Today, you are five.
This is both totally extraordinary, and utterly ordinary. Which of these it is varies from minute to minute: in one moment, I look at you and think, when did you become such a big girl? Where did that little baby go? Where has the time gone? HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT YOU ARE FIVE? In another, I look at you and I think, wasn’t it ever thus? Have you not always been this little girl, this little big girl, this here-and-now person who is so completely and utterly you that any other yous, all the previous yous, are almost unimaginable?
That you are five and that you are you and that you become ever more you – ever more consistently you and ever more differently you – with every passing day is, for me, a joy for which I have no words. But it is also a sadness, an ongoing grief – a quiet grief, the kind that just hums, quietly, in the darker corners of my soul – and for it, too, I have no words. How do I describe the feeling of celebrating you and mourning you, all at once? Of the joy that I feel in your presence that thrums with a nagging sensation of loss? The complicated happiness that is loving the incomparable you that you are now and aching to discover the incomparable you that you will be tomorrow and missing the incomparable you that you were yesterday, last month, last year? The sweet sadness that comes with yearning to find out who you will become while clinging to the you that you were?
You are, of course, always you. There is an ineffable you, an unchanging Emilia who is the anchor of the baby, the toddler, the kindergartener, the girl, who is the Emilia that sings her Emilianess, always, who I know is constant, or as constant as anything mortal can be. But there is also the mercurial you, the Emilia who is always changing and growing, the Emilia who, a few weeks ago, would only eat sandwiches with butter and jam, but who now will only eat them with cheese, and then only if ‘the bread is warm but the cheese isn’t melted and MOMMY I SAID NO CRUSTS.” The Emilia who, last year, was going to be a drummer and a race car driver when she got bigger – “next year I think, Mommy, after I learn to tie my shoelaces” – but who now is going to be a snowboarder and rock star (“here is my secret, Mommy: when I hear a song that I like, I copy it in my head so that when I am rock star and have my electric guitar I can remember them and play them properly”) (on that playlist: Lady Gaga, Leonard Cohen, Journey and Hannah Montana) and who knows how to tie her shoelaces but does not yet know how to drive. The Emilia who will someday know how to drive. The Emilia who will someday, who must, someday, drive away from me.
Or walk, or bicycle, or pilot a helicopter, who knows. The point is that I do not yet know anything about that Emilia, except that she will leave. That you will leave. Ah, my heart.
This is the cliche of mothers, of course: that they clutch and cling and try to keep their babies babies. I don’t want to keep you as a baby. You will always be my baby, but that will be true whether you are four or five or fourteen or fifteen or fifty. And I’m dying to know what you will be like, who you will be, at fourteen and fifteen and fifty, to say nothing of tomorrow and the next day and the next. I adore who you are now, and it seems impossible that I could love you any more than I do at right this very moment, but I also know from experience that my love for you becomes, with every passing moment, ever more full, more complex, more replete with color and texture and depth and movement, as you become every more fully you, ever more complexly you, ever more replete with your you-ness. The cliche, then, is limited, misleading. I do not want to freeze you in time, lock you in the tower, keep you bound to my side.
But then again, there is still a tiny part of me – maybe a not so tiny part of me – that does want to keep you with me, that does want to hold onto the you that you are in any and every given moment, that does mourn the ongoing loss of these yous, that does struggle, in some moments, with the urge to pray to every god in the heavens to freeze time here, right here, and keep us here for eternity.
And then off you run, clutching your cheese sandwich and your guitar and your backpack full of dreams and schemes and bubblegum, and I think, go, go YOU. Walk the clouds, ride the wind, baby, fly on.
Happy birthday, little girl.