Michelle Martin

Four years ago

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Teresa turned 4 years old this month, and it’s tempting to say she’s 4 going on 16, or maybe 30. That’s what living with teenage siblings will do to you.

But one thing is clear: she is no longer a baby. As much as she sometimes wants to be carried and fussed over, she also can hold up her end of a conversation, even checking in to see how my day was and asking after colleagues of mine by name.

She is starting to read, knowing some sight words and having the idea not only that letters are combined to make words, but that each letter is associated with certain sounds, and rearranging letters can make a new word, and she has a grasp of the basic ideas of addition and subtraction. She knows the days of the week, and most of the months of the year, and what months fall into which seasons. Thanks to waiting for her birthday, she has a pretty good idea about how dates on the calendar work, and she is sorting out geographical concepts like streets and neighborhoods and cities and states.

I’m being reminded of just how wonderfully complex the world is. Each time she asks, “What’s that street that goes by the park?” or “What comes after 39?” At least she’s stopped asking if that’s the end of numbers. If it was, maybe I’d be dead by now, having long since left age 39 in the rearview mirror.

As she grows, she’s trying to find her place in the world. A young child still, she sees herself pretty much in the center, but now she’s seeing the roles of other people: her family, her friends, her teachers. At Frank’s hockey game, she is delighted when older children — siblings of Frank’s teammates — will play with her. They are delighted to not be the little ones. Later, she asks, “Am I a little kid or a big girl?”

Both, I tell her. She’s a little kid, because she is still smaller than most of the kids in her school, still in her first year of preschool, and has so much growing left to do. She’s a big girl because she’s not a baby. She can feed herself, mostly dress herself, go to the bathroom, communicate not only about what she needs and wants, but also about the world around her and what she thinks of it. How the silver-haired actor on TV reminds her of her Papa, who died shortly after she turned 2, half her lifetime ago. How the snow is pretty when it sparkles. How the dog needs water when she paws at her dish, and how Teresa can get it for her by herself. She sometimes refers to her father and I by first name, not when she addresses us, but when she is trying to figure out where everyone fits. “Papa was Tony’s (her dad’s) daddy?” she asks, looking for confirmation.

This is how she is learning to live in relationship to the people and the world around her; this is how children can remind all of us how important relationships are.


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