Today, this beautiful girl is Five.
By the time Evan reached his just-before-kindergarten birthday, he was practically reading. It came as no surprise to me. We spent several times each day, and every bedtime, looking at books together...telling stories by the pictures, sounding out words, and me reading, reading, reading aloud whenever I had the chance.
When Max turned five, it was mostly the same. I had an older kiddo and a toddler at the time, so our reading time was limited mostly to bedtime, but still, we read a lot and, while we read, there was more than a little direct instruction in Reading Strategies and Skills.
Poor third kid, Molly. She's practically never without a pile of books within reach. She loves looking at picture books (and even some of the boys' old chapter books) but, sadly, there is no formal reading instruction happening in my house for her. Here she is, at her Whole Hand Birthday, counting down the months until she joins her big brothers in Elementary School, and I have neglected to prioritize this critical skill.
It wasn't on purpose. We're just busy. In the brief window of time together between when I pick her up from preschool and when we get the kids from school, we sometimes read or play a game but, more often than not she's off on her own in the playroom...decompressing from school while I try to check a few more things of my never-ending to-do list. I'd feel guilty if she wasn't so content to play on her own.
It hit me as I tucked her in the other night. I pulled her covers up tight and placed her stack of books beside her. Sam had already read to her (it's their nightly routine) but, for the life of me, I couldn't remember the last time I had. I sat down on her bed. "What are you reading, love?" She showed me the cover of her book...an anthology of stories I had grown up reading: The Best Nest, Put Me in a Zoo, Go Dog Go, and A Fly Went By.
"I'm reading the one about the Fly."
She turned back to her page and pointed to the first word:
"So," she read.
And then she went on: "The fly ran away in fear of the frog, who ran from the cat, who ran from the dog...." She needed a little help with the word "fear" and the word "who," but once she heard them once, she mastered them within the repetitive text. She read then entire page to me, then looked up at me, at once proud and nonchalant.
"Molly," I began. "You just read! You're a READER!"
"I know," she said, with the confidence that flows through every bone in her tiny body. "I just look at the words and I just know what they say."
I had tears in my eyes...from pride, yes, but mostly from the fact that I felt like I missed it. I remember each stage of Evan's and Max's reading progression...from the very slow and deliberate identification of beginning sounds, to the stretching out of words and finding smaller chunks of known phonemes within larger words, to sight word awareness, and finally, to Reading.
Molly is not some super-advanced reading savant. She's bright, yes. Very. But developmentally, she's doing exactly what she should be doing. It's not that she's mastered the skill before she should be ready to, it's that she's so much older and wiser than I ever give her credit for being.
Poor third kid, Molly.
Try as she might to grow up, she'll always be my baby.
She says Big Kid things now like, "I forgot to mention...." and "So, the other day...."
A few nights ago, when I reminded her that she was perfectly capable of using the potty without me having to get out of bed to help her, she said, after sighing audibly, "I just feel like you're never nice." So, you know, we're even practicing for the teenage years already.
But still, she's my baby.
By the time the boys were her age, there was another kid or two beneath them in the birth order. They were expected to be bigger than their ages should have required because, frankly, I needed the help. She sleeps in our bed (a nursing infant no longer needs the space) and I carry her back to the car from preschool (without a carseat to lug around or a baby strapped to my chest, I've got the extra hands).
I probably shouldn't baby her so much. She's so big. She's so capable. She's so strong.
I just can't help it.She's my baby.
This girl. With her big heart...
Her confidence and grace...
Her sense of self....and of style...
Her humor, her sass, her imagination, her kindness, her adventurous spirit, her bursting vocabulary, her willingness to try new things (not new foods--she's still as picky as ever--but new experiences), her ability to hang with the big kids, her tenderness...her spunk...
She's my favorite girl in the world. And this world? It's a better place because she's in it.
As we walked out of school after picking up her brothers the other day, she said, "You know what, Mommy? I'm a little bit nervous about being in Kindergarten." I assured her that everyone feels that way. "I was even nervous about my first day of Kindergarten when I was the teacher!" I said. I squeezed her hand a little and felt that pang in my chest. Before I know it, she'll be off on her own in this great big world of Elementary School. She's ready and so am I....but damn. What a day that will be when I kiss all three of my little ducklings goodbye and send them off together. There's the beauty in being the Baby, though....when she's off on her way, she'll have her two big brothers beside her.
And is there any better place to be?
Little girl of ours, you are so loved.
On this, your fifth birthday, I have just one request from the universe on your behalf: Come true, wishes! Every last one of them.