I held out the mini bouquet, three paper roses sparkling with glitter, and I curtsied deeply to you. Formally, I outstretched my hand.
You studied me quizzically for a moment, then giggled, snatched the flowers, and disappeared somewhere. I continued with my mundane task, clearing the kitchen table, and you returned.
Mama, put these flowers in my hair?
I tucked them into a loose braid and threw some catalogs into the recycling bag. "Milady," I said again. What does that mean? Why do you keep saying that? "It's just a fancy way of saying 'my lady,' milady." Okay, Mama. You disappeared again.
This morning I left for work while you were still sleeping. I didn't want to start your birthday day without seeing you, so at 6:01am, I snuck in your room and gave you a kiss. You're two-thirds the length of your bed. How could you have ever come out of me?
This year, by digging, we found elemental deposits of confidence in your most vulnerable spots, but you're still scared to rely on it. You want to be princess and sparkles and pixie dust and you resist when I show you that your also warrior and hero and molten steel. You want to be soft and snuggled and tucked in but you also hold your brother's hand to shush his cries and ask when you can have your ears pierced. You are quick to correct a factual error uttered by your sister because you value correctness, and being the person with the right answer. Yet you believe in fairies and unicorns and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. You believe in my mommy magic, even though one day I'll confess to you that I'm just relying on careful listening and an instinct that I know you so well. You still say aminals for "animals" but you come up with clever inventions like hipscotching: hopscotching in the rhythm of hip-hop dancing. How do you know about hip-hop?
Your daddy dropped you off at school and I met you to take you inside. You greeted me with fistfuls of adornments. Mama, do my hair fancy for my birthday. You had a pink ribbon and some ponytails and a long swatch of tulle and the three paper roses. You handed them to me and giggled. Mohzay! I invented a hairstyle for you. I made a skinny braid in the front from your would-be bangs and plaited the ribbon into it. I pulled the braid and the rest of your hair into a high ponytail and tied in a big tulle bow. I tucked the roses like a prayer into the thickness of the gathered locks, into the wilds of your heart.
Mohzay! you said again, and looked at me expectantly. Mohzay...?
The touch memory of the roses still fading from my fingertips, I finally understood. I kissed you on your porcelain forehead and dove into your blue-gray eyes and curtsied deeply. One day soon you'll know so much that you won't use those eyes to beg for a vocabulary lesson. You won't be so eager to learn little things, and not especially from me. You won't always believe in fairies and you won't have to ask for earrings and you won't transpose your letters and you won't always be my little girl.
You'll go to kindergarten, then first grade, then tenth. You'll change your hairbows, then your earrings, then your tampons. You surely won't believe in my mommy magic. You're at the zenith now between the biggest of little-girlhood and the smallest of big-girlhood. When you shed the touchstones of your smallness, which I want you to go forth confidently and shed each in turn, when you're ready, remember that whatever the big world brings you,
I love you with more than magic. You're armed with tucked-in prayers and the stockpiles of confidence and the curiosity to know more of the world and the humility to ask when you're still uncertain and love, even when you're too big to be my little girl,
if it still makes you giggle, I'll still curtsy and call you "milady."
But not "mohzay."