I sometimes tell you that perhaps I won’t let you turn five. I’ll place my hand on the top of your head and tell you I simply won’t allow it; you must stay four, you must stay little forever.
You chuckle in that slightly placating way you do before letting me down gently with a, “Hehe. Mommy, that’s silly. You can’t stop it. I’m growing every day. I won’t be a grown up when I turn five, though. I’ll still be a yittle kid.” (You once followed that up with a reminder that you don’t want grown up gifts yet, either — you still want toys. I responded that I guess I’d better return the coffee pot I bought you. You were not amused. Hehe.)
Anyway, I’ve decided to go ahead and let you turn five. And here’s why …
Your energy, wit, intelligence and sensitivity have always amazed me, but I have never been more proud of you than I am right now. In the past several months, you have endured a pretty dramatic change in your life – the welcoming of your foster brother, BlueJay – and you have handled it with more grace, love and understanding than I ever could have hoped for. You share every toy you own with him, you teach him about dinosaurs, you choose Little Einsteins when it’s your turn to select a TV show simply because you know it’ll make him happy (I know deep down you’d rather be watching Jake and the Neverland Pirates). Most importantly, you tell him every day that you love him.
I see how BlueJay looks up to you; I see how much you mean to him. He calls you his “beautiful Ryan.” No matter how long he is your “brother,” please know this: You have been a gift to him. You have left a positive imprint on him that he will take with him wherever he goes. You are well aware that he may not be here forever, but you’ve given him your heart anyway. That isn’t easy. It takes a very special person to offer that, and you, my sweets, are a very special person.
You’ve grown in other ways, too. While I still consider you to be a child who thinks before he leaps (I pray you will be this sort of teenager and adult, too), I would no longer describe you as “cautious.” Your confidence in yourself is growing and you have become more willing to push yourself in the past year. The first time we ever took you to the beach, you were just shy of two years old. We were there for a full week and it took you nearly six days of that week before you finally allowed the water to splash your feet. Now, you run full speed at the waves. You could barely put your face in the water last year; this year, you jumped in from the side of the pool. You are getting your footing (literally and figuratively, I suppose).
And look, I know I’m biased, but lord almighty, you are a smart kid. Just the other day, you explained to me and BlueJay how the volcanoes exploded and hot lava poured out, knocking over the dinosaurs. Over time, you explained, thunderstorms came and knocked over trees and wind storms came and blew sand around until the dinosaurs were completely buried. Those dinosaurs turned into fossils, you said, and they laid there until many years later when the paleontologists uncovered them, brought them to the museum and put the bones back together. These dinosaur skeletons, you concluded, are how we now know that dinosaurs ever existed.
I said something in response about how those volcanoes must have been pretty intense; you chuckled and said, “Yeah. But that was nothing compared to the asteroids.”
Sometimes I wish I could peek into your brain, just for a moment, just to see what else you already know.
Technically, you could have gone to kindergarten this year. You made the birthday cut-off by a mere 10 days, which means you would have been the absolute youngest kid in your class. We thought long and hard about what to do, and we sought the advice of your preschool teachers, as well as every family member and friend we have. Ultimately, we decided to give you another year of preschool. Not because we don’t think you are smart enough or capable enough to handle regular school, but because we wanted to preserve your childhood just a little bit longer. It felt too soon to subject you to full-time school and the expectation that you should sit in a chair all day, only to come home and sit in yet another chair to complete homework.
Your Nan and Pop made the same choice for Daddy almost 30 years ago, and none of them – Daddy included – ever regretted it. We think we won’t either. You get one more year of afternoons free of homework and full of playgrounds and raking leaves in the backyard and building snowmen on the front lawn. We get one more year together, you and I, before the real grind of school starts. I don’t know about you, but I plan to fully soak it up.
Ryan, I have loved talking to you this year. Your ability to hold a conversation – not just a regular conversation but a deep conversation – is nothing short of astounding to me. I like to think it’s because we have always talked to you like an adult, but I think it’s actually the opposite. I think we’ve always talked to you like an adult because you’ve always understood us so well. You get a faraway look in your eyes when I am explaining something important, something that really should be over your head, and then you lock eyes with me and ask me a follow-up question that lets me know you completely understand me. You are an old soul, and I sense in you a wisdom that far surpasses mine.
You’ve had some sadness this year, too. The loss of our sweet Belle, our aloof but charming cat, weighed heavily on all of us. I struggled with whether to sneak her away to the vet without telling you or whether to allow you the chance to say goodbye. Ultimately, I knew you would need the closure. We had a heartbreaking conversation about what was happening, and then you bravely sat next to Belle in that final car ride, talking sweetly and softly to her the whole way. You were able to say goodbye, and we have cried and mourned her together several times since that day. We talk about her often, and I hope that in some ways, she taught you a hard but important lesson that although life is often much too brief, the love we give each other is what makes it all worth it.
You and I, we are so much alike. You may look just like your father, but I think he would agree that your temperament matches much more closely to mine. I know that you want to be heard. You want to be understood. You want to learn. You want to connect. I want you to know that I see you, I hear you, and I support you. From now until forever.
Ry, you make me so proud. You are bright, inquisitive, loving and forgiving. You are sweetness and light to your very core. Like I always tell you, I love you to the moon and back. And I know, like you always tell me in return, that you love me and Daddy to the sun and back.
This letter and a couple of pictures will complete your physical “baby book.” That is as it should be — you are far from babyish these days. But don’t worry. The birthday letters will keep coming every year, and I will keep snapping way more pictures than you care to pose for. You know me; I can’t help myself.
Happy fifth birthday, Bub.
Previous birthday letters to Ryan: