Elsa turned four this weekend…
This birthday has taken me more by surprise than any other she has had. Perhaps because, since she turned three, there have been two other people in our lives to distract me from how much she is growing and changing. In fact, it is only when I look back at pictures of her this time last year that I realise how far she has come and how much she has changed. Somewhere between the nappies and the crying and the twins and the madness, she changed from childhood to girlhood. She is tall and gangly now, long skinny legs and bright open eyes, she is inquisitive and forthright, clever and sensitive, wise and thoughtful, silly and stroppy, beautiful and messy. She is a wilful contradiction of kindness and self-possession. And she is still the most fun person to spend time with of anyone in my life.
We had a beautiful day for her birthday, a bright blue June day filled with cake and ice cream and presents and pretty dresses. It was nice to get up leisurely and lay the table with unicorn plates and balloons, and hang pom poms and bunting, and open presents – of bug houses and pink ponies – and potter in the kitchen while she played in the garden.
When family arrived we ate salted caramel brownies and cupcakes, drank fizz and the children jumped in the new sandpit. Cousins chased each other around the garden, and stopped for mini tea parties and endless games.
She fell into bed, so tired, so wired, so happy, so big, so small. And I kissed her and held her and wondered what four will be like.
She has a summer of freedom ahead of her, day after day of hunting bugs, eating icecream and playing dollies, and then….school. I do not know how I feel about this. It is one change that I feel is coming far too soon. Maybe she has reached girlhood, but the child inside is still there, delicate and questioning and so precious. How do you make that transition to the wider world? Starting school feels akin to leaving my most precious possession on a lonely pavement, exposed to the elements, vulnerable, small, changeable. What will become of her? As parents you do everything to choose the right school, to make the right choice, but how do we ever know? Is it really just our job to support and encourage, to reassure and prepare? Some of this, I know, she must do herself.
Four feels like getting to the edge of a huge cliff. The end and the beginning. A real sense of a journey, of how far we’ve come, but also what is still ahead. I feel more confident as a mother now, but also in other ways less sure of myself than I’ve ever been. I feel unprepared for the girlhood challenges ahead of me, and her – of school friendships and fights, of phones and social media, of likes and dislikes, of aptitude and struggles, of homework and homesickness. There is a lot to learn, I hope I can do it quickly enough.
But goodness, what amazing teachers children make. Elsa has taught me so so much. About patience – that even in those who don’t have it, it can be learned, and practised. She has taught me about real joy, careless abandon and not caring about the small things, but also celebrating them too. (“Wow, another snail. Hurray!”) She has taught me about laughter, about how your laugh can ignite a fire in others. How a smile can open someone’s heart much more than words. She has also taught me about forgiveness, and the importance of human contact – of a gentle touch, a hand held, a body squeezed, a forehead kissed.
She has taught me that you cannot love people too much. That human beings always respond better to love and warmth than hardness and impatience. And she has taught me about love – real, uncomplicated, whole love. Watching her with her brothers has been such an unexpected and incredible joy. Their love is like no other I have seen before – she has been such a gracious and generous sister with her time and her love, she humbles me with her patience and her kindness, with her endlessly inventive games, with her humour and her warmth.
She has so much change ahead of her, so much of life is going to come crashing towards her. She is both strong and fragile. I hope I can hold her and keep her safe.