Ethan is almost five.
For some reason, this is the birthday that is hitting me like a ton of bricks. Don't get me wrong, I collapse into a puddle of tears more than once with each birthday that comes, each bit of baby shed. But five? Five is a whole new ball game. It's a new, frightening territory and descent into boyhood. Of course, it is my greatest privilege to watch Ethan grow up. My heart swells with joy over thoughts of his many milestones to come: his first love, the day he gets his driver's license, first jobs, graduations, seeing him starting his own family (if he so chooses). Watching him grow up is my greatest adventure, my greatest joy and the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon anyone. But five? This one is a doozy.
We decided to redshirt Ethan a couple of years ago. What that means is that he should be in Pre-K this year and beginning Kindergarten in the fall, but he will be a year behind and thus starting (very part-time) Pre-K this fall and Kindergarten the next year. He will be among the oldest in the class instead of the youngest. While we had many reasons to make this choice, the biggest factor was knowing Ethan. He wasn't ready. We fully embrace following the child and knew that a natural progression towards beginning separation would happen on his own terms. Over the last three to four months, the strangest thing happened: he became ready. He began to ask me to drop him off at his drop-off classes, not just be the sole parent sitting inside the room. He never wanted me to go far, and at first asked me to check in every couple of minutes. And then less, and less. I caught myself sitting in the courtyard, sipping on a Coke and waiting the hour and a half to pick him up from art class and my stomach tied itself into knots. We had followed our child into independence, on his own terms, and here we were.
Five. Did I mention it's a doozy?
Sometimes when it's quiet, when Carmen is asleep and the house is dark, I stay up and I try to replay all of the memories we've packed into the past five years. The busy mornings, the adventure filled afternoons, the zoo trips and museum visits and breakfast dates and enrichment classes. I can close my eyes and still see him, sprawled across his tummy time mat as I lay next to him on his bedroom floor, wriggling and cooing in his newborn newness. I catch myself often saying something along the lines of "and then I blinked and he grew up," but I realized lately why that never sits right in my heart once it comes out. I didn't blink, because then I would have missed something. As I reflect back on our five years together, I know in my heart that I fought blinking with all my might. All of it. All of the chaos and growing and living, I feel it with all of my might. I don't know that I truly existed before he breathed the life into my world.
Sometimes I wonder how this little boy could have fallen so beautifully into his role as big brother. It had been, for all intents and purposes, just us for so long. From the moment Carmen arrived, he welcomed her with the compassion, love and warmth that is so uniquely Ethan. He is the pacificer finder, the hand holder, the lullaby singer. Today I stepped out of Carmen's room, her on her play mat and Ethan on the rug across from her, to throw a dirtied cloth diaper into the wet bag in the laundry room. As I walked back towards the room, I heard Ethan singing her Riptide by Vance Joy in a soft, soothing voice, stroking her cheek so lovingly. Sometimes I can't believe he's only four. Just this afternoon, he spent forty-five minutes crying over the death of Selena.
The birthday invitations have been printed. In just a couple weeks time, they will be stamped and sent out in the mail. In a little over a month, his friends will gather and sing him happy birthday and he will blow out the candles and be five and it is so obvious by looking at him. Five.
It's been a good reminder to keep fighting against blinking. Even when the days are long, when they are hard and when I am so tired. There's not a second of his life that I want to miss.