Today, my little nugget is four years old. Every mother says the same things: "How could this happen? Time has flown by! Where did my baby go?" etc. And those things are cliches for a reason, because they're all true. Time does fly and you simultaneously feel like those delirious baby days just happened but were also a lifetime ago. But so much has changed in the past year, even just the past few months, with Alice that her birthday feels even more significant to me this year.

She has taught me so much about so many things. Life, myself, expectations, dreams, changes. Her speech delay is something I would never have chosen for her (or myself) but I'm convinced that it was perfectly planned and timed by God to shake up our world, humble me, and make me a better mom. Would I have treasured and been delighted by every word that she says if she hadn't had a delay? Maybe, but not in the way I do now. Many people say things (well-meaningly but stupidly) like, "One day you'll wish you could get her to shut up!" and... no, no I will not. She jabbers constantly now and I am not sick of it and even when she's "using her words" to be defiant or to tell me she definitely didn't eat a crayon that has turned her teeth red, I want to hear it because we spent months and years desperately trying to know and understand what was going on in her curly little head and now (not fully, but so much better) we can. And it's amazing.

Don't get me wrong... she can be exhausting, like all kids her age. Last week she chose the charming setting of Magnolia Table in Waco to produce some epic meltdown behavior. She typically laughs and/or runs away when she's in trouble and she still weeps regularly when forced to go potty. She likes to chew up paper like a baby goat and routinely gets into my mascara and has a destructive streak that manifests itself in all kinds of ways that make me want to scream.

BUT. She is a genuine delight. Her little voice, all the more precious with each new word/phrase/sentence, is my absolute favorite sound in the world. She is a complete movie buff/enthusiast and would happily watch tv all day long if I let her. I'm convinced she's going to grow up to be the next Roger Ebert or something. She will not go to sleep for her nap without being read to (and she still naps, bless her). She is obsessed with pickles and goes through a whole jar on her own every couple of weeks. She is outgoing, bright, affectionate, hilarious, and loves her people with her whole heart. She wants to sing Do-Re-Mi every day in the car and wear rain boots every minute of the day and considers string cheese a food group. She's stubborn and opinionated, has an incredible memory, and her new favorite Disney character is Winnie the Pooh, whom she calls Pooh Pooh Bear (which I refuse to correct). She talks constantly about going to church, Daddy's school, the entire Ferguson family, going to Gigi's house or Nana's house, and making sure any activity happening is done by "our family."

Today we had the last official meeting for her speech therapy, and even though I'm thrilled and relieved that we are finally getting started at long last, I was also overwhelmed with gratitude over how well she's doing. I seriously can't believe the progress she's made in the last few months... it's crazy. If I had known on her second birthday (or third) that this is where we'd be at four, I would have probably curled up in the fetal position at the thought of so much more time and so many more struggles with this stuff. But, like I said, God knew. He knew what a self-sufficient, even smug mom I would have been, taking credit for things I didn't do. He knew how much stock I put into my own intelligence, my obsession with words, and the ugly, ugly pride I needed knocked out of me when my own daughter "fell short" of my expectations and couldn't communicate with me.

A few months ago I had to write about pride for a class and it was necessary to confront this topic (a painful thing, but one I'm grateful for). I wrote at the time:

"God didn't use this to punish me. He was (and is) using it to help me deal with my own selfishness and pride. He's humbling me and showing me that I can't rely on my own intellect or knowledge. I can only rely on Him.

I believe that God made Alice just the way she is. When He formed her, He knew exactly when and what she would have to say. He knew that her journey would be the beginning of one for her mama- one that brought me to a place where I couldn't take credit for anything. One that ignored my preferred timetable. And one that showed me that there are many, many ways to be smart and brave and funny and kind and they don't all require words."

Well, those words are showing up, but the truth remains. She was brave, smart, and funny (and more) before all the words and now it's even clearer that she is all those things. But it's that much sweeter to me to learn it this way, at this time. These four years have looked wildly different from how I would have pictured them, but I wouldn't change anything. I really wouldn't. The pain and frustration have been more formative (and transformative) for me than a smooth path that wouldn't have forced me to appreciate every little milestone. And even though that's a big part of our story, it's certainly not the whole story. She's healthy and happy and dances every day. She's great.

I love my crazy, silly, giggly, TALKATIVE (!!!) big girl and I'm ready to celebrate her today (maybe with pickles).