Evanny and I were chatting about her upcoming birthday on the way home from preschool pick-up a few weeks ago (while her sister napped in her car seat): “When I’m four,” she was saying, “and I’ll be almost five–” “Slow down,” I interrupted. “Do you know that when you’re five, your sister will already be as big as you are now!” “And don’t you want your tiny baby to be two forever?” she asked, astute about the Mama-plight. “Oh, you know, honey, it’s so conflicting, really: Mamas love to watch their babies grow and run and play and learn-” “that’s why you keep feeding us!” “–but it’s hard, too. When Tabba’s three, I’ll never have a two-year-old ever again. When you turn four, I’ll never have a three-year-old Evanny ever again. I can’t wait to meet four-year-old you, but I’ll miss three-year-old you, too. I’ve really liked spending this year with her!” “But I’ll be the same girl!” she insisted, and I had to concede, although I know she’s only mostly right.
Three-year-old Evanny felt sometimes like a change-a-minute; every day I heard phrases that sounded more mature (or more noticeably borrowed from her brother) leave her lips, every tantrum drew up a more advanced brand of sass, every foray onto playground territory had her taking braver chances, not so much trying as simply doing things she couldn’t reach to do before. Her relationship with school (which started in March) has been complicated (in ways that are probably completely normal): she’ll cry in our bed at 6am about how much she doesn’t want to go, then come merrily out to the car at the end of the morning chattering about what works she’s done that day, and her teachers characterize her as almost unfailingly cheerful, always ready to start the classroom day off with a clear plan in mind for what activity she wants to do first. She tells me to stop it when I point to words in the books I read her, but then picks up the next and pretends to read it on her own. She was all about writing her “E” on everything last year, but now she rarely does (my guess is she’s waiting to next do the whole name together).
She now counts to 20 easily and understands clearly how that pattern just repeats, even though she’ll miss some tens when she tries to get to 100 (which she doesn’t have the stamina of interest for anyway). She has started to notice that the older kids stay for the full day’s lessons, and that full day attendance includes a daily turn on the playground (oh, how this energetic, physically confident girl loves playgrounds), but she still wishes the school week shorter so she could spend more time at home. “Mummy,” she says, “When I’m bigger, I’m going to stay at school all day too, because they have RECESS. Maybe when I’m nine. Or sixteen.” Playground Evanny still loves to slide and swing–she can’t start the arc herself yet, but if you get her going, she’s got enough of a sense of how pumping works to keep herself going with a strong wiggle. She prides herself on being able to climb anything, and she’s starting to try to take on the specific challenges of the overhead bars–she still wants help, but less of it, because her brother has conquered the skill, and she sees herself as at most a year behind him in ought-to-have abilities.
I don’t know when, for certain, she mastered pole-sliding; for the longest time, since her baby-hands started grasping for the pole out past the end of their reach, I would hold her up and slowly slide her down, and then for a while I would sometimes help her get her grip before I backed off to let her crash too fast to the ground, and then suddenly it was something she was doing on her own, on the other side of the playground, while I was pushing her sister in a baby-swing, sometimes with a “Mummy, look at me!” and sometimes without any announcement at all. Playground-specific skills and thrills are only a small percentage of the physical challenges she takes on in her wild romp through her world, however; for Evanny, the whole world is a playground. Ice-cold creek with moss-slick rock-slides? Playground. Turf-roofed house on an Icelandic moor? Playground. Miniature sandbox in Papa’s back yard? Playground. Reproduction Viking ship? That staircase above, some seven-hundred-and-something steps straight up the side of a (low, rolling) mountain? Playground. Couch and chairs in the living room? Playground. Mummy and Daddy’s bed, which occupies a treasured place in the kids’ upstairs hallway running circuit? Playground. Slick floors and uncomfortable seating in an airport lounge? Playground. Dangling grapevine in the back yard? Playground. A mud-brown marine lake trapping a piece of the Atlantic in a silt-thick cup of sand? Playground. The lane-dividing ropes at the post office? Playground.
But it’s not as if play requires a ground; coming up fast on four, Evanny’s “play” has become a thicket of people to “be,” and this being is as or more important as a set of names and attributes to divvy up as it is an expectation for action of any kind. This afternoon, strapped in her car seat, she asked me and her sister: “can we play Lion Guard?” “Go right ahead,” I told her, and she pitched right into “okay, Tabba, you be, what’s the lion’s name, Mummy?” “Kion.” “You be Kion, and I’ll be, what’s the other ones’ names?” Evanny’s favourite people to be are, in a very particular order, Elsa (with or without Spiderman boots), Rapunzel, Ariel, Rey, Merida, Nala, Simba, Kion, Luke Skywalker, and THEN Anna. I cannot for the life of me understand what they all have against Anna, but the three-to-six-year-olds I’ve asked are all solidly in agreement that complainy, sad Elsa is the bomb, and plucky, loving, infinitely forgiving yet no-crap-taking Anna is just a “meh” role they might have to settle for to keep the peace. I mean, sure, everybody wants ice magic and a power ballad, but there’s more to life than a melodramatic coronation and stamping on the floor to make pretty patterns leap across it.
Evanny traveling this past summer was fundamentally herself, just in lots of different places: fearless to the core. Take-off scared her on the first flight, and landing (& lack of sleep) unsettled her stomach, so on the second of each she insisted on sitting alone and facing what came. She chased her brother across the Icelandic moors and led the climb to the roof of the sod house, jumped on every hostel & hotel bed we encountered, sampled every kind of food we offered (even while then tending to settle for the familiar), made fast friends with her new-met family & with Matt’s friends’ kids, tried her hand at every game in the barn in Devon and every game on Adam’s Wii that they’d give her a turn on.
Cricket bat? You got it. Brick-stacking with just-met cousin Jake? Sure thing. Running off for a good half hour with the expensive multi-lens camera of the grandfather she’d just met that morning? Yep. Ziplines, donkey rides, and hundred-meter slides? Yep, yep, and yep. Leaping off of sand dunes taller than her father? Look out below. Dashing, half in street clothes, nevermind the chill wind and likelihood of being cold later, into the sea? Find a scrap of towel somewhere, because she’s already wet. No tower was too high to look down from (but the caves of Cheddar, she said, were too dark and scary, although by the end of the electric lights tour we went on with her brother, she was starting to find even that fear fun), no ladder (into Auntie Jackie’s attic, for example) too high and steep to creep up in exploration. Sophie’s birthday party would have daunted any other kid I know, but confronted with the expectation that she join in dance-offs and party games with a huge room full of well-dressed stranger-princesses, most of whom knew each other already, almost all of whom were two and three years older than her, Evanny stood her little ground:
she said her name into the microphone and showed off her splits when somebody shoved her into the center of the dance-circle. Months after our return, she still tells everyone who asks that her very favourite part of the entire trip was “Sammy and Sophie”–any and all amusements involving her suddenly, magically, bigger tribe of kids was an instant hit and a miracle. Fearlessness isn’t just about physical bravery or social standing, either; Evanny has no fear of losing. At anything. To anyone. She took opportunity after opportunity over the course of our time in England to challenge Sam to footraces, and to my memory she lost every time, but those results are simply not as important to Evanny as her conviction that she’s fast; “you’re faster today,” she’d say to him, “but I might win tomorrow.”
One afternoon, in the middle of a flurry of the boys’ Wii-Olympics face-offs with Uncle Adam, someone gave Evanny a turn, and she “ran” her little character fast and hard almost all the way to the end before Adam sped up and beat her. Caleb, who had already been nursing his pride about having been beaten himself, turned to complain in her defense–“that’s mean! She’s little. It’s not fair to do that to my sister.” “What,” Adam taunted, “beat her? Know why I did it to her? Because she can take it! Wanna go again?” he asked, turning to Evanny. “Yeah!”
None of this is to say that she’s seamlessly brave and cheerful, not by any means. When she says no, when she’s not in the mood, she’s gosh-darn not (although she’s far easier to win over to a new mood than her sister, as long as she isn’t desperately low on sleep). She was too hesitant to touch the manta rays in the petting-tank at the fair, but happy just to watch–I don’t know that I’d even call that fear. Her biggest fight, her and children everywhere, is not wanting to go to sleep, but when she claims it’s fear of monsters, well, nobody believes that malarkey.
With me, it’s that she wants me–to sit beside the bed and pat her like I’ve done since she was a baby big enough to say the word “pat,” and it’s very hard when you’re three (we’ll see about four) to wait until your toddler sister, the attention-monopolizing expert, falls asleep on Mummy’s boob before you can have what you want. So there’s kicking and tossing about in the bed like a fish, and moaning about every possible moan, but eventually (sometimes after I throw her out of the room once or twice), she either falls asleep before I get to her or wins the jackpot of snuggles and whispers and someone to pat her to sleep while she curls on her side or lies on her back with vampire hands gathered in the center of her chest. She still comes to me most mornings, and not infrequently in the middle of the night as well, wanting to nestle into the space between my body and the edge of the bed, a warm little shadow, my mini-me, my stuffed tiger come-to-life, and when I’m underslept I meet the midnight arrivals with frustration sometimes (especially when she wants to be carried back to bed “like a baby,” which is physically hard and comparatively impossible–that little body I used to sneak back on to her pillow has legs that drag against my knees and arms and hair that loll all over the place, and the position of her sister’s bed means I have to basically throw her back into bed in a tumble that lands her on her face, but she never complains about that part, just whimpers if I try to leave without sitting down for another round of patting), but I not-so-secretly still love it.
“Tell me a story,” she’ll whisper into the hush of her quiet little repeat-play soundtrack, and I almost always say no when Tabitha is already asleep, but she’ll try every time anyway (Atta girl, girl.) When her sister isn’t asleep, sometimes they both get stories, lying together in the dark, but I’m starting to have to field challenges; my rambling out whatever little ideas bloom to mind isn’t enough for her anymore. She’ll insist, for example, that the characters be human (sometimes stories about mice and ladybugs are allowed, and sometimes they’re absolutely not). She’ll insist on knowing the names of the stories’ characters, and she’s really only happy these days if their names are “Evanny and Tabitha.” “NOT a ‘Rose and River’ story,” she had started to qualify, which saddened me a little, because I was liking the invention of the Rose and River world, and I was obliging, but then I realized that she simply hadn’t noticed their names. When I explained–that her middle name is Irish for “rose,” that a brook is a little river–and said “Don’t you see, you are Rose and River?!” her face lit with delight, and she jumped right back on board.
It isn’t all delight and rewarding recovery, of course; the far end of three, the beginning of four, they come with their own little woes, their struggles, their growing range of pensive moments as the bigness of the world starts to loom a little closer, the wants start outgrowing her reach (and sometimes her articulation), and there are days everything is an Elsa-stomp and a “no!” and a “she’s not sharing!” or “I want to play by myself” or “I just wanted to talk!” (Currently, both girls’ favourite book is a depiction of such a mood that they both identify with, called My ‘No, No, No’ Day. But she comes around most of the time, and even when she doesn’t, I’ve never loved a sad and ornery person more.
For my little heart, family is a treasured series of joys: with Daddy, she loves such entertainments as dancing, watching sports, running races, going out for haircuts and on shopping runs, watching movies, snuggling, and studying fandoms. With her Syracuse-local (at least part of the year) grandparents,
she’s loving and adoring (and adorable) while learning valuable lessons about playing within the limits of her playmates. My grandmother doesn’t have much mobility anymore, but she’s plenty sturdy enough to be hugged and clamboured on, so that’s what Evanny lavished on her during her month-long visit early this summer. My dad is much more spry, but has a bad ankle and usually a dog, so she has to plan her requests for entertainments around reasonable walking distances
(some days the duck pond is feasible and some days it’s not) and on whether or not the dog (who isn’t allowed at the duck pond and can’t really be walked up to the ice-cream shop by a man with a bad ankle also pushing two kids in a massive stroller), so when she’s not trying to logistically conquer these limitations, she’s rolling with the alternatives: walks into the backyard to balance on logs, splash-pool supervision, endless rounds of role-play direction, book-reading, tea-partying, painting and coloring and quarreling and on occasion, still, falling asleep in his lap on the rocking chair. When Lola comes to visit, the whole world becomes a princess party of treats and tales, indulgences and curtsy lessons. With her siblings, of course, like siblings everywhere, it’s fight and hug, kiss and tumble, lead and follow, just like you’d expect it to be; they drive each other crazy and miss each other whenever any of the lot is not around. And with her mother? Ah, her mother. They warned us about “threenagers,” and how the tempers and tantrums of three were the best predictor of the kinds of temperament and habit to expect of the teenager a preschooler would someday become, and if Evanny at three is my bellwether, I’m not in for many surprises. We’ve had stalemates and yell-offs, whines and pouts galore, and an unexpected abundance of ready tears, but also in great supply cuddles and conversations, questions and curiosities, explorations and adventures, like this tired-feet windy walk back to Auntie Julie’s car for a ride to the cousins’ and a fish-and-chips dinner after a day on the Weston beach. Two was supposed to be “terrible,” and three this endless emotional tumult of head-butting, but they were both, despite small challenges (such as the just-arrived decent of the dreadful “why, why, whys”), by-and-large delightful years to spend with this angel of mine, and at this point, as this Jedi-Rapunzel vine-swings into her fifth ring of the sun, I’m looking through a rain of rose-petals to squint at what the future brings.