It's a bittersweet birthday, this fourth one. For some reason, 4 is all kid and no baby or toddler. She's crossed that invisible threshold and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. I think her birthdays will always be fraught with mixed emotions for me because, as my first, they not only mark the day she was born, but also the day I became a mother.
Darrick and I both took yesterday off work to spend time with her. We visited both sets of grandparents and I took her to school over lunch so she could wear a paper crown, share treats (she chose pudding pops), and be sung to by 18 of her friends. She was on cloud 9, and floated up to cloud 10 when her favorite teacher (actually a high school senior who works in the classroom) gave her a beautiful frilly skirt and leggings as a gift.
This morning, we woke early and she opened some presents from us. Her favorite is a Disney Princess laptop that has learning games on it and opens with a key. She's so proud of this 'big girl' gift that she found a special hiding place for it so Rohan can't get to it when she's not there to observe.
We had breakfast early with both sets of grandparents, and our waiter gave her a free crepe with whipped cream, caramel sauce, and chocolate chips.
One of Luca's cousins, who she affectionately calls 'Birdie' will turn 1 on May 10th, so her birthday party was today. We spent most of the day there playing and swimming and eating. Luca, of course, eagerly helped open presents. We had talked to Birdie's mom and dad (dad is Darrick's brother) over 2 months ago to coordinate parties, and though they didn't want to have the party on Luca's actual birthday, because of my mother-in-law's work schedule, this was the only weekend we were guaranteed to have her in town. We agreed that the 1st birthday party was vital for Grandma to attend, whereas the 4th she could miss as long as we did something special to aknowledge her the day of before her cousin's party. At first, Luca was ok with it. She pulled me aside at the party, though, and pouted her lips. I asked her what was wrong, and she broke into tears and told me she was sad that it was her birthday but all the presents and attention were for Birdie. It almost broke my heart. On one hand, I reminded her of the gifts Grandma and Grandpa had given her the week before, the gifts we gave her, and the gifts from my mom that she received this morning. I reminded her how lucky she was to receive those gifts, and that it wasn't a good thing to be jealous of someone else's gifts. She told me she knew, but she was still sad that she didn't get a party today. I didn't know what to tell her. I honestly felt a bit guilty, but at the same time I think it's important for her to be able to share and not have everything be about her.
After naptime, we took her to dinner. She asked for pizza, so we went to a local Italian place we love and after dinner we requested a 'Sicilian Sundae' (cookie with ice cream on top) for the birthday girl. It came out, and her disappointment was palpable when there was no candle and no Happy Birthday song from the staff. We tried to sing to her, but she stubbornly refused to eat until, and I quote, "The people here sing to me like they are supposed to." After almost 10 minutes of back-and-forth that included us telling her there was no one there who could sing to her and they don't do that at that restaurant and her crying, I finally grabbed the first person who walked by and asked him, "Is there any way someone could be convinced to sing happy birthday to her?"
And, bless his heart, this kid (he was maybe 17) came back to our table a few minutes later and, all by himself (well, we joined in) he serenaded her. We thanked him profusely for making her day, and she was happy once again and shared her dessert, which by now was a melted puddle of ice cream atop a warm cookie, with her brother.
I have to be honest: her sad tantrum about the birthday party and her refusal to give in at the restaurant tore me in two directions. I was a bit disappointed in her behavior and the jealousy and (gah) brattiness she displayed. But on the other hand, as 'kid' as 4 may be, she is still a little girl, and a sensitive one at that. I've learned one big lesson about Luca over the years: she wants to feel like people are listening to her and taking her seriously. She wants to feel important and loved and appreciated. And she is only a little girl, so she can't always tell when her own need to be heard and validated is silly or bordering on ridiculous. We had a talk about the day tonight, and about how we knew she was sad about not getting her party today. A party is planned for next week, but in a 4 year old's world, we may as well have told her we'll celebrate it next year. She loves her cousin, but I think she felt a bit 'forgotten', and I never want her to feel that way. I want her to know just how special and important she is to us, no matter what else is going on in our lives. I know she'll forget being sad about it, and I know in the end this is but one in a list of many disappointments she'll face in life.
What's more important than all of that: the breakfast, the gifts, the party, the dessert/song fiasco is this: Luca is 4, and she has made us so proud. She is her own person. She knows what she thinks, what she feels, what she likes, and what she needs. She sometimes struggles to express it all in a way that makes sense to us, but she always forgives us our parental missteps, and above all she is loved and loves. She's smart as a whip, kind and caring and nurturing. She has a silly sense of humor and an old soul. Her favorite things to do are to play outside, to be with her family, to dance, and to engage in imaginary role-play such as pretending to be the teacher while we are the students. She loves her brother with a fierceness and is dying for a little sister. She is sensitive and her feelings are hurt easily, but she forgives easily. Many times, when she's upset, all she needs is to be told you're listening and to be given a big bear hug. She makes me, every single day, proud to be her mom.
I am sentimental as I watch the baby I know transform before my eyes. From tiny newborn to delicate infant to cautious and reserved toddler to talkative and compassionate little girl. She floats through life with her feet solidly on the ground and her imagination soaring in the clouds. I look at her, and I still see the soft pink newborn who I pulled into my arms on her birth day. I look at her, and I can see the woman she will someday be. I hope that she never loses her strong sense of right and wrong, her kind and tender heart, her old soul and little girl laugh. I hope she will always be the little girl who asked me if she could change her middle name to Ballerina. I hope she will remember her childhood as a time of happiness and love, of giggles and of serious cuddle puddles.
I love you, sweet Luca.