According to my two-and-a-half-year-old, “big girls” rule the world. They are like little wizards disguised in leggings and Gap t-shirts. They can operate scissors, ride bikes with only two wheels, consume hard candy…their magical powers are truly undeniable and Sage is trying desperately to get on their team. Each time she completes a task that she identifies as “big girl” she practically explodes with glee. When she successfully used a glue stick we celebrated for three days straight, when she drank from a glass cup with no protective spill shield we called the local news station, and when she peed in the toilet, the real toilet, we danced until our shoes burned off our feet.

The other night at dinner, when she cast aside her blunted plastic fork and requested an adult sized utensil, I knew she was going for the gold. We watched with awe as she raised it above her head and then deftly speared a small noodle.  She was utterly shocked by the accomplishment, “Mommy…Daddy” she whispered. “I…I…I’m a big girl…I can fork! I CAN FORK!!!”

“Yes, yes!” We cheered. “You can fork. You can. You’re a forkin’ big girl!!”

But somewhere during all the excitement she suddenly got pensive. “I’m growing up,” she said in this tone that made me think she was really mystified by the whole process. And then she asked, “Why? Why am I growing?”

My husband and I exchanged a look and I knew we were both debating a response. Would we give a whole metaphor about seedlings growing into flowers? Would we make up a song to reveal the answer? Would we draw a diagram?

We opted for the boomerang approach and tossed the question back at her.

“Why do you think you’re growing?” we asked.

She paused for a good three seconds. She looked at her fork, she looked at us. She looked back at her fork, she looked back at us.

“I’m growing because you love me,” she said.

Of course, my husband and I cried.

Later that night, long after my daughter had gone to bed, I thought about her answer and wondered, “How much of her “growing up” really has to do with us?” Sure there are the obvious things like the fact that we’re feeding her and hydrating her and that obviously contributes to her literal growth. And we’re doing our absolute best to make her feel secure, and confident, and brave and I’d like to think that’s helping her inch upwards in the emotional arena. And yes we might be teaching her a thing or two: letters, numbers, colors, mostly by accident, so there are some cognitive leaps happening as a result of our presence.  But what I’m discovering more and more each moment that I know her is that she is in the driver’s seat, headed ninety miles per hour towards the person she will become. Her sense of humor is her own. Her stories and songs are made up on the fly. Her walk is determined yet dainty; it has a rhythm I cannot recognize in my own footsteps or my husband’s.   The world that she sees is painted in colors I can’t even imagine. She has a wisdom that is far beyond anything I can conjure in myself. Her creativity is mind-blowing and raw. Everything she touches turns into a unique invention.

Someday, when she really is “a big girl”, I’ll remind her of that one time she told us that she was “growing up because we loved her” and she’ll roll her eyes and make a gagging sound. “You guys’ had nothing to do with it,” she’ll groan.  And I’ll push back because, how could I not? I’ll list the numerous ways that we made her awesome and therefore request a small percentage of everything she ever earns along with a medium sized retirement house on the beach.  But really, secretly I’ll be thinking, “You’re absolutely right. You were your own person from the very start.”