05/30/2012 07:12 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2012

'4' Is the Magic Number: A Birthday Reflection for My Daughter

Since graduating from college, I've often grouped periods of great significance to me in sets of four years. Despite having gleefully attended a "smart party school," my college years always felt epic in terms of my own maturity and growth. Those four formative years of confidence-building, friendship blooming and planning a career path set a tone for this ongoing four-year time of self-reflection. After living in Chicago as a twenty-something for four years, I remember thinking (while drinking), "I can't believe it's been as long as college! What am I doing with my life?" The first four years of marriage (Wow! Already?) and the first four years of a job ("Do I send out resumes yet?) all felt like moments to bask in and reflect on a mini-chapter of the big picture of my life.

And now, our firstborn daughter is turning 4 years old. BIG. HUGE. Tears, pride, melted heart, oh my.

You know how people with energetic kids throw around the word "spirited?" It's the PC word for "HOLY HELL, YOUR KID HAS SO MUCH ENERGY HOW THE FRACK DO YOU DEAL?" Yeah, that's our girl. Her preschool report card had all high marks other than one questionable comment: "She's just so excited. She shouts the loudest when we sing."

I didn't actually know the comment was negative at first. Upon further explanation, her teacher said our daughter needs work on calming down when she needs her to do so. I suppose that's fairly common 4-year-old behavior, but I'd be lying if I wasn't a little concerned. What if she can't calm down? Like ever? What if she zigs and zags through life faster than a Tasmanian devil and only stops to smell the roses to pounce on them and leave them crushed in her wake? I suddenly found myself in a whirlwind of self-doubt reminiscent of my first year as a parent, a time when I was harassed with sleepless nights where I pondered every last stinkin' choice, unable to make a decision.

Jenn. That is a very bad path. Don't go there.

Today, on her fourth birthday, I celebrate that spunk. I cheer that firecracker energy, her passionate hear-me-roar vocals, her screams and cries of frustration to be able to do MORE and the dance moves she must strike and pose at the most inappropriate times (dinner, at line in the grocery store, church). Her shish-boom-bah is 99 percent of the time on overload, but you know what? Dare I say it -- we've mastered four years of this and the kid is alright (the pediatrician said so!). She focuses when she needs to, is smart as a whip and more importantly, she's kind-hearted and compassionate. We may go to bed like we've just walked 10 miles through a hurricane some days, but overall, The Hortons are having a good damn time. It's a rewarding hangover... we just can't sleep until 11 a.m.

This morning, my daughter came into our bedroom at the crack of dawn, but not with her usual I'm-your-rooster-damnit persona. This time, she climbed in quietly and snuggled up next to me. No bed jumping today. No demand for the iPad to watch Charlie Brown clips on YouTube. "Mommy," she said, rubbing my head. "I am so proud of you." She kissed my forehead. "I really, really, really, really, REALLY love you."

Somebody slow down this dream. Another four years will come way too fast.