Last weekend, ten five year olds tumbled into my house for a rainbow-unicorn-shooting-star party. There was dancing, laughter, a tear or two, and- of course- cake. Bingo leaned over and blew out five candles in a single breath. And just like that, the kid who made me a parent turned five.
I didn’t write about four at all, because the sum total of a one year old and a four year old was twenty-four hours of exhaustion per day. I’m sorry now that I didn’t because, when I read back about three, there is such a huge leap between then and now, here and there, that I don’t know what I can write that will traverse that distance.
One of the things that amazes me the most about parenting is that you can seem to be stuck in an unchanging pattern or behaviour, familiar with your kid’s every feature and quirk, then look at that kid one morning and realize that they’ve changed overnight. It was most evident for me when Bingo and Powerball were babies: I’d look into the crib and be shocked to find a baby that was taller or chubbier than the night before, their features somehow more defined. Now that babyhood has mostly left our home it happens less frequently, but it still happens.
One of those sudden leaps of growth happened in 2017, on September 5th , at some point between 8:40am and 3:20pm. Bingo, not quite four, walked into the slightly dilapidated school at the end of the street for her first day of kindergarten. She walked out, just under six hours later, a different and older kid. As we walked through the schoolyard, she told me about her day. I can’t actually remember a single word of that conversation, a single fact about that first day, but I can vividly remember thinking, “her voice has changed”. It was somehow older, less babyish, than the voice that had said goodbye to me that morning. Even though her fourth birthday wouldn’t happen for another eleven weeks, really that’s the moment when three became four to me.
Four’s transformation into five has been sneakier, more gradual. A lot of it has happened out of my line of sight, now that Bingo starts five out of seven days every week by walking through a door without me and has friends who aren’t just my friends’ children. I hesitate to say that she’s become more her own person between four and five, she’s always been her own person, but she’s become a person whose world overlaps less with mine. That person, that small, fierce, funny, sensitive person is amazing. Which I mean quite literally: she amazes me. Every time she learns something new, I’m amazed. Every time I learn something new about her, I’m amazed. Every time she challenges herself, I’m amazed. Every time she challenges me (and she challenges me every time), I’m amazed.
I don’t know if you’ve also found this about having kids but, for me, it’s a form of imperfect nostalgia. Nostalgia because looking at Bingo brings me back to my own childhood, reminding me in a way that I’d forgotten about what it feels like to be four: what the world looked like when objects and people were big, what it felt like when feelings were even bigger. But imperfect, because I am not Bingo and Bingo is not me. Like I said, she amazes me.
Five is always moving. She runs ahead, looks for the highest thing she can climb, leaps from every perch. At the park, she scales ladders and slides down poles with ease. I’m afraid of her running too far, jumping from too great a height, falling, getting hurt, but I (usually) manage to hold myself back and let her go. I think back to my own childhood, remember standing at the top of a play structure afraid and waiting for an adult to rescue me, and marvel at the fact that I’ve managed to raise a child who has no fear.
Five has big feelings. This is one thing that hasn’t changed at all. She cries over any injury or insult, real or imagined. She puts her whole body into it, downturned lips and reddening cheeks becoming a full body collapse within seconds. These collapses are some of my hardest moments of parenting, especially when they’re about sorrows so minor and random (a toy touched by her brother, a vegetable that she finds offensive) that they’re impossible to anticipate. At the same time, those same big feelings translate into joy as well. Her laughs are also full body: eyes closed, body tipped forward, pure feeling.
Five is full of empathy. As much as a five year old can be. She genuinely cares about those around her: her friends, her brother, the cat, total strangers. She’ll give up a toy to make Powerball feel better, stop a game to comfort a crying friend, do anything to make me laugh. We’ve recently shuffled our life in some big ways to support another family, and she’s accommodated without question.
Five is intelligence. I know that I’m biased, but I also know that I’m raising a smart kid. Watching her learn is one of my favourite things about knowing her. She’s learning how to read, to speak French, to play the ukulele. She is learning new things every day. She is curious, articulate, and as sassy as can be. Every time I see her figure something out, whether it’s how a Lego structure fits together, the sum off two numbers, or or what an unfamiliar word says, I’m proud.
Five is determination. Stubbornness, if I’m being less generous. Once she’s decided how something should play out, she will almost never admit defeat. She’ll argue for hours about why she should be allowed to use adult scissors, eat a third dessert, or wear shorts in the winter. She doesn’t always get her way (in winter we wear pants), but she often does. This determination/stubbornness can frustrate me, but I remind myself that I want to be raising a child who will grow into a strong, confident adult. Whether it means she becomes a politician, a CEO, a lawyer, or simply an adult who knows herself, I want her voice to stay strong.
Five is feminine. Her favourite colours are now pink and purple. She demands dresses almost every day. Every drawing is of a princess, rainbow, unicorn, or flower. She is of the firm belief that sequins improve every outfit and accessory. Admittedly, this has been another point where parenting challenges me. She is being raised by two distinctly unfeminine people. Between us, we don’t own a single dress or a single piece of makeup. I’m not even sure that makeup is categorized in pieces. Her insistent, enthusiastic embrace of the very things that I’ve spent my life avoiding challenges me to rethink my approach. I now occasionally let her paint my nails.
Five is love. Running to the door to greet me at the end of every day, leaning over randomly in conversation to kiss my cheek, asking me to hold her hand as she falls asleep. She loves in the same way that she laughs and cries—with her whole self.
Five is excitement as the first snow falls, pictures to carry with me wherever I go, dirt under her fingernails, standing on her toes to sneak a treat off the kitchen counter, holes torn in legging knees, moments of babyishness and moments of miniature adulthood, a voice that carries, hair escaping uneven ponytails, a tight hug, wild eyes, round cheeks, feeling given form. Five is here.