My heroine is at once a study in contrasts and a simple person. Some days, she's fearless - she'll do anything. Other days she's cautious and needs reassurance. My heroine is physically strong: She's a runner, a climber and bike rider. She's healthy – even though I can see her ribs, I also see muscles and just a hint of belly. My heroine is exactly the way she needs to be. She lives in the moment, neither fretting about the future nor rehashing the past. She's overcoming adversity after losing her father at age 6. She is who she is and people can take or leave her. Mostly, they take her. She's wildly popular and makes friends at the drop of a Kiwi ten-cent coin.
When I entered my heroine's workplace last week, I found her sitting on the floor, listening to a story. Two friends sat on either side, braiding her hair. They ask if she'll run with them at lunch time. She practically holds court in Mr. Parry's third year class, but refuses to accept the title, "Princess," and happily eats peanut butter and honey sandwiches from a pink, soft-sided chilly bin rather than cucumber finger sandwiches from a silver tray. A secret admirer adds to her lunchbox stash, depositing chips, cookies or other edible treasures.
|Lost another tooth - this time, at Hahei Beach, Coromandel|
Yes, my heroine is my 7-year-old daughter, Fiona. She wears her seven-ness so unselfconsciously, you'd think she was born 7. She's grown into her years gracefully, despite a picket-fence collection of teeth. Fiona wears imperfections well, including the missing teeth and 2 scars – one, a pink indentation above her left eye from a fall out of bed in a New Mexico motel – the other, a half-foot long white line above her belly button from an operation when she was 2 days old. The kid still rocks a bikini like she's America's Next Top Model. She looks "fierce," as the show's host, Tyra, would say. Work it, girl.
|After the school "Try-athlon"|
Fiona can scale a street pole as quickly as her brother, throw sand, dig holes, play touch rugby and get really, really dirty. Think blackened, Cajun-style feet. Still, she loves being a girly-girl, dressing in pink, curly hair (she asks me to put her hair in rollers and doesn't mind sleeping in them) and wearing pretty dresses. Her favorite shoes are black patent leather, and they light up.
I've told Fiona no matter how cute anyone thinks she is, no matter how much she learns in school, the most important quality she possesses is kindness. I've seen Fi's empathy in action. She shows concern for hurting animals (the bunny her little friends stoned in Australia was the exception to that rule), hurting mommies and hurting little brothers. She told me the other night, "It's a good thing you have me and Finley, because if Daddy died, and you didn't have kids, you'd be lonely." Fiona has consistently looked out for her 5-year-old brother, Finley. She said Finn asked her to play with him last week at recess because his friends weren't around (I'm not sure that last part is true, but I'll sit with it for now). Fiona said, "I played cards with Finn - I didn't want him to be lonely. And my friends stayed with us, because they care for him, too." Shucks.
|Adventure Girl, Coromandel Peninsula|
|Luge at Rotorua|
Before you start wondering if I birthed alien children (now, that's a picture: Me, all Signourney Weaver-like, with E.T. Bursting from my stomach. Let's not go there), I need to disclose Fi and Finn fight daily over who got the bigger brownie, had the toy first, gets to choose the bedtime story, etc., etc., ACK-cetera... They're normal, frustrating, irrational beings. And Fiona, the oldest being, has tasked herself with looking after Little Brother.
She's always played the role of Bossy Big Sis and Care taking Big Sis. After Sean went into the hospital, I noticed more care taking and (a little) less bossing. The kids seemed to close ranks. It was as if their brains were whirring with the idea: "Daddy and Mommy could both disappear, but we'll still have each other." There's truth to that theory, especially since Daddy died. God willing, my kids will have each other for decades after I'm dust. Fiona comforts Finn when he's sad, offering to read a story or sleep next to him, even though she'd prefer sleeping alone, in peace.
|Walk for Christchurch, Tauranga, with Finley|
|I want to be like Fiona when I grow up|
Fi recently fed me a line swallowed by millions of mothers around the globe: "You're the best mom in the world," she said. I don't want to swell her head or prematurely pop out any more baby teeth, but I could easily give her a spoonful of verbal nectar: "You're the best 7-year-old girl I've ever had," I could say. Her daddy would be proud. My heroine. My Fiona.