TOWER GROVE – The day began like any other morning during those months that baseball season overlaps with the school year. I’m up with the boy wonder, flip on the TV, and wait for the inevitable request that comes during the commercials.
“Can we turn on my cartoons?”
“Can we turn on my cartoons?”
“Is Morning Joe over? Can we turn on my cartoons?”
“Baseball highlights, again? When can we turn on my cartoons?”
On this particularly morning, I had a co-conspirator. Rain was falling outside and steadily gaining intensity. While I kept the news on, Ian climbed up – half on the couch, half on my shoulder – to look out the window and provide moment-by-moment weather update. His legs, lanky and lean, draped off the couch, because while he still tries to squeeze into small spaces like a small kid, he is outgrowing them rapidly, like another pair of footie jammies. And that’s when I realized: This was not a normal, standard-issue morning of wrestling for channel superiority.
This was my last morning as the father of a 5-year-old.
“Don’t you want me to get older, Daddy?”
That’s what the boy wonder said when I told him about the end of a year. He is very aware that May 2 is his birthday and that he’ll turn 6. He’s been counting the days. He’s long had the key dates of the week memorized. His birthday is May 2. “The Avengers” opens on May 4. A friend’s graduation is May 5. His birthday party is May 6, and so is his mom’s birthday. He can recite them on cue, if needed. To him, this is a huge birthday, because what birthday’s aren’t? And I guess by throwing him a party he thinks we revel in the passing of another year the same way he does. When I told him I was somewhat sad about him turning 6 because I really enjoyed him at 5, Ian was surprised. It took him a moment to process.
“Don’t you want me to get older, Daddy?” he said. “Then I can do older kid things. I’ll draw like an older kid. I’ll catch like an older kid. We will still have fun, Daddy. I’ll still be fun. It will be older kid fun.”
We have a habit of getting nostalgic on days like today. I imagine that was/is true for my parents, and was/is true for all parents. When I head over to a local restaurant to do a radio appearance, the wife asks me to remind the host where we were six years ago today – that is on his porch, dropping off a book, and the wife very, very pregnant and counting the hours until the scheduled inducement. We went from my friend’s house to a local restaurant for our last meal as a family of two. The next morning, off we went to become parents.
The wife tends to recall that day, his birthday, and likes to describe the passing of moments to Ian so he appreciates all she did, and he should.
I like to think about the days since, so I appreciate all he did in that time.
First word: Book.
First movie: “Happy Feet”.
First movie at a theater: “Kung-Fu Panda.”
Favorite superhero: Hulk.
Name of his trusty teddy bear: Chaucer.
First time on a plane: Flying to London.
First proper English pub: The Lyric.
Favorite dinner: Chicken nuggets.
Favorite fictional character: Anakin Skywalker.
Current obsession: Pirates, esp. Jack Sparrow.
Current obsession II: Ratings for movies and video games (“If it says ‘T’ that is for teens, and I don’t understand why I can play it and not be a teen,” he says.)
What he called oatmeal for a long time: “Opono.”
Recent stumper he asked while I was on a road trip: “Daddy, what kind of creature is Yoda?”
Recent stumper he asked when I got home: “Daddy, why is there fighting in hockey?”
Recent question he asked that made me feel old: “Daddy, did you see Babe Ruth play?”
Funniest thing he said today: “Retro is so old school.”
It takes me most of the afternoon to chronicle all the things we’ve done just since he returned five. We went on a guys’ trip to Colorado to see the house I grew up in, and while in the mountains he learned to ice skate for the first time. We went to Curacao for a week, and there he and I watched Venezuelan baseball late at night. He attended three World Series games and slept through one of the most incredible and unlikely comebacks in baseball history, the hometown hero-fueled late innings of Game 6 when David Freese tripled to tie the game and homered to win it. He learned how to score a baseball game and did two innings on his own. He went into the batting cages and was able to hit a pitch at 45 mph. He had a breakaway in soccer. On the day he turned five, as promised, he got to watch “Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones.” He started to read a chapter book. He learned the meaning of “deterrent” and “dissolve” and “instructions” and dozens more words. He sang at mass and recorded a radio commercial – all in the same day. He would try to sit and watch baseball games with me and sometimes randomly yell, “Bud Light! Bud Light Here!” just to give the ballpark feel. He discovered Pokemon and has taught me more than I’d ever want to know. He figured out how to switch the input on the TV and turn on the video game console and now needs me less than I’d like to admit. One night, at bedtime, he tried to stall by rewriting that old “Jingle Bells/Batman smells” song and singing different versions for a half dozen other superheroes. He looked at his grandmother and with a straight a face and warned her, “When you go to Vegas you lose everything.” Frustrated that I had to spend the day writing and couldn’t give him the desired attention, he built a Harry Potter Lego set on his own. He saw “Thor.” And he went dressed as Thor.
Five hasn’t just been fun, kid. Five has been epic.
A quirk in my schedule and a fever that kept him home Monday (April 30) meant that we got to spend together his last morning as a 5-year-old. We had breakfast together and I got the details on why a cinnamon roll my just be the world’s most-perfect food. (“It’s as big as your head,” he said.) During breakfast we watched the new trailer for “The Dark Knight Rises,” and he announced that he’s “got to see that movie” because he’s “worried about Bruce Wayne.” Then it was off to the doctor for his annual checkup and a check-in on his fever, which had broken. There, the boy wonder, with his shirt off, wanted to talk about muscles.
His friend “has a hump in his arm, Daddy,” Ian said, “and how come I don’t?”
I showed him how to flex his arm so that his biceps popped up and he had that “hump.” I showed him the definition of his skinny shoulder, and how he could find his triceps. We talked about how swimming would help define those muscles, and then I had to explain what define meant.
The doctor asked Ian what his favorite subjects at school were.
“Sometimes it’s computer. Sometimes it’s Spanish,” he said. “And, aaaaaaaaalllll the time it’s recess.”
The doctor notified us that he’s grown five inches since turning 5 and gained three pounds. With the way he’s heating cheese sticks these days I’m betting a few more inches are likely even a few more pounds aren’t. Cleared to return to school, off we went. With a night ballgame, this drive was the time I was going to have with the boy wonder before his birthday.
He again tried to assure me that 6-year-olds were just as cool.
“I’ll still be your son,” he said. “I’ll just be 6 like all my friends. They’re fun.”
Ah, now I understand. He has a reference for “older kid fun.” He is surrounded by it at school, in Spanish, sometimes at computer, and aaaaaaaaalllll the time at recess.
It’s hard to argue with his logic.
I guess that means he wins this round.
And so begins the list of the things he did as a 6 years old.