As my electric toothbrush stopped buzzing, I decided I didn’t want the birthday to be quite over. I went over to Iris’ room and said "Iris, I want to start a birthday tradition. What do you think?" She said,"yeah, that would be fun!" So I lay down in bed next to her with the lights still out and told her that every night on her birthday, I would tell her the story of the night she was born. She replied "yeah, you said you were going to do that on the night before I my birthday because that was the night of the story". Wow, that’s right, I did tell her that. OK, apparently my daughter was gifted with a phenomenal memory. "OK, well birthday night can be fun too, right?" She smiled and said "yeah". So there we both lay in the dark as I shared the story of 50+ hours of labor, the realization and excitement when fatherhood truly hit me several hours before her birth, and then seeing her for the first time and seeing my mother in her face. And then I told her "And now you’re five and I couldn’t be more proud of how you turned out. You’re wonderful and thoughtful and loving and caring." And what she said in response absolutely blew me away. "But Daddy, I’m proud of you. You teach me so much and do stuff with me and make me laugh. We have so much fun. I’m proud of you as a Daddy. You’re the best Daddy in the world."
I confess I teared up as I typed those last few sentences.
As much as I love how people have been so complimentary of Cherise and I as parents, there was something about that moment that made the last five years as real as the moment several hours before Iris was born where I realized that I was about to embark on a new life. Maybe it was the idea that my daughter could be proud of me. Maybe it was the tremendous way in which she articulated her sentiment, saying things in a way that I couldn’t have imagined her doing for years. Maybe it’s because she knew exactly how much it meant to me to hear that. Or maybe it’s because just as I tell her how she was "thoughtful" and "caring", she outdoes herself and manages to magnify the statement I made 10 seconds earlier. But I guess if I needed any evidence to understand what it means to have a five-year old, that was it. She’s a full person. Her statements have meaning and purpose (how many adults can you say that about?). She understands and appreciates people and things. She doesn’t take things for granted. This isn’t about not writing with crayons on the wall (though she has never done that). This isn’t about saying please and thank you (though she is really good at that). This is about understanding context of a situation and expressing appreciation. You can try to teach that, but sometimes, it’s there or it isn’t. Again, I know a lot of adults how couldn’t adapt to a conversations like that (and don’t get me started on the entitled society we live in).
I usually mark every kid birthday by reflecting on the development and maturation of the kids, but there are days when I simply underestimate how far they’ve come. Fortunately, Iris manages to give me every opportunity to realize it. Five years in, it’s my job to keep up.