November 9th, 2009
We’ve had a rather rough few days around here. It hasn’t been all bad, we’ve had plenty of storytelling and tickling and other pleasant interactions. But we’ve also had way more than our usual share of time-outs and dicussions about why it’s not okay to disobey your mother, or to speak rudely, or to throw books, or to hit. We’ve talked about how it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to say, “I’m really angry about this,” but it’s not okay to lose your temper and take your anger out on the people around you.
I don’t think there’s any particular reason Annalie has been testing limits lately. She’s been eating and sleeping normally. Our routine is settling back down after travels and houseguests and sickness, so that’s probably part of it. I think it’s mostly just one of those things that kids do from time to time, checking to see if all the rules are still the same. Or maybe God thought I hadn’t been challenged enough lately. Who knows.
In any case, today was Annalie’s half-birthday—that is, the day she turned 5 1/2. My piano teacher’s family used to celebrate half-birthdays with half a cake, just for fun. Troy and I have celebrated each other’s half-birthdays a few times over the years (mine is 9/11, which has a whole new meaning the past eight years), when we’ve been apart on our actual birthdays. Today I decided to surprise Annalie with a half-cake because I thought we could use a fun surprise.
I tried to be sneaky about it. When I was in the kitchen cleaning up and Annalie was upstairs drawing and watching Cyberchase, I whipped up a small one-layer lemon cake as quietly as I could. I didn’t use my big stand mixer because I figured Annalie might hear it. While it was baking, I went back upstairs and played a game of UNO with Annalie, then went back downstairs to take out the trash and recycling, and take the cake out of the oven and make some frosting.
I discovered I could not make the frosting without using the stand mixer. Sure enough, within two seconds of turning it on, I heard Annalie jump off the couch and come clattering downstairs. I flicked the mixer off, met Annalie in the kitchen doorway and said, “You can’t come in! It’s a surprise for you and it’s not ready yet.”
Annalie grinned and asked, “Is it cake? It smells like lemon cake!”
“It’s a surprise, that’s all I’m saying. Can you please stay upstairs for a few more minutes? And not try to sneak into the kitchen? I really want it to be a fun surprise,” I answered.
Annalie, still grinning, replied, “Okay, Mama! I won’t try to sneak down, I promise.” Then, true to her word, she went back upstairs and stayed put till I was done assembling and frosting the cake. I was quite proud of her for that.
When I went upstairs to tell her she could come down and see her surprise, she fairly flew down the stairs, then giggled with delight when she saw the cake. I asked her if she knew why I made her half a cake. She didn’t, so I told her that today was her half-birthday, that today she was officially 5 1/2 years old. She laughed, then ran to get plates and forks.
We put candles in the cake, I sang to her, we took a photo for Troy, and she blew out her candles. We had tall glasses of milk and lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting for dinner. Annalie smiled and chattered nonstop the whole time, and gave me about 17 hugs and kisses while we were eating and talking about the fact that now she’s closer to being six than she is to five.
After dinner we turned on the Christmas lights still strung on our house and in the lemon tree, and went outside to play a game Annalie invented, called “Look, Gramaw sent me a care package!” Annalie put a bunch of stuffed animals and her Halloween candy in a big box, wrote “Gramaw” for the return address and scribbled fake cursive lines for the delivery address, and set it outside the sliding glass door. Then we came inside and went back outside, pretending to be surprised by the big box on the patio. Annalie spent a good 15 minutes exclaiming over the box’s contents and naming each of her “new” stuffed animals. She put the candy back in her Halloween pumpkin, saying she didn’t want any candy right then, since she’d just eaten cake. Very sensible of her, I thought.
Right before bedtime, Annalie almost lost it because she wanted to take a shower upstairs, not downstairs. I’d already switched from a bath to a shower because she insisted that she’d told me she wanted a shower (even though she had told me she wanted a bath), and didn’t feel like switching bathrooms. I told her that she could have a shower upstairs tomorrow, but tonight we were staying downstairs. Oh, the drama. Then she yelled at me because I grabbed the wrong cupcake pajamas from her dresser, she wanted the shorts ones, not the stupid long pants ones! Cue me counting to ten under my breath and saying a prayer for patience.
Compared to the defiance I’ve been dealing with in the past few days, this evening was actually pretty mild. I stayed calm and offered Annalie the choice between downstairs shower or going to bed early, and she backed down, grumbling, and even offered an apology for yelling at me. After her shower we were talking about the fact that when a grown-up says, “This is what we’re doing,” it’s not okay for a kid to yell just because they don’t like what the grown-up said. I asked Annalie why she thought she’d been having so much trouble controlling her temper the last few days, and she shook her head and said, “I just don’t know, Mom! It’s a mystery.”
Maybe it’s just because she’s 5 1/2 now. Life does get more complicated as you get older. I won’t make the mistake of thinking that a 5 1/2-year-old can’t be troubled or worried. I remember being 5 1/2, and in my experience childhood was not all gumdrops and roses. I guess all Troy and I can do is love her, teach her, guide her, give her as much freedom as we safely can, and surprise her with the occasional half-birthday cake.