Last night, I held my six-year-old as long as she let me. Today, she is seven years old. I know I’m supposed to feel bittersweet or nostalgic about this, about all the birthdays my children will only ever have one time, but I don’t. Truth be told, I have been waiting for this day to come for years.
There is something magical that happens with seven-year-olds, in my very limited experience. Based on my data set of two, I am confident that seven years old is when children turn into fully fledged people.
I don’t mean a six-year-old isn’t human. Yesterday my daughter was deeply human. She was fascinating and hilarious and sweet and kind and I love her more than I can say. But all the joking and snuggling and stories are not the same as being able to talk to somebody, as a fellow person, in a way that relies on mutual understanding.
It must be a new brain fold, a pivotal area of cognitive development, something that happens near the start of that seventh year. Six-year-olds go from needing constant protection from their own insufficiencies to being able to being seven-year-olds who can kind of handle it. You can put them in new, unfamiliar scenarios. You can tell them to figure out a problem amongst themselves. You can tell them why something is upsetting to you and they are able to abstract themselves into that situation and empathize with it.
The first day I walked into a room with my older girl scout troop and all the girls were seven, it was a different room. They were a different group. It was amazing.
My enthusiasm for a new seven-year-old isn't that I want to be able to treat my daughter differently now (or in a few months), but that I hope she begins to treat me differently. I don’t hear a lot of parents talk about, but I wish we did. I wish we could speak candidly about how the way small children treat their parents sucks. No matter how many hugs, how many drawings, how many times they run to you and tell you they love you, you aren’t exactly a person to them. The things you do for them are invisible. Your exhaustion or frustration are mysterious. They love you, but they don’t exactly know you. Their need for you is not the absolute need of an infant or toddler, but it eclipses compassion. No matter what else you have going on, you are theirs, they own you, you exist to them in a world outside their understanding of humanity. You are mythic. You are like a God they can summon at will, who can mete out justice but can also create epic destruction and whose whims they rarely understand.
It's great in some respects, but exhausting.
Then, at seven (based, again, on my sample size of two), they kind of get to know you. They start to read your feelings. They start to intentionally manipulate your feelings. They have conversations with you that are more than recounting the details of their day or the plot of the last cartoon they watched.
It's exhausting. I wish I could say I simply love being the parent to a small child, but it's complicated, and the fact is I'm not always a good parent. I am not always even an okay parent. But I know without a doubt I am a better parent for my older children now than I am for my former six-year-old. I know I am a better parent for my children when they are able to keep track of their shoes, brush their teeth, get themselves out of bed. I am a better parent to my children I can talk to through a conflict without having to navigate the theatrics of a temper tantrum. I am a better parent when my children can see that even when I say things that are less than comforting, I am doing it because I love them and I want them to understand.
Sometimes I tell myself I prefer parenting older kids because I’m a lazy parent who doesn't want to wipe butts and only eat at Jason's Deli, but I don’t think that’s true. Older children come with their own very real and very different challenges. There is the complicated world of social interactions. There’s puberty. There are feelings. There is a growing awareness of this massive world in which we live and all the problems we are forced to navigate. That is where I shine.
For two years, I have been holding up my youngest daughter's seventh birthday as the light at the end of the tunnel, but there are some things I already miss about my littlest being little. I miss the way her tiny hand fit into mine, how she always found her way to my side and how neatly she fit nestled against me. I miss her smallness.
I will always love the little kid she was. I treasured her so. Perhaps you always treasure your last kid’s smallness more than the other children’s. I definitely did. I definitely do.
She still always finds a way to hold my hand when we’re crossing parking lots. She still curls up on my lap, although she barely fits. She still hugs my head and gives me the sweetest kisses on my face. None of that will change because another birthday has come, right?
So fine, I lied. It is bittersweet and I am nostalgic. But I’m still glad.
I’m ready to feel a little bit freer, and a little bit calmer, and I’m still looking forward to discovering the more capable, fascinating person blossoming out of my almost-seven-year-old.
So for my daughter, if someday she goes through this blog and reads about my eagerness for her to both be big and also be small and sweet, this is what I want to say:
Happy birthday, darling.
I can’t wait to find out who you’re going to be next.
Read more about my hilarious youngest daughter here: The Tale of my Daughters' Penises
Read my most recent post here: 7 Practical Reactions for Women Being Legislated as Chattel
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is spam-free, and you can opt out at any time.