Since about late August Max has asked almost every day when he will turn 4 years old. “Is it today Dada?” He asks in that sweet voice of his. I reply, “No Max, today is Halloween.” He nods in agreement, “Right Dada because my birthday is January 26 and today is Halloween which is…” He leaves the sentence open-ended for me to finish, “October 31.” “Right Dada…so January 26 is…?” “3 months away.” Max nods in agreement and starts counting on his fingers as if he’s calculating how much fuel Apollo 13 needed for a safe return trip to Earth…or as he calls it, “Urf.”
Thanksgiving came around and we again had to explain that his birthday was still 2 months away. It was about this time that Max stopped referring to himself as a three-year old and starting calling himself “Almost 4.” It reminded me of when my wife Kate and I moved to Wichita and would then travel. People would ask where we were from and we’d reply, “Wichita, Kansas…but we just moved there from New York.” It was our little qualifier (like Max’s) that the answer was more complicated than a single word.
Three? No…oh no. “Almost 4.” “Almost Wichita.”
Max spent Christmas in the E.R. with a bad case of croup that gave us all a scare. Turned out a little steroids and some lollipops were all he needed to ask if his birthday was coming soon. “Well Max,” I replied, “Today is Christmas and you have plenty of toys…I wouldn’t worry about presents for a while.” Putting on his serious face he answered, “Well, Dada…today is December 25 and my birthday is January 26 so is next month January?” It was a good question. “Yes, next month is January.” Max smiled. “Almost 4.”
Since New Years it has been a daily part of our family routine to take Max to the calendar and show him how many days and/or weeks are left till his birthday. He has asked his grandparents, his teachers, and even the servers when we dine out. Turning 4 has consumed him. Finally Kate and I asked, “Max what do you want to do for your birthday?” There was no pregnant pause. There was no air between our question and his answer. Max had planned his fourth birthday down to the minute…and it was an exact repeat of his third birthday. “I want to go to the airplane museum, play inside the airplane cockpits, eat cake and open presents in the big room, then we’ll go see the big airplanes inside, then we’ll go up to the control tower, and then we’ll go outside and race on the tarmac and the first one to touch the nose of the big airplane wins.” This was very clear direction. Kate replied, “Well, Max…that’s exactly what you did last year. Don’t you want to do something different?” He did not. Kate looked to me and shrugged. I shrugged back. Airplane museum ahoy! Max was about to run off he turned and told us the 2 things he wanted different this year: (1) He wanted his friend Kellen to be there and (2) he wanted a “Dusty Crophopper Birthday Cake with pontoons (not wheels) when he’s painted red for Planes Fire and Rescue the movie.” Kate and I nodded in amazement when Max added, “Strawberry…I want it to be strawberry inside.” This was a three-year old kid (“Almost 4″) who knew what he wanted.
We made the reservation at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Kate made the cake, I picked up snacks, and on Saturday Max orchestrated the repeat of last year’s birthday with a slight change of cake and a new friend. His friend Edie showed up and I said, “Wow! Edie, you’ve gotten so tall! How old are you?” Very matter-of-factly she replied, “Five and a half.” That half was very important. (“Almost 4″) The kids had cake, played in the flight simulators, opened presents, and then Max said, “This is the part where we go to the control tower.” So we went to the control tower. The kids laughed and played while looking down at the planes on the tarmac as the adults marveled at the 360 degree views. Then Max said, “This is the part where we go race on the tarmac!” So we went down 4 flights of stairs to the tarmac where the kids ran back and forth racing while the adults mingled around a 747 with an open fuselage. Then Max said, “This is when we go back inside to play!” So we went back inside to play while one by one the guests said their goodbyes and went home till it was just family. Then I said, “This is when we go home and take a nap!” Turns out he forgot that part from last year.
Over the weekend Max played with his friends, was showered with affection from his grandparents, played with his little brother Dodge, and was adorned with love from Kate and I. It was a fantastic birthday weekend…but today (Monday the 26th) is the actual day. Max is enjoying snacks with his classmates right now that Kate made as they all sing him “Happy Birthday.” Not too shabby. For his birthday I got him two books, “The Gruffalo” and “The Gruffalo’s Child.” They are his two favorite short films so I thought it would be fun to remind him that they were books first.
In hopes that someday this is all still out there online or in print…here is a birthday note to you Max:
Everyday you impress me and frustrate me. The things that frustrate me are petty and my own issues to work through as a father. The things that impress me are vast, seemingly more vast than what the normal four-year old comprehends. You are sweet. You are thoughtful and caring. You think of others. You are imaginative. You are expressive. You are so well spoken that I feel guilty when correcting you when you misuse past tenses in sentences, but I know you soak up this knowledge like a sponge. You look like me…you look so much like me sometimes is scares me. You wear your emotions on your sleeve (like me) which can sometimes lead to tantrums but more often than not is the birthplace of some of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard another human being say. You are full of love. You have so many questions and I love answering them…or trying to answer them. You are growing into such an amazing little boy and as I celebrate your progress I can’t help but miss the past. You were my little snuggly nugget…my “snugget.” I remember the first time I held you, the first time you smiled, your first sounds, the first time you called me “Dada,” when you learned to do things on your own, and how much you have grown in just 4 years. 4 years! Its happening so fast! Yesterday you were crawling and today you gave me a high-five on your way out the door and said, “See you later dude!” Thank you for being my son and teaching me how to be a dad. Because of you I have found new perspective on life and discovered my place in the world. Because of you I am able to be a father to your little brother Dodge and not repeat “mistakes” I may have made on you. Because of you I feel a sense of accomplishment no matter what happens with my day, because if I get to be your and Dodge’s dad I know I’m doing something right. Yesterday I tucked you both in to bed. Per the current routine there was much snuggling, hugs, kisses, and your favorite: “Back scratchies!” As I closed the door to your room (after ensuring there were no monsters under the bed) I spoke out load to myself and said, “I know I’m not perfect…but I think I’m pretty good at being a dad.” That is thanks to you and Dodge making me feel loved, and me making sure you know how loved you are as well. You’re my angel Max. You’re my buddy. You told me that even though I’m your Dada we could still be best friends…forever. I agree. I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine. Happy Birthday sweetheart. Only 365 days till you turn 5! :) Let’s slow down and enjoy 4, it only happens once. I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.
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