This kid.
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She’s four. She’s a complete and fully-articulated person, with habits and hobbies, favorites and dislikes, a slapstick sense of humor and an ever-present twinkle in her eye. After a process that seemed to take a geological age, she is completely potty-trained and will do her business entirely unaccompanied and unassisted. She is just above the fiftieth percentile for weight and just below it for height, screams bloody murder when she gets a shot (but will stop if you sing “Let It Go” in her ear), loves fish tanks and stickers and her ladybug galoshes, and hahaha, remember when the visit to the doctor was where we learned how she was doing on her milestones?

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Because her birthday fell on a Tuesday this year, and based on the spotty availability of various relatives, Natalie lucked into four separate birthday parties this year. (“Her sweet sixteen is going to take all month,” someone groaned.) She blew out her first round of candles on the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, which we shared with Uncle Pete, Aunt Aimee, and Aunt Kat, briefly in town on a break from grad school in Texas. She shared a chocolate cake (topped with a white chocolate Millennium Falcon) with Aunt Jean and Uncle Patrick. She brought cupcakes, topped with chocolate Darth Vaders, in to daycare on her actual birthday. And yesterday she had the massive three-ring-circus house party, packing our house with light-saber-wielding friends, a giant Death Star cake (which took four days to bake!), and even Darth Vader Himself.
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(Natalie frowned at the archvillain, immediately recognized her father, and piped up “Daddy, when is the real person dressed as Darth Vader going to come?”)

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She can be a serious kid. She isn’t sounding out words yet, but knows the whole alphabet, can sort-of-write her name (last attempt: “TAN”), and, most importantly, loves books. She gaily accompanies her father and sister on weekly family excursions to the public library, returns home with a bag of books too heavy for her to lift, consumes them all as bedtime stories and then demands that the same stories be recounted to her, again and again, as we drive downtown to daycare or back home for dinner.

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She can be a girly girl. While we’ve done our best to keep the princess-industrial complex out of our home, Natalie still likes to dress up in fancy sparkly lacy things, even if all we’re doing is making chocolate chip cookies together. (She loves to “make cookies,” which in Natalie-speak means “eat cookie dough.”)

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But she’s not all girl all the time, either. We were so proud when, for Halloween, she preferred a knight costume to a princess gown. And even when her sister insisted “No, Evie pincess!”, Natalie nonetheless stuck to her theme: Daddy was the king, Mommy was the queen, Natalie was the knight on horseback and Genevieve was the dragon she fought. (In retrospect this was a more successful plan than we could have anticipated. Natalie has mostly forgotten about Halloween, but Evie will remind us on a near-daily basis that she was a dragon.)

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And she can be a goof. She loves to have funny-noise-making contests (and now has gotten her sister into the game), crack silly jokes, and roar like a lion or Godzilla on demand. We tell her repeatedly that bravery, cleverness and empathy are her best attributes, but I love her ready guffaw, her zest for life, the ease with which she laughs and makes us laugh. Four years after her cannonball birth, low-impact infancy, and generally smooth early childhood, we’re still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Natalie continues to be a ray of sunshine, an even-keeled, happy-go-lucky kid who rolls with the punches and stays on her game. While age three brought more tantrums than the previous three years combined, this still, on an absolute scale, did not amount to much in the way of domestic unrest. Someday she may yet cloud over, go sullen, hit adolescence and stop being so much fun to be with. But it hasn’t happened yet.

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541561_10153356942649896_2099266429606429840_nHer best friends at age four are Phoebe and Gabby. Both are alums of our daycare, which Natalie still attends, and each has a younger sibling roughly Evie’s age. Phoebe is a ball of energy, a microphone-grabbing rock star. Gabby is quieter and thoughtful, and attends ballet class with Natalie, where watching the pair of them tiptoe and spin and giggle together is worth the price of admission. Their play is imaginative rather than physical: on one play date, the girls took turns playing “Night Night” — tucking each other into bed, singing a lullaby and kissing each other good night.

1973353_10152463076392543_826601204525783876_oShe is not an unduly high-energy kid; she does not run us ragged. But that could be because her high-energy dad is an absolute master of entertaining preschoolers. He’s constantly taking the girls to the park/zoo/library/supermarket and, as he puts it, “running them down.” Both Natalie and her sister are excellent sleepers, almost certainly due to Daddy’s mighty efforts to guarantee that they go to bed tired every night.

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I’m not holding my breath for Natalie to be a star athlete (an unlikely outcome in any event, given her parentage). She progressed nicely at swimming this summer, and continues to do so in ballet; but she isn’t yet drawing figurative pictures, eschews utensils in favor of eating with her fingers, and seems to be just a tick or two behind most four-year-olds in general motor skills. I was more concerned about this before she potty-trained. Now I just hope that she either grows into gracefulness, or else follows in my footsteps and cultivates other beloved talents that do not involve physical movement. I’m about to turn 40 and I’m still a clumsy sloth, which I guess is proof that one can succeed marvelously in life without ever overcoming the motor delays of one’s youth. But hopefully her luck will be better. It’s probably fun to dance.

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At any rate, in my value system, it's more important that she love her life than that she derive pleasure from any particular activity. I know I'd love it if she grew up to be a singer, but if instead she realizes that she really loves to dance/do gymnastics/play soccer/bike long distance/cagefight, that's what matters: that she loves it. Right now it's a joy to spend anytime with her, as she loves pretty much everything, pretty much all of the time. (Star Wars and How To Train Your Dragon are both favorite movies and favorite worlds in which to plant improvisational stories/fantasy play.) Even in her worst moods she'll still crack a smile if I whisper in her ear, "Guess what? …I love you."

I am so grateful for all that she has been, and all that she becomes, every day. I love you, my Noodles, my superhero big girl. Happy birthday.
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