I had a much harder time coming up with what to say about my Whistler’s birthday than I had talking about the profound experience I had with my little fish turning 8. In the summer, we had a bit of time to enjoy the event, to consider and to reflect. Not so with Whistler. Her birthday came hot on the heels of the wedding, so her seventh was more of a throw-money-at-the-problem sort of situation than a moment of contemplation.
I think that it was harder with Whistler’s birthday, too, because her development as a person and as a member of this family has so closely mirrored my own that really, they’ve just felt like extensions of each other. I’ve been wrapped up in the Fish’s tenacity and energy and bombastic, unbridled creativity so much lately that it’s kind of overshadowed just how similar Whistler and I have become.
When I met her mom five years ago (and her just after), Whistler was timid, small for her age. Outside was a mess of bugs and frogs and too much sun and loud noises and fast cars and dogs and other dangers. Puppies were anxiety, full-grown dogs were terror. Crafts, toys, imaginative play… none of it seemed to make a splash. Even though Whistler was lovely, a kind soul, possessed of a quiet, deep intensity that demanded that I engage and love her, I had a much harder time figuring her out.
One of the most difficult things about having children who aren’t biologically yours, who you didn’t know from day one, is getting to know them as they are once they’ve already developed. I suppose that’s true of all children at various stages in development, now that I think about it.
But my Whistler has grown so much, so fast, and has done so much without really knowing it to cement the family that we have. She was the first of the girls with a pet name. She was the first to give me a name that’s stuck around (I’m her Pepper), and is the one who first imbued my name with meaning. She adores our dog (and he adores her) with a depth of feeling that’s set the standard for how we treat each other. And she’s begun to develop her own artistic style, to be more athletic, more outgoing. She’s confident, self-assured, and has developed a little bit of an attitude. She’s been my guide as I grow up — since meeting her at 23, I’ve lurched and barrelled further faster into adulthood than I ever expected. She’s stumbled and bumped her head, had fears and difficulties and achievements and moments of joy; I’ve had setbacks and disappointments and despair and hope and victories right alongside her. She’s frequently (sometimes desperately) trying to figure out what her taste is and what she actually likes (most recently, after buying things at the school book fair that she realized too late she’s not actually into). I think I’ve finally begun to realize what’s important to me. With every birthday, I figure her out a little more, and I figure myself out a little bit more, too.
When she’s being mischievous with me, she smiles the way I smile when I’m being mischievous with her.
But for all the ways she’s paralleled me in the last few years, and for all the ways she’s very much a tiny clone of her mother, she’s so unique.
I love to watch her pick up a stuffed animal, because she always gently caresses its fur with her cheek and gets a faraway look and a faint smile like she’s just remembered an old friend.
I love to watch her with the dog, because at times she’ll just pause and listen to him — not to any sound, but to him, to his presence, and she’ll respond without hardly acting at all.
I love to see her schoolwork, especially her writing, because her writing is like her — observant, understated, subtle, but with a distinct and assured voice.
I don’t know who this little person is going to be. I haven’t met the person she’ll grow up to be. But in getting to know her, as she is, right now, I’ve gotten to know myself. She’s been my guide.
Happy seventh birthday, Whistler.