Hello sweet bear, and happy 82 Months! Or rather, happy SIX-AND-THREE-QUARTERS, as you are quick to remind us. Your seventh year is quickly coming to a close, and I’m not too keen to let it go.
Just see how grown up you look here – stretched out on the beach with the long legs of a not-so-little girl.
I still manage to convince you to wear skirts and tankinis. I blame it on sunscreen – I mean, who has time to put sunscreen on exposed stomachs? But really, it’s just my way of trying to keep you covered up for as long as I can, because soon enough I know you’ll be asking for a bikini and sneaking on the roof to sunbathe like I used to do (horrors).
But for now, you’re blissfully unconcerned with tan lines, and much more keen to jump the waves or go searching for seashells.
These pictures were taken last weekend on Cumberland Island – what a magical place. We went camping with the Gaddy family at a campground in St. Mary’s and took a ferry over to Cumberland for a day trip. And oh, we will be back.
The trees on the path to the beach were simply unreal, forming a spiderweb of thick branches and spanish moss overhead. As we trekked toward the ocean, we had to stop to spend some time on the Best Climbing Tree Ever (no research was needed to verify the claim – seriously, there just can’t be a better one). The branches swept so low they had literally grown back into the ground, like a natural jungle gym just begging to be explored.
Then, over the sand dunes we went to picnic on the unspoiled beach, to harass conchs in their shells and to karate chop the waves.
We love camping with the Gaddys because they’re just darn good folks and we like their company. Added bonus – Ashley is such a talented photographer, and captures images like these. I foresee a longtime friendship with you and Lola, and I think these are pictures you will cherish in years to come. I know I will.
After a weekend away, we were glad to spend this weekend at home, though it was not uneventful. You participated in your first-ever end-of-year gymnastics showcase. This was an opportunity for you to demonstrate some of the skills you’ve learned in class this year. You had to memorize various routines, and all your practice paid off as you executed the steps without prompting from your teacher.
Every student was awarded a medal at the end of the show, and you simply beamed from that medal stand. I was very proud of you – proud of the way you practiced, proud of your good attitude every single week at gymnastics, and proud of how you performed.
I put together a video of your routines, including a little extra footage of your first-ever gymnastics class when you were barely four years old. My how you’ve grown.
Sometimes growing up is so much fun. Sometimes it’s not.
One day last month, we pulled up into our driveway and your Daddy noticed something unusual. A little bird was hopping around in our grass, stretching its wings but unable to fly. His dutiful mother swooped down from the nearby holly tree to bring him a berry, but otherwise he just hopped and squawked. It seems he’d left the nest a bit too early and wasn’t sure how to get back home.
We all stood in the yard for a while, watching him as he watched us. He still had a tuft of fuzzy down on his head, so you named him “Tufty.”
Eventually we went inside, but continued to watch Tufty out our window. You desperately wanted to pick him up, either to put him back in his nest or at least comfort him, but we explained that you couldn’t. That his mother might not understand, and might abandon him. So instead, you grabbed your sketchbook and began drawing pictures of Tufty.
Tufty finally hopped his way toward the holly tree, and then jumped onto one of the low-hanging twigs. From there, he hopped higher and higher from twig to twig until he was happily reunited with mama bird. All while we cheered him on from behind the glass of our living room window.
It’s not hard for me to draw a parallel from the plight of poor Tufty and his distraught mama to what’s it’s like being your mama, too. Or any kid’s parent for that matter. Every week I seem to find myself asking this question about one thing or another – do I keep you close and protect you? Or do I let you try out your wings this time? Last month I told you about the incident at the water-covered bridge, where I let you jump over the water even though it made me nervous. And you fell. As a parent, had I made the wrong choice?
It happened again this month. We met up with good friends at a Sand Gnats baseball game. Two of the girls were going on a reconnaissance mission to see what concessions they could get for $3, and invited you to come with them to check out the price of Dippin’ Dots ice cream.
Of course I thought of saying no. The umbilical cord just doesn’t stretch that far. But these are good girls, and girls we know well. And they’d already been walking around the stadium that night and coming back to us unscathed. So I said yes, but with strict orders that you three stick together.
Fast forward about 5-10 minutes, and your Daddy was the first one to spot you. Alone, walking in panicked circles, sobbing, clearly unable to find us. I lept down the stairs toward you, nearly knocking down another kid in my haste. When you finally saw me, the wailing started anew, but this time they were cries of relief.
When you were finally able to talk, we learned that after visiting the Dippin’ Dots stand, the girls wanted to explore some more, but you wanted to come back to us. Why you didn’t ask them to walk with you I don’t understand. But when you got into the stands and realized you couldn’t find us, you were terrified.
And of course, I was terrified thinking of all the things that could’ve happened if someone else had spotted you first. Someone unkind. And again I had to ask, did I make a bad parenting choice? Or was this one of those lessons you learn as part of growing up? Of leaving the nest, squawking and hopping for a bit until you learn how your wings work? I honestly don’t know.
You cried and cried for the longest time, clutched tightly to me in the stands. But then, you lifted your head from my wet shoulder and said, between choking sobs, “THE DIPPIN’ DOTS ARE THREE-FIFTY! CAN I GET SOME?” I knew you were ok.
After a few more minutes of crying, you were ready for some ice cream. You walked with me to the Dippin’ Dots stand, gripping my hand like a life preserver in a tumultuous sea. And I was gripping yours, fearful of ever letting go again.
I know I’ll have to let go again someday. I know the next twelve years will be fraught with this same dilemma, over and over again. I will make mistakes. I’ll get it wrong. I’ll shelter when I need to give you space. I’ll let go when I should keep you closer. Just know this – what I do, I do out of love for you, and in the hopes that when it’s time to fly, you fly with strong wings that carry you wherever you want to go.
I love you so much, little bird.