Your birthday was a few days ago, and now you are six. This reminds me of one of my very favorite poetry books, Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne. Everybody knows Winnie the Pooh, but not too many people know Binker, the namesake imaginary friend within my very favorite poem found in Now We Are Six.
As a child, I loved Binker and I wanted him to be my own despite knowing that he already belonged to the lucky child narrating the poem. It is also one of my mother’s favorite poems and she was the one that introduced me to it. I can still hear the cadence of her voice as she recited it from memory to me, eyes shining with conspiratorial glee. We knew about Binker. It was a special secret we shared.
And then I shared it with you. I read you that same poem, likely in the very same rhythm and cadence in which it was read to me, and I told you the name of the book it came from. “So this is just for people who are six?” you asked wide-eyed in all of your six-year-oldness. I smiled and told you that it was first read to me when I was about your age, and so I supposed that very well might be case.
You informed me that you had an imaginary friend, too. “His name is Ziki,” you said. And then immediately asked, “How do I spell ‘Ziki’? I know it starts with ‘Z’, but…” And so we sounded it out together and settled on Z-I-K-I because it was sweet and simple and you liked it best.
And you are sweet, but anything but simple. And sometimes you think I’m the best, and sometimes you think I’m the worst. And often you’re right about both. We are learning about each other now – how to navigate the world with each other. How much rope you need to be able to explore the world while still tethered to me, and how far we can push each other before it’s too far and someone gets hurt.
We both know when it’s too far.
Sometimes you’re still my baby. I see you needing me, wanting me there, excited when I show up at your school on Thursdays to volunteer at lunchtime, or each afternoon when I meet you at the bus stop. I see your eyes light up and know that you’re still little, that despite all of the baby clothes nestled in that box at the top of your closet, despite the labels in your clothing turning from “six months” to “six years” seemingly overnight, you are still mine.
This time last year you were still refusing to wear skirtsordressesorleggingsortights and now you are twirling away at least four times a week in some frock of your choosing – all pink and purple and sparkly and sequined up. A chin-length bob with bangs has been replaced by barrettes and ponytails. You are a reader and a writer and a storyteller. You have an imagination that inspires me, and a memory that both impresses and terrifies me.
You are now carrying on conversations with friends in the backseat of the car that are simple and complex and fascinating, all at the same time. And that backseat has a booster seat where there was once a car seat and an infant carrier before that. And when I spy you in the rearview mirror, you look so grown up sitting in that booster seat with just the regular seat belt resting across your chest. Where are the Cheerios all over the floor and the sticky residue from too-tightly-squeezed juice boxes that have spilled their contents wherever the laws of physics have taken them?
I hear you playing “I Spy” with your little brother, which makes me feel better that you’re still little. But I also hear you letting him “win” rounds of the game when you and I both know that he guessed wrong, and I know that you’re growing up.
And you can be kind and cruel to me. And I can be kind and cruel to you. And it is always short-lived and we always say sorries and we are always alright soon enough.
But for those times in between the cruel and the sorries, for those excruciating moments that you are weeping in your room over some slight – real or imagined – I am happy that you are not yet too big to cuddle your dollies, and yet big enough to write down your feelings.
I am glad that you are still little enough to have a Ziki.
I know Binker was never really mine, but Ziki is surely yours.
And I know you will only be mine for a time, but know that I will always be yours.
All my love,