Today you are three. I can't really believe that, to be honest; I blinked and sighed, I laughed and cried, and presto chango, three years have slid past, and you are no longer my baby.
You are a beautiful girl, a dancing girl, a girl with a huge streak of mischief and fun. You are bright and talkative and generally equable, although, like many a child at your age, you can throw magnificent tantrums too on occasion.
You know many things. Sometimes I think you know more of the world than your sisters did at your age; a willing camp follower of their interests, you've taken to They Might Be Giants, to Barbie and Shrek, to the Indigo Girls and computer games, a long way earlier than I would've expected.
For all that, you love your little-girl things, too - your Dora the Explorer and Playschool on TV; your Peter Rabbit, Charlie & Lola, Hairy McClary and Mem Fox books; your teddies and blocks, your puzzles, your sandpit, your paints. Right now, your favourite thing is cooking; every morning, you ask me, "Are we gonna do some cooking today? Can I do some? Will you teach me?"
Perhaps that should be your mantra, C - "Will you teach me...?" You are hungry to learn so many things. You are starting to recognise letters; you amuse the big kids, and me too, with your dogmatic pronouncements about what things say. You'll pick up a book, open it to a page, point at the words, and say, "It says me. Look! D-U-B [her name]. See?"
Although we smile, I'm very aware that this is pre-reading in action; you recognise the words AS words, you understand that they're made up of letters, and you can name most of the letters. That is exciting to see, to be part of. One of my favourite things to do with you is to sit down and read; you love love love your stories, and you're now an active participant in them, and I find it pure pleasure, a sweet and daily joy, to share the world of books with you.
You have a busy life, my girl; gymnastics and playgroup, swimming and creche, and at the moment you share your Mondays with a family friend's 2-year-old daughter. In the later afternoons there is always two sisters to play with, laugh with, and, yes, torment, too. I wonder sometimes if there's a little too much bustle and not enough downtime in your weeks.
But we do make time to breathe and be, you and I. We walk, a lot - to and from school, to the park, around the streets. We play in the garden and with the dog. I hang washing while you draw with chalks; I sip tea and you ride your trike. Together, we bounce on the trampoline, or lie still, watching the clouds drift by. We tend the garden and mop the floors. We sit and cuddle. You are my companion in my daily round, and I miss you on your day a week at creche, even as I know that you get a great deal from it, and that I could not do even the small amount of work I do without it.
You are the family peacemaker and our very own Miss Manners in many ways, routinely chiding the rest of us for harsh words or unkind actions. "Don't say wude things to A, Mummy," you'll tell me, after I've snapped at your eldest sister; or, "Daddy, you 'ave to say sorry to E. You did 'urt her feelings." You're sensitive to tone and body language too, very intuitive and gentle with upset hearts and altered behaviour in others. When I'm having a flat day, you always know, and you're easy on me those days, aware of me and my needs, in a way that I would never have expected from such a little girl.
Oh, C, there is so much more I could say, but none of it would sum up the depth and wonder of you. To us, to all of us, you are zest and sunshine and mirth. A calls you her little darling; E, "my sweetheart". Your Dad dotes on you.
As for me:
I love you. (So much it hurts sometimes). I like you, too; I enjoy your company so much. I am in awe of your intelligence and your personhood as it is emerging. I am honoured to be your parent, and to have the chance to spend this time with you while you're still a little bit small.
"But, Mummy, I am NOT small! I am a big girl!" I can hear you proclaiming loudly.
Yes, you are, darling. But in a quiet corner of my heart, you're still my wonderful baby. Even now you are three.