When people say, “I can’t believe he’s four already,” my first instinct is to agree, but the truth is that I can’t believe it’s been only four years. Part of that feeling, of course, is due to the fact that life BF (that is before you came along, my Finch) seems so very far away; the other reason is that you seem so very much older than three.
This past year you’ve become an artist, a reader, a student of geography, oceanography, and, most significantly, all things related to space. You’ve thrilled me by reading short sentences, stunned me by identifying all of the countries in South America, and entertained me with your crayon drawings of your teachers and friends, creatures of the deep, giraffes eating kale, bunnies in rocket-ships, your family floating around free of gravity in space, and, most often these days, what is beyond any of us: colorful nebulas and supernovae, red giant stars, blue supergiants, white dwarfs, and (even though they’re invisible) x-ray-emitting black holes. I love the fact that it’s the science that intrigues you rather than just speeding rockets (although you like those, too!). When we read your space books, I’m not just entertaining or teaching things to you; we’re two students learning things together, trying to make some sense of the mysterious vastness of the universe.
But interestingly enough, despite your obsessive fascination with space, it’s still your changing interaction with other inhabitants of our little planet Earth that’s characterized your growth most this year. You still have a lot to learn about the art of conversation (you always talk, talk, talk and rarely slow down to listen), but even so, you want to chat with, be with, play with others most of the time. Our departure from a party, play date, or even simple gathering sometimes devastates you. This has made me hyper-conscious of the fact that you are an only child — and fiercely determined to surround you with a consistent, loving group of family and friends.
At school, though, separate from us, you’re part of your own community, and although this is a healthy part of growing up, it’s also brought hard lessons our way. Last May, when you were three-and-a-half, Daddy and I struggled to understand why you were suddenly alarmingly resistant, belligerent, and temperamental until we saw you interact with a “friend” at a classmate’s birthday party. The boy was a bully, encouraging you to engage in rough games during which he slammed into you, or, as you both called it, “crashed you,” a dynamic that we’re certain affected you psychologically during those trying weeks, leading to night terrors and aggressive behavior. Daddy and I talked with you and with Ms. Mary about staying away from this boy, and these days, despite the fact that he’s still in your class, you play with other kids instead. You’ve learned something that is so important — that you have the power to change the social dynamics of a bad situation.
You’ve also learned that these dynamics change even when you don’t want them to. When you returned to school this August, you discovered that your best friend — the sweet one whom we all loved — left to attend kindergarten at another school. I was so worried about how you would handle the change, the loss. But you’ve found new friends to play with, and seem to mention new names every week. With Alex you’ll play “jumping on the moon,” with Caleb, jets, and with Lexi, something called “scrubbers” (during which, as I understand it, you run around “scrubbing people clean”). Next weekend at your birthday party, both new and former classmates will attend, as well as your friends from outside of school. You wanted to invite EVERYONE.
You see yourself now in relationship to others, and have become sensitive to how others see you. Yesterday you suddenly brought up how some of your friends who like character parties might be sad to discover that there will be no characters at yours. Has the peer pressure begun already, the desire to fit in? You understand how others fit in with one another, too. I know that this is normal, but part of me laments how, although I try to teach you not to generalize, you’ve still learned to categorize people at school. I’ve heard you distinguish yourself from the the “hot-lunchers,” talk about the “nappers” (a group to which — much to your joy — you no longer belong) and say with disdain that girls like pink and play with princesses. Still, outside of the milieu of school, two of your closest friends are girls with whom you LOVE to play music, “restaurant,” and any other activity under the moon. Although you’ve learned that labels exist, you still don’t let them limit you or your friendships.
You just love interacting with people — love it so much that you’ve decided that you’ll be an astronaut who, as you put it, only goes into space for very short trips. You may be obsessed with the makings of the universe, but in your heart-of-hearts, you love it right here.
I love you, too… as you say, “to the Pleaides.”