October 9, 2015

Clara at Four

Clara is a remarkable kid.  I'm certain I'm unbiased in this opinion. I know all kids say the funniest things, but Clara truly keeps us laughing with her perspective on life.  She loves the outdoors the most.  Her happiest is in nature, whether it's our backyard or the beach or a park or somewhere else.  She has a passion for God's creation that is so endearing to me.  She loves creatures, big and small.  She often collects bugs or worms to study them closely and has had lots of fun this year raising butterflies, tadpoles and a few brief stints with other captured critters like turtles or lizards.  For her fourth birthday she begged for a pet fish.  She loves going to science museums or zoos and seeing animals and her interest in non-fiction has really taken off.  We try so hard not to push our kids in any particular direction, but I can assure you that her interest in science and the natural world has not been directed by me.  She loves to play doctor (a result, I'm sure, of the amount of time she's spent in hospitals and doctor's offices in her short life).  I'm not rushing time or wishing away any of these moments, but sometimes I wish I had one quick glance to the future just to see what she will become.

It's not just science Clara loves though.  Much to my delight, she genuinely loves books and reading.  Fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose, magazines or books or stories on CD.... much of her day is filled with stories.  Her vocabulary shows it too.  The words she knows amaze me.  She loves learning new words too... whether it's from Fancy Nancy or as she and her daddy drive to school in the mornings and learn a new word of the day together.  Not long after school started this year I picked her up at lunchtime and asked, "What would you like for lunch today, Clara?"  She sighed and then replied, "Well.  If I had my druthers, we'd eat peanut butter and jelly."  Once I stopped laughing, I started making that sandwich.

Her imagination also amazes me.  The first few months of four were challenging in many ways, but there's so very much about four years old that I love and the pretend play and imagination are up there.  She loves to play family or listen to a made up story.  Her imaginary friend is her "daughter" and she is named Clarice.  She talks about Clarice a lot every day.  She has birthdays (almost daily; there's no telling how old this kid is), and goes to school (but only on certain days), she loves to write songs ("Let me sing you a song that my daughter wrote" is a common phrase around our house) and she gets sick ("I've got to take Clarice to the doctor again today).  I admit that it brings me joy that of all the "friends" Clara could have imagined into being, it was a daughter that she wanted.  Just as I spend all my days playing with and learning alongside my daughters, Clara wanted a daughter too.  Maybe someday she'll have a real daughter (but please let's not name her Clarice) and learn that it's truly the best thing she could ever dream up.

Clara is social.  The summer was a hard time for her, in terms of growing and pushing boundaries and learning ways to find self-control for her big feelings.  We had lots of hard conversations about how to love people well and be respectful and obedient and not say or do things we might later wish we hadn't.  Since school has started this fall though, she has been like a different child.  As much as I love being with her every moment (and in many ways I really do!), I can't help but wonder if the structure of school and social time with other people who aren't her family are critical for her.  She's never met a stranger and loves striking up conversations wherever she goes with whoever she might run into.

Recently, she's become physically fearless.  The courage that she demonstrated as an infant has resurfaced in her willingness to take risks and try new things.  She loved swimming this summer and loves pushing herself on playgrounds.  She is flexible and has great balance.  She may never be an olympic runner, but we've loved watching her discover that her body can do great things.

Clara has an amazing mind.  I love watching her process things around her and asks questions to try to make sense of her world (although so often I do not have the answers, and that's been hard too).  Her memory is incredible and the connections that she makes between real life events, things she seen or read, movies she's seen, or events she remembers is so fascinating.  She still lets us rock her to sleep for nap (and sometimes at night) and when she's drifting off, she will sometimes pop up with one last question or thought that seems to come from left field.  I don't think her mind ever stops turning.

I think that of all the people Clara knows and loves it's remarkable that the one she loves the very most is her sister.  A new sibling is so disruptive in so many ways.  I keep waiting for Clara to show some normal resentment or jealousy for the little person who has taken over her house and her family.  But she simple adores Eloise.  The second Clara's eyes pop open in the morning or from nap, the one she asks for is her sister.  When she's drawing pictures or making something, it's often for Eloise.  If Eloise is crying or upset about something, Clara will do whatever she can to comfort her.  When Clara is eating and Eloise begs for a bite, Clara never hesitates to share.  She holds her hand and picks her up and reads to her and plays with her with such love and patience.  Their special connection is something really sacred and it's such a gift for me to be able to watch it.

It took tremendous effort, but Eloise had a photo shoot every month of her first year.  Clara hasn't been forgotten.  These are some "official" four year old photos of her taken last spring, not too long after her birthday.


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