Last night I tucked my J in for the last time as a six-year-old. I sung “Amazing Grace” while I scratched her back and combed her bobbed blonde hair with my fingers, and then I came back to her bed after tucking in her big sis so J and I could chat.

We locked eyes. We touched noses. This is what I do with my second-born girl. Our language of touch and hazels locked on browns.

We talked about things like water in your ears and how we like to plug our ears without putting our fingers inside. We talked about six and what made it special, and she didn’t know what part of it was her favorite because she’s always been a girl who majors in the present moment.

Then she toyed with the idea of not celebrating until 10:11 p.m. (when she officially turns 7) just like her big sister, but I told her that would be stinky because she’d be in bed by that time, so it would only be Papa and me, celebrating her for an hour and forty-nine minutes until June 29th rolled around.

She smiled and then asked me why I use the word stinky, and I told her because I think it is funny.

Yesterday morning, I watched her run figure 8’s and try to hit the ball over the net at tennis camp, and I watched how over and over she looked to me for the thumbs-up, and our eyes met, and we smiled, and she kept right at it.

Last night, I kept dancing the number six on my fingers out her bedroom door and then dancing the number seven on fingers back into her room, and though it took her a little while to figure out what I was doing, when she got it and smiled big, I couldn’t stop.

I said, “Good night,” closed the door and then opened it again because every time I was ready to seal the door for the night, I’d see those eyes still locked on mine.

One of the last times I opened the door to say “Good-night, my 6-year-old,” I spied Elmo on her bed. Just like the old days. His big round eyes staring back from the top of his red fuzzy head. I remembered how J liked to make him laugh and how some ladies I know called our smiling, giggling, content girl the “happiest baby in the world.”

And I thought of how much time has passed since then, and how my heart aches with her softness, and how I’m still growing to know this unfurling second-born girl of mine.

So, this morning, when I wake J and look in those tender eyes and say “Happy birthday, sweet girl — I love you,” I will see the years of holding her on my lap, watching her tend to little things with those hands of monkey bar callouses. I will see back scratches made by my finger strokes growing longer each year, and the thumbs-up and bubble bath beards and figure-8’s and love dancing in all the 7’s.

Happy birthday, J Bug.

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