It’s Jasper birthday today. He’s three. Don’t tell him that, though.
Me, this morning: “Is it your birthday today, Jasper? Happy birthday!”
Jasper: “No, Mommy, not my birthday. YOUR birthday.” He’s close: my birthday is just a couple of days away. Still, you’d think that the child would be kinda pleased about having a birthday. Birthdays are awesome when you’re a kid. Less so once you’re a grown-up, but still.
Me: “No, baby. It’s YOUR birthday. You’re three! Happy birthday!”
Jasper: “NO, Mommy, I NOT. IS NOT MY BIRTHDAY.”
Yesterday was Emilia’s birthday. She asked for Zhu Zhu Pets and a guitar. “Because I’m going to be a rock star when I grow up, Mommy, and the Zhu Zhu pets are going to live in my pockets, so I can play the guitar with them.” I didn’t tell her that aspiring rockers usually keep rats in their pockets. We have no room for any more feral creatures in this house.
(Do you know Zhu Zhu Pets? I had no idea until a few weeks ago, when Emilia started asking for them. They’re basically, like, robotic hamsters. Seriously. My first thought when she opened them was, oh, okay. So they’re robotic hamsters. Which means, some of the charm of hamsters without the hamster shit and all that shredded newspaper. I can live with that. Then I realized: THEY’RE ROBOTIC HAMSTERS. I’m pretty sure that robotic hamsters are mentioned specifically in the Book of Revelations as harbingers of the coming apocalypse. Or maybe it was The Apocalyptic Gospel According To James Cameron. I can’t quite remember. Doesn’t matter. HAMSTER ROBOTS.)
Today, you are five.
This is both totally extraordinary, and utterly ordinary. Which of these it is varies from minute to minute: in one moment, I look at you and think, when did you become such a big girl? Where did that little baby go? Where has the time gone? HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT YOU ARE FIVE? In another, I look at you and I think, wasn’t it ever thus? Have you not always been this little girl, this little big girl, this here-and-now person who is so completely and utterly you that any other yous, all the previous yous, are almost unimaginable?
That you are five and that you are you and that you become ever more you – ever more consistently you and ever more differently you – with every passing day is, for me, a joy for which I have no words. But it is also a sadness, an ongoing grief – a quiet grief, the kind that just hums, quietly, in the darker corners of my soul – and for it, too, I have no words. How do I describe the feeling of celebrating you and mourning you, all at once? Of the joy that I feel in your presence that thrums with a nagging sensation of loss? The complicated happiness that is loving the incomparable you that you are now and aching to discover the incomparable you that you will be tomorrow and missing the incomparable you that you were yesterday, last month, last year? The sweet sadness that comes with yearning to find out who you will become while clinging to the you that you were?
It’s Kyle’s birthday today. I’m not going to tell you how old he is, because I think that he’s feeling a little weird about that, and if the 21st century has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing weirdmaking that can’t be made even more weirdmaking by being broadcast on the Internet. So.
Emilia got him sticks for his birthday. She put a lot of thought and planning into that, and it’s important to realize – as she explained at some length this morning when she presented them, with great fanfare, which is to say, wrapped in ribbons and pulled with a flourish from behind her back – that they aren’t actually sticks, but tools. “Car tools,” she explained. “For your car.”
This weekend, you turned four years old. You were so excited to turn four years old. For months you asked how many weeks it would be before you turned four, and for weeks you asked that we count down the days until you turned four, and for days you insisted that we tick off the hours until you turned four, and when the day finally came you said “Guess what, Mommy? Today, I am FOUR.”
And I smiled and hugged you and said “yes, yes, I know.”
Emilia’s birthday is this weekend. She will be four years old. Four year olds, she informs me, always have birthday parties.
“So do five year olds. And sixes. I don’t what happens when you get really old, but I hope you still get cake.”
I didn’t tell her that when you’re really old, like, thirty-something, you’re lucky if someone fixes you a bowl of cereal and washes the dishes. No point in rushing the disillusionment.