Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A birthday post for C.

Happy 9th birthday, C.!

I have noted but never before dedicated an entire post to either your or G.'s birthday. But I wanted to turn the tables on you, C., and surprise YOU for once. For if I had to pick a single word to describe you, it would be "surprise."

Learning that you were growing inside your mother's tummy was a surprise. You were born a couple of weeks before we expected you, so that was a surprise. When I saw you raise your head off the bed when you were 2 days old, that was a surprise. And on and on and on, up to today.

You are the embodiment of what grown-ups call "thinking outside the box," and you have been that way since you were old enough to be able to show us that. You never learned how to do that--you just did it. This is still my favorite story about you: One day in the summer, when you were about three, your mom took you and G. to Dauphin Island, and you all brought home some hermit crabs. One day your mom found you on the counter in the kitchen, picking up one of the crabs and looking at it. As she got you down from the counter, she told you, "Don't touch the crabs." She left the room for a bit. When she came back a few minutes later, she again found you on the counter, but this time you were picking up the crab with kitchen tongs. You weren't touching them.

See? Surprise.

It's moments like that that show me how similar to and yet different from your sister you are. You both are scary-smart, but whereas G. is a deep and careful thinker who usually makes good decisions about important things, you have a very quick, impulsive wit that-so far--hasn't gotten you into too much trouble. You are a wonderful mimic; you love to be chosen to recite poems onstage at school; and you can make up your own songs and poems as though, as the Greeks believed, the Muse were singing through you. It is funny and wondrous all at once. It is truly a gift, what you have. Your mother and I think you may decide to become some sort of performer, though not necessarily on "the" stage. But it seems part of your very being that you require "a" stage so that you can be wholly and entirely you.

"Mercurial" is a fancy word that describes you, too--or, more to the point, it's a word people use to describe someone who surprises them all the time. Like the god who lends his name to that word, you (usually) skim lightly over the surfaces of things and (usually) don't show it when something troubles you. But that doesn't mean you don't feel things deeply. I heard your wail when your cat died last year; I know that you look at little things of mine that I didn't take with me when I moved to Wichita; I know you truly care about people who don't have enough food and who don't know about Jesus and how much He loves us. And knowing those things about you is surprising as well precisely because you don't show them or share them all the time, not even with your mother and me. It's not that you feel deeply that's surprising; it's how deeply you feel that is the surprise.

I thought it would be fun to look at Wikipedia's list of people born on this day to see the historical luminaries whose company you grace by virtue of your birthday's being today. I have to say, though, that what is surprising about the list--and no offense intended to the good people listed therein--is how boring most all these people are to me. You are far more interesting to me than anyone listed there, which is of course as it should be, seeing as you are my daughter, but you know what I mean. I do see two people on the list who remind me of you in some ways. Like Dr. Laura, you have been known to deliver the occasional withering judgment of other people, but your saving graces are a) you deliver them to G. and your parents and not to the person (I'm referring here in particular to your habit, when you were younger, to point out and criticize people whom you saw smoking); and b) you don't have a past that leaves you open to charges of hypocrisy. You compare more completely with Debbie Allen, though, with your attraction to performance and what I suspect is a strong desire in you to use art to teach people about the pain and triumph of others.

But I say these things . . . and then I remember how I began this post, and then I think, you will most likely surprise your mother and me much, much more as the years past and you learn more and come to believe what I already know: that like your sister you truly have it in you to be able to do whatever you choose to. The hard part may be in the choosing, but that will also be the time, most likely, when you surprise yourself.

Let's not worry about all that now, though. All you need to worry about is going out there and being a 9 year old. Your mother and I will not be surprised when you do a marvelous job of that, and we will love you no matter how you do that.

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Gwynne said...

This post is a beautiful gift to C. I hope she keeps it in a treasure box and reads it later, like when she's trying to decide what to do when she "grows up."

R. Sherman said...

I second Gwynne. You should print this off and save it somewhere for her in case the Blogger servers go south.