Today, we visited the pediatrician for your “well child visit.” When she asked what kind of books you liked to read, I expected you to say Fancy Nancy or Junie B. Jones as that is what we are reading together.
But no, you quietly responded, “Fiction,” as if being interviewed by The Yorker and not the pediatrician.
Hmmm, I say, fiction, of course.
Hmmm is also what you say when we are driving in the car, and I ask a question where you are given a choice. “Mom,” you explain, “hmmm is what I say when I need more time to think without you repeating the question.”
These are those moments when I look quickly in the rearview mirror to make certain you are still 6 and not 17. You only make decisions you have pondered in that now first grade brain. And once that decision is made, the universe must follow suit or look out. I should have known when you decided to be born, all 10 pounds of you, that you would come into the world already a force of nature.
After your doctor’s appointment, I asked you and your brother if you wanted to ride the loop while I attempted speed walk as jogging is just too hard on my old knees any more. Your brother chose to stay behind with our neighbor, but you popped that bike helmet on ready for action. There are two spots on our loop where railroad tracks cross the pavement, and you’ve generally walked your bike across the indented tracks nervous about your wheels getting caught; naturally, you’ve been warned they are dangerous. But today, maybe because you are now six, you were feeling extra brave and turned the wheel to face the track at a 90 degree angle with perfect execution, and you sailed across without incident.
Then the best thing happened. You stopped the bike, looked back at me because I was jogging to keep up, and grinned an epic smile, so proud that something you’d been afraid of before just became a success. Of course, we high- fived, and carried on.
You are fiercely independent already, and I want you to keep that part of you awake and alive somewhere at that pivotal juncture between your heart and your brain, no matter what changes take place in your body or your world. The big girls I hike with every Tuesday in the summer are the growing versions of you, awesome and spunky and, maybe to their parents, just yesterday, 6 years old.
Today you put blush on your friend DJ’s cheeks and used blue chalk on his hair, giving him a style you claim he has always wanted. I’m not sure that was actually true, but he nodded his little face very enthusiastically in support of your words. This power of persuasion or coercion are gray areas indeed, and I worry a little for the people who may disagree with you as the years move along. So, clearly, my work as your mother is far from finished. But right now you are the epitome of self esteem with how strong you view your body and how confident in your opinions.
My hope for you is that even when you are as old as my middle and high school girls of summer:
When those changes come and your body feels different or uncomfortable or strange– that you will know to climb a mountain or ride your bike and feel how strong your muscles still are.
When you feel like your friends are lame or unkind or not who you thought they were at all (because that does happen from time to time)– that you will know to climb a mountain or ride your bike and feel the wind at your back and sun in your face like today. You will know when to walk the bike across the tracks and when to take the challenge and ride full headstrong across without fear of falling.
When you are stressed by school or work or a relationship or health concerns for yourself or someone else– that you will know to climb a mountain or ride your bike somewhere that will allow you to see the beauty of our world along with a different point of view or perspective.
When the “future you” fights me on wanting to wear make up to school or an inappropriate outfit or you get in trouble, I promise to listen and hold you accountable. You may have your heart trounced but right now I can hardly imagine it; you may be the heartbreaker, or write something mean about someone on social media you can’t take back, or drink the pina colada on the senior trip, and maybe your life will feel over; BUT, you will know to hike a mountain or ride your bike, and then you will recognize all that remains.
You, my dear 6 year old girl, know a lot. You already know how to hike by putting one foot in front of another; we don’t have to be fast or first–what matters is we finish; you already know that icy rivers may be cold but well worth the plunge on a hot day; you already know how to ride your bike to new places and take in the beauty of your hometown; you already know how to take your time in thinking; most importantly, you already know the importance of escaping into good fiction.
There will be many more letters to you, little lady, in the years ahead, but 6 looks good one you, my strong, smart, funny, thoughtful daughter.
Love, Mom, age 42
Note to readers: Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, NH is hosting me on July 13 at 5:30 PM. Hope to see you there! Copies of True North will be available and make excellent gifts for ANY young man or woman in your life– or even the older ones too!