just a little while longer.
At least one of us got what she wished for.
Saoirse has lost one of her top front teeth, and the other is loose. Her hair is long now, grown out from the Great Haircut Fiasco of 2013. She grew four inches in the last year, going from stocky kindergartner with a poochy little belly to this lovely, tall girl who holds herself differently now. She’s lanky, all arms and legs and slim torso and oh my goodness, you can start to see what she’ll look like at 10, as a teenager, as a high schooler.
Somebody give me a hug, already.
She still plays by the rules, and is still quick to tears at any injustice she feels is directed at her. Life is black and white with our girl, and that’s it. Gray area frightens her, sends her into a rage, makes her weep until enough time or explanation or space to cool down can get her back onto solid footing. If she’s watching TV, and one show ends, she runs to ask me if she’s allowed to watch another instead of just sitting quietly and hoping I don’t notice. She talks a lot when she’s tired, chatters incessantly when she’s excited. If I swore to you that my heart actually laughed during these moments, you’d believe me. Her enthusiasm for life makes me want to give her the world.
We don’t, though. We don’t give her the world. And it’s funny how the “good” kids are the ones you want to spoil, until you remember that there’s a reason why they might be so good in the first place. But if we could, man. If we could.
She is smart. So smart. I know that’s not something she earned, nor something we had anything to do with, but oh my Lord is it amazing to watch her learn. She struggles with telling time, though, and her frustration at hitting a roadblock rears its head quickly. Only a couple of years in, she’s used to school coming easily for her. We need to help her work on those times when life’s more of a problem she has to be pragmatic about, instead of a steady ride she can just blithely power through. Then again, she’s probably not the only one who needs help with that.
She sings in the shower, in the family room, in the kitchen. She loves pink, but vetoed any too-sparkly games or favors for her seventeen-girl-strong birthday party because they were “too princess-y.” She scoffs at Frozen, turns her head away from Disney movies. At school, during break times, she engineers 3D creations with paper and tape, walking out of the building at the end of the day with her arms full of castles, wands, shields, dolphins. She is obsessed with dolphins. Her dream is to go to Florida to meet Winter and Hope of Dolphin Tale fame. She’s a seven-year-old who dreams of Clearwater.
She’s reading chapter books now, tearing through them at school, reading aloud to her siblings. She teaches her sister to spell, shows her brother how to put the cap back on the marker. Her aunt Sarah let her borrow her phone to text me last week, and now SK is obsessed with texting, with writing out the sentences and sending the pictures and waiting, staring at the screen with impatient expectation, for a response. She hates stew, dreads the day I tell her we’re having it for dinner, but tells me she loves it anyway because I’m the one who made it. She is loving that way–not necessarily physical, but definitely verbal. She’d rather sit on the chair if I’m on the couch. She’s not quick to hugs, other than at bedtime. But she tells us all the time. All the time, she tells us how much she loves us.
Her teacher told us that she will be a leader in the school one day, if only she could work on her self-confidence. She needs to stand up for herself more, we were told, kindly. All I heard was “leader.” My little girl. A leader. She will tell you that she wants to be president some day–not of a company. Of the country. I don’t know when it started, but it’s become as part of our family discussions as the weather. Just as it’s assumed it might be cold today, we can expect Saoirse to one day be Leader of the Free World. The day she learned the White House has a personal chef was the day she really got excited. Another girl in her class, though, is now saying that she’s going to be president. Saoirse mentioned this, thoughtfully, and told me that the two girls are “probably going to have to have a contest.”
That leads me to our conversation in the car today on the way to school. She was talking about her friends during lunch, and how some of them have been switching tables as personality conflicts rise, switch and fold. This makes the pit in my stomach grow–that already “mean girls” and bullying and ostracizing is rearing its terrorizing head. I carefully, casually told her that I’m happy she chooses friends who are kind, who are nice to her and to others. I wanted to say something else, about what that will mean for her as an adult if she continues to choose friends who support each other, but faltered, not finding the right words, not wanting to shut down the conversation. Saoirse, hearing how important it is to keep seeking out the kind people, jumped in. “I’ll be a good president!” she said. And on to first grade we drove.
You’re voting for her, too, right?
We butt heads, Saoirse and I. Not all the time, but enough that I worry about what our relationship will be like as she grows up. I’m never going to act like a mom who needs her kids to like her, but–should I admit this to you?–I secretly do. Not even like me, but look up to me. No, not even that. I want to be the woman to whom my daughter looks up. She makes me want to be better. When I achieve something, I want her to be proud. And when I fail, it hurts even more when I see my failure through her eyes. She is my mirror, and I want to reflect that goodness back on to her. She is constantly being compared to her sister and brother by strangers, by a doctor, by fellow parishioners at church. Constant is the talk about Quinn’s red hair, about Cian’s cuteness, about how in the world her siblings got such beautiful coloring. It’s usually in front of her. She is often invisible when the three of them are together, the two redheads and the older child, and it drives me nuts, because one day, if not now, she will notice every time she is not noticed. Unless we can help her grow into a woman who’s too busy looking forward to bother.
She is beautiful, this seven-year-old child. She is beautiful, and while these things aren’t supposed to be important, I still want her to know it. Long, thick brunette hair, olive-toned skin. Strong legs and feet and hands that throw and run and draw. Eyes that are chocolate brown, a nose I zeroed in on and fell in love with the first time I saw it. This shy smile that sneaks out from under all that hair, then widens into a giggle. She is happy, so happy, and dramatic and passionate, and the first thing she does when she sees me after school is break into a run and jump into my arms. She is just powerful, this little girl, and I love her more than I will ever be able to truly tell her.
She is my Saoirse Kate.
Quinlan walked into my office the day after Easter, pursing her lips like she does…
Our Saoirse Kate turned nine a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still…