Esther runs down the sidewalk towards me. Her ‘just off the bus’ look – disheveled braids, peanut butter dried on the side of her mouth, an off-center headband, a backpack sitting low and heavy off one shoulder, her skirt slightly turned to the side, the side-seam now showing in the front, worn-at-the-knees bright pink leggings, and her most noticeable attribute, a wide smile always on the verge of laughter as she lunges at me for a full-body hug and a kiss – including an “I love you mom!” for all the world to see and hear.
She turns eight this week.
At seven she is as unique as her mismatched leggings and shoe choice; and as colorful and imaginative as her pink headband and her non-uniform braids.
She is seven. Yet her seven is nothing like her sister’s seven two short years ago. While I’ve now enjoyed nearly 730 days of ‘sevens’ in my house, there’s no stereotype I can share with you that perfectly captures this magical age.
It turns out that seven can be complicated.
For one child, seven is second grade, spending more times with friends, starting sleep-overs and giggling with girls in the lunchroom while declaring “boys are still quite stinky.”
For another, seven is second grade, not worrying about the other girls, including boys in her list of best friends, and never sitting in the same spot at lunch.
Seven for one can mean starting to care about what other people think, insisting on wearing the ‘right’ clothes(and starting to shop at Justice, dear God), listening to the ‘right’ music, and fretting about what ‘he said/she said’ while realizing there is drama in the real world, not just what you see on Dance Moms on Tuesday nights when your mom lets you stay up late to watch non-quality TV.
Because seven can mean a more liberal bedtime…and an appreciation of non-animated shows.
Or seven for the other can mean not having a care about those things, living with your head in the clouds of happy oblivion while wearing twirly skirts, tights, Mary Janes, big bows, and watching episode after episode of Doc McStuffins with your baby sister.
Esther is snuggled in my arms. We are squished together on a chair. Just us, her blanket, four Pillow Pets and our cat. “Mom, do you think I’ll ever see a real unicorn, because that is my one big dream you know.” Esther says quietly as my lips meet her cheek. “I hope so Esther.” I say as I close my eyes and truly see her with the white unicorns in a green field with rainbows shining above her in the sky. “I dream of the land of unicorns where you will play one day. Anything is possible.” Eloise, the former seven year old across the room interrupts us, “Mom, you’ve got to be kidding! Don’t encourage her!”
Because that first seven meant knowing all the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.” While this seven means that you dance with your little sister in the living room during Yo Gabba Gabba and don’t mind anyone hearing you when you say you have a ‘party in your tummy…so yummy, so yummy!’
Seven for one questioned Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, if the world is really round, her bedtime, what was on her plate at dinner, why homework was really that important, the logic behind snow-pants when it was below zero, and the reason why my hair was turning grey.
Seven now means writing letters to Santa, drawing pictures for the Tooth Fairy, dancing with unicorns, dressing up as a Disney Princess, and using her Crayolas to color my hair pink and purple – because nothing is prettier than pink and purple…even when you are 44 it seems.
Seven the first time in this house meant moving up to more complicated chapter books; getting lost in Harry Potter or Anne of Green Gables under the covers in her room with a little bitty book light while she should have been sleeping.
While this seven is learning to appreciate a good non-fiction book, researching animals, the human body, the Presidents and the solar system, spouting random facts at the dinner table. Daily we ask her “How in the world did you know that?”
For one of my sevens – it was mastering the jump rope, hanging upside down on the monkey bars and easily getting her legs over on a cartwheel.
For my other – she’s given up on cartwheels(“They’re overrated!”), gets frustrated by the jump rope, finds herself separated from the group of girls in the neighborhood because she can’t physically keep up yet. She’ll be in the next yard over with the two and three year olds playing ‘Ring Around The Rosie’ and pushing them in swings.
I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner while my kids finish their homework at the table. Esther gets up, grabs an apron, while asking if I need help cooking. I give her some simple instructions and the ingredient list and she goes to work on the salad. I stop my work and notice how she doesn’t even need a stool to reach the counter anymore, how she can cut a carrot with the sharp knife, and how the mess of her salad preparation is so minimal compared to a year ago.
Both of my sevens could reach the glasses, pour their own milk, make their own snacks and even remember to clean-up after themselves. And both of my sevens remember to ask others if they also want something from the kitchen.
Both of my sevens liked playing with dolls and their little sister, noticed a friend who needed help and went to the aid of strangers, still slept with a blanket and vied for snuggles on the couch with me.
Because they were still only seven.
So if I may put an umbrella over seven, let me say that it’s one of my favorite years. It’s the year that children become more coordinated with their bodies as they further develop their minds and gain an acute awareness of the world around them.
Sevens are on a never ending quest for more knowledge and skills.
Thus seven can be exhausting, and it makes you realize that very soon they will know more than you do, can do what you can do, and as they snuggle on your lap you notice their legs have turned long and lanky, their butts bony, and any ‘baby’ about your baby is officially leaving.
I’m folding laundry and Esther wraps her arms around me from behind. She gives me a hard squeeze and an “I love you mom.” I turn to return the hug and ask her what that was for. “Just because you are my mom and I like to hug you” she replies. I kiss the top of her head that now reaches high enough so I’m not even really bending down anymore and say jokingly “Promise me you’ll feel the same way this week once you turn eight, okay?” She giggles as she pulls away, “I’ve decided that I’ll never be too old to love you.”
I’m holding my seven year old to that promise.
Honored to have my turn in our ‘This Is Childhood‘ series. The This is Childhood writers are Aidan Donnelley, Kristen Levithan, Nina Bazin, Galit Breen, Allison Slater Tate, Bethany Meyer, Tracy Morrison, Amanda Magee, Denise Ullem, and Lindsey Mead.