Scout turned five last month, and I didn't see the milestone until I almost tripped over it. Rubbing my emotional stubbed toe, I tried to take it all in. She is not a toddler any more. Five is, well, five is a kid. She laughs, she dances, she tells jokes, she writes her name on pieces of paper and leaves them all over the house. She turns on lights and opens doors without asking for help. She listens to reason (most days.)
I didn't notice the growing-up coming until two weeks before her birthday, when she announced one morning that she was ready to have her ears pierced. "Okay," I said, "let's do it. We'll go tomorrow." She spent the next 24 hours literally vibrating with excitement. "I can't believe this is really happening!" she whispered to me at bed-time. "It is actually happening!"
The next morning - after an agonisingly long time spent deciding on which surgical-steel earrings would be used for the piercing (she eventually chose gold studs with pink stones) - we sat together in a tiny clinical room, ready to go. I was more nervous than Scout was, my nerves somewhat exacerbated by the eccentric pharmacist who was doing the piercing. He insisted on following a checklist of warnings and health-risks, reiterating worst-case scenarios in graphic detail, and even interviewed my still-four year old daughter about pre-existing piercings and tattoos, then double-checked: "Have you been drinking alcohol today?" (I only just resisted the urge to ask him, "Have you?!")
Afterwards, over celebratory hot drinks at the local deli, I felt a kind of grief. Scout just looked so grown-up with those earrings shining from her still-red lobes. But it wasn't only about her appearance, it was also about what the earrings now symbolised. My little girl had voluntarily agreed to have holes put in her ears. And let's not sugar-coat it, they hurt, going in. I had warned her that they would hurt but she choose to go ahead anyway. After the first ear was pierced there were some tears, but she still chose to continue. She straightened her back and squeezed my hand just a little tighter, ready to go.
It was her decision to endure the bad thing to get to the good thing that had me swallowing sobs along with my coffee. There was only one way to describe what was going on with that kind of thinking: maturity.
Twice a week I pack a lunch-box and Scout goes off to kinder. The packing of that lunch box is one of the highlights of her week, and many an ernest discussion is had over its contents (including one time when I ruined an entire 500-gram block of tasty cheese by carving out three long tubes with an apple-corer, so that she could have "cheese fingers" like the pre-pacakged ones her friends had).
She speaks with a little lisp, slightly more pronounced right now because yesterday, just after breakfast, she lost her first tooth. There it was: a tiny, tangible, undeniable symbol of the relentless forward-rush of time. She held it in her hand and stared at it with a mixture of surprise, wonder, fear and pride washing over her face like a silent movie.
Next year, Scout will go to school, and I will be packing her lunch-box five days a week. The following year I'll be packing a lunch-box for Ralph five days a week too.
And what then? I am not ready.