Dear 4-year-old, strong-willed child,

Today is how I want to remember you.

Today, we had a family day. First, we took a long drive to look at a house that Mommy and Daddy want to buy. Not exactly a fun activity, but you were a good sport.

You walked the house with us and pointed out all kinds of interesting things, like the “adorable” little palm tree in the corner of the backyard, and how the windows don’t open like the windows at our house.

How long will that last? When will you lose your curiosity for mundane things? What day will you walk into a new place and not discover something unique about it, but instead just take it in as another boring place?

On the way to the beach, you quizzed me about all kinds of things. You asked me about ecosystems and we talked about geography, too. You were so curious and listened carefully to every word I said.

I was nervous about explaining those big concepts, hoping I didn’t give you wrong information. It’s been a long time since Mommy was in school. But you didn’t care if the information was perfect. You thought it was cool to learn something new.

How long will that last?Will you always be hungry for new information and new experiences? Will you become jaded to learning? How do we prevent that from happening?

As we got closer to the beach, you squealed with delight—“Mommy, look at all these palm trees! That must mean we’re so close to the ocean!” Palm trees are one of my favorite reminders of your precious trust in me and Daddy.

The first time we ever went to this beach, you were feeling impatient in the car, and we told you to watch for palm trees. “That’s how to tell we’re getting closer to the water,” we informed you. You’ve held onto the promise of palm trees, and every time you see one, your sweet little face lights up.

How long will that last? When will you learn that palm trees can be found in landlocked places? When will you start questioning the things Daddy and I tell you about the world, researching on your own to learn if you can trust the knowledge we’ve given you?

While Mommy looked for a parking spot, your littlest brother started crying. I tried turning up the radio, but that only upset him more. “Mommy, it’s okay, I’ll calm Lukie down!” you offered from the backseat.

And you did. You sang a sweet, silly song to him, and told him all about the beach. When I got out of the car a few minutes later and plucked him out of his carseat, he was still grinning. You do this a lot, you know. Your brothers think you are the sun.

How long will that last?When will the sibling wars start breaking out? When will you become annoyed by your brothers needing you, and start pushing them away? Daddy and I like to think that we’re raising the three of you to love each other fiercely, but we don’t know the future.

We got to the beach and you set right out to play. You dug in the sand and built castles with your brother. You chased each other around our little beach spot, giggling and playing super heroes. You were having the best time in the sun.

You didn’t even notice when I snuck away and came back with 2 cups of ice cream—chocolate for you, and peanut butter for Bubby.

I had a hard time picking out the flavors, deciding if I should get you both the same. I didn’t want you to fight. So when I offered them to you, I suggested that you share a few bites with each other. And as you ate from your own cups, you stopped often to offer each other another taste.

How long will that last? When will you come to realize that you don’t actually have to share anything? How much time do I have left to teach you about kindness and generosity?

When the ice cream was all gone, you begged to go join Daddy in the ocean. I was nervous about it—I don’t tell you this, but Mommy is terrified of the ocean—but I put your life jacket on and brought you to him.

For an hour I watched you make friends with the ocean. Jumping, splashing, spinning, and daring to ride every wave that Daddy would let you. I watched a few waves come over your head and felt a pit in my stomach, but you came up laughing, wiping salt water from your eyes.

I was so relieved to see your bright blue eyes, your sweet red curls. And I was impressed by you. You were so brave in that big ocean—the one your brothers won’t even touch!

How long will that last? Will you always be fearless, taking on powers bigger than yourself without hesitation? Or will something, someday, squash that confidence and make you doubt how powerful you are? How do I stop that from happening? How do I make this last forever?

If I could bottle you up today and keep you clearly in my memory forever, I would.

I know this memory will fade over time. But I want to remember you just like this.

When you’re 11 and you complain that all we do is boring stuff, I want to remember the little girl who walked into an open house with us and was absolutely delighted to see a palm tree.

When you’re 12 and you refuse to let me help with your homework, I want to remember the little girl who asked me about ecosystems.

When you’re 13 and I dare offer my opinion on a disagreement with your best friend, I want to remember the little girl who believed palm trees = ocean simply because Mommy and Daddy said so.

When you’re 14 and your 10-year-old little brother wants to share your birthday party, I want to remember the little girl who would calm his tears and share absolutely anything with her brothers—even ice cream.

When you’re 15 and you’re scared to try out for the sports team or the school play or the band, I want to remember the little girl who wasn’t afraid of anything—not even the big ocean waves.

I want to remember you, always, as you were today. My perfect 4-year-old, so full of kindness, compassion, curiosity, patience, and bravery.

Daddy and I aren’t perfect parents, and it scares me sometimes. I wonder if we’re doing right by you, if we’re teaching you the important lessons you need to make it in this world. We have a lot of learning to do, and since you were our first, you got to experience more of our less-than-stellar moments. But to see you as you were today, it makes us so proud.

I know change is coming. It’s part of life. I wish we knew the future, but I can only imagine small pieces. We’ll go through highs and lows with you. You’ll make decisions that will frustrate us. Your attitude will disappoint us sometimes. You’ll be human, you’ll make mistakes.

No matter what your future holds, I’ll love you. I know your heart. And I’ll always have this memory of a day at the beach with you, my perfect 4-year-old.


Originally published on the author’s blog

Emily Caldwell

Emily is a 27-year-old mom of "3 under 5" living in Savannah, GA. She loves sharing her honest accounts of motherhood, postpartum mental health, and life as a military spouse. She believes that healthy, realistic expectations of motherhood can be cultivated by a community that is inclusive of all types of mamas--from hot mess moms to the women with superpowers, and all of those in-between.