The Last 5th Birthday

There are two camps of parents: Those who love the baby phase, and those who don’t. I am a card-carrying member of Camp Baby, and always have been.

Oh, but they’re better when they’re older and they can interact.

They are so much easier when they aren’t so small.

Yeah, I know. I’ve heard the finer points of debate. But still. Babies.

NO, I’m not here to say that I’m adding another to our mix. But today my youngest turned five, and although I’m aware he hasn’t been a baby for quite some time, this birthday stings more than a little. I feel like he turned a corner into the Bigger Kids Club with some kind of express pass that happened in the blink of an eye.

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With his newfound almost-tweendom, one of the most interesting things to watch is how this child continues to establish and assert his role in our family. For so long, he was “the baby,” the one who wasn’t big enough or old enough to do everything his siblings did. No more, his every move says. I am here and I’m coming with you.

When his sister wants to go play with the girls down the street? Uh, yeah, he’s coming too. Gone are the days of staying behind and hanging out with Mom. Who cares if they’re making jewelry and crafts? His mission is to bring along his beloved Hot Wheels and convince them to incorporate cars into their crafts in any way imaginable. He is currently experiencing mixed success at best on this front.

His brother and sister are playing a game? Listen, he wants a role in it too. And he’s not going to hear otherwise. So if you were wondering how Minecraft, fairies and Hot Wheels all join forces into an imaginary scenario, look no further than my family room and behold three strong personalities trying to work this out into a cohesive playtime narrative. I think Wes Anderson would be proud.

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Bottom line, according to this kid: I’m in the mix now. I have a voice. I see what I’ve been missing out on, and I want in. Oh, and everything in which I participate much involve at least four and as many as 19 Hot Wheels cars located in my hands, pockets, bed, Mom’s bag, and car seat at all times. Why have you not learned all of their names? Have I taught you people nothing?

Yeah, sorry Lightning McQueen. I didn’t think I’d see the day when you were decidedly replaced by a 50-year old toy franchise, but you can take your racing wheels and find another kid’s house. It’s Hot Wheels City here, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re 1/30th of the cost. Take Mater with you. (OK, you can stay and we’ll just store you somewhere in our basement in perpetuity because I have a soft spot for your entire franchise.)

For a long time, my youngest would not go to bed until we sat in his glider together and I sang him silly songs that I made up for him years ago. Recently, his long limbs have gotten too big for both of us to sit there together comfortably for more than a few minutes. We moved the good-night routine over to his bed, where we chat before he goes to sleep with his stuffed dog under his arm every night. I will hesitantly admit that the glider has reached the end of its useful residency in my house, after eleven years and thousands of hours spent in it with three kids. It is a hideous and bulky piece of furniture, but it has remained a constant, if not final, reminder of the baby era in our family.

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While in his bed chatting last week, I asked him if we can give the glider to another family for their kids. In the past, he has steadfastly resisted and cried about getting rid of it. This time, he shrugged and said, “Sure. I’m not a baby.”

<sob>

<me, not him>

He knows he’s getting big and wants to increasingly do things for himself, but — like many of the youngest kids in the birth order of a family — he also knows when to capitalize on his littleness. Yeah, that was me carrying a 45 pounder in my arms today at elementary school pick-up. Yes, he can come into my bed every morning. And yes, he can usually secure one or twelve additional hugs to stall his bedtime. He is a mush of affection just as my older two are starting to become, shall we say, hesitant about public displays of parental love.

Well played, my boy. Well played.

He is a born conversationalist, which anyone who has spent two minutes with him would know — from closest family members, to strangers in public places. Remember when we were in the same check-out line at Target, never having met before? And now you know the most minute details of our family, complete with an invitation for dinner? That’s because my youngest child was put on this Earth to tell you allllll the things you need to know about him, his family, his toys, the weather and various top of mind grievances — complete with highly exaggerated hand gestures and the inflection of an exasperated 75 year-old.

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And so, this expressive, opinionated, affectionate and endlessly curious boy turns five today. I can’t pretend that I’m shocked by this milestone, but it feels like a big one as I’m keenly aware of and mournful for the baby years slipping away. Yes, there is so much fun in this phase and yes, life gets easier in many respects without strollers and cribs and gear and whendidilastsleepallnight fogs. Turning that corner is both tough and exciting.

In the meantime, we have Hot Wheels tracks to build and racing times to compare before deciding which cars will advance to the Ultimate Birthday Championship Round. And there will be ice cream and five candles for the child who made our family complete.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.

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