Saturday, July 13, 2013


Adriana turned 6.5 this week. Unlike her sister, who wanted nothing to do with this half birthday business, Adriana had Plans. Because she is a girl who makes lots of plans, and writes them all down and talks about them and revises them and then moves on to making plans for something else. So we were going to have cake and go ice skating and it was going to be amazing. I talked her down from throwing a party (sorry, sweetheart, your mama is lazy) and gifts (dude, you have so much stuff).

So on Thursday we celebrated the half birthday of Adriana, Lyra, and their friend Makena with a cake. Makena is also a January baby and that day we figured out that July 11 was the average of the three half birthdays (Lyra was born on the second, Adriana on the 11, and Makena on the 20th), because Adriana likes working things like that out. The last time we were at the library she picked a bunch of books about animals, and after we’d read about Monarch butterflies, cobras, and fireflies, she finally asked “but what does ‘on average’ mean?” I was surprised both that she didn’t know (I forget she’s only 6.5!) and that it hadn’t occurred to me that she didn’t know. So we’ve been working on averaging things this week, and it’s been fun. We weighed all the peaches I bought at the farmer’s market and found that they weighed six ounces on average, but the plums I’d bought had an average weight of four ounces. We took a ruler and measured a set of markers and then decided that was boring because they were all the same size. When she averaged out the birthdates, she was quite pleased to see that her birthdate was the average of the three, because she’d noticed that the average wasn’t always one of the numbers she’d added up. It’s so fun to watch her understand things like that. We get books from the library on how magnets work, and we make a compass out of a cork and a needle. And sometimes I still don’t know quite why it works, but it’s fun exploring with her.

Mostly I love reading with her. I’ve read her Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series and now she’s making her way through them on her own. She reads Magic Treehouse books with ease, and can read any of the books we have at home that Lyra asks to have read to her, because even if it’s above her reading level, she’s familiar enough with the book to figure it out. It was interesting to watch her struggle with a book from the library the other day. I’d picked up a book by Barbara Cooney, one of my favorite children’s authors, that I hadn’t run across before. Adriana started on Hattie and the Wild Waves while I was putting Lyra to bed that night, but when I was finished, she gave it to me. “It’s a picture book, but it’s so much work!” she said in frustration. I know the Ramona books take her time to read, but she doesn’t seem as frustrated. I told her that even though it had pictures and it was a harder book, and I got to cuddle up and read it to her. Most nights we read our own books side-by-side in her bed until she’s ready to fall asleep, and now it seemed nice to actually get to read to just her again.

I wrote those three paragraphs last night and then stopped, stuck. As the kids get older it becomes harder to write about them. They do  more interesting things, and are so much more fun to watch, but writing something that summarizes the personality of a complex little person is so much harder than listing a baby’s milestones and preferences. But the temptation is still there. I want to have a way to remember her at this exact age. And writing about her helps me figure out more about who she is, forces me to put into words the abstractions that I notice about her each day.

It was interesting this year for me to watch Adriana in her classroom. In preschool I was there with her occasionally, but at those times she stuck closely to me, so I didn’t observe her the same way I get to now that she’s in a parent-participation school and I’m not there just to be with her. I knew that in preschool she was one of the quiet kids in the class, and I expected that of her--and I understood her, I thought, because I was that way myself. But I also saw that she did raise her hand to volunteer for things and that she could speak in front of her teacher and classmates with confidence in a way I don’t remember ever being able to do myself. I also found myself watching her from a distance on art days, either in her own classroom of kindergarteners or in a mixed-age art class. I saw the way she would stop what she was doing sometimes and gaze into space. I had to resist the temptation to tell her “Dude. Focus.” And I also wondered what was going on in her head. What does she think about when she’s gazing at the wall instead of focusing on her sewing and painting? Is it related to the art? Is there something else on her mind? Sometimes I would ask her later, but I never got an answer. I didn’t know if it was because she didn’t remember or didn’t want to tell me.

I like watching her play with her friends. It’s interesting to watch them negotiate what they’re going to play. She was reluctant to go to the homes of school friends without me this year, even when she knew their parents pretty well. A few times, though, I pushed her to go ahead, even if she was uncomfortable. And then I would find her up to her elbows in mud in a friend’s backyard when I arrived to pick her up, or in the midst of dressing up and putting on a play with another friend. When she invites a friend over now, they disappear into her room. I hear them playing make believe games or board games. I hear them squabble sometimes (especially if it’s a friend she’s known since toddlerhood), but they tend to work it out on their own. When Lyra has a friend over, Adriana plays with them, enjoying the chance to be the big kid, set the rules, boss them around a bit. When we’re with older kids she is quieter, does what they suggest; it’s interesting to see how consistent kids are in things like that.

Adriana’s shyness doesn’t surprise me, but it does worry me sometimes. I know what it’s like to be painfully shy. That’s why I was so pleased to see her speaking up in the classroom. And it’s why I’m happy that she no longer hides behind me and refuses to speak when someone asks her name and age. Her solution to the shyness seems to be to lie: any stranger that asks gets told that her name is Magnolia and she’s 17 years old. Everyone knows she’s making it up, but it gets a smile, and at least she’s feeling brave enough to talk. One day this spring we visited friends we hadn’t seen in a while. She was shy at first, not speaking to my friend or her kids, but then my friend’s older daughter invited Adriana to play outside, and they took off together. After twenty minutes of running around outside and climbing trees with a girl three years older, Adriana came back into the house more comfortable and talkative. It was an interesting tranformation to watch. I’ve said for a long time that she is the kind of person who just needs time to warm up in a new place or situation, but it somehow continues to surprise me (and sometimes, I confess, still frustrates me) when it happens.

She can be so stubborn, which frustrates me pretty much every single day, but I know that in some ways it serves her well: she learns new things, figures stuff out. Still, there are days when I just find myself wanting to explain that she might be a happier person if she could learn to let certain things go. I watch her lose her temper and find myself identifying with her. In a way I envy her: she’s 6.5 and can throw a fit. I’ve got her same short fuse, but I’m the grown up. I have (to try my best) to keep it in check.

I used to worry about whether she was empathetic enough. Other toddlers in our playgroup seemed much more concerned about why another kid was crying or whether someone was sad. Adriana didn’t seem to notice. Now I think that sensitivity is there, but she keeps it hidden a bit. Brian and I talk about how we don’t know what’s going on in her head as she processes things. With Lyra, we know everything on her mind, because she just won’t stop talking. Adriana has never been like that, and if we question to closely she gets even more withdrawn. That’s a struggle for me. I think I am like her in that respect as well, but I also feel that as her parent it’s my responsibility to help her process complicated things and talk to her about her feelings. I try not to question her too much, though. I ask her what she’s feeling, and when I don’t get much response, I tell her how I feel and talk about other ways a person might feel about it, and try not to press any one issue for too long, make myself stop before I start to feel her resist. I don’t know if what I’m doing is “working,” if she notices it at all, if it makes any difference. I just cross my fingers and hope.

She keeps lists that I find around the house: what she’s going to be for Halloween for the next 10 years, all the animals and insects we see on a hike, everything she knows about trees or fingerprints or the solar system. One night after the kids were in bed, I found myself locked out of my bathroom and a sign on the door warning me about “bad robots.” Another morning I raised the blinds in the front window and found a sign there facing the street advertising a “Poop Celebration,” for which she was apparently charging a $6 admission fee. She tells jokes that still don’t make any sense, but it starting to appreciate puns. Her glee when she jumps out at me and makes me jump almost makes up for the fact that she likes to try to scare me.

She loves scary things. I didn’t realize until I watched Lyra that Adriana has always had a good sense of what is real and what is pretend. She likes to go into the haunted house at the Boardwalk. She likes movies that some of her friends find too scary--The Wizard of Oz is her favorite, and when she saw Brave, her favorite parts were the scenes with the witch or with the bears. When she declares that something is scary it’s with a tone of joy.

Adriana thinks about being older. She tells me she wants to be a “bug scientist” or a jewelry maker when she grows up, but that maybe she’ll also write some songs and build some roller coasters. She says she won’t be a mom because babies at little kids are way too much work. She’s getting a certain sense of independence, wanting to walk down the street to see if her babysitter can play with her own, asking when I’ll let her walk across the neighborhood without me. On our trip to France, she carried her own backpack with her every day, and at home this summer she’s continued that most days, packing it herself with a water bottle, a snack, her book, and her notebook and pens. But she also wants me right there with her a lot of the time. She wants to buy something from the ice cream man all by herself! But with me right beside her. She wants to go to the market to get something for me! But when we get there she doesn’t want to run in on her own after all. She craves the familiar, always wanting to go back to the same places, see the same people. She’s testing her limits, my limits, in a way I guess she has since she was a toddler, crawling away from me at a playgroup and then coming back to check in. Now she needs just needs a moment of eye contact, a squeeze of her hand.

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