Her hair floats around her head in defiance to gravity in the mornings. She looked up at me with her halo of hair and smiled.
"Happy birthday, baby," I said gently pitching my voice just above the water pounding the tile. I know she's not at her easiest first thing in the mornings. If it were up to her, I'd be in my bed where she'd run back and snuggle under the covers with me for a half hour while I rubbed her hair and back.
She smiled at me. "It's my birthday."
"I'm not four yet, Mommy. I'm too little to be four! I'm still three."
"Nope. You're four, baby."
"But look!" She stood up straight and stretched her head above her shoulders. "I'm still little!"
I agreed with her and then lowered my voice. "How about you eat your cake tonight and open your presents and then if you still feel three we can let you be three a little bit longer."
She nodded enthusiastically and I went back to my shower where I let the water mingle with the sentimental tears of a mother who knows she can't keep her little girl three any longer.
No matter how much I want to keep her a bundle of baby love, she's growing bigger every day. Her long legs stretch under skirts that used to hit below the knee and now require shorts. Her shoes are no longer the bits of lace and leather of two years ago, but sturdy sneakers and slip ons that slide on to feet that take her wherever she needs to go.
And go she does. She's a lioness, my little love. Full of energy, she attacks life with a joy and vivacity that brings a smile to my face and an answering dimple to hers.
I find her talking to our neighbor in a avalanche of gibberish.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm speaking Spanish!"
I look at my neighbor who patiently nods and listens to her nonsense with a serious look on his face. He winks and continues their conversation in his smooth Spanish.
She stands with her friends in a hug, holding the contact as she speaks into their eyes. She rubs their arms, their backs, and then with a smile runs off to play. With the babies, the gentleness of her soul blooms.
She holds their hands, carefully corralling them away from danger. She sits next to them, her arms offering support they no longer need. She kisses their cheeks, rubs their soft arms and legs, and smiles with so much pride as they walk and talk you'd think she was personally responsible for their accomplishments.
"Elizabeth! You're growing too fast for Mama. You've got to stop such silliness!"
"It's okay, Mommy. I'm still very little and I will be for a long time. When I grow up are we going to be best friends, Mommy?"
"There's no doubt in my mind, baby. The very best of friends."
Happy birthday, my little love.