I had to do a quick calculation in my head to figure out how old you are in months. We have long ago stopped talking about you in terms of months—it’s been a long time since those were the big milestones: three months, six months, twelve months, eighteen… It’s also been a long time since we stopped referring to you in terms of vegetable sizes. When you were in my belly I got those e-mails every week reminding me that this week you were the size of a pea. A kumquat. A tomato. A pear. An eggplant. I loved those e-mails.
Maybe that is why it’s been hard not to refer to you as “my baby” lately. You correct me, and you are right, but still. You are my baby. It’s a cliche that you will always be mama’s baby, but there it is. Our lives are cliches, one after the other, things that millions of other people have experienced and described before us, but to us, who are going through it now, it is all virgin territory.
Like you turning five. You are a boy. Your little body is so long and strong, yet still has a bit of that baby softness. You never lost your sweet little baby thighs and I am grateful for that. Everything else is bony boy, but that little part of you reminds me of the little bundle that you used to be. You used to fit on my lap. I used to be able to carry you up the stairs.
But this is just blubbering now… The real important stuff. Here it goes.
I think you had a really rough year. I don’t think—I know. We all have. We moved to a new city and while I only had to figure out where the grocery store is, you had to navigate a new school, new playground, new gym class, new friends. Of course, I was navigating with you, but let’s be honest, you did the hard work. I left you every morning and you were on your own.
And you totally rocked it. Yes, you bit one of the little girls during the first turbulent weeks. I think there might have been a shoving incident as well. But those were all expected and frankly, I would have done worse in your shoes. You were—are—fearless and smart and kind. You handled everything like a pro and kept us in line and sane. That’s a lot for a little guy.
I comforted myself with the thought that it’s good for you, in a way, to go through some hard times, to experience adversity. You learn and grow from them. I know this as an adult, but it’s against my every instinct as a mother. I want to protect you and see you happy and content all the time. Life will be hard later on — there is no need for me to make it hard. But how else will you learn to sail through difficult times? I doubted — and still doubt — whether I am a good enough parent to teach you the hard lessons. To let you suffer, fail, experience pain. I know I have to. Just not yet.
This year I was also painfully aware that this is the last year that I have you all to myself. We have nine months until you start kindergarten and I am so excited for you and also sad to be giving up our freedom of stay-home days, long weekend trips, early pick-ups on a whim. I’ll miss that. I’ll miss you. But you are so ready and I can’t wait to see how you’ll do in school. I know you will soak up everything. That is one of my favorite things—watching you sit on the couch, with a book, obviously thinking hard and making up stories. It’s the best thing in the world and I hope that nothing and nobody will ever ruin that for you.
Another thing that stood out for me this year is something that I’ve known about you, or rather felt about you maybe even since you were born. I am writing this on Christmas Eve, six days before your birthday, and just today I experienced this with you. It might be hard to put into words… We went to a klezmer concert at our synagogue—this was your first experience with this kind of music. And the entire evening I just knew—or felt—that you were feeling this music in some deep place in yourself, that you are taking it all in in a way that is unusual for a five-year-old. I feel this way when you talk about going to Hungary or being Hungarian—that you just feel these things in your soul, that you have that sixth sense, that depth, that intuition that makes you so serious and thoughtful. And that also maybe makes your life right now a bit difficult, because it is hard to articulate all of these feelings. But I love that you are so sensitive and that you are so in tune with yourself—as much as your five-year-old impulses allow you.
I feel like I could go on and on about how this past year has been difficult and amazing and fun and challenging. I feel like every year has been and will be like that with you. Maybe there will be shifts in the ratio of difficult vs. fun, but they will both be there every year. We are growing together and yet I know and remind myself regularly that we are also growing apart. That you will not always think that I am beautiful or smart, that you won’t always allow me to kiss your sweet lips and cheeks and tickle your belly, that you won’t always tell me so openly when you are sad or confused. So I treasure every year and start the new one ahead of us praying and hoping that we’ll end it like we are now: together, in peace, in love, in magic.