It’s the eve of your sixth birthday, and you’re snuggled up with Teddy under a hundred-year-old quilt. Your skin is dark from summer sun, and your hair is wild and untamed around your face. Your two first teeth are carefully placed on your dresser with a note:
Dear Tooth Fairy,
I lost two teeth. I hope you take them.
P.S. Tomorrow I am 6!
You’ve held onto that first tooth over a month, eagerly awaiting the second one before being officially ready to say goodbye. I suppose that’s indicative of you already are in life, though, and it makes me smile: kind, thoughtful, patient, smart, witty, sentimental, creative. (I mean, I’m fairly certain most kids wouldn’t have the wherewithal to put off the glimmer of a tooth-for-toy trade for a couple nights, let alone weeks.) The night we got home from Mother-Daughter Weekend at Merri-Mac, I was tucking you in when you asked for me to pull that first tooth. Truthfully, the thought kinda’ weirded me out, but you insisted. We had to try for quite a while (those little teeth are so SMALL and SLIPPERY), but eventually that little tooth came out, and you were so proud. So was I. Since that second tooth was just as loose, you decided to wait. And that’s what you did. For a month. No matter how much your sweet daddy bugged you and begged you to pull that second tooth, you were determined to let it happen naturally. And today, on your last day as a five-year-old, it popped out. On its own. In its own time.
This year was all about growing up, which was both exciting for me to experience and sad for me to watch. So much of motherhood is about letting you go, bit by bit, in order to let you become You. But that letting go makes me happy and cuts me deeply all at the same time. Sending you off to kindergarten was the penultimate act of letting go. This year, just a month or so after turning five, I helped you get dressed in knee socks and a jumper and watched you step into real school for the first time. Your backpack was bigger than you, and as clumsily as it made you walk, I could still see pride and excitement in your gait as you made your way to your classroom. Sidenote: I regret that I didn’t play the role of Overbearing Mom that morning because the teacher called you “Emma” (my pet peeve) and I didn’t correct her, which meant I had to fight the one-name misnomer ALL YEAR LONG. I asked you to help a couple times, but you would just shrug and tell me, “I know my name isn’t Emma, but I don’t mind because that’s what they like to call me.” (You are so easy-going!)
Watching you learn this year has been amazing. I was so nervous about putting you in a language-immersion school, but I should have known that you would rise to the challenge because that’s who you are, E.V. I got nothing but good reports this year from everyone you interacted with — teachers, administrators, parents, peers. You even won the Character Award for all of Kindergarten one month, and you glowed at the accolade (and at the prize of a pizza lunch with the principal). You made cute little girlfriends in your class, and it made me so happy to be reminded that I never have to worry about you finding your place and your people. In fact, there was a little boy the teacher mentioned had a little crush on you, and although you SWEAR your heart still belongs to Tripp from Pre-K (you have his Christmas card on your mirror like a teenager!), you carried a small plastic heart that he gave you around in your pocket all year long and drew a picture of the two of you that said, “I love you, Brandon!” Whoever you end up loving in life is going to be very lucky girl, Emma Vance, because you are loyal, passionate, thoughtful, kind and empathetic.
You are all about your friends. (It’s like living with a tiny teenager!) You are my social butterfly, always wanting to have friends around. Even when you’re in a completely new place, you always find someone to talk to and endear (even the teenagers at the pool, who politely oblige your silly, “Will you play with me?” antics). Right now you claim that you have two best friends: Emerson and Evelyn. But, if I mention your school friends you add them in, or your neighborhood friends you add them in, or you boy friends you add them in, or your babysitters you add them in…basically you are a friend to all. And of course, you and Cricket are attached at the hip, but the whole big-sister-being-annoyed-by-little-sister thing has just begun. It’s not too bad yet, but it’s so hard to watch. Cricket just LOVES you, and her way of showing love is by smothering and imitating. (P.S. I’m sorry, sister; the smothering and imitating isn’t ending anytime soon. I’m sure it’s going to get way worse in the coming decade.) However, you are very kind to her, and I always try to gently remind you both, “Cricket, give E.V. some space. Emma Vance, be more patient.” That usually does the trick. For a few minutes at least.
You are the seriously the most versatile person I know. (Yes, person, not just kid.) I’ve watched you in so many different environments and situations over the past year, and literally the only thing that they had in common was you, fitting effortlessly in. I could dress you up as a ballerina, a soccer play, a hippie, a rockstar, a swimmer, a princess, and a schoolgirl all in one day, and you would be a natural in each and every role. It’s fascinating, and makes me ravenously curious to know who and what you’ll be in life. (For the past year you’ve said you want to be a “swim teacher, mom and artist” pretty consistently, but recently you’ve been OBSESSED with being a ballerina, so the jury’s still out, haha!) You learned French, played soccer passionately, were a total Camp Girl at Merri-Mac, held the nickname of Little Fish with pride, and hopped from horse camp to cheerleading camp to ballet camp this summer. Is there anything you don’t enjoy with gusto? You have the greatest passion for life of anyone I know, and I hope that never fades. All I know for sure is that whatever and whoever you grow into, you will be a good one. A GREAT one. There is no challenge you don’t face head-on, no person you can’t connect with, no problem you can’t solve. You are strong and kind and funny and smart and full of ideas.
Most of the time you are my easy child, eager to please and happy to help. However, you are also stubborn at times and sure of yourself always. You are a very picky eater (which is hilarious because you’re also obsessed with “Chopped Junior” and insist you’re going to win it one day) and getting you to eat vegetables beyond smoothie form is painful. We have a deal now: You have to eat your vegetable first before you get to eat the fun main-meal stuff. It’s been an uphill battle, but the good news is that you are actually very interested in health and fitness amidst all the battling over food. You always try to make healthy-ish choices when we eat out and love to exercise. You, in fact, have become interested in running lately, which makes me so happy! I think the idea started after you won the 6-and-under category for your school’s 5K. Ever since then, you ask to go with me around the neighborhood, and you’re doing great! I’m not a health nut at heart, but I do hope that I teach you some important things early on in life about what true health looks like and spark the desire to live a wise life. (And also a love for Chick-fil-a while we’re at it!)
As I was laying next to you in the twilight, thinking about writing all these thoughts down, I realized how thankful I am for you. For the person you’ve been so far in life, for the person you’ve been for the past year. I want to relive every snuggly bed time, every huddled-up story time, every adventure embarked on, every tear soothed, every kiss stolen, every night that I snuck into your room to sleep by your side.
And then, tonight I kissed you one more time, five-year-old Emma Vance. I wish I could’ve held back my tears, but I was overwhelmed with love and joy and grief and loss. You have been so wonderful this year. You have taught me kindness and courage and creativity. You have challenged me as a mother and as a friend. You have reminded me of what is good in this world. I’m going to miss you so deeply, my five-year-old. My only consoling comes from the knowledge that this next year is going to be even more wonderful. I know it. Six-year-old E.V., I can’t wait to get to know you. Let’s start first thing tomorrow, shall we?
I love you more than you will ever know.
Mommy (and Daddy and Cricket and Oscar)
P.S. Please note that your dear, sweet, jealous sister had the. hardest. time. today with all the love, attention, affection and presents being sent your way. Always remember to be kind to her, Emma Vance. She loves you (and wants to be you).