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Happy Birthday My Child

by Jo Wilkie

You are a changed child, my sweet little guru. No longer a baby or even a toddler. Everyone who hasn’t seen you in a while comments on how different you are – how outgoing and happy and talkative you are. I nod, in agreement. You are, indeed, different.

On your last birthday, you were still in diapers, still nursing, and still attending a local, Italian daycare. We had just moved to Italy, and I was certainly out of sorts. I suspect you were, too. You stayed on at your Italian school, even though I had my doubts, and in retrospect, you were not happy there and I should have taken you out of the school. However, you would perhaps never have become so close with Nora, your best friend. You two are like peas in a pod… but I digress. Now, as you skip into your fifth year of life, you are diaper-free, most definitely do not nurse (although I think you would if you could…), and attend a little English school and interact with kids of all ages and nationalities, all day long. You take music one day a week and ballet one afternoon a week. You are so in love with your teachers, you can barely lift your shining eyes to them when they greet you, and then you run to them in joy and anticipation.

Last year I was terrified that you were going to be anti-social for the rest of your days as you played alone in a corner at the Italian preschool, but this year, your teachers tell me how well-socialized you are, how wonderfully you get along with the other children. You could have knocked me over with a feather when the headmistress told Mark and I that at parent-teacher night. You really ARE a different child, you see…

This last summer, you took your first strokes in the Ambassador’s swimming pool – with a My Little Pony in each hand. The whole community of regulars who swim at the pool in the summer cheered as they watched you proudly swim into my arms! You did it again, and again, and again. You were so proud of yourself – and your Dad and I? Proud doesn’t even begin to describe the heart-swelling excitement of watching you accomplish something as important as swimming on your own!

Fortunately for all of us, your temper tantrums slowly faded away at some point during this last year, to be replaced by energetic questioning, impatience, and a penchant for trying to shock Mark and I, most notably by using the swear words you (occassionally) hear out of us. You are quite bossy, but you also very much want to please those around you and be helpful. One of your traits that is most admirable is your willingness to share. My toes tingle and my heart hums when I hear you offering a favorite toy for a friend to borrow. I love your generous, open heart.

You are very busy and always talking. Even in your sleep you are having little conversations. At dinner, it’s a wonder that your Dad and I can get a word in edgewise. Many people comment how your energy and enthusiasm makes them tired – I know what they mean, but I just adore watching you discover the world. It’s inspiring, really.

As you march towards your fifth birthday, there are some things I want for you this next year. More time outside, in nature – which isn’t all that easy in Rome. Thankfully, a trip back to Oregon next summer for six weeks should fulfill that need. You love you ballet classes and your music classes, which is wonderful, and I want to channel some of that energy into doing more Yoga with you. I think you are old enough now that it can be more Yoga-like. We’ll see. I run hot and cold on having you help me in the kitchen – but I want to involve you more consistently. And honestly? I think it’s time for some set chores, because Mike does everything for us and you know what honey? He’s not going to be with us forever. In two years we will leave here and we will likely never have someone doing our laundry, shining our shoes, and generally making our lives simpler and more graceful ever again.

Okay, maybe I’m saying that more to remind myself, but, seriously, when you talk about laundry or cleaning, it’s always, “Mike takes care of that – it would be SILLY for us to shine our shoes!”

As we close the door on your fourth year, I am grateful that we made it. Honestly I found 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 to be most challenging. Who knows if that is because we were in the middle of a huge transition or if it was just your age (or maybe MY age), but in the last six months, we seem to have come out of a dark time and I am so very happy to be enjoying who you are, your light and lively nature, your quirky, darling use of language (”We’re going to the zoo?? That’s so EXCITED!!!”). The way you point to things as if you are a game show host, with your eyebrows raised, how serious you are about your part in the school Christmas play (you are playing the part of a flamingo), and, most of all, your sweet and earnest assessment of the world around you.

I think now that I am working and we’ve settled into a routine, you feel much more secure. It’s hard to say if it’s just time passing and your age, or if you just really love your school and your new routine. In the end, it doesn’t matter- I’m just so relieved that you are happy and content. That is what I want most for you always. Always Susanne. I hope that I never convey anything but that sentiment to you.

Happy Birthday my precious girl. May this year bring you happiness, may this year bring you sweet friendships and wonderful experiences, may you feel safe and cared for, but most important, may you know that you are loved.

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