"I don't want to turn five. I want to be four forever."
We are sipping hot cocoa (well, you're picking out the whipped cream with your straw) when you make this decision. "If I'm four forever, we can always have days like this. If I am an adult, I don't get to be a kid anymore."
Four and a half has made you seem so much older than you did at four. More anxious and more aware of every crevice in this world. I see so much of myself in you the older you get. Physically, you're beginning to look more like your father, especially in stature and expression. Emotionally, though, you are becoming so much more like me. "Well, buddy, I can only imagine how much magic five will hold." You stare at me with skepticism. "I'm suspicious of that," you say, before returning your gaze to the mound of chocolate syrup draped over the whipped cream in your cup.
I smile. I smile and I also wince because you are so wise beyond your years and so fragile when put up against a world that lacks the compassion that comes so naturally to you.
I take a sip of my cocoa and tell you how before each of your birthdays I cry a little. Not because I'm sad, but because I can't believe you're growing up and I worry, too, just like you do that things will change. Sometimes they do, I explain, but our days are always an adventure. They're always full of love. They're always full of happiness and warmth. You let me know that you worry before your birthdays, too, because you aren't ready to be a grown up yet. "But when I turn a year older, I'm still not a grown up so it's okay," you assure me.
My sweet boy, we are soulmates. We are one and the same.
We talk about your swim class. There is a little boy who cries through every class for his mommy, but today he came out laughing. "Ethan," he told his mom when he exited the pool, "is just so funny. He made me laugh!" I saw you during the class when you thought we weren't looking, squirting the patient, warm swim instructor in the head with a pool toy. "Mommy, tell me again about when I cheered that boy up," you smiled. I told you. You laughed. "I am pretty funny. I hope I'm still funny when I'm a grown up." I assure you that twenty years from now we can still go out for cocoa ("you won't be able to get rid of me, even when you're a grown up," I tell you) and laugh about the time you squirted the instructor in the head with water for the duration of swim class.
I begin silently worrying that the world will steal your joy and innocence and break your spirit.
"I'm all finished." You set your empty cup of cocoa onto the table. "Does this get recycled or go into the trash? Is it plastic? Can I tell you again about when I squired Coach Steve with the toy today at swim?" Your eyes are red from the chlorine and your hair looks almost golden in the sun. I am taken aback by how old you look, all of the sudden, before my eyes.
"Mommy," you say, your hand in mine, "don't forget to look both ways before you cross the street."