My dear E.J.,
FIVE. YEARS. OLD. Goodness, kiddo. GOODNESS. My baby is five years old, and Mama has been a blubbering mess about it for the past couple of months now. It just seems cruel to have your preschool graduation, kindergarten enrollment (and school tour) and fifth birthday all within the span of two months. Who schedules these things? THINK OF THE MAMAS, people. The poor, bubbling-over-with-emotion mamas! It just ain't right.
Yet despite my teary eyes and that lump that has taken up residence in my throat, here we are. With your fifth birthday and rising kindergartener status you officially transition from toddler/preschool-hood to an actual KID-kid. The fact that you're just the coolest kid does soften the blow a little bit, but I've spent probably the last six months or so clinging to any remaining traces of your babyhood - your soft cheeks, your small hands in mine, the way you can still just fit in my lap and melt your body into mine for a "snuggle," your big brown eyes, your mispronunciations. It's all so good and so precious and it's all on its way out, and that's just a lot for me to take in. Oof. Let's come back to the sappy stuff in a bit, shall we?
You did so well in school this year! You went to preschool four days a week for four hours a day. You loved your teachers and had some sweet little friends in your class. You did very well on all your testing and your teacher had glowing things to say about you at our mid-year conference with her. Daddy and I spent a good bit of time this year debating whether to give you another year in preschool or send you on your way to kindergarten next year, but ultimately decided that you are definitely ready for kindergarten in all possible ways.You are very bright and excited to learn, as well as outgoing and friendly, eager to make connections with your peers. I think you're going to do very well in kindergarten.
One downside to your academic success this year was that you learned to properly pronounce your "Ls" within the first month or so of the school year and much to my utter dismay. I knew that day would come, and did my best to record all your sweet little pronunciations on video before they vanished, but I can't say I don't still sometimes long to hear you say "Ewwie" instead of "Ellie," or "Achiwwes," or "pway." Man, that was all so cute. You're still holding on to a couple, like "bessert" instead of "dessert," and so help me, our whole family will be having bessert after dinner for the rest of our lives if it will keep you thinking that's just what it's called. DON'T TOUCH BESSERT, kid. Just leave me that one.
Your preschool graduation was the sweetest, with a highlight being the pre-graduation slideshow they showed on the screens, which included a photo of each graduate and what they said their favorite part of school was, and what they wanted to be when they grow up. We were all very eager to see what you would say you wanted to be, because in just this school year your answers have ranged everywhere from Captain America (because of your July 4th birthday) to an engineer ("builder") to a North Pole elf (you worried a good bit about if they would train you to make toys, or if you would just have to know how when you got there). Ultimately, you settled on Spider-Man, which is a fine choice. You've already told me you have been feeling your Spidey sense starting to tingle so it seems you're well on your way!
You continue to be a remarkably happy child, who still laughs until he hiccups and loves to be tickled. Your charisma is still a force to be reckoned with, and nearly everyone who knows you just becomes so smitten with you. In fact, they don't even have to know you. At t-ball this spring, the other moms would gush to me about you - how adorable you are, how much they love you and love watching you. They didn't know you, only saw you on the field, but somehow you captured their attention and admiration. I mean, I get it. I feel the same way. But it always makes my heart swell with pride to hear other people tell me about the positive impression you have left on them. You're something special, kiddo.
Of course, as you are my second child I know by now that the toddler/preschool years are also fraught with angst to at least some extent, and I can't say we haven't had our share of tantrums, obstinance, and limit-testing this year. It has seemed to ebb and flow, really. A particular favorite pastime of yours lately is tormenting your sister, as you learned very early on just how to push her buttons and you do so often and effectively. I know this is par for the course with siblings, and I do my best to remain a neutral party and help you kids work it out, but sometimes, man...the fighting drives me crazy. Last year at this time, you guys were getting a long so well that you were having sleepovers in each others' rooms every night, so much so that we shifted all our upstairs bedrooms around to give you and Ellie the master bedroom to share, complete with bunk beds and everything. I have to say, I would not make that same decision this year! But, what can you do. I'm sure it's good for you, right? And it's not all fighting; you guys do enjoy each other and play together quite a bit. I just wish the scales tipped a little more in that direction! In due time, I hope.
You are quite a thrill-seeker! You LOVE rollercoasters and other rides, and have ridden everything you are tall enough for at Disney World. Not only do you love to ride these thrill rides, you're also the first of us to put your hands up. Recently, you also got up your nerve to jump off the high platform into the foam pit at the gymnastics studio (where we will be hosting your birthday party this weekend!), and you learned how to swim underwater and do cannonballs! It took a little convincing to get you to try a jump in the pool without your floatie, but as soon as you tried it, you were an unstoppable cannonball-ing machine. I think you did nothing but cannonballs for the last three straight days of our summer stay at Papa's house.
You also still love all things spooky/Halloween-related, especially The Nightmare Before Christmas. This year for Halloween we dressed up as the main characters from that movie and boy, did you rock the part of Jack. We went to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney World and the costumes were a hit - but not only did you look the part, you even mastered Jack's walk and mannerisms and Jack-walked all over the park. That's your style, though - you really get into character! This year also brought lots more Star Wars costuming at Hollywood Studios, plus TONS of superhero play and dress-up. Spider-Man has remained your favorite superhero, though you also seem drawn to Black Panther and lately, Thanos. You always have had a soft spot for bad guys!
I mentioned t-ball a moment ago, but I have to talk on that a little more because boy, did THAT become huge this spring! This year we joined a new league closer to our house, and it was a huge success. Daddy was an assistant coach in the fall, and in the spring he was your head coach and Ellie joined your team, as well. By the end of the year, you showed great improvement, but what really blossomed was your love for and interest in the game. You now ask to go outside and play baseball with Daddy every afternoon, and he is happy to oblige. You're always excited to tell me when you "crushed it" and you work hard to follow Daddy's coaching, with great results. You also have elected Mike Trout as your First Official Favorite Baseball Player, thus bringing a little Angels fandom along with it. Baseball cards are everything to you right now, and you have a big binder full of them and always want more. You study them and memorize the details and organize them by team, going back over them again and again every day. Such focus! I love that.
We had a bit of a sad family event this year: we lost our dog, Achilles. He passed away unexpectedly and I was unprepared for how to handle it with you. I'm not sure you really understood, as you would sometimes pray for Achilles to come back to our house after he was done in Heaven, or for him to get all better and come back. I am comforted that you won't have much memory of it, and so you were largely spared the heartache of losing a pet this time around.
A few more notable things about five-year-old E.J.: you have a great imagination and love to tell stories, especially about things "Bunny" does (always very elaborate adventures!). You love to climb and jump off things. You like for me to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" to you before nap time. Your favorite color is blue, food is peas and macaroni, restaurant is McDonald's, and toy is your Bunny. You eat VERY slowly, except at TacoLu, where you are always the first one done. And when you are finally done eating, you announce it to the world with a buzzer-like "hmmmm" noise. You love to dress up in costumes and build robots out of Legos. This year you decided you love "handsome clothes" and wore a lot of seersucker, suits and bowties. You can open your car door by yourself now, and get yourself a cup of water. You love books and are able to read some sight words. You sing in the Littlest Angels church choir. When you have a nightmare, you call us in just to tell us that you had one; you require no additional comforting aside from an "I'm sorry, buddy" and a quick re-sing of "Twinkle, Twinkle." You really just need us to know.
This birthday is a tough one for me, not only because you're getting older and transitioning from babyhood to childhood, but because it is a time of transition for me, too. For over seven years now, my identity has been wrapped up in being a mama to small children. I have almost always had one or both of you by my side. I have been needed each day, more moments than not, day in and day out (and nighttimes, too) for the better part of a decade. When people ask me what I do for a living, I say "I stay home with the kids." But starting this fall, the kids won't be at home anymore, at least not in the way they have been. I have no more babies to wrap to my chest and no more morning story times to attend. I have no more fussy little ones to strap into the stroller and walk to sleep. I have no babies to nurse. My purse is no longer filled with snack and sippy cups and spare diapers. When we go to a playground, I can sit on a bench or chit chat with friends without worrying about a little one's imminent doom on the climbing equipment, or having to endlessly push someone in the baby swing. My schedule is no longer dictated by anyone's need for a nap, and more often than not, we all sleep through the night. In the mornings, no one needs me to retrieve them from their crib - instead, my babies are downstairs preparing their own breakfasts.
In a way, it's freeing and exciting. The world is opening up to me again (I even read a book this month! For the first time since before you were born!). With your growing independence, I'm finding a newfound freedom and frankly, the possibilities of what to do with it are a bit overwhelming. I'm at a crossroads, and I'm having to reshape my identity as a mother and an individual. Without babies at home requiring my constant care, how will I spend my days? What is the best use of my time? What will at once keep me free to be there for you and Ellie, but also give me fulfillment outside of the home? What does my future hold? I'm a mother of school-age children now. I'm no longer a mama of littles. It has taken me all these years to shift my identity from my pre-kid self to this, and now I'm on the precipice of another change. The last change rocked me to my core and I wasn't prepared to have to navigate another one so soon. It's an aspect of motherhood I was wholly unprepared for.
Of course, the world isn't just opening up to me - it's also opening up to you, and to us as a family. You have so many new things to look forward to as you start your school years, and with your increasing self-sufficiency and we're able to do a lot more with you kids in tow, which is very exciting. For example, this summer we have a two-week road trip planned with stops at four baseball stadiums, because that's what you're interested in. We're also taking you and Ellie to New York City for the first time, which will be fantastic, and is not something we would have considered with a baby you. But big kid you? Why not! We're able to spend longer days out in the world, enjoying fun activities and each other. We're able to stay up late and try new restaurants and explore new places. This new chapter promises to be a fun one - different from the last, sure, but really exciting in new ways.
And so, we close the chapter on babyhood, both for you and for me as a mother. You were my last, though that is something I wrestled with a lot this year. But you are. I know that my wavering back and forth about wanting another baby is less about the desire to actually add to our family and more about just longing for more time with the babies I did have. It went so fast, kiddo. It was such a special time and it's crazy to think you won't remember most of it. Hopefully the feelings of love and security and joy and family togetherness will stick with you, at least. Because we enjoyed all of those things in excess over the last five years.
E.J., what a joy it is to be your mother. Thank you for the greatest five years. Now, let's turn the page and see what happens next.
Happy birthday, nugget.
All my love,
* * * * *
My dear E.J.,
"What's up little buddy?" If soon-to-be-five-year-old you were here, you would almost certainly say, "Good," because you always do. Until now, I've never really thought about it other than as one of those things I am never going to correct. Those things, like "bessert" and "Los Angels" are the cutest (once you are sure your kid is going to figure it all out someday). Thinking about those exchanges makes me smile because I can hear how sincere, friendly and content you sound when you say it. And that feels like a good start to a summary of you this past year.
I also think the E.J. "good" is close to how I would describe our relationship at five years old. Again, not the word itself so much as the way you say it. I think we spent more time together this year than we ever have, including "boys' days," reading, battling at the park and in the front yard after work, and in heart-to-hearts as you start to process real concepts like fairness. One of our boys' days included a morning out to the baseball card store, which has kicked off a really fun hobby and may have caused your first "favorite player." We bought a bunch of packs of cards to open at McDonald's and I was telling you who some of the best players were that you might get. Low and behold, the first name I mentioned was also the very first card in your very pack. We've since acquired matching jerseys and watched him hit a long home run in person on Father's Day. In case the rest ends up being history, so to speak, I thought it was worth chronicling here.
If I'm being honest, I'm also a little nervous about keeping up this momentum. So far, raising a son has absolutely everything I could have ever imagined it would be, but we're only just getting started. While you are just five, I am old enough to know what a fine line the world will need you to walk between masculine leadership and thoughtful compassion. I want you to be competitive and strong and confident, but it is even more important for you to be a great husband and father who considers the needs of others before yourself. I don't have the closest relationship with my father or a clear model for the best way to help you as you grow up. You are such an amazing little boy with all the potential in the world, and I guess I am starting to process how great a responsibility I have to help you realize it in a healthy and productive way. I know these things are on my mind because of the current political climate, but I also know that you're only five and don't have to grow up for a little while yet, though you have started getting regular haircuts and are all in on "handsome clothes" for church and big school events.
Speaking of being five, you love Halloween, costumes, and baseball. Oh, how you've fallen in love with baseball. On the last day of preschool, you actually wrote that you wanted to be a professional baseball player when you grow up. You also told your teacher you wanted to be Spider-Man, so I'm taking it with a grain of salt. Anyway, we switched to a more formal tee-ball league with three fields and a concession stand last fall. I was your head coach for the first time this Spring and since the season ended, you have asked to practice almost every single day. You are eager to work on all parts of the game, even though you aren't big enough to confidently swing an aluminum bat and well, aren't bothered by bad reps and you are always thinking about the things we work on, talking about old tips or showing me things during nap times. You also study your baseball cards and the players we watch on TV, which has led to some adorableness, like fashioning an elbow guard for batting, giving high fives to the imaginary dugout after a home run, performing slow-motion replays, and throwing from your knees when you are being the catcher.
Off the field, I'm excited for you to start kindergarten this fall. You really seem to have an aptitude for learning and you pick things up really fast, like basic sight words and addition, and even the concept of negative numbers. One time, you even brought me a book because you wanted to practice reading. Without ever having done it before, you just sort of pieced together letter sounds and kept track of the words you worked out and did an amazing job.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that you started sharing a room with Ellie this past year, put your hands up on roller coasters at Disney, were obsessed with The Nightmare Before Christmas for a while and saw a lot of cool places on our summer road trip (I'm sure there's a book for that - P.S., your future wife is going to love your mama for doing such an awesome job chronicling how cute you are right now.)
I love you, little buddy, and couldn't be more excited to keep enjoying what we have going on right now. I promise I will always do my best.
All my love,