I teared up yesterday at the thought of it, like every mother does. Five is like a real live kid. The toddler years of chubby cheeks and thighs, Buda bellies and dimpled hands have long since been replaced by lanky limbs and skinny torsos. Thank goodness for his September birthday so we get an extra year of preschool out of the deal.
We started birthday week off at the grocery store, making The Choice. They get any box of sugary, artificially colored crap that they want. And I cheer them on. I love this tradition. Because even though my cupboards are full of weird stuff like chia seeds and giant tubs of coconut oil and apple cider vinegar "with the mother" (I still have no clue what that means but I drink it anyway), saying yes to breakfast dreams in a box feels good. (And as my mom always jokes, I'm living out my childhood dreams vicariously through them.)
All three boys pitched in to help with baking Dawson's cake. And it was even sorta fun.
We started his birthday morning off with pancakes and bacon. (Because no birthday is complete without bacon in my book.) Being together, just the five of us, singing him happy birthday was really special. Dawson's not a big fan of crowds and chaos and I love seeing him happy and relaxed when it's just us. (And Pamela's GF pancake mix was delicious, by the way. You know you're officially a health nut when your seven year old says, "We're having pancakes? Are they the green ones or the flat brown ones?" and cheers excitedly when you tell him they're the flat brown ones. They'll thank me one day. Or just binge on Little Debbie cakes and McDonald's for five years straight. More likely the latter.)
Dawson really wanted an Indiana Jones party and I really wanted to give him one. But about five days before his birthday, we were at Target and the thought of crafting up every bit of the decorations from scratch utterly overwhelmed me. So I steered him towards the party aisle and asked him with great enthusiasm, "Wouldn't you LOVE to have a pirate party instead?? Look at all this cool pirate stuff!" He happily obliged and I was off the hook. (Reading this post made me laugh. Clearly I've gotten over my mom guilt in this area since then!) We had his party at a park which was a lot of fun but a little hectic, trying to remember everything I would possibly need to bring from home. It also doesn't help when you show up with a carload of things ten minutes before the party is supposed to start. Will I learn to manage time better before I'm 80? Probably not. I'll probably still be running late to Bingo games and knitting club.
My mother-in-law, Judie, always come through for me on these parties. I gave her like, two jobs this time, and she always does lots of other things because she's awesome. She decorated the cake for me and made all the little food signs for the table. She also made the treasure maps the kids used and brought the cute fabric for the table from her little pile of scraps.
She bought the costume for Dawson as part of his birthday present. It will be for dress up and he can wear it for halloween as well. (Glad that's taken care of ;)
I love this next picture so much. Dawson has two cousins his exact age (and so does Bennett, by the way. It's so awesome.) and I love seeing their sweet little faces altogether. The cake turned out to be horrible. I've been doing a mostly gluten free diet for the boys at home (Channing's the most sensitive and the other two are mildly sensitive. I've seen improvements in behavior and with some skin issues.) I'm quite certain I botched something when I doubled the mix because, as my sister so gently put it, the texture was like corn bread. The flavor was fine but it was basically a brick with frosting (which I still ate because I'll eat pretty much anything with frosting on it.) Poor Dawson. I should probably give him a do-over. That's not a bad idea. Any excuse for more cake is good with me.
There was a moment at his party there aren't any pictures of but I hope it stays burned into my memory forever. After the party had been going on for a couple of hours, Dawson started getting sulky and was kind of off on his own. I went over to ask him if he was ok and heard him telling his friends he wanted to be alone. In so many words, I realized he was just getting overstimulated and needed a break. He said, "I want to go sit by the tree." I asked him if he wanted to be by himself and he said, "no, with you mom." I grabbed his little hand, and pulled him onto my lap under a tree. His friends gathered around but I told them he'd had a lot of excitement and just needed a little break. They were so sweet and waited off to the side for him. And so we sat. In silence. I don't know what was going on in his head but my mind was trying to soak up every second of it. It was perhaps one of my favorite moments of his whole life. I'm probably just forgetting all the rest but it was huge to me. Last year at his party, there was a HUGE meltdown by him (and then followed with one by me because my husband and I weren't on the same page) because he wouldn't say thank-you to anyone when he was opening his gifts. I almost can't believe sometimes that this is the same kid that would be screaming so loudly and thrashing around so violently in his carseat that I would have to pull over and get out and pace for a while just to keep from driving us all off of a cliff (not that this would be very effective in Iowa. 'Driving us into a cornfield' just doesn't have the same ring to it.). And if it was a safe spot, sometimes I'd pull him out of the car and leave him screaming on the sidewalk until we could all get back in calmly. (This was not a random occurrence. This happened constantly.) This was the same kid, when around age three, I sat at my dining room table with my head in my hands and tears streaming down my cheeks wondering if his whole life was just going to be a battle. At that point I truly thought it was. I read books like The Strong Willed Child by James Dobson that left me more fearful than hopeful. (I know he meant well. But gosh. So much talk about inevitable rebellious teenage years made me want to turn him over to a monastery when he turned thirteen and wish them luck.) It wasn't until I read Raising Your Spirited Child that things finally turned around. You can read about the life change here. And now here is, just getting quiet and asking for alone time in my lap, just like I did with him a hundred times last year when I was training him to recognize when he was feeling worked up. No screaming. No tantrums or tears. I want the weight of that to sink in; for me and for any other mama currently in the trenches of toddler years with a spirited child.
And now he's five. And he brings me so much joy, I have to refrain myself from squeezing him to death ten times a day. His imagination is absolutely incredible. He will play by himself for literally hours, if no one is around to disturb him. I love how all the qualities that make a spirited child so difficult to parent at two and three are completely turned into incredible strengths once they can communicate well and use more restraint over their emotions. He sees people and he cares about them. He's so polite and friendly to other kids and is just hilarious. He wakes me up in the middle of the night to tell me about whatever dream he just had and then goes right back to sleep. I always think I'll remember them by morning but I never do.
Dawson Graham, you are the spark of magic in this family. You are unpredictable and crack me up constantly with the things that pop out of your mouth (and then get upset that I'm laughing at you. I always try to explain that I'm laughing because you bring me joy.) You still cry just by thinking about something sad. And you talk a lot about God. Your brain sees things in pictures and I love the way you describe what you see in that head of yours. You are so musical and pick up tunes instantly and in perfect pitch. You are easy to take places now and you're easy to have at home. It's kind of the most ironic thing to me ever that you are currently my lowest maintenance child. You are such a gift to me and I'm honored and humbled that I get to parent a child like you. Someday you'll be a gift to the rest of the world too. But for now I'm here with you, your safe place to land when the world around you is just a little too much to handle on your own.