Monday, June 20, 2011

My Sunshine

"Mom, can we do cow tonight?"

Every night I hear the same question float down to me from upstairs from either Anna or Ethan, after Dan has gotten Ethan ready for bed. Most nights I say yes, and then I hear excited pattering of feet. I go upstairs and into Ethan's room. Anna is in his bed, under the covers. In his hands, Ethan has what I can only describe as a Hobby Cow, like a Hobby Horse, the horse head with the stick body that one would pretend to ride, only it's a cow that he got from a relative at Christmas, a big fuzzy cow head with horns that makes mooing noises when you press a button on its ear, the cow we all laughed about when he opened it, because really, it's rather hideous.

Ethan picks up the cow and starts banging it on Anna. "Get out of bed! Get out of bed!" he yells, while Anna giggles and refuses. This is a game we've played scores of times now. Then he hands the cow to me. "Mommy do it," he insists. So I start making cow say silly and ridiculous things to get Anna out of Ethan's bed, and making the cow moo, then insisting to Anna that it's really TIME TO GET OUT OF BED NOW, FOR REAL while she pushes the whole game a little longer, then finally walking him across the room in his stick body to go back to his home in the corner.

Then Anna gives Ethan the biggest possible goodnight hug, so big that they both end up on the floor on top of his stuffed alligator. Her brother, soaking up this loving routine, then tells her goodnight and slams the door shut in a satisfied way.

My girl turned seven the other day. Seven. The number startles me, so much closer to tween and pre-teendom and moving away from dolls and My Little Ponies and all of the other creatures and critters she has in little makeshift houses all over the place. I can't keep her little forever, but a part of me wants to.

Sometimes when I look at Anna I see myself, in a startling way. When Ethan was born, she cried because he was not a girl and she didn't have a sister. I did just the same thing when Andy was born. She can lack confidence. She has big dreams and wants attention the way the really "outgoing kids" at school do, but another part of her is shy; the two sides battle. She devours books. She likes to sing.

Often though Anna shows me a different way I might have approached my own childhood, a way I can still choose to live my life. She's not a worrier. She's generally an optimist. She's enthusiastic and jumps right in to most new experiences. She doesn't want to hear she "can't" -- if she's determined enough, she'll make it happen.

She also has an uncanny ability to formulate games that Ethan enjoys doing, games that have that perfect combination of repetition, newness, and overall FUN. Anna is fun, and sometimes that fun is contagious.

Of course my daughter can be infuriating at times. She's stubborn, impatient, proud, and not the most compassionate child. Empathy is not her strong point. Amazingly, though, having Ethan as her brother has helped soften the edges on those weak areas. She knows that in order to encourage him to play with her, she has to see things from his point of view. Her patience is tested as she attempts to show him how to do a simple craft with her. If I catch her mocking someone who’s, say, not as quick as she is with reading, I remind her: “How would you feel if someone was teasing Ethan because he is slower at some things than other kids?” That gives her pause.

Anna has not yet been challenged by kids demanding to know why her brother is the way she is. Sometimes I see yet another weakness in her that exists in me -- that deep-seeded need to please others and fit in at all costs. But I know over the years, she is learning. We both are. My prayer is that we can show her now -- before too much time has passed and too many lessons are learned the hard way -- that she doesn’t have to be ruled by the opinions of other people. Again, I know her brother will help her learn that in ways she might not have otherwise.

There are times I worry about what the future holds, and the possible extra burdens and responsibilities that may be placed on her. But then I remember that pure love she has for her brother; love that doesn't have to be worked up or encouraged, but just flows. That brings me peace.

When Anna was little I used to call her my firecracker. She was opinionated, explosive, full of zest and sometimes fury. I love the spark in her. I also love the softness that has formed slowly over the years. I can't imagine life without her. Happy Birthday, Anna.

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