At the dawn of your third year, you were cocooned in toddlerhood - still in diapers and your crib, your words were barely intelligible, your gait was labored. You needed me to dress you, buckle you, carry you. And slowly we watched you morph from toddler chrysalis into the beautiful, independent butterfly of a little girl you are now.
You shed your babyhood reluctantly, often telling me that you didn't want to be a big girl, you wanted to be a baby. And part of me pleaded inwardly, Just let her stay a baby! She doesn't need to be potty-trained! She doesn't need to sleep in a big-girl bed! She can keep her bink! But that's one of the beautiful bittersweet things about motherhood: watching with pride as you learn and grown and succeed in your efforts and mourning the little steps you are taking toward someday leaving my care for good. So I watch the joy you feel in your accomplishments and the way you beam at our praise and I keep my own intimate grief private so that all you see is pride in my face.
I often remind myself that when you are 15 and slamming your door in my face and plucking your eyebrows to thin lines and preferring your friends' company over mine, I will reminisce about you as a three year old and consider you quite small. This helps me to soak in the wonders of three-year-old you instead of spending all my time bemoaning the loss of newborn you, infant you, one-year-old you, toddler you.
At two years old, I thought you were so big - so far from the sweaty squishy babe I rode next to in the backseat, hovering over your car seat while your dad drove 8 MPH the few blocks home from the hospital. But now, your length astounds me. Your legs! Your hair! I hold up your shoes and think, there's no way her foot is that big! Two years old seems so small to me now! I wish I had soaked in the baby-ness of two and I am determined to soak in what is left of it at three. 15 is just around the corner. I see it already in the foot stomps and groans you so willingly hand out these days. I call you my little teenager.
You have done so much growing up this year. And these days we are putting you to bed knowing that this time next year, there will be two little bodies to tuck in for sleep. You pray each night for a little sister. I have tried to get you to consider that you might have a brother, but you refuse to entertain the thought. "No," you said matter-of-factly, "a sister." One night you prayed in a sing-song voice, "Jesus, I want a SIS-TER!" and I thought, Jesus, this is clearly matters to her! and I began to pray for a sister for you, too. We shall see. And we will be delighted either way, of course.
These days, with thoughts of Baby #2 on the way or perhaps already born, I watch you play and think about what we will lose of you as you transition from Only to Oldest. But I'm just as quick to think of what we will gain. We love imagining the kind of sister you'll be. You dote over babies. You let out this "awwwwww" sound whenever a baby appears. I can't imagine where you learned that! (It was me.) I think you will be a hovering mama hen, wanting to help, to hold, to cradle, to smother with kisses. I imagine I will say, "Lila, give her some space!" hundreds of times a day. Neither you nor we can wait to have need of that phrase! You will be an awesome big sister.
You are smart and kind. You are aware of others and want them to be happy. Your emotional intelligence has grown leaps and bounds this year and it is such a relief to be able to reason with you a bit as we discipline you. You have never-ending "why?" questions and you notice EVERYTHING. You are beginning to think deep thoughts and you will ask me questions that reveal the places your mind has wandered. Sometimes I am speechless with wonder at the things you say. Other times joyful and surprised laughter bursts from my very heart at your cuteness!
Recently you have played this little teasing game with me. You say, "I want to be someone else's girl!" and I argue with you, "No way! I won't let you! You'll always be my girl!" As we argue back and forth, a sly grin creeps around the corners of your mouth. You want me to fight for you. You love that I want you for mine and mine alone. You are beginning to really grasp the hold you have on me. You are beginning to see the power that you have as the One I so desperately love.
Today, in a fit of rage, you called me "stupid." I watched you work the word out, you tried it a couple of times and stumbled over it, "No, Mommy! You're stoop- you're stoop- YOU'RE STUPID!" Then you were silent, staring at me. Waiting to see how your words landed.
I calmly led you to your bed for a time out. I told you that, in our family, we never use that word when we talk about other people. I asked you if you knew what it meant. You said no. I asked you if someone had said that to you. You said yes. I asked you who. A friend at school. My heart broke for you because even though you didn't know what it meant, you knew it's intent. To hurt, to wound, to express anger or frustration. You had felt those things when your friend said it to you. And in your frustration with me this morning, you wielded your new-found weapon at me. And I saw a bit more of your innocence fall away.
But even that is bittersweet. Because with every lesson you learn about how hard and broken this world is, there is a matching lesson of our Good Lord's goodness and holiness and His plan for redemption. My prayer for you is that you will choose to use your life to be a part of God's on-going plan to make wrong things right. And in order for you to be able to step into that, I need to be okay with you feeling the weight of the wrongs in this world. I can't protect you from everything, though I should like to. But I pray there is a holy fierceness in you that emerges as you encounter injustice.
And Lila, there is so much injustice in this world. Your birthday this year was especially bittersweet. Two days before you turned three, twenty families lost every future birthday with their children. These children who were the same age as my "big kids" as you call them. My heart felt a deep pang of grief as I tried not to see my students' faces in the faces of those children who were killed. My soul ached as I tried not to see my own face on the faces of the mothers who were learning their babies were gone. Mothers who probably looked at their six year old on Thursday and thought, "How is she so big?" and Friday felt the gut-wrenching reality of how very small she was. And for me, three years old didn't seem so big after all. And I found myself whispering the words I know so many saints were whispering with me, "Come, Lord Jesus. Bring us home. Rescue us from this shattered world."
But Lila, this world is beautiful, too! Our Good Father has given us a world full of beauty to love and enjoy. You remind me of that. You gasp in excitement at the simplest things: "Lila, do you want Mac and Cheese for lunch?" Gasp! Macaroni and Cheese!? Yay! Yippee!
Today, God blanketed our part of the world with crisp, glistening snow and you delighted in the reflected shine it cast on our windows all day. In fact, you scaled the window like a monkey to get a better view of our crystallized yard and scared me stiff! (Perhaps I need to invest in gymnastics lessons?) Your innocent awe of our world reminds me of one of our favorite good-night songs:
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning!
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word
Lila, I know that with each year I will grieve the fading things I love about your infancy even as I welcome with joy the sweet and surprising nuances of your emerging character and personality. And I know that each year will bring with it difficulties that reveal our world's brokenness and strip away your child-likeness that Jesus told us to recapture for ourselves. Whether they are small intimate pains of hurtful words from your friends, or deep, gaping wounds inflicted on society as a whole, my prayer for you is that you would be protected wherever possible and when that is not possible, I pray that Jesus would be quick to turn your thoughts to His promise that He has overcome the world. I pray that you keep your joyful awe of the simplest things: the sunlight, the morning. And that I, your Mommy, would remember to thank God for each day I get to spend on this earth with you as my girl.
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise and elation! Praise every morning!
God's re-creation of the new day
I love you, my big three-year-old.