The morning before Lydia turned seven I found her pouncing on a young boy in the back hallway at church. She was yelling commands to a wild pack of little girls as the boy screamed and tried to get away. They brushed at his hair and adjusted his shoes. As I approached, he army crawled out from underneath them and went sprinting past me down the hallway. The girls rolled onto their feet and followed. Lydia hesitated as she passed. She stopped, turned back around and announced “Oh hey, this is my Dad!” and then said, “See yah Dad, I have to go be a mom now.” I simply smiled and continued on.

Later on that same day, the one before she turned seven, I was walking through a forest of empty tables and chairs in the fellowship room and I nearly tripped over a pair of legs that were sticking out from under one of the tables. I bent down to look. The casually kicking legs were attached to Lydia and one of her friends. They were laying very close to one another, ears pressed to the carpet, as Lydia told an intense story involving wild hand gestures and the occasional explosion noise. Neither of them even noticed me.

On the day before Lydia turned seven, we came home from church and each disappeared into separate rooms to prepare to do yard work together as a family. A few minutes later we all entered the hallway at the same time, each of us wearing jeans and faded t-shirts. Except for Lydia. Lydia came out wearing a flowing rainbow-colored dress that was so long that she had to lift it up above her ankles to keep from tripping as I made her turn around and go back to change again.

The afternoon before Lydia turned seven, she found a wooden birdhouse in our living room and she decorated it using my prized collection of Sharpie markers, scribbling on it until it looked like the poor little house was engulfed in angry hot pink flames. Then she stood on a picnic table in the backyard and hung the birdhouse from a planter hook outside our kitchen window. And while the rest of us worked on cutting grass in the yard, she sat, patient as a cat, waiting for any sign of a bird coming to visit. Every time a bird flew past our yard she would start spinning in circles and singing at the top of her lungs trying to convince the fragile creature that they wanted to be her neighbor. But none of them decided to move in.

The evening before Lydia turned seven we played a game of Clue around the kitchen table after dinner. Lydia insistent on playing as Mrs.Peacock, because Mrs.Peacock wore a scarf indoors. Lydia wore a necklace she had made out of gummy snacks which she had rolled and stretched into long worms and then pressed together at the ends. She sucked on this necklace as she played, laying all of her cards out on the table where they were clearly visible, no matter how many times we warned her not too. On her turn, when she was supposed to accusing someone of the crime, she would instead tell the entire story about what she believed had happened. “Okay, so Colonel Mustard was behind the couch here, because he was chasing after a ball, and behind the couch he found a toolbox with a wrench inside, and it was HIS wrench and he was mad because someone had been using it without asking-” And we would all groan and look at the clock and shake our heads at the time. Clara would then quickly shuffle through her cards and show her the one for “Col. Mustard”, just like she had done on the three previous turns.

The night before Lydia turned seven I let her and her brother and sister stay up much later than I should have. I came into her room and found her staring up at the clouds painted on her bedroom ceiling. She was inside of a purple knit mermaid tail and her hands were folded over her belly holding a new unicorn doll. I sat down on the bed beside her, ducking my head under the top bunk where Clara was already sound asleep, and avoiding the sprawled legs of her little brother that was asleep in the bed beside her. “You should be sleeping, Sweetheart. You only have forty-three more minutes before you turn seven.”

She grinned, her eyes growing unbelievably large. “I’m never going to sleep. I’m going to stay up all night long. I’m going to sneak down and drink soda. I’m going to play with Legos all night. I’m turning seven tomorrow.”

I laughed and ran a hand down her mermaid tail and tickled her toes.

“How long now, Dad?”

“Oh, forty-two minutes.”

“Okay,” she said. “Then I’ll just pretend to sleep until then, and then I’ll get up and be seven all night.”

“That would be fine. Pretend to sleep and see where that gets you.”

She smiled, showing me the gap in her front teeth and then her eyes slowly closed, and she curled up inside of her tail like it was a magical cocoon from which she would emerge a new and glorious seven-year-old butterfly.

I pushed her hair to the side, kissed her salty forehead, and quietly tiptoed back across the room. She was still pretending to sleep when I turned to close the door behind me.

“Goodbye, little girl.”