Last night you had your birthday party at The Bead Shop; ten of your friends came and made beautiful jewelry and listened to the “pop music” playlist you created on your iPod. You love creating (and wearing) jewelry, and you’ve wanted to have this party since you turned 5—but since the shop has an age threshold for birthday parties, you had to wait two years. It did not disappoint.
This was the first of your parties to be girls-only, with selected invitees. Though it was certainly developmentally appropriate, it made me a little sad, as it seemed to mark the end of the first phase of your childhood. You had your girlfriends, your playlist, and the parents were relegated to the back room for the duration of the party (you could literally feel the separation anxiety in that room—the collective sense of childhood’s end). But the experience of planning the party, and the party itself, provided an extraordinary opportunity to get to know you better. Let me explain.
From the moment you were born, you have been an intensely connected person. As your primary caretaker and (to this date) your primary person in general, to me this facet of your personality has always been obvious. As an infant, you craved physical attention—being held, cuddled, caressed. You held eye contact at a very young age (2 or 3 weeks), and seemed to recognize voices and faces very early. As a baby and toddler, all of your play was interactive; you created games that almost always involved exchange. In preschool, you seemed to go through a more solitary phase (I would often arrive to find you playing by yourself in a corner of the yard or classroom), but when asked you knew exactly what all of your friends were doing, what they ate for lunch, who had a time out and who got a sticker, and who seemed sad/angry/excited on that particular day. You wrote love letters to the important people in your life on a daily basis. I worried about your transition to Big School, both because of your age—you just made the cutoff for kindergarten, so you are the youngest in your class—and because of your sensitivity and kindness, but you managed the transition with grace and strength and have seemed to do very well with all sorts of transitions since.
You’re imaginative and strong-willed, and the adults in your life—including me—are constantly urging you to listen, to pay attention. The reports we get from school all say pretty much the same thing, quarter after quarter: something along the lines of “Sydney is a bright, happy child. She just needs to work on her listening skills.” And I’ve always sort of brushed those things aside with a knowing laugh: that’s my girl. And on the soccer field, where you’ve put in so much training and are turning into an excellent player, your only real struggle has been with focus. And we’ve had some battles, you and I, both on and off the pitch; as your coach and your mom, I’ve thought it my duty to help you hone your “listening skills,” to encourage your success.
Back to the party. In the weeks leading up to the big event, we talked about all sorts of details; this was something you’d been waiting on for a long time, and we needed to get it right. You were very concerned from the start about who would be attending the party—every day you asked me who had replied, and you kept an updated guest list, sorted into categories (coming, not coming, maybe coming), on your desk. I assumed that you were anxious about whether or not your friends would come, but when I said something to that end you corrected me. “I just need to know who’s coming,” you said, “so that I know what kind of party favors to get. J. likes lip gloss, but G. doesn’t. Maybe I could get them different favors? And S. doesn’t like chocolate, so maybe we can have some cupcakes with chocolate frosting, and some with vanilla. Also, if P. is coming, we should bring some extra activities, because she has a slow process and I know she’ll take her time making her necklace and we’ll all need something else to do so we don’t make her feel pressured to hurry up.”
I listened to this and watched you develop your party plan and realized, for the first time, what an intensely social person you are. Relationships are your primary interest; you absolutely love people. Not only that, but you also have a keen awareness of the inner lives of others; you’re able to observe and interact, and then deduce what people will want or need based upon these observations. Your friends had a wonderful time at your party, in large part because of your thoughtfulness—you were spot-on about everything.
And this got me thinking about the “attention issues.” I know now that you are, in fact, paying very close attention, all the time. Maybe not to the instructions your parents or teachers or coaches are giving, but to what’s going on with the people around you. When you win a soccer game, you’re distracted by concern about the other team feeling sad. When your friend’s parents are planning an anniversary party, you spend your evening sewing presents for them. And when you’re preparing for your own birthday party, you’re thinking about how to make the experience special and fun for everyone else. I typed that last line and cried a little—you are such an amazing and beautiful gift.
Over the years, a lot of people are going to want you to focus on other things—they’ll try to distract you from your generosity of spirit. Although I will occasionally be one of those people, I hope that you’ll fight back. I hope that I’ll always catch you sewing pillows for people you’ve only met once, when you should be doing your homework. I hope that you’ll continue to hug people on the soccer field (even though I’ll have to tell you not to). The other day you hugged me and said, “I’m in love with you, Mommy. I’m in love with the whole world.” I hope you never fall out of love, that you never stop looking deeply into everything, that you're always immersed in your own slow process of discovery and connection.
I’m in love with you, Sydney--my sweet, thoughtful, creative, and all-around amazing girl.