I don’t mind getting older, but the only people who are really excited about it are kids. Our soon-to-be four-year-old son is still at the age where you get better every year you’re alive. I pointed out how strong he was, and he said, “I’ll be even stronger when I’m five in kindergarten!”
“Yes,” I acknowledge.
“Or when I’m … eleven!” he added.
“Sure,” I say. “You’ll definitely be stronger when you’re eleven years old.”
“And even stronger when … I’m … a million!”
The magic of getting older makes certain rules easier to enforce. We were at Target the other day, picking up one particular toy he was getting for no particular reason, and then, not surprisingly, he found another, a huge double-barreled pump-action squirt gun. He asked me if I thought it was cool. We’re still thankfully at the stage when he thinks that his dad is the expert on what’s cool. I am well aware that this is a temporary phase, and soon enough he’ll understand that what’s cool is what I don’t like.
“Yes, it’s cool,” I said. “But we already have one toy. We can’t have two.”
This usually works, but he still looked unhappy. I looked at the box again, pointed to a number on it, and asked Mikey if he knew what it was. He did. The number four.
“That means you have to be four before you can play with it,” I explained. “Four plus.”
Mikey laughed with that realization. He loves it when he figures out that arbitrary rules, like how many toys he can have at once, are based on something he can see, like a number. He started pointing to other toys with different age limitations. This one is only for kids who are at least five years old. This one is only for eight and over.
Of course, I went back to Target later and picked up the squirtgun because he hasn’t forgotten it. It’s all wrapped up and waiting to be opened on the day he’s allowed to have it, according to the rules on the box.
That occasion, his fourth birthday, is next month, and he’s been excited about it approaching since his third. So are we. When you think about being a parent before you’re one, birthday parties are one of the things you picture. Pin the Tail on the Donkey, face painting, pony rides, clowns, and, of course, the cake. We didn’t have him for his first birthday, so we don’t have that classic cake-in-the-face pic other parents have. That still makes me a little sad, thinking of a time when Mikey existed but we weren’t in his life yet.
We made up for it on his second birthday, three months after he came to live with us. A bunch of friends coming together to celebrate our new parenthood, a couple months before the official adoption, including my parents flying in from across the country. Bubblemakers, gift bags, barbecue, the whole deal. He spent most of the day naked with his grandma chasing him across the lawn with a swimsuit in hand.
We took Mikey with us to Europe last year, and came back just a few days before his third birthday, so that’s all the time we had to plan. We ended up having about a dozen friends over for pizza and Ralph’s cheapest cake with Lightning McQueen on it. There are folks out there who wouldn’t even consider that a decent playdate, let alone a birthday party.
Now we’ve become aficionados of the kiddy birthday, and we’ve seen costume characters, princesses, petting zoos, bouncy houses, water slides, organized workouts, food stations, and a cake that exploded like a volcano. They were all fabulous, but really, we’ve come to realize that all we need is cake with lots of frosting, some pizza, and some friends. That third birthday was perfect.
The mother of one of Mikey’s best friends in preschool posted on facebook recently, “Is it really necessary that I invite EVERY CHILD who has invited him to their party?” Like in all aspects of parenthood, opinion was divided. Most folks seemed to agree it’s not “necessary,” but the more the merrier. You’d think we’d know by now that the more, the more tantrums.
We decided this year to do a joint birthday with another one of Mikey’s best friends whose birthday is just a few days after his. We thought that was pretty neat when we discovered how close their birthdays are, and then when we began preschool, we found that most of his friends had birthdays at about the same time. It has now come to my attention that this is no coincidence – in fact, September is the most common month for babies to be born in.
There are some other etiquette hurdles to overcome when doing the joint birthday party. We’re both inviting the same number of kids and hoping the same number turn up, and we’re making it clear to the people that we’re inviting that no one expects them to buy a present for the birthday boy they don’t know. The theme of the party, pirates, is something the two boys both agree to, as is the principal fun-time activity, face painting.
And the party is at West Hollywood Park behind the Abbey, everyone’s favorite gay bar, so there’s something for everyone. How’s that for parenting?