Tomorrow you turn four years old, which I’m hoping means you’ll finally be done asking “When is it my birthday, Mom? How many days until my birthday, Mom? How many hours till my birthday, Mom? Can it please be my birthday now?” This is the first year you’ve understood what a birthday is, and it’s suddenly the most exciting thing in the whole world to you. In fact, just as I was tucking you into bed you said, “I can’t wait to be four tomorrow. Four is my very favorite!”
Lately I’ve spent a lot of time wondering which of the day to day moments that we share will stick with you and become your memories. What will become your rituals, your stories, the things you remember and can’t wait to tell your own children about? I have very clear memories from about four years old on, and a handful of slightly hazier ones from when I was just two or three. I worry sometimes that your first memories will be of me losing my patience or yelling about something that was most likely totally trivial, but for one reason or another I just couldn’t let go of at the time.
Instead, I hope your first memories are of good things like lazy days spent at the lake, eating snow cones under a shade tree at the park, racing down the water slide at the pool, lying next to each other in the bed of a truck and watching fireworks light up the sky, or running from waves on the beach and catching crabs from tide pools in California. Since I’m not working anymore (this is the first real summer break I’ve had in ten years) we were able to get out and enjoy all the fun things summer has to offer. And you, my little adventurer, have loved every minute of it! If I had to describe your personality using only a few words, I’d simply say that you are up for just about anything. Whatever we’re doing, wherever we happen to be going… you’re always excited to go along for the ride. And you hope with all your little heart that it’ll be a fast, bumpy ride with twists and turns and at least one loopty-loo along the way.
A couple weeks ago we were lucky enough to take a trip to San Diego with Grandma and Grandpa Carmody (or, as you like to call them, Grandma Candy and Grandpa Crazy) and one morning while we were there I came into the kitchen to find you talking with my aunt. You didn’t see or hear me, so for a minute or two I quietly stood there just watching you being your charming, brilliant, hilarious little self. It’s a rare thing for me to see you interact with other people independently. Usually I’m right beside you being the mom — the one telling you no, insisting that you use your inside voice, trying to teach you manners, doing my best to make sure you behave at least slightly better than a feral animal — so the side of you I get to see most often is a little more feisty, stubborn, headstrong. But there you were, politely asking if you could please have more cereal and recounting events from the previous day in such a sweet and comical way. And in that moment my heart swelled with so much love and pride that I almost couldn’t breathe. You’re absolutely amazing, stunning in every way. And I created you! I’m responsible for sharing you and all your awesomeness with the world and no matter what else I do in life, nothing will ever top that.
One of your favorite things we did while on vacation was go to the zoo. I’ve heard people talk about how cool the San Diego Zoo is, and I remember going there when I was young, but it wasn’t until going back as an adult that I realized it truly is an amazing place. Much bigger and far more impressive than the zoo we usually go to in Salt Lake City. You loved everything about it! One of those very clear memories from my early childhood is of riding the sky ride at the San Diego Zoo. I’m guessing I was maybe four or five at the time. My sisters and I were riding the Skyfari, looking down at all the trees and people and zoo attractions and I remember thinking “this is what it must feel like to fly.” And suddenly, the ride stopped.
There we were, suspended from a tiny cable in the sky, unable to do anything but wait for the cars to start moving again, and I started to panic a little. I suddenly began imagining all the terrible things that could happen to us. Our car might fall off that cable and we’d drop to our deaths, or maybe the ride wouldn’t ever start back up and we’d be stuck there forever. What would we eat? Where would we go to the bathroom? Needless to say, whatever the issue was, it was resolved quickly and we were safely back on the ground just a few minutes later, but I’m certain that my ridiculous fear of heights can be traced directly back to that incident.
Well of course you saw the sky ride almost immediately upon entering the zoo and eagerly said, “Whoa! Can we go on that, Mama?” As we stood in line waiting for our turn to board, I started feeling a little sick to my stomach. But I didn’t want you to know how scared I was because I didn’t want to make you worry or let my fear ruin the experience for you. To say you enjoyed the ride would definitely be an understatement. You loved it! Your eyes were wide with amazement as you looked down at the people and scenery so far below us. You smiled as the wind blew through your hair and caressed your face, and then you looked at me and cheerily said, “You can look down, Mom.”
You couldn’t see the way my knuckles were turning white from holding onto my seat so tightly, and I don’t think you noticed that the smile on my face was forced as I told you, “I’m actually choosing not to look down, but thanks anyway, love. Guess what? I have a secret, but I’m not going to tell you until we’re done riding, okay?” When the ride was over and we had reached the other side of the park, I said, “Wanna know my secret? I’m super duper afraid of heights!”
“Did you hear that?” my uncle Joe (who had ridden with us) asked. “You helped your Mom be brave!” You were so proud that you were able to help me, and for the next week you would randomly walk up to me, grab my hand and say, “Remember when you were scared to go in the sky and I helped you be brave?”
Morgan, I know I’ve said it before but sometimes I can’t help but look at you and wish you’d stay this way forever. You are the child that people envision when they think of what it might be like to have a family. The way you throw your head back and laugh with your whole body, the way your eyes have a constant expression of wonderment and joy in them. The way you squeal and clap when something excites you, the way you believe in magic and goodness and fairy tales. I wish you could stay this small, this uncorrupted and innocent forever. I wish that we could just stay here, here where you’re completely naive to the harsher realities of life, here where a hug from you is enough to save me from the sometimes overwhelming circumstances of adulthood.
But I know that I can’t stop time. I know that before long you’ll stumble headfirst into this thing called life, and I know you’re going to love it because it’s just the kind of crazy trip you hope for. So I’m doing my best to brace myself for the bumpy ride I know is ahead of us. Just promise me you’ll do one thing, kiddo. Help me be brave.
Happy birthday, little love. I hope four is all you’ve been waiting for.