The first six years

By Ariel Gore

My daughter is one, and I’ve bought a big cake with a bounced check. We bring it in to my college cafeteria, and as I light the candle, my daughter takes the first tentative steps of her life across a smooth, dark floor. One of my professors says, “Aaw, one. Once they’ve made it through the first year, you know they’ll survive.” And I’m thinking, “Naw, she still has to live through adolescence.”

My daughter is two, and her father crashes the party and sprays green foam-string stuff all over the red decorations I’ve carefully hung with my friends. An older toddler blows out the two candles and screams out in anger when we relight them for the birthday girl. “Two is this,” my daughter tells me, holding up her little fingers in a peace sign.

My daughter is three. She has been waiting for this day as long as she can remember. “Am I going to be big when I am three?” she has asked again and again, and I have said “Yes.” “Big up over the ceiling?” she has asked, and I have nodded and smiled and never thought much about the question. But now she blows out her three candles, instinctively jerks backward from the shock of the cheer, pauses, and bursts into tears. She’d thought she’d grow suddenly–like Alice–big up over the ceiling. But she is still small.

My daughter is four, and I scarcely catch glimpses of her at the huge party we’ve scheduled around Daddy-visits. One girl shows up with two moms, and my daughter is jealous. “She has two moms, but soon I’m gonna have three moms, and I’m gonna be the winner,” she insists.

My daughter is five, and the sounds of Discovery Zone fun center are deafening. My daughter is beside herself with excitement, but she is waiting. There is one child, who she hasn’t seen in almost a year, who received the bright clown invitation and promised to come. And she waits all through the pizza and cake and ice cream and arcade games and jumping into those seas of plastic balls and opening present after awesome present, asking every few minutes, “But where is he?” And I don’t know.

My daughter is six, and she’s afraid she’ll have to do more homework soon. She asks if she’ll ever be a baby again. “When will I be a teenager?” she wants to know. And as I’m stirring cake batter–the first time I’ve baked in two years–it occurs to me that I cannot even begin to imagine what my late teens and early 20s would have been like without her all-encompassing energy, her croons of “I love you, sweet mama,” her shouts of “I’ll never love you again, funky mama,” her dreams of big and small.