My daughter is four today (FOUR!). Maybe it’s the fact that she’ll be starting junior kindergarten in the fall or maybe it’s just the developmental shift that’s unfolding before me daily, but that number sounds monumental. I can’t sum her up in a neat little paragraph or chapter. Maybe a book? But I’d be wrapping up the final page and she’d already be in another stratosphere.
Leni is constantly surprising me and morphs so suddenly (and subtly) that it’s imperceptible until it’s not and she just embodies this whole new skill, quirk, vocabulary, etc. Between August and September, Leni’s face widened just so and her soft baby cheeks finally bid adieu, her communication sharpened and she grew enough to peer over the kitchen counter and just reach the bathroom tap in the basement to nudge it on. Turning it off is another matter. She’s gone up 2 shoe sizes since and her hair is ready for another trim. The really remarkable changes are less obvious though. A friend said they could see it in her eyes, the way she looked at him when they spoke. There’s a clarity there. A kind of comprehension that wasn’t there only a few months back.
She can now count without using her fingers every time. She recently started to write the first two letters of her name without tracing and likes to spell it aloud from memory. She has innumerable songs in her arsenal. She’s even into many more palatable tunes of late too, a nice reprieve from Raffi and the Wiggles I can get behind. Her latest fave is Diamonds by Rihanna. We have a Google Home and she requests it daily in her beautiful sing-songy lilt. (Her voice, thankfully, has yet to lose it’s padded baby soft mellody.) Months after Halloween she suddenly decided Ghostbusters was the best song ever so that’s on rotation too. We were pleased when we got her into Queen and The Beatles pretty heavily for a while, although my parents would be thrilled to never hear Bicycle Race again.
Leni loves to wear her princess dresses still, especially her Elsa dress. Her imagination is constantly developing and evolving. She will carry on full conversations in whatever make believe story she’s enacting. I’ve been told a few times, “I’m actually not speaking to you,” when I mistakenly respond to a question meant for a character she’d manifested. Many of her stories revolve around real-life situations too, but she does love princesses and unicorns and such. I caught her looking quite forlorn yesterday and when I asked what was wrong she said, “I wish I could be Elsa and have her magic for real.”
In general, Leni digs all things “pretty” and “feminine.” In fact, she has recently become fixated on getting a pair of high heels. Ok so we caved after a few weeks of near constant requests and got her some god-awful Frozen plastic kitten heels from Walmart. Jose and I love clothes, but her fashion sensibilities are quite different from ours. I’m not sure I even own a pair of heels anymore. Anything pink, purple or sparkly is right up her alley. When she puts on something she perceives as pretty, you can always tell she’s really feeling herself. She’ll put on a bashful grin and literally bat her eyelashes. She may even start to move and twirl in slow motion like she’s presenting herself to a fawning audience. I suppose we do fawn over her, if I’m completely honest.
Right now one of her favourite games is lining up some alphabet cards (in no discernable order) and pretending they each represent a month of the year. She will then sing the months of the year song. I assume they sing this at preschool as she is usually the teacher in this game and we are the students. She loves the classics like hide and seek (although she sucks at hiding, often telling us where to hide or where she plans to hide), I Spy and “doctor.” She also loves colouring and making clay “cakes.” Cake-making is an obsession she has acquired from this YouTube show Nerdy Nummies (basically a baking show where they make themed cakes). We watch it with her as a reward when she does “homework” (preschool work books). Reward is just a positive spin on bribery. Let’s be honest.
In the New Year, Leni started a storytime class at the library on Fridays. I bring her to the room for her class and take Finn to the kids area of the library (because she is a big kid now, ok?). Then we come back in to help her with a craft 30 minutes later. As such, I’ve never fully witnessed her in class. One day recently we went to family story time with both kids. The same librarian was running it and it must be very similar cause Leni knew the drill. She launched right in full steam ahead. She was answering all the questions, right or wrong, at the top of her voice and dancing like no one was watching when we did singalong. I found myself filled with intense pride at this magnificent confident creature before me while simultaneously blushing at the attention she was drawing.
When I recently met with her teacher at her preschool, she described her as serious and mature. At home, Leni is loud and silly and imaginative, has big big feelings and fills a room. It’s just so amazing to start to unravel all these facets of her personality.
At the end of her first term of ballet, we got to watch her during a class and she was so focused and danced along with the teacher the entire time. She recently told me, however, that ballet was too boring because the music was too slow and wanted to tap dance because the music was more her speed. M’k.
I’m trying to hold onto all these little moments. I know how quickly it all shifts and it’s such a good reminder for me not to wish us out of the tougher times. Truth is, Leni and I bicker a lot these days. Mostly regarding time. The time it takes to get ready, eat breakfast, get into the car, to do basically everything really. It can seriously get in the way of my ability to recognize the beauty of this age and it’s pretty wearing on both of us. I want to be chiller, but then we would never get a single thing accomplished. But I digress. Leni is a typical newly-minted 4-year-old in this regard and it’ll all come out in the wash, right? Right?!
Anywho, here are a few memories from the past few months that come to mind as I sit here trying to encapsulate the peanut…
We ran into our neighbours the other day. Their daughters are a little older and go to Leni’s school. She basically invited herself over for a playdate there and then. When I picked her up a little later, their mum told me she had asked if she could sleepover! She knows what she wants, I guess. I only realized the next day she’d been reading a story with Jose in her “Frozen” anthology book about a sleepover between Anna and Elsa. But still. Ha!
Leni’s preschool says a generic all-inclusive prayer at meal times. There are even actions. “(Hands up) May the great spirit work (Hands face each other and make a circular motion) sunshine in our hearts (touch overlapped hands to chest three times).” My parents are Christian and ask Leni if she’d like to pray at meal times so it alternates between a quick and loud “thank you God for the food. Amen” and her leading the lot of us in this school prayer. She commands us all to do it with her. “You can’t eat until we do great spirit! Hands up!” Future leader, our girl.
One of the better “toy” investments we’ve ever made was Leni’s scooter. To be honest, it was a gift from her Baba we requested for christmas one year. Anyway, unlike the wooden balance bike (heartbreak), Leni actually uses the scooter and gets better all the time. For New Years we stayed in a hotel with the kids downtown and brought her scooter to go through the PATH (an underground network in the core of Toronto) knowing it would be abandoned on a holiday. Sne hadn’t been able to ride it since early fall, but pretty quickly figured out how to use the break—something she had yet to master (with this scooter you have to step down on the back wheel to break). We’ve had a few more mild days recently so she’s been able to practise this new-ish skill. I love watching her, head adorned in her neon yellow helmet, bobbing up and down as she glides along the pavement. She’ll stick her leg back like a figure skater and call back to us or sing as she goes. There’s just something kind of magical seeing her independent like that.
She still sucks her first two fingers on her left hand (palm up) when she’s tired or needing some extra comfort and loves her blankie(s) fiercely. Her current favourite is her elephant blankie. We have more boundaries around when the blankie can come out now, but it’s been a big year moving in with my parents, gaining a new brother and adjusting to a new preschool so we’ve decided not to sweat it too much. Or I try not to anyway.
Leni has taken on a few little responsibilities of late. She often helps me prep salads (either peeling cucumbers or tossing and adding ingredients), she helps set the table at dinner, takes her plate to the sink when she’s finished, she sometimes helps close the shutters when it starts to get dark, she mostly dresses and undresses herself (depending on my patience or how much time we have that day) and recently, she started to feed our dog Ruby. I guess I failed to put distinct boundaries on this task outside of showing her how much to feed her and reminding her when the clock strikes five everyday. Due to this oversight, Leni thought she could feed Ruby any Time she felt so inclined. Like so many things with the kids, I learned this the hard way.
So the other day, I was putting away leftovers after dinner when both kids disappeared into the laundry room next to the kitchen where we keep Ruby’s bowls. About a minute later Leni comes out to breathlessly tell me Finn was eating dog food! It should be noted that I had watched Leni feed the dog an hour earlier. I rush around the corner and dog food is all over the floor and Finn’s mouth is full of kibble (thank goodness we don’t feed her the raw stuff anymore!). I scooped it out to his dismay. He really got a taste for it I think because he tried to dart back in for more as soon as I put him down. And continues to beeline for it anytime Ruby has a meal. Leni definitely put on a well-practised “who me?” face. Like, what? I was feeding the dog like you told me! Anywho, it was pretty hilarious to be honest. But never tell her that! I mean you do have to give the girl credit for taking the initiative.
I must say, Leni has grown into a pretty darn cool big sister. She’s always very proud to introduce Finn to her friends or new people she meets. She was getting her jacket on at preschool pick up the other day and her classmate was by his cubby getting ready too. She kept trying to coax him to check out Finn. “Do you want to touch him? Go ahead!” He did not btw. Understandably, it’s also been a big adjustment. Babies do tend to get a lot of attention because they are cute, yes, but also just out of necessity. He needs a bit more help staying alive and out of trouble in general. Now that he is walking, he’s also getting into stuff a lot more. Sometimes it’s entertaining or nice for her cause he can play with her in a way he just couldn’t before. Other times I can tell it’s very frustrating. He wants to check out everything she’s doing and has an affinity for all things pink like his big sis. She doesn’t always want to share with him either and that’s ok. But man does Finn know how to scrap! And the two of them are screamers so it’s been interesting to navigate. The flip side is that she really looks out for him. Half the time she’s keeping him away from the stairs and taking anything from him she deems a choking hazard or that’s likely to hurt him. She also teaches him new skills. The other day, she taught him how to twirl around and he was copying her by falling down after a few spins. I know siblingdom is a mixed bag, but ultimately the relationship they build will shape them. As parents, we obviously won’t always get it right or be the right people to lean on in every situation and I am just so grateful they’ll have each other. No pressure, kids, but you’re going to have to figure your shit out and be friends, damn it.
Anywho, if you’ve read this far along it’s probably because you personally know the force which is my Leni. I’ve gone on a bit here in hopes that I won’t forget all these little moments. So many have already been lost in the mummy fog.
Love you so so much, Leni. There’s no one quite like you.