Old news, I know.
But this little girl is so excited to be four.
In some ways, I feel like Petra has barely changed in the past few years. She was born with a strong personality, and I’ve always felt like she was communicating strongly, even before she could speak. She’s still tiny, and to me she looks barely different from when she was two—her hair is longer, but her face and body seem hardly changed. This is a quality that runs in my mom’s side of the family. In pictures of my mom and her brother, there is never any question of whether it’s them or not, even at very early ages.
Exhibit A: The magical, unchanging girl creature.
But the skills she has gained in this year are extraordinary.
Petra continues to be fascinated by engineering and science, to want to get to the inner workings of everything. She loves to be the one to change the toilet paper roll because she’s fascinated by the spring inside of it. She loves the lift-the-flap books that show her the inside of human bodies, of the earth, of plants. One of her favorite books this year was How Machines Work: Zoo Break! by David Macaulay (which is, to be clear, an amazing book with lots of moving parts). It shows two zoo animals (I believe it’s a sloth and a shrew) using simple machines to try to escape their enclosure. She doesn’t like anything she can’t take apart. I got her a doll of Peter from The Snowy Day, and she told me she didn’t like him because she couldn’t take his clothes off. All of her favorite movies (Big Hero 6, The Secret World of Arietty, Chicken Run) have some kind of engineering aspect. The one exception is My Neighbor Totoro, which is a valentine to the natural world.
She’s generally unsentimental. At night, while Silas has so many lovies there’s barely room in his bed for him, Petra often will let her dolls sleep wherever they landed at the end of her day. Petra is very affectionate with those who can love her back, but her toys are just tools for play, not quite real in the way they are to Silas.
Despite their differences, Petra and Silas are best friends. They get on each other’s nerves from time to time, and sometimes when they bicker, I tell them their punishment is that they may not play together for a certain amount of time (because I don’t want to listen to them be hurtful to people I love). This is their worst punishment, and they beg me not to separate them, even if they’ve been irritating each other up to that point. I hope they are always as close as they are now.
Petra’s imaginative play is realistic…ish. She likes to pretend to be a squirrel who lives in a particular tree hollow and eats acorns. This is not a house-dwelling, anthropomorphic squirrel, although it does occasionally request a pot to cook its acorns in.
Another recent game involved a box which Silas wanted to turn into a race car, but which Petra convinced him should be, and I quote, “A new Honda Civic.” I guess our 2010 model isn’t good enough for her fantasies.
Petra is more interested in sensory play that Silas is or ever was. She loves the corn box at the pumpkin patch, water beads, and sand boxes. She always wants to experiment. Can I dig with a spoon? Can I paint with a flower? Can we add water to this? Will this pour? Will this stack? Can I have some tape to make “a invention”?
Petra has always been a great painter, but she’s becoming more confident in her drawing skills, and is branching out into coloring, as well. She and Silas both manage to stay thoroughly entertained for up to an hour at a time, filling sheets of paper. Petra is frustrated, constantly, by the way her motor skills haven’t kept pace with her mind. She can read a bit, but her penmanship is exactly what you would expect from someone who just turned four, and she gets upset about that. She’s not one to give up, though. Rarely frustrated, Petra will work and work until she can do whatever she puts her mind to.
This is why she’s making progress on her balance bike, now that she’s tall enough for it (Silas could ride it at 2.5 years old, Petra just got to where she could reach well enough at 3.75 years). She wants a pedal bike next summer, and I believe she’ll be ready for it, if she keeps working as she has.
She found the goats frustrating, and is glad they are gone, but she likes to care for our dog, cat, and chickens. She’s just inherited a bunny, and I know she’ll be good to it also. I think the goats bothered her because she wanted very much to be outside this summer, but they always were “butting in” on her. Next summer, I anticipate her being a big help in the garden. She’s good at weeding, as she can identify and remember the leaf shapes of the plants we want to encourage and those we don’t. Petra is also interested in the process of life—how do seeds become plants, how do flowers become fruit, how does fruit become energy in our bodies?
Her favorite birthday present, by far, was her new swing, which her “fairy godfather,” Peter, came and installed a few days before her birthday. Petra loves to swing, and this was the only thing she asked for. So she got it. All of us love it. Now we just want more swings, more hammocks, more ways to hang off of the trees.
Although Petra likes very silly fiction (especially P. D. Eastman books and Winnie the Pooh), she’s most drawn to realistic stories, like The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, or Sonya’s Chickens, by Phoebe Wahl, about a girl, much like Petra herself, who cares for chickens and has to process the inevitable heartbreak of predators nabbing a beloved bird.
Petra refused to do a birthday interview, unfortunately. I don’t know why, but she was adamant. She won’t tell me what she wants to be when she grows up because she says she doesn’t want to grow up. She definitely doesn’t want to have any babies, ever. If I ask her about friends, she’ll say she doesn’t have any, but then she’ll think a bit and decide that Noah, Ella, Cora, Sylvia, James, Esau, Lillian, Arthur, Elisabeth, Sam, and Violet are her friends. Petra can be quite introverted, even more than Silas, but like him, she does enjoy other children, in doses of a few hours at a time. When she’s playing with other kids, as far as I can tell, she plays collaboratively, not being willing to let another kid boss her around, but not being especially bossy herself.
Years ago, my dad said that he could tell Petra was going to “grow up to be one of those girls who doesn’t take any crap from anybody.” So far, I can say he’s dead on with that prediction. But even though she has her own mind, Petra isn’t mean about it. She just knows what she wants and what she will and will not tolerate. As four-year-olds go, she’s reasonable enough. We still have days when I wonder what life choices I made that brought me to the place where I’m arguing over whether a person can or should use a dirty cup, because it happens to be their favorite color, but that threenager stuff is fading. We used to joke about the long list of things Petra “does not yike” (“I do not yike corduroy. I do not yike green pears. I do not yike babies. I do not yike crayons.”). She yikes more things now than she used to. Let’s hope the trend continues.
I’m enjoying watching Petra grow up, against her will. She’s a delightful little person, inquisitive, thoughtful, careful. I look forward to watching her grow into herself even more this year.
I always tell people, when they ask if we’ll have more children, that the moment I saw Petra’s face, I knew we were done. Happy Birthday, Petra. You complete us.