Now We Are Six
(extra credit for anyone who can identify that collection of poems...)
Today is our Hazel's sixth birthday. And to celebrate I'm posting a few clips from Jed's letter to her over the years we've known her. For those of you just joining us: Jed has been writing open letters to the kids as they grow, offering a perspective they might have missed. I've posted bits and pieces here as I've seen fit.
Settle in, because this may take a while. But I hope you find it's worth it.
You growled today in church. You do that sometimes when you want to show real contempt for something. In this case it was a coloring book. When you are beyond Christian patience and you have tolerated this life just long enough, you arch your tiny back, projecting your pelvis and lowering your chin, and you scream with all the passion you can wring out of your lungs. You don’t close your eyes; you look hard at your target (whatever or whomever has tried you so), loading your stare with death. To really drive it home, you thrust you arms out in front of you, just above your waist, and you open your hands. You stretch your little fingers and far as they allow you to. Were the cosmos to cooperate, lightening would surely shoot from under your nails.
I know you think you look like the devil when you do this, armed with all the angst of a two-year-old. I imagine that you can’t see anybody refusing your wishes when you demand them with such vibrato. You think the planet stops rotating to redress its wrong as you smolder there, sustaining your threatening gaze. But I think it’s the cutest thing in the whole world. Mom and I usually jump to deal some threat or another to prevent your ever screaming like that again, but secretly I wish I could see you do it one more time.
I love the person you are right now. I love putting out your tiny fires. Getting you things, letting you go outside, putting you to sleep, skipping the doorknob part in Alice in Wonderland. I even like to get up in the middle of the night and take you into the couch for juice. I complain about the sleep, but you are so sweet while we sit there together. Temporally, it is a bother sometimes answering your every fancy and fuss. But just under the skin, I love waiting on you. I relish your inability to reason out the dilemmas of your everyday, and your subsequent need for us to help you through them. Maybe I love it so much because I know it won’t last.
As I watched you growling in church today it occurred to me for the millionth time that you’ll grow out of this sooner than I want you to. If things keep going at this rate, you’ll be a young woman before I can acquaint myself with who you are right now. Soon you’ll stop growling and start asking for things. You won’t spread your fingers and scream anymore, you’ll articulate your concerns with rationality and calm. You’ll know how to get your own juice, so you won’t have to come ask me and I won’t make you say please and thank you. And when you can’t sleep, you won’t cry until I come and take you to the couch. We won’t sit quietly in the dark together. And then you won’t fall asleep on my lap.
We took you to Temple Square to see the pretty lights just before Christmas. It was pouring rain. We were not the only family in the world that thought of looking at pretty lights that night and the place was teaming with umbrellas and galoshes. I held you in my arms the whole night; I didn’t want you to miss it all down around our knees. Somehow you weren’t very heavy and I liked having your little face near mine. It changed colors as we passed under the different trees and the rain made your cheeks twinkle. I couldn’t keep your hood on and your hair became dark and matted around your eyes. You didn’t seem to notice the rain. You gazed at a million lights and cooed to yourself. It was like you didn’t know what the rain was. Sometimes you looked down at me to smile or to call my attention to a color you had spotted.
We stopped to watch the presentation of the Nativity. I thought you might like to look at the sheepies and the cow. But I followed your eye-line past the animals into the stable where Mary and Joseph knelt by the manger. I asked if you could see Jesus and you nodded, but I tried to get closer to give you a better view. You stared quietly at the scene, listening to the narration. I started to explain it to you but quit after a while, as you seemed to make sense of it yourself. Somehow I wasn’t surprised when it appeared that you were following the whole story. You sat with half a grin and let the rain tap at your forehead, eyes fixed on the baby in the manger. I studied your little face. There was a calm that descended on you, and a distinct maturity-- beyond your age-- composed your features. The size of that moment wanted to knock me over, but I stood my ground. I clamored to understand the role I played as I held you in the rain; your soul reconnected with something that you knew made sense, something familiar and close, and it seemed it was my job to hold it there.
It was all so much bigger than myself, bigger than you and me and the discomfort of wet clothes. I watched you there, blurry now and twinkling, and I begged in my heart for a way to talk to you—- to really converse. I know that you are still privy to some things that I am not. There is a window yet open to you for I don’t know how long. For a few minutes it seemed that you knew more than I will ever be able to teach you, and it makes my laugh out loud to think that someone is going to let me try. I think it ridiculous but sweet that someone trusts me enough to carry your soul around in my arms and try to protect it from the rain.
Tonight we visited the Halls where you were lucky enough to secure two fresh eggs from the chicken coupe. They were still warm in your hands when you brought them to me. You placed them in two plastic cups and remained close to them the rest of the evening. I think if your frame had allowed it, you would have settled down and sat on them until they hatched.
It was late when we got home. Too late to do anything but go straight to bed. But you had already decided that you would have your eggs before bed and that I would help you do it. You had made up your mind to boil them, and I know too well what that means.
It would have been one thing had you wanted to scramble them. I would have refused and taken you to bed right then. But boiling eggs is something you and I do together. It’s one of our special things. So when you play a card like that, I will always fold.
So I boiled those eggs and I timed their extraction so that the yokes would be just right. You bustled around my knees offering suggestions and recounting past boiled egg success stories. Most of them had to do with running really, really cold water over them to cool them down. When it came to peeling and eating, you were surprised when I declined to eat with you. I said that I wasn’t hungry. And you asked if I would save it until tomorrow. And I said maybe I would. I said maybe, if you felt like you wanted it in the morning, you could eat it instead. And you were genuinely pleased that I would offer your own egg to you.
We chipped away at the brown shell protecting your treasure and we listened to Bach. You hummed the bits you knew and talked during the bits you didn’t. I held a dash of Kosher salt in my palm for you to pinch and sprinkle on your egg. You did so several times, and I waited with my open, cupped hand at the ready. You looked up at me with each bite and I asked if it was good. You nodded your head vigorously while I stroked your braids with my free hand. The window over the kitchen sink held our faint reflection behind the open blinds. Your little head barely made the frame.
I watched you grow in that window. I saw you as a sixteen-year-old, rising to my shoulder, talking through some issue with me over a hard-boiled egg. You didn’t need your blue foot stool anymore and you peeled your own egg. But I still held the salt. In my open palm, waiting for you to return to me as needed.
I tried to get a good look at your adolescent self in our reflection, but the blinds hampered my view. And when I turned to look at your actual person, you were grinning up at me with golden yoke on your nose. And your vast, chestnut eyes shattered everything but the sweet glory of the present.