When I studied abroad, my little sister was four years old, just learning to read, and obsessed with Peter Pan. Given her stubbornness and big emotions, she had been dubbed Stinker Bell (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see myself in that a little). When I left for England, I told Marissa that I was going to the place where Peter and Wendy are from and that I would send her a surprise from Peter Pan. The morning that I departed, I left a note for Marissa from Tinker Bell saying that she was hiding in my backpack to make sure I got to England okay and that I would find Peter. Also, Tinker Bell told Marissa not to tell me that she was in my backpack. It was their secret. Somehow I didn’t realize that as a four year-old she would eat it up and believe every bit. I sent her weekly letters or postcards from Tink, letting her know how I was, and Marissa managed two whole months of this before she couldn’t keep the secret anymore and told me someone was hiding in my backpack. On the phone, at a buck fifty a minute, I was acting out that an angry pixie flew out of my bag and through the window. Tink blew off steam for a month and then returned, sending Marissa John’s tophat from Neverland (also known as amazon.com).
I am dreading the day that Marissa puts two and two together. In some way that will mark for me her moving on from my baby sister to something more mature. Will she laugh? Will she be mad because I basically concocted an elaborate lie? Will she get that I do these things because I love her so much? It’s fascinating to me how she can be so brilliant, and logical (for an 8 year-old) but still not question so many stories. I guess that’s the magic of childhood in a way. Anyway, I pondered all this once more as Marissa and I played fairy princesses this weekend. She’s still such a little girl. Phew.
But she’s also getting to be her own person in ways I hadn’t noticed before. We ran some errands together Friday and as she talked to me in the car I was surprised over and over again by the little ways that she’s moving toward tweenhood and the narratives about herself that she’s putting forth. For example, as we left Target I treated us to some drinks at Starbucks. She got the Strawberries and Cream Frappe. “Marissa, if I tell you something about that drink do you promise you’ll still want it?” I asked. I told her that the red color comes from tiny bugs. I wasn’t sure how she’d take that one. “Cool!” she said, taking another big sip. But then she gave me a sidelong glance. In one breath: “Were you surprised that I wasn’t grossed out? I’m a tomboy. I’m not one much for shopping.” (Her speech is so formal, it kills me.) I pointed out that she jumped at the chance to go with me and (best part for me) she responded, “I want to spend time with you! Duh.”
As we drove to the next stop across town, we passed a car dealership with one of those weird giant windblown inflatable dancing things (do you know what I mean? what are they called?). Marissa sighed, “Ugh. Those freak me out! What is the matter with them?” I had a little deja vu. She’s always hated those and that’s when it really hit me that she’s not just a collection of childish impulses. She’s developing into this consistent, strong personality and it was just amazing to me to see the ways that itty bitty Marissa wasn’t shedding pieces as she grew older, she was evolving from that little girl into, well, a bigger girl. Does that make sense? I felt very old, but not in an unpleasant way.
Maybe it had something to do with her riding in the front seat for the first time, but she seemed so much older too. But, then, still a kid. She explained that she has messy hair because she’s into science. I told her that she could use a comb and be a scientist, no matter what Albert Einstein lead her to believe.