Happy birthday, Joanna!

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You are me and I am you and we push and pull until we’re ripping our hair out. It took me a bit to sit down and write this because we’re at a crossroads: both temperamental and stubborn, both flippant, but you have something I always wished I possessed: you can turn it off and come up for air. In the middle of a knock-out time-out session, through tears and teeth grit, after you said I was the “mostest bad mommy in the world,” you then added, “Mommy, I love you. But I just don’t like you right now.” It was after I yelled (your father just said this week that we’ve become a household that just yells all the time now — oh Annie, we both really are trying). I started crying too, and said, “Me too, Annie, me too. I love you more than you’ll ever know. What can we do to get past this?” Maybe that’s not a fair question to ask a girl who is just turning four, but I see a lot of wisdom in you. We hugged, the time-out ended, and I asked you to help bring the plates from dinner to the dishwasher. Tantrums tumble and roll into the next hour, day, week.

We adopted a kitten the other week and named her Fern. You carry her around everywhere (the poor thing): you cradle her, nuzzle her, cuddle her. That damn cat has brought so much love to this house and so much stress: “Annie, support her from the bottom! Sam, don’t pick her up from her HEAD! Kids, leave her alone –she is EATING. STOP PULLING AT HER — YOU HAVE TO SHARE THE CAT!” But then I came downstairs on a Saturday and you were there with her, on the couch, cuddling and whispering. Your emotions are big and bright and you take no prisoners, but your capacity for empathy and love can outshine it all.

I have no doubt all of this will serve you well when you get older. Julie says you’ll be a little CEO one day. She’s very diplomatic. I often wonder if your no holds barred approach will continue in kindergarten: it’s easy to rule the nest with your small group at daycare, or at home with your little brother. That’s the joy and burden of being a parent: there’s so much we can’t control as you grow into your own.

Yesterday I took you to Wegman’s, our local grocery store, where they have a staffed play area so parents can shop in peace. It’s become a thing with us: you go to the play area and I shop and then we enjoy a hot chocolate in their little cafe afterwards. We call it “girl time”. You never once were hesitant about going — you love it and look forward to being dropped off. You were never much of a clingy child: you live for weekends at the grandparents and always ask where we’re off to when I pick you up at daycare (sorry, kid, we’re just going home). You love the idea of kindergarten and taking the big yellow bus you see in the neighborhood to the big kid school. As a parent, that makes us proud. Onward and outward, Annie — you have a whole world to explore. But just as I’m waxing poetic about your independent, feisty spirit you back-talk us again and I’m brought back to the daily battles. Thanks for always keeping it real.

Everyone says we’re spitting images of one another (people say the same about Sam and your father). And I know that’s not where it begins and ends: after a drag-out battle, I’ve turned to your father more than once and asked, “Where does she get this?” and, more than once, he stops and gives his incredulous look — like, this open up your eyes, Kathryn, look — and says, “Where do you think she gets it from?” with a smirk (his kind eyes make up for the smirk). With whatever blueprint you’ve been given, I have no doubt you’ll be the architect of your own life. You wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now take it easy on us. And the cat. Oh, and last but not least: happy birthday, Joanna. We love you.

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