So now you are six.
You are not a wee soft thing anymore. There is still a slight curve to your belly, and enough for a squeeze under your chin, but otherwise you are all angles and lines, long skinny legs pink with the sun.
What a year we’ve had together. This time twelve months ago you were still settling into kindergarten, sometimes nervous around other children, struggling to hold a pen the right way. But you are in the perfect school. It is a community that has nurtured all your strengths and found the right way to help with your weaknesses.
Like us, they have realised that you like to do things in your own time, unhurried. They know that gentle nudges towards independence work far better for you than rough shoves. So now, one term into prep, it is all falling into place. The building blocks of reading and writing are coming together so fast we can hardly keep up with you. All the life skills – cycling, swimming, socialising – are getting better each week. And at home you are proud to help and get involved – dressing yourself, carrying plates, pouring drinks – you become more confident and less clumsy with every day that passes.
You still have occasional moments of anxiety where I need to talk you through all the possible outcomes of a situation, and reassure you that you have the skills to deal with them. At swimming, you worry that you might sink. At the beach you worry about a shark. At night you sometimes need me to take a bad dream and blow it out the window.
But for most of the time – for almost every hour of almost every day – you are happier than I have ever seen you. Sometimes there is so much joy you can’t keep it inside, and instead of walking you have to skip.
When we’ve had visitors to stay this year you’ve entertained them with concerts; arranging cushions on your bedroom floor, handing out bottles of water and then climbing up to dance on your bed with sunglasses on and maracas in your hands. For July 4th you organised a parade, and led us all round the house waving American flags and singing Route 66 (which we agreed is much better than The Star Spangled Banner). There is already a puppet show written in the calendar for the end of August – I guess that one needs a lot of preparation.
There is nothing that you are not interested in. Space. Bodies. The Ocean. Vehicles. Dinosaurs. You ask a lot of questions that I don’t know how to answer. Sometimes you wonder things like how many krill live in the ocean. Sometime you wonder things like whether Father Christmas brings presents to children in heaven. Thank goodness for Google and Mrs Williams, without whom I would struggle, and also for the phrase ‘I don’t know. Ask Daddy.’
We have recently started to give you weekly pocket money, and it has been a good thing. It is already making you appreciate the value of cash. A magazine about 4WD vehicles (‘with a free DVD!’, you tell me gleefully) is ten dollars. A Lego Minifigure is five. Some weeks the coins go straight into your money tin, other weeks they go in your wallet. Occasionally you get it in advance because we are out at the shops and you are just so desperate for a Kinder Surprise and a Hot Wheels car. But it is making you thoughtful, and understanding of the fact that we have to make choices.
Sometimes you make us laugh with your dramatics. The weather is never just a bit blowy or a bit wet, it’s ‘treacherous’ or ‘torrential’. When I ask you to pick your books off the floor you tell me that you suppose it’s good practice for when I am dead. You think about the future a lot – asking me how many days you’ll need to take off work when your first child is born. ‘Probably at least two or three,’ you say. ‘It’ll be quite a busy time.’
Another time we were reading a book about Tanzania and you were so fascinated to learn that the Maasai people give their children names that symbolise the values they hope they will grow up to have – things like Independence, Strength, Happiness. ‘Well,’ you said. ‘When I’m grown up and I have a baby I’m going to call her excavator, so then maybe she’ll grow up and turn into one.‘
We – your parents, grandparents, cousins and uncles – have always been a family of collectors. Not of anything valuable, but of small items that remind us of people and places. I remember as a little girl being so fascinated by the shoeboxes under my brother’s bed – each filled with matchboxes or stickers, beer mats or bookmarks. It seems you are the same, and your shelves are quickly filling up with badges, dominos, and animal cards.
Jake – your much-loved imaginary friend – has gone now. It is silly really, but I was close to tears listening to you ‘phone’ him for the last time to say thank you and to wish him well with his new life. I am glad he chose France instead of China. I hope he makes another little boy as happy as he made you. I also hope he comes to visit, and brings some good wine and stinky cheese – but you assure me he really is gone for good.
I am proud though, that he has been replaced with real friends. They are not so malleable as Jake was. Sometimes you come home from school with stories about one playground drama or another, one friend who was silly, another who you are missing because they are on holiday. But the fun you have with them is more tangible than anything you had with Jake. When we took you to school this morning and a friend was waiting at the door with a birthday card he’d made you, it brought a broader smile and truer joy than anything in your imagination.
I am not sure how much longer it will last, but we love that you still come in to bed with us in the morning for hugs and books. You have invented the daftest game – The Dorky Alphabet – where the three of us have to lie flat and contort ourselves into a different letter each morning. It is a lot easier for you than it is for us, bendy boy. Nonetheless, we have been working on it for a while, so we are almost done with letters and will soon be moving on to numbers. I can’t wait for 111.
When you were born your Dad and I made a deal, that we would do everything within our power – always – to keep you healthy, safe and happy. In return, we would expect manners, kindness and honesty. You make us proud with all three of those things, every single day.
So I was wrong. Even with bony knees and elbows, you are still a wee, soft thing. It is just that now you have drawn that softness inside of you. Gathered it up into your heart, to be sent back out into the world through compassionate words, caring cuddles, and lots and lots of laughter.
Happy Birthday little mate. You are the best six year old boy there has ever been.