Hello my almost-four-year-old, and Happy Forty-Seven Months! Right now I’m sitting in the living room, feeling tense and anxious, hoping you’re finally asleep. We began an epic bedtime battle last night and it isn’t over yet. After two years of being a super sleeper, you’ve decided our bedtime routine needs serious modification, involving staying up late and having someone sleep with you. We respectfully disagree.
The cause of our battle is no mystery. We returned yesterday from a week at Rock Eagle 4-H camp. During that week, you slept in a room with me, and we occasionally let you stay up late. My hope was that you’d realize being back at home meant returning to our regular routine. Apparently, this was not so.
I really, really dislike these nighttime fights, in part because I have to wait until morning to play the role of nice mommy again. I don’t like the mean mama role – I know it’s necessary but I don’t like it a bit. I don’t like either of us going to bed with such bad vibes hanging in the air.
You fought me about rest time today too. As usual I told you that you didn’t have to sleep, you just had to stay in your room. In an act of defiance, you told me you were NOT going to stay in your room, and positioned yourself just outside your door. Where you fell asleep. I had to sneak a picture of you practicing passive resistance to my edicts, yet accidentally giving in to them anyway.
Our current struggle may be difficult, but the trip to Rock Eagle was still worth it. Your Boo asked us to join her at Rock Eagle this year for her last trip to summer camp before retirement. You and I bunked with 17 middle school girls, often accompanying them to classes, eating in the dining hall, and participating in as many camp activities as we could.
You made crafts with your Daddy and Boo, you swam and swam in the pools, and you got to go canoeing with me, even holding your own paddle.
You totally rocked the camp’s herpetology class. There were kids in there too terrified to even look at the snakes. But here you are, eagerly touching Ellie the rat snake during class.
We came back to see the snakes again later (unfortunately without a camera), and the class leader even let you hold Casper, the small albino corn snake. Most of his body rested in your palms while his head began curling up your arm. Soon, you and Casper were face to face, and his tongue flicked out and gave you a kiss. You giggled. You, who can be scared of a bug in the house, seemed perfectly at home with reptile friends.
Speaking of bugs, you got to experience a fascinating first at camp – fireflies. We were walking back to the cabin the first night when they began lighting up in the nearby trees. Every time you saw one, you’d gasp with delight. What a treat!
You got lots of attention from the other campers and the counselors too, which you loved, of course. We brought your wagon to help us get from class to class, and the kids would often fight over who could pull the wagon next. Here you are, outside our cabin, holding court with a group of admirers.
As we left camp yesterday morning, we stopped to climb the tower to see the mysterious Rock Eagle effigy created by Native Americans many, many years ago. Rock Eagle is a place that has been very special to your Daddy and Boo
for many years, and now I’m pleased that it has become special to you as well.
Camp wasn’t the only adventure we had this month. You experienced another major “first,” your first dance recital. Sweet girl, I was so proud of you.
We had fun getting you all dolled up for the event, curling your long blond hair and even letting you wear a bit of makeup.
But as for the recital itself, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. When it comes to dance, you have been a bit iffy about going to dance class. You seem to enjoy dancing, but don’t like to leave me in the waiting area. So I wondered how you’d handle being thrust on stage, knowing Mama and Daddy were in the audience. Would you refuse? Would you stand there and cry, looking for us in the sea of faces? It would have been ok – performing on stage is a lot to ask of a three-year-old.
You weren’t very happy to be left backstage, so as I sat in my seat waiting for your performance to begin, I had butterflies for you. But the curtain opened, and there you stood with a huge grin on your face. You spent the first minute of the tap dance number just looking around at the audience, giggling. Later, you told me, “Everyone was taking my picture!” My little ham.
You looked so cute in both of your costumes, and once you got into the music you tapped and twirled and seemed to enjoy every minute of your stage time. I’m not sure if you’ll take dance lessons again next year (your current answer is “no”), so even if your first dance recital was your last, you certainly made it a wonderful event.
This month you graduated from your current class at preschool, even wearing a little red graduation cap along with your classmates to mark the occasion. Elsie was among your graduating class, and her sweet Nonie brought flowers to both of you girls to honor your achievements.
Also this month, we planted our first backyard garden. We planted green beans, carrots, green onion, cilantro, zucchini and squash. The day after we put the seeds in the dirt, you were eager to run to the window to see if any of them had sprouted. When you didn’t see any green stems pushing through the soil, you said, “It’s taking forever!”
But a few days later, we saw the first shoots breaking through. It’s too early to know if we’ll reap a harvest (and given my history with plants, I’m not optimistic), but we’re enjoying the process nonetheless.
I can’t believe you’re only a month away from being four years old. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that as you look and act more grown up every day, you’re asking more grown up questions too. This past month, I can’t tell you how many conversations we’ve had about death and God. I’ve tried to answer every question as honestly as I can, but it isn’t always easy.
Lately, I’ve been rethinking the phrase from the Bible about having the “faith of a child.” Yes, I agree that children are capable of great faith. If I told you God was a seven-headed dragon who lived at the top of Mount Everest, you would believe me. But in some ways, our conversations have been more difficult because I don’t have definitive answers. I have guesses, but you crave absolutes. You ask me when you will die, when I will die, how it will happen, where we will go, how we will get there. Will we take a rocket ship to heaven? What does God look like? Why can’t we see God? I’d like to know these things too. That’s why I need faith, because there is so much I don’t know about the “why” and “how” of religion. I hope you’ll keep asking and not just take my word for it when it comes to these complicated questions of life, death and afterlife. And I hope one day you’ll find your own faith, while also realizing that none of us has all the answers.
The conversations have been funny too. One day, when we were talking about what God looks like, I said I didn’t know, but that I believed he was a spirit. “Like Totoro!” you exclaimed. Ah yes, your beloved Totoro is a mythical Japanese rabbit-like creature who lives in the forest and can only be seen by children. You love your Totoro toy and the Totoro movie, in which Totoro is referred to as a forest spirit. So it makes sense that, after I called God a spirit, your current image of God is likely that of Totoro.
With all the mysteries of life that I can’t answer, at least I can tell you with absolute conviction that you are loved. I’m happy to report that you are now sleeping soundly, so I’m off to bed too. And while I don’t like our occasional struggles, they really are rare. You cannot begin to comprehend the overwhelming joy you bring to our lives. Sleep well my sweet girl. Mama loves you so much.