I sit in the kitchen and peer into the family room. Cole is curled up on his favorite piece of furniture–our bean bag chair. He is watching Disney Junior prior to settling in for the night. He’s chewing on his finger, which is a tell-tale sign that he’s worn out–ready for bed. He’s wearing some green pj’s with trucks on the front from Old Navy. They are cute preschooler pj’s..and I know that in another year, he will be “too cool” for these. But for tonight, as I think about my youngest child turning four, I treasure the “little” boy that he still is.
Four. My “baby” is four. I think of other markers of time in fours. Four minutes after his birth he was whisked away from the OR to the NICU. Four hours after his birth I got to visit him, grasping his tiny, slightly opaque, fingers in mine. Four days after his birth I had to leave the hospital- without him. My arms, my heart, my breasts aching for the baby that belonged with me. Four weeks after his birth he was finally home. We were adjusting to a new routine. A new family. Four months after his birth he was smiling, cooing, rolling, and interacting. He was developmentally ahead of where he was supposed to be. Four years after his birth he is vivacious, energetic, intelligent, and wise beyond his years. He is feisty and protective, caring and loving.
I call to him. “Cole, it’s time for bed.” He protests with a whine. I sigh. I give him another minute. “Cole, please turn off the T.V. and use the potty. It’s time to go to bed.” He nods. He gets up from his bean bag chair, turns off the T.V., and runs into the kitchen. “Hold me, momma. Hold, me.” I pull him into my arms. I inhale his freshly washed little boy scent. I commit it to memory. I feel a lump form in my throat. I swallow it down. “Ok, baby-” “MOM! I’m a big boy!” “Yes, okay, big boy, it’s time for bed. When you wake up, you’re going to be four!” “Yay!! Yay!! It’s my birf-ba-day!” “Yes, sweetie, your birthday.”
He scrambles up the stairs. His limbs have grown a lot this year. The baby fat is no longer obvious on his arms and thighs. His knees don’t have the little dimples that they used to. He laughs. A big, fully belly laugh. He uses the potty. All by himself. Washes his hands. Again, by himself. He asks for a story before bed. I oblige, as usual.
He chooses IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE. Oh, how I enjoy this one. I read it, and he analyzes every page. He tells me his observations…laughing at the mouse sweeping the entire house, and remarking how the boy has to pick up after the messy mouse. He smiles at the end when the mouse gets his second cookie. I think he’s making a mental note. He doesn’t miss a beat, this one. Cole is clever. He is quick to pick up information. And it is sometimes used against me.
“Ok, ready for bed?”
“We need to sing “Twinkle”. ” I start to sing the song. I have sung that song to him since his days in the NICU. I would sing it when I would leave him each night and head home. I would sing it as he nursed to sleep, milk dribbling from his lips as he drifted to dreamland. I sang it to him as I rocked his toddler self after we would read stories together. And now, now we sing it together in his bed. His sweet little voice in time with mine.
I look at his face. He looks more and more like a boy these days–there really is not any “baby” in there. His features are maturing. His eyes look a bit older. He doesn’t scrunch his nose as much as he used to. His cheeks have thinned out. His hair is a little less blonde.
I look at his fingers. They aren’t nearly as pudgy as they used to be. Those “baby” hands now have knuckles. His fingers thinned out. He has a strong grasp, and when he grabs my hand, I can’t envelop his into mine as much as I used to.
He still makes pronunciation errors. They are typical of his age, and endearing. Soon, those will be gone. His “L’s” will be “L” and not “W’s”. His “R’s” will be stronger and complete. He won’t call our van a “ban” or the library the “Why-bwar-ee”. Brown will not be “chocolate” and spaghetti won’t be “basketti”. I smile as he sings, “Twinkle, Twinkle, wittle stahh”.
We wrap up our song. He asks for another round. I am happy to do so. For some reason, putting him to bed means that we’re closing another chapter. It’s the last time I will put a three-year-old to bed in my house. Or, well, the last time I will put one of my OWN three-year-olds to bed in my house. I feel the lump rise into my throat again. It’s harder this time, but I swallow it down. “OK, sweetie. Time for bed. I love you.”
“Sweet dreams.” (Sweet dweams, he echos back.)
“See you in the morning.” (See you in da morning. Wuv you.)
We do this about 3 more times, and then I close the door…but not before he asks if it’s REALLY his birthday tomorrow. I assure him that tomorrow is his birthday. He lays down on his pillow, and thanks me for leaving his light on low on the dimmer. “It makes me feel not scarwed, Momma.” I smile, and shut the door. We shout good night one more time.
I walk across the hall and tuck Tate into bed. We read a story, and I kiss him good night. I try a similar exchange, as I do every night. “I love you.”
“Sweet dreams.” (Night, Mommy.)
“See you in the morning.” (Mmm, hmm. Goodnight, Mommy.)
I head downstairs. I hear Tate’s door creak open. Bedtime is always rough when Hubz and Jake aren’t around. (They are at a 3-day overnight camp for Webelo Scouts.) I hear Cole shout out, “Tate, it’s bedtime. Go to sleep!” Tate shushes him. I call up that it is time for bed. Tate sits on the stairs and scripts. His younger, yet sometimes seemingly older, brother shouts out, “C’mon, Tate. Go to bed. It’s nighttime.” Tate stomps to his room, and shuts the door. It’s quiet.
I come back to the kitchen. I turn on my computer and start to type. As I start to write about Cole and his birthday, the lump forms in my throat. I let it sit there. I let the tears well up in my eyes. A small sob escapes. And I allow myself a few minutes of nostalgic tears. My “baby” is turning four. Four. We are almost done with the preschool years. Almost. One more year until all of my children are “school age”. I laugh through my tears. If I’m this big of a mess at his fourth birthday, what will five do to me?!?! I hear my mom’s voice…”Lisa Anne…” I smile as I watch my tears dance in the light. And I start to pound away on the keyboard.
Happy Fourth Birthday to my mischievous, clever, caring, loyal Cole. You have proven time and again that you are wise and capable beyond your years. I love you and cannot wait for the adventures that this next year holds.