For the third time, I have a daughter turning six. Each girl’s life at the time of her sixth birthday is imprinted in my mind.
When my oldest daughter turned six, we were two months into reuniting with her birth family. She started kindergarten the week of her sixth birthday, and she was one of the tallest, strongest kids in her class. She seemed much older than her peers — some a full head shorter than she — and had all the advantages of being a fall baby, never blinking an eye about separating from me as she walked into school.
My middle daughter came into her own at age six. After five years of fragility, she emerged from the cocoon of her own body around the time of her sixth birthday, finally eating and running and playing as a child her age should do. It was a triumphant time, a celebration of her metamorphosis.
And now my baby is turning six. A summer baby, she was one of the youngest in her kindergarten class. From the first day of school in August up until the very last day of school in June, my littlest girl clung to me at drop-off, reluctant to separate. Her suffocating clinginess is at odds with her outgoing personality, her exuberant laugh, and her penchant for creating philosophical videos about life and equality.
She loves to dance and sing and skate, but a paralyzing sense of fear keeps her from participating in nearly half of her performances and recitals. Our friends and family are always surprised by the persistent grip of her fear, and on those occasions when she actually gets on the ice rink or the stage, she radiates confidence.
So much has changed within my youngest girl during the completion of her sixth year of life. In many ways, she has gained skills that mark her transition from little kid to big kid. She went from actively decrying literacy into reading in both English and Spanish. She went from barely swimming to easily covering the length of the whole pool, a tiny wriggly fish in the water. For the first time in almost thirteen years, I do not need to be physically attached to one of my children in the water, a sensation as freeing as it is unsettling.
Although tiny, my new six-year-old is not a pushover, and nobody can bulldoze her into doing something she doesn’t want to do. This stubborn tenacity can work against us, but it also serves her well. Older and bigger kids do not get the better of her, even when they try to use their size to swing her influence. She is a strange combination of impossibly brave and timid all at once.
An empathetic soul, my littlest girl feels the pain and joy of others acutely. One day, a little boy in her kindergarten class was crying, and she told me, “Mama, my eyes started watering, too. I couldn’t stand to see him crying.” Sometimes, her empathy is so strong that it incapacitates her. She has been known to sob uncontrollably when her sisters are upset or when she watches a sad movie, to the point that we need to distract her from the pain of others. But there is a lighthearted component to her excess of empathy; she will burst into gales of laughter by merely watching others playing and having fun. A contagious giggler.
I’ve never known a child who can throw herself into feeling happiness the way she does. Her whole body laughs, from the springy curls surrounding the sparkle in her eyes down to the bouncing in her toes. Pure delight.
I think now of my six-year-old, balancing on the cusp of moving into first grade. Moving further away from a world where mommy and daddy are the center of her universe, where all she needs to feel safe is to be in my arms, holding her beloved Bunny.
Our world is a complicated place to be raising three daughters. Misogyny finds women of every race and class. There are injustices and cruelties facing females at every turn in every society, be it acid attacks for women who seek nothing more than an education, to the kidnapping and enslavement of young girls for the sex trade, to the pervasive problem of campus rape and sexual assault in the most prestigious of colleges and universities.
My daughter is only just six, but she knows the world is not always a kind place to girls and women. What I am trying to teach her is not to live in fear, but rather to demand that the world treat her with the respect that she deserves, which is no more and no less than the respect every human being deserves.
Her white skin – just beginning to sport a few precious freckles across the nose — does not entitle her to better treatment than anyone else. Likewise, those parts of her identity that characterize her as a minority — her Jewish religion and her female gender — do not mark her as lesser than anyone else. I believe the citizens of our world are recognizing more and more each day that neither entitlement nor marginalization is acceptable. My hope is for my daughter to grow up in a world where people prioritize equality, peace, kindness, and environmental preservation, where the sexualization of girls and women is replaced by a keen interest in the minds and accomplishments of our mothers, sisters, and daughters.
Now we are six, my love. We have so much hope ahead of us. The world, while not a gentle place, is filled with beauty and life and an infinite capacity to change and grow. You, too, have an infinite capacity to change and grow. You can read, write, swim, dance, plant a garden, comfort others, skate and sing. When you smile, everyone in your presence smiles with you, so bright is the light of your happiness.
And when you make mistakes, as you have done in your first six years and will continue to do for many decades, my hope for you is that you will always have the courage to own up to those mistakes and ask how you can make things better. Repair the harms instead of defending your errors. We will always love you; our love is unconditional, and we are here for you.
You bring our family more joy than we thought possible. Happy birthday, my littlest love.
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