Happy Birthday baby girl! For about the last month we have been telling inquirers that you are "almost 4," but you are quick to correct us that indeed you are "3 and a half". Not anymore.
Now you are 4.
While you and your sister were away at Gran Camp this week I was off in Westport with my parents pretending to be retired. (It was wonderfully relaxing but I missed you guys something awful.) My dad spent a lot of time in Westport and nearby Tokeland as a boy and young man and he was full of stories of adventures on the beach with his older brother and trips on the ocean to fish with his dad. At one my point I asked him when he was going to take time to write his memoirs, as I honestly felt like I should have had a tape recorder with us.
My dad has spent years gathering a huge file of family history. But it is not the names and the dates, the births and the deaths that interest me one bit. (Sorry Dad.) I want the stories.
So for your birthday this year I want to give you some stories. Just a few that have come to mind as I have hung your birthday banner and wrapped your presents and sorted through 4 years of pictures.
You threw your first tantrum at 8 months old. I don't remember what it was over, but you didn't get what you wanted and you weren't happy about it. And then you threw your head back in anger and promptly bumped it on our wooden floor. Oh man, did that ever make things worse.
And what could we do but laugh?
We are still working on learning that throwing a fit isn't the way to get what you want. You have strong emotions and feel things deeply. You react instantly, often with tears and shouts. You get worked up so quickly and it is hard to get you back down, to get you to breath and get some perspective on the situation.
So we play games. I challenge you to stomp even louder. I demand you show me your mad face, madder, then a silly face and a surprised face and a laughing face. I pretend my finger is a birthday candle and you've got to blow it out. Whoops, gotta blow a bit harder. We put ourselves in the other person's shoes, and you spend the next 15 minutes coming up with hypothetical example after hypothetical example.
And in getting you down from that fit, you bring out a creativity in me that makes me feel like a good mom.
Families have stories that become legend, stories that you hear so often you start to develop a memory of the experience even if you aren't sure it's your own memory or the storyteller's. And then there are those phrases that begin, "stop me if you've heard this." When your Papa and I were dating we developed a system where we would hold up a finger for how many times we'd heard a particular tale as the other person began the telling of it.
I think I'd have to hold up fingers and toes when Darin describes the differences between you and your sister the next time. He tells people that you both are very compassionate and kind. But that someday Daisy will change the world by loving one orphan at a time, while you will overthrow a country and become a benevolent dictator.
We do our best to not let you be the dictator in this family just yet.
You are pretty legendary around church. I look forward to the funny stories I know will appear in my inbox on or my facebook wall on a Monday morning.
One time you had a guest teacher who was speaking to his daughter in Spanish. You asked him what he was saying and he explained that he speaks both English and Spanish to his daughter, then asked you what language you spoke. Without missing a beat you responded, "I don't speak English OR Spanish...I speak normal." Your entertained teacher told this story so many times it got back to me from several people.
Your regular teacher is Mr. Mark, whom you adore (and for good reason). You told me that you really wanted a playdate with Mr. Mark, which I discouraged citing a vast age difference. So a few weeks later you informed me that Papa and I needed a date night, so you'd like Mr. Mark to be your babysitter instead. The fact that I told you I didn't have Mr. Mark's phone number must have stuck, because the next week you walked into class demanding Mr. Mark give you his phone number and did not let up until you had it.
It took one day for you to wrap the teenage helper at VBS around your finger so that we all knew Dani had her very own VBS volunteer.
When you were 18 months old you could talk like a 3-year-old. It was kind of insane. But of course you didn't behave like a 3-year-old, or even like a 2-year-old. I had to remind myself every day that the behavior I could expect out of you did not match your vocabulary skills. And that as much as I felt I could reason with you, and logically explain the situation because I knew you understood the words, you did not yet have the mental capacity for logic yet.
And while you are such a good kid, with great behavior, your vocabulary skills are still incredibly advanced. You leave us shaking our heads EVERY SINGLE DAY with the things that come out of your mouth.
Just this week your Papa was telling you that you couldn't have a birthday party (one being planned as a part of Gran Camp) and you rolled your eyes at him, telling him "it is only a small celebration." Seriously? "Celebration?"
Or how about when you were looking at pictures on the wall, "Papa, when Daisy was little, she had my face."
Oh, and the way you tell stories. So much emotion. So much drama. You pause in all the right places to increase the tension in your story, even if it is only one about finding me in the shower one morning when you woke up. "I knocked on the door...and I heard come in...so I opened the door...and I walked in...and do you know who was there...Mama...behind the shower curtain...and she was wet!" (There is no way to write the way your eyes looked and your tone, and how you made eye contact with every single person around the table to ensure we were all hanging on your every word.)
I have felt for a long time that you need your own reality show. For one reason, there is no way my memory is what I want it to be when it comes to our conversations. And I have no skills in writing your inflection, which often is half the story itself. And I know the world would fall in love with you the way that every single person you meet easily does.
This year you learned to write your name. You learned to dress yourself (in a "fancy dress" every single day if we'd let you). You are on your way to swimming.
And this year you became a big sister. You were such a good big sister, and such a good helper. You were patient. You shared toys and even your precious blankie a time or two. And you didn't really cry much when it was time to say goodbye.
But about three weeks later I was a bubbling mess, literally on my knees locked in my room begging God for help. You had decided you would not do anything we asked. A simple request to put your shoes away would result in 15 minutes of screaming and crying and body slamming. When I didn't know if I would make it another day, your Papa suggested you perhaps were feeling a lack of control in the situation with your foster sister and maybe we needed to approach you differently.
We'd known for a long time that unless something was your idea, you'd be a tough one to convince. We'd been using love-and-logic parenting with you and your sister successfully, giving choices and control wherever we felt we could. But it was time to get even more creative, and search for even more opportunity to give you control. For example, knowing that putting the shoes away was a necessity, we'd tell you that. "Dani, I need you to put your shoes away. Would you like to do it now, or after we read a story?" Giving you even more control wherever we could seemed to help and the amount of daily battles over the smallest things slowly diminished. (And man, was I thankful for your wise Papa.)
Although one day recently you did pay your sister to do some chores for you that you didn't want to do. So I guess you're pretty creative too.
In many ways you are a typical kid with typical fears. We've held you a lot this past year as you've cried about monsters and shadows and bad guys. We've pulled out every trick in the book to get you to stay in bed. (Yes, there was even a week there where we paid you quarters for not waking us up at night. Honestly though, you were walking into our room and demanding one of us tuck you back in. It was ridiculous!) And you go running for the hills anytime a fluffy mascot comes your way. (Chuck-E-Cheese and parades are not your happy place.)
You would not start ballet until you were good and ready. Your danced in the waiting room for months during your sister's class before you were ready for your own. But once you had that pink leotard and ballet slippers on, there was no stopping you. And then there was the insane freakout before the rehearsal and performance nights. But every time your teachers told me to walk away while you were screaming and panicking, and then minutes later there you would be on stage, doing your dance, no one the wiser to what had happened backstage.
Some days you happily go to class at MOPS or church and others are not so easy. You asked for a haircut for nearly a year, with us attempting twice to get you in the chair amidst your panic attack before one day when I was out of town you actually let Papa take you and sat in the chair long enough for one adorable haircut to happen. Ditto for the dentist. And the doctor. We just had to be patient. You'd come around to sitting in that chair and letting that girl count your teeth when you were good and ready.
But in many ways this year you've surprised us with your bravery. Just a few weeks ago we were selling lemonade at a fireworks tent, and while Daisy shied away from talking to strangers, you would walk right up to anyone who came within 25 feet and ask if they'd like to buy lemonade. You are hard to turn down, but even if you got a no-thank-you, you'd just skip off to find the next person. When you fell and the goose egg on your forehead kept you from wanting to continue on, our sales dropped dramatically.
No one can come for a visit without getting a Dani performance. One time our Guardian-Ad-Litem called to tell me that she'd be bringing an intern with her to our visit that week. I told her she needed to prepare him for the show that would likely be happening. And you didn't make a liar out of me. Nope. You put on your best dress up outfit, got out the bathroom step stool as your stage, and demanded audience participation as well. (Yes, besides clapping enthusiastically at the end we had to stand up whenever you told us to.)
You charm strangers wherever you go and hold long conversations about very important topics. And are not afraid to make demands of your fans. I have seen more grown men leap or twirl because you told them to then I ever thought possible.
And who can forget the little girl who stole the show by giving this toast at a wedding? (The emcee had encouraged any of the wedding party who wanted to toast the couple, so when Papa asked if you wanted to say anything on the microphone, you eagerly agreed.)
See what I mean? Someone out there have a connection at TLC or Bravo? This girl would seriously needs a film crew.
And this Mama needs some way to record it all and stop the clock. Because I could go on writing stories for days. And I'd never get caught up, because there would be new ones every day.
I don't ever want to get caught up. Keep on surprising me. Keep on challenging me. Keep on bringing out the best in me.