January 21, 2014 by Julia
We’re just wrapping up Fiona’s birthday weekend. She’s six! And she lost one of her top front teeth!
Age: a very new 6
Current Nicknames: Ona, Foners, Sweetie pie, Snugglebunny
Current Sleep Habits: In a twin sized bed, with the door OPEN, and the hall light ON, from about 8:30 p.m. – 7:00 a.m.
Favorite Food: low-sodium canned chicken noodle soup, blackberries, grilled cheese, ice cream, candy (She has my sweet tooth, for sure, and asks for treats a million times a day as if they are her God-given right.)
Favorite Show: The Powerpuff Girls, of course!
Favorite Movie: The Powerpuff Girls movie, of course.
Favorite Playtime Activities: Acting out Powerpuff Girls stories with figurines or dolls, jumping on furniture and getting crazy with her little brother, re-usable sticker books, drawing (She is quite talented, but will only draw if the mood strikes her – she won’t do it on command. And it comes and goes in obsessive phases. We are not currently in a drawing phase but will be expecting one soon.)
Fiona’s doing well in kindergarten, and pretty much all of my fear about it from last summer has disappeared. I worried that she would be miserably shy, or continue to show no interest in academics, which had yet to compete with her imaginative, storytelling play habits.
But I’ve been astounded at how much she has actually learned at school. It’s almost like I forgot that’s a big part of what school is for. Five months ago she had no desire to sound out words; now she is excited about her new reading skills. She couldn’t count to twenty last summer; now she can make it to one hundred. And Fiona’s teacher says that although she was quiet at first, over the first month she grew comfortable enough to speak up in class and have fun with her new friends. Speaking of her (beloved) teacher, I’m also in awe over the amount of time that she is Fiona’s caretaker. I know it’s not free childcare – taxes, of course – but it just seems miraculous that our society has set up public schools this way. I didn’t want to take it for granted at the beginning of Kindergarten, and I still don’t. Almost every day, I am aware that my life is suddenly easier because of full-time school.
Fiona’s a funny one, though. The students at her school come home every day with a sheet in their folder marked with a green for “good behavior,” a yellow for “on notice,” or a red for “unacceptable behavior.” Fiona’s sheet has been green every day since school started, which is impressive when, to hear her tell it, other kids get “put on” yellow or red “all the time.” (I can’t vouch for the objectivity or truth of this statement.) I know she is extremely conscious of doing the right things at the right time, and of being sensitive to her classmates’ feelings. According to her teacher, she is calm and sweet and kind and happy to be in school. All of which made me so proud of her that I had to blink back happy tears during the parent-teacher conference.
But at home Fiona is often…difficult. She’s impatient, demanding, rude, easily frustrated, explosive, sensitive and whiny. She picks battles with me, looking for ways to prove me wrong about things that hardly matter. (I KNOW this the job of every daughter, but STILL.) She is stubborn and inflexible and doesn’t budge when change is forced upon her. God forbid I ask her to wear a new pair of shoes because the old ones will have holes soon. Or ask her to eat spaghetti when she thought we were having quesadillas for dinner. Screams and protests will hit me like a tornado, before I can even begin to reason with her.
I don’t really want to go into how we deal with this. (But I will: sometimes we are model parents, calm, gentle and firm, other times we totally lose it. The message we most often give her is that she has to change her tone of voice. Obviously, if we are screaming at her, the message gets a bit hazy.) The point, though, is that public Fiona compared to private Fiona could hardly be more different. I know it’s still early with Jack, but in contrast, he is so much more what you see is what you get.
She is a complex girl, dreamy but highly observant of social cues, possessive of an enormous amount of empathy for her peers. In groups of children, I see her cautiously watching everyone around her, and when she quietly speaks it is usually with great care not to offend anyone. I give you Fiona in social settings:
But when there is active play, like running or popping bubbles, she will jump right in, her face lit up with unbridled joy. And when she’s just with family or one of her oldest friends, one-on-one, she no longer holds herself in check.
When I have the time to just be with her (as opposed to getting her to the bus on time or feeding her), I enjoy her company. She is quirky and artsy and totally rejects the things that don’t work for her: “uncomfortable” jeans, the generic Disney princess stuff (“because princesses seem a little bit like bad guys, like snobby or something”), coloring books (she much prefers to draw from scratch on plain paper), or the wrong brand of chicken nuggets. She’s thoughtful and so full of stories and observations, and we find the same kind of absurd stuff funny. She doesn’t have an ounce of fat on her long skinny body, but we can still snuggle like we did when she was a chubby toddler.
Fiona and Jack are buddies, going through a generally good phase, which warms my heart. They play well together, and comfort each other, and even watch out for each other. I love to see their own relationship forming, with its own kind of language and habits. She is a good big sister.
And Fiona remains pretty tenacious when it comes to her obsessions. We are still in the Powerpuff Girls phase, going strong. Her grandma even cross-stitched an awesome portrait of them for her room. I made her a Powerpuff Girls cake for her birthday, and Dennis made her a poster, which she has totally come to expect from him every year.
There were a few ups and downs on her 6th birthday, as there are every year. Dealing with her own expectations and being the center of attention is pretty overwhelming for her (as it is for many adult. When she came downstairs with us on her birthday morning with Jack and saw the pile of presents on the coffee table, there were no shrieks of delight. She had to process it. And then Jack ran up and grabbed a gift and tried to unwrap it, prompting Fiona to scream at him, prompting him to throw an epic fit, prompting her to collapse on the couch in sobs, declaring her birthday ruined.
It wasn’t even 7:00 a.m. yet. The scene – two kids sobbing in front a pile of presents, in a balloon-bedecked room – was so absurd I had to laugh. Dennis was too tired for that, and just shook his head. Eventually everyone recovered, and after Jack got to open a few random things I threw into gift bags for him (ugh – not a fan of indulging kids with presents to placate them, but I was desperate), he seemed to feel better and was willing to play along. Fiona loved her gifts, and we had a delightful day that included bouncy houses and a small family party that evening. It was declared several times over the “best birthday ever!”
The day after her birthday, we took her and Jack to the aquarium as another special treat. She complained about the cold outside (understandable), and then by 11 a.m. was constantly whining that she was hungry. Once we found a place to stop and eat, she felt much better and I thought we could get things back on track with the fish. But then her front tooth loosened as she was eating, and she started to freak out. (Again, understandably.) It was one of those moments where you’re simultaneously in awe of the milestone and kind of wishing it had happened at another time – I was afraid she would let the anxiety over it overwhelm our time at the aquarium.
But she pulled it together, and said, “Mommy, I’m just going to have fun and forget about it, and then maybe it will just fall out anyway,” and I was so proud of her. We had a wonderful time.
At one point we were sitting on the ground in front a vast expanse of coral and jewel-colored fish, and I explained how groups of fish that look alike and stick together are called “schools.” Thereafter, she insisted that every fish swimming quickly by itself was “late for school,” and we did cartoon-y voices for all those late fish. “Gotta GO! Gotta go!” I told her how much more fun things like the aquarium are now that her daddy and I have her to come with us, and I felt the truth of that deeply.
She seems so old. I have to remind myself that she is still so, so young, in order that I don’t expect too much from her. She is photogenic, uniquely beautiful, and so tall. I love to try to capture in photos her alternating quietness and wildness, her thoughtfulness and grace and dramatics.
Dennis is better at capturing her goofiness.
I marvel that this complex, beautiful individual came out of us. The creation of a new person, with their own inner life, is such an astounding thing.
Growing up is hard work, but Fiona is happy, and learning, and loved beyond reason. And so are we, because of her. Happy 6th birthday, Snugglebunny.