Today is M.’s eighth birthday. The kid is growing up and beginning to leave the trappings of early childhood behind. Over the weekend, we were in the vicinity of a group of girls I will guess were in the 12-14 range. M. kind of drifted away from the rest of the family and just stared at the party for the longest time, taking in everything the girls were doing and saying. You could tell she was planning her own adolescent get-togethers.

Man, it’s really close.

But she’s still a kid. We had a small crisis about gifts last week when, at the last minute, she insisted she wanted to go to the Build A Bear store. Forget that the store is overpriced and under-delivers1, but I kept thinking, “Does she really need more stuffed animals? Won’t this be cast aside quickly as a ‘baby toy’ as she gravitates towards big girl toys?” Fortunately, with some help from our neighbors, we’ve dodged the Build a Bear bullet for the time being. Hopefully L. won’t be asking for the same thing when her fourth birthday rolls around in October.

I found my reaction to that kind of odd, since you don’t really want your kids to grow up faster than they need to. What’s wrong with her wanting another stuffed animal? Why can’t she cling to the things that comforted her in her toddler and preschool years just a little longer? She could be asking for iPod Touches or cell phones, items some of her friends already have. I should be glad she’s not in a hurry to grow up just yet. Those days will come soon enough.

I like to give a summary of each daughter on their birthday. While M. is growing and maturing, she’s really the same kid she’s always been. She’s smart and inquisitive. She sees everything and forgets almost nothing. Each time she discovers something new, her face lights up in delight and she is quick to share her discovery with anyone in earshot. She reminds me of myself in having lots of interests but is still able to submerse herself in one of them for long periods of time. Sometimes we’ll sit together, both quietly reading a book, and I get the same thrill that other fathers get when they play catch with their sons or help their daughter build a science project.

I love the rare moments when it’s just the two of us. That’s when she calms down and stops seeking her mother’s attention or trying to boss/correct her sisters. We have great conversations and I see the sweet, intelligent girl her teachers always compliment me for.

I must admit, I don’t deal well with a lot of her big sister qualities, probably because I was never bossed nor had anybody to boss. It seems like I’m constantly telling her to give her sisters a break and stop instructing them on what they should say or do. I keep telling myself that big personality is going to come in handy one day, and she’s growing into a world where it will be even more accepted for a woman to have a strong point of view and be a bold leader of others than it is even today.

Each year I say that I don’t worry about her at all. That’s still the case, although there are days when I think she’s not going to make it to her teenage years, let alone adulthood, because of her rapidly emerging attitude. Provided we all survive the next 15 years or so, she’ll have no problem carving out a path in life.

M. was born two weeks early when she forced her way into the world unexpectedly. She’s been making sure she got her way ever since. While it often drives me crazy, I know that’s a skill that should serve her well as she grows older.

  1. I base that on the comments of many other parents.