When a boy and his big brother have been singing happy birthday to all their toys for four months straight, and it is finally his birthday and he is going to be four now –
That is a big deal.
That is cause for delighted giggling, and for concentrated practice with the little sister so that she no longer calls him three. It is reason to curl up into a cozy ball and snuggle all squirmy with Mommy and Daddy.
Turning four means a cake shaped like a four, with four candles on top, and his whole face lighting up with excitement because the cake is a number, and it is his number now!
Turning four means opening the most wonderful new book, one he never even imagined, in which prime factors and counting and modern art meet, and it hardly even matters that there are other unwrapped presents on the bench beside him because this, this book, has to be the best thing ever.
Turning four means getting to spend the afternoon at Grandma’s house, and swim in the hot tub, and choose what food everyone will eat for dinner, and generally spend the whole day enjoying himself.
And it is such a happy thing to be able to give him, a day of joy for his birthday, a day all about him, when he is so often the one who thinks of others first. He is the one who, seeing his sister’s favorite toys lying around, will bring them to her; he is the one who notices what his siblings are building with the Legos and finds pieces that they could use; he is the one who is always willing to share his cup or his snack with someone else who is hungry or thirsty; he is the one who will voluntarily take apart his flake creations so that his brother can have the color flakes he wants.
At four (and really at three, since a day doesn’t make much of a difference), he is keenly intelligent, deeply enamored with the world of numbers (he has broken down in tears because we had to stop reading a math book at bedtime; he invents his own simple word problems to ask us; he can multiply any two single digit numbers together and loves to skip count with chalk on the driveway to see the patterns in the series of multiples), and beginning to read; but it is his attention to the small details of his siblings’ lives, and the sweet care he gives them as a result, that mean more to me. And so just as I nurture his academic strengths with number games and puzzles to solve and books to read, I try to nurture his budding compassion and sensitivity by pouring into him connection and love. I hold him and when he looks at me I look straight back into his eyes because I know that is significant for him. We play the silly and sweet games of early childhood, meaningless save for the connections formed.
Because ultimately? No matter how intelligent he is or what he does with that intelligence, he needs to be assured of his parents’ unconditional love for him more than anything else. Maybe because he has this talent he needs that assurance even more – he already shows me that he has perfectionist tendencies regarding himself. But that assurance has to happen on his level. And he is four. He has just turned four, after all!
So for now? We are – we strive to be – his safe haven, his rich soil, his clean air, so he can grow in wisdom and knowledge. Happy fourth birthday, my Limerick.