Four: A Dad Reflects on His Daughter’s Fourth Year of Life.

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She sat there with her book wide open and looked up at me with her big brown eyes and melted my heart, “Papa. I love you. I missed you.”

I cried. I missed her too.

I have been traveling for the past week leading up to her fourth birthday and in a year filled with tremendous transition from moving across the country, to working on a dissertation, to Tracy’s job transitions, to changing pre-schools and having to make new friends; Elliot has been a champion throughout this entire season of crazy. Her third year of life was full of so much change.

Change is hard and as I look at this little girl who is growing up right before my very eyes I am caught between tears of sadness for what has past—note to self, don’t look at old pictures of your daughter the day before her birthday unless you want to sob—and with joy and pride for who she is becoming. She is resilient and with the big situations in life, she’s patient. Of course she still wants her cookies RIGHT NOW! But don’t we all? I find myself at times given to sadness by the amount of change she has had to experience in such a short amount of time. There’s a large swell of guilt that I feel for creating such a monumental amount of change in her life. A guilt for not being able to make it easier on her, for ultimately being responsible for all of this. Parental guilt is hard, real hard. And yet in the midst of it all there is this sweet and kind and smart little girl who seemingly takes it all in stride.

I sat there with her as she laid in bed, her music playing softly in the background, I asked, “Elliot, what are you most excited about by turning four?”

Without pause she responded, “I’m excited to start listening to you and momma!”

You see, for a little over a year now Elliot has promised that she will start listening to us when she turns four years old… you know, when she “grows up.” And she remembers this promise… and the night before her birthday she’s excited to follow through. And so am I. But as I think about this little moment, she knows how much this little promise means to Tracy and I. We’ve talked about it pretty regularly over the past year. And here, on the night before her birthday she’s thinking about us. She’s thinking about what she can give to us instead of thinking about herself. It’s as if this promise is her fourth birthday gift to us. And that seems to be a core part of who she is as a person. In fact, just last week she was busy helping put together her birthday party goodie bags for her friends and as she put different items into the bag she would remark, “Oh they’re going to love this!” That’s my girl!

Later that night I snuck into her room. She had crawled out of bed and made a nice and neat bed right in front of the door and fallen asleep. I scooped her up, laid her back in her bed, brushed her wild and curly hair aside and whispered into her ear like I do every night, “Papa loves you.” I stood in her doorway and watched the last few minutes of her third year of life pass by. I took a deep breath and let a couple of tears escape.

She’s four. (And now she’ll start listening to us!)

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