This week we will celebrate Sophie’s 5th birthday. Sophie is almost five but her face has not changed since she was 18 months. She gives grandiose commands to pretend caves by saying “Open stephanie!” She dances by shaking her hips and punching her arms in and out, a little mix of rockstar and a little bit of Elaine from Seinfeld. She sings “I love rock and roll, put another dime in the juice box, baby!” and we never correct her. She really likes picking out her outfits in the morning. Before I even get up, she finds a skirt (maybe red and black plaid) and a shirt (maybe her pink “I love chocolate”). After scrounging through drawers to find a bow for her hair and a necklace, she sneaks into my bathroom and uses my lip gloss and finds the lavender eye shadow from her dance recital. She always wants me to braid her hair, but I am awful at braids, so we compromise and settle for pigtails (which will eventually degenerate into an untamable pony tail.) She eats toast and fruit for breakfast, and she requests water because water is “good for your insides, right mama?” Her feet dangle from her chair.
I find her sitting indian style on the floor with a pile of books next to her. In the morning it might be Junie B. Jones on the living room floor, in the afternoon it’s a library book about talking cows as she balances on the back edge of the large armchair in our family room. Sometimes it’s Nurse Nancy or Fancy Nancy or Princess Sophia sprawled in circles around her, like fanned out decks of cards. Always telling stories, even after the lights are off and her room is dark except for the occassional light of passing cars outisde. She can’t see the words or the pictures, but she doesn’t really need to.
She plays “mama and baby” with Ellie and she lets herself get punched, poked, and kicked when she plays power rangers with Cohen. They take out the oven mitts and fight one another, and sometimes she cries, but then she shouts, “Jungle Fury Megazord!” and they’re pummeling each other once again. She hums while she paints pictures or stirs macaroni and cheese. She knows all the words to “Part of Their World” from Little Mermaid. We can still calm her down by gently rubbing the back of her neck with our fingertips.
She’s afraid of wind and storms and fire. She requests to know the forecast each day. She covers her ears for thunder, fireworks, and sizzling frying pans. When she notices dark clouds she winces and usually runs to a corner and oftentimes refuses to go outside. I imagine her freaking out at preschool when I am not with her, and I want her to be able to function. I tell her to whisper “I am brave and I am loved” when she is scared. Then I tell her to shout it. She smiles and then she cowers behind couch cushions a little bit more and then I distract her with a Wild Kratts or a Paw Patrol.
We tuck the kids in bed and they get out of bed. They ask to go to the bathroom, they ask for water, they ask for more songs and more blankets. I make threats and take 20 seconds to count to 3 a total of 14 times. I give long hugs and I yell too much. At one point I am sitting outside of Ellie’s door and things have been quiet for about two minutes and she might be asleep. But then Sophie gets out of bed and I’m waving my hands at her in the dark like some enraged orchestra conductor trying to signal for her to be quiet, and I wind up creating a symphony of tears. I hug her a long time and pull up her covers.
Five more minutes, I’m in the hall typing. I hear the comforter rustle, the floorboards creak. She’s standing at the edge of her room. “Mama, I heard a firework.”
“What do we say?” I tell her. She doesn’t say it, but I whisper it in her ear: I am brave I am loved.
Cars pass, lightning bugs and fireworks flash, her little chest rises up and down until it finds its rhythm. I leave her in the dark, and find Ellie for another trip to the bathroom.