You are thirteen months old. The dark curls that you were born with have given way to shoulder-length hair that is almost blonde and that waves instead of curling. Your slate blue eyes have brightened in this second spring of yours, and often reflect the color of the sky. Your once toothless grin now sports four shiny white teeth. You point at everything and try to name it, or you ask me “Dis?” “Dat?” and squeal with happiness when I give your dis and dat a name that you try so hard to repeat in a funny little lispy baby voice.
Butterfly kisses make me giggle as you accidentally give them to me, blinking sleepy-eyed as you nurse and look quietly around the sun-lit early morning room trying to figure out if you’ll wake for the day or fall back asleep tucked into the curve of my body, skin to skin under the white sheets. The ceiling fan blows a lazy breeze across the room that smells like the oncoming summer that slowly heats up the air outside our windows. I count your fingers, not so much to make sure that none are missing- we got that out of the way pretty early on. But because it is one of our routines. Your hands, tiny against mine, have grown so much in this past year. Your hands have much growing to do before they’re as big as mine. You are both huge and tiny. Independent and needy. Your fingernails are dirty despite the long soak in the bath and the scrubbing. Mine are too. You can’t just scrub away the type of dirt that gets under there after two hours of dirt-digging. The fingernails of each of your brothers are clean- they chose to dig in the sandbox instead.
You are just what you should be.
You seem amused when I dress you up in fluffy dresses. And you sit in the middle of gigantic piles of garden dirt and sprinkle it on your head. Your grandpa swoops in and rescues you, fussily brushing the dirt from your hair, your hands, your feet, your hair, your face. He tsks in dismay and you giggle at him and consent to being pushed up high in the swings. You are his princess.
You are my princess too. And princesses don’t let fun fluffy dresses keep them from digging in the dirt or splashing in the mud. They don’t let dolls distract them from trucks and from science experiments. They don’t squeal or run away from bugs so much as they pick them up and examine them. (And in your case try to eat them. While I’m sure earth worms are just as yummy as dirt I prefer not to let you test the theory.)
“Princess” is just another word. Not something that defines you. It’s not something defined by Disney or some story of a real-life princess somewhere. It’s not defined by dresses or frilly things or crowns. It just means “you are incredibly special to me”.
As you grow there will be people who try to convince you otherwise. Boyfriends who might think that you’re less capable than you are. Teachers that question your interests and that try to divert you to something more “traditionally female”. And of course loving grandparents that shower you with dolls that you may or may not take a liking to. (Don’t worry, we’ll be there to buy you trucks if you prefer them.)
When I was still pregnant with you, more than a year ago.. I’d feel you kick in my belly close to your due date and I’d smile and lay my hand over where you were kicking for a minute then jump up onto the side of the van to haul up lattice and lash it down, smiling and shaking my head “no” at the sweet older gentleman in the parking lot who asked if I needed any help. We were fine. Strong and doing what I was able while waiting for you to be born.
I spent much of my life trying to match the adjectives that people applied to me, and trying to be close to the picture that they held of me in their minds. But there are too many people, too many adjectives, too many things to match- both positive and negative.
People say what they see, and what they see is not always what you want to be or what you feel you are. You cannot match a picture in someone else’s mind. You can try and match the picture that you see in your own.
Princess girl, my little Annie Cannon sitting in a pile of ripped up grass and dirt with a huge laughing grin on your face. Fluffy ruffled dress, or just a simple brightly colored cloth diaper. Hair up in a messy ponytail that you constantly try to pluck from your head. You are all of the things that I see in you, and perhaps you are none of them as well. You are a person of your own imagination, not mine or anyone else’s.
The words that others use to describe you and that you use to describe yourself.. Don’t define you. You snatch them up in curious hands and you turn them over and around and you make them your own. Inanimate adjectives should not leave their imprint on your soul, but you.. Dear daughter.. You can leave your imprint on those words.
When I think “princess” now that I’ve used that word for you.. I do not think of powerless meek princesses awaiting rescue. I think of a happy gleeful little girl with dirt on her face and grass in her hair giggling and trying to tackle the garden hose. And that “princess” will grow to encompass all of the things that you become as you get older.
You define the word, it does not define you. At thirteen months old you’re already way too big for a simple word to capture who you are. And you’ll only grow bigger.
Yes. You’re a princess. And you’ll be a princess of your own making.