Three-hundred sixty-four days ago, you turned 5; tomorrow, you turn 6. I never got around to writing your birthday letter last year, something I’ve regretted all these months in between. In fact, I haven’t written much at all this past year, the reason for which I’m not entirely sure (though I have a suspicion), but I do know that specifically I’ve missed writing about you. As I prepared to write this letter, I re-read the letters I wrote for your first, second, third and fourth birthdays, and oh, how you’ve grown. How you’ve changed. I don’t think there’s any way a single letter can adequately recap the last two years of your life, but I felt it important to try, so that one day you’ll have these words as a record of when you were 5-going-on-6.
Since your last birthday letter when you turned 4, your life has changed in the biggest possible ways. You became a big brother. You started (and finished) Montessori preschool. You learned to write your name. You learned to write all the letters. You started Kindergarten. You started to learn how to read. You made so many new friends, more than I ever had when I was a kid.
Since you were 4, you lost some very important people in your life. Just typing that last sentence has me swallowing a lump in my throat and holding back hot tears. In some ways, I don’t think you’ve fully grasped what it means for a loved one to die, that they’re never coming back. But sometimes, your perceptiveness knocks me off my feet, like when we picked your dad up from the airport after GrammaLo died, and you said, without skipping a beat, “How’s your dad, Dad?” Or when we walked down the street to pick up gyros for dinner the night we found out Grandpa Manny had suddenly died, and you said, “I’m sorry about your dad, Dad.”
I’m sorry, too, that you’ve had to experience so much loss in such a short period of time. Five-going-on-6 is such a tentative age for memory retention. I know you remember your Grandpa Manny — he was here with us this past summer, and his little plastic LED suncatchers still sitting on the window ledge serve as a physical reminder — but I can feel your memories of GrammaLo fading. You were still 4 when we said our last goodbyes to her. Do you remember that moment? Were you scared? (I was.) Do you remember how much she loved you? (I do.)
In the last two years, I’ve watched you figure out what it means to be a big brother. There have been some rough patches — jealousy, resentment, mean faces. Most recently, though, you’ve relished your role as “the guy who can make Milo laugh more than anyone else.” The sound of you two playing and laughing is probably my most favorite sound in the whole world. Sometimes your dad and I beg you to “make him laugh, make him laugh!” and usually you oblige our demands.
A couple of months ago, you started sleeping in Milo’s room. We moved you there to be closer to the portable air conditioner during the warm summer months, but you never moved back to your own room. I think it’s because you like you like sleeping in a bigger bed, but I also think you kind of like being close to your baby brother. I find it comforting knowing you two are sleeping soundly just above our bedroom, and sometimes I can even hear both of you breathing over the baby monitor. I can’t imagine you wanting to share a room with Milo when you’re older, so for now, I’m letting this happen and not questioning it too much.
You started and finished Montessori preschool when you were 4 and 5. There you learned how to write your name, follow the rules (mostly), sew a button (really!), play hard (so sweaty!) and so much more. At your first parent-teacher conference, you were described as a “social genius,” so warm and welcoming to school visitors, so quick to make friends. You’ve always had an advanced vocabulary for your age, but your verbal bank of words hasn’t translated easily to reading and writing. But, at your second conference, your teachers said you persevered through frustration and completed two whole workbooks. As I flipped through the pages, I could see the progress you made, and it gave me so much hope for what was to come in Kindergarten.
As you turn 6, you’re right in the middle of your first year of elementary school. You’re in a class of 60-plus kids, with three teachers, and you go to a before-school program across the street and an after-school program down the street. Before Kindergarten, I was pretty nervous about putting you in three different places every day — would you get lost? would you know what to do? — but you’ve done so well, shuffling one place to the next. After the first couple of days of school, I asked if you were making lots of new friends, and you sighed, “Not so much.” But then you proceeded to list off at least a dozen different names. You’re a humble social genius, I guess.
We met with your homeroom teacher last month, and she showed us how far you’ve progressed, academically, in a short amount of time. I was particularly struck by your storytelling skills and how much your drawing and coloring has improved. At 5-going-on-6, you’re learning how to express yourself and you often let your imagination run wild. I just love how you’re always thinking, hypothesizing, scheming, whimsying.
Speaking of scheming, I witnessed this in full effect a couple months ago during the celebration of life event we had for GrammaLo and Grandpa Manny. While us adults were talking, eating, drinking, listening to a live reggae band and otherwise not paying attention to the kids, you became the ringleader of a group of several boys and girls of different ages, on some sort of secret mission. I watched out of the corner of my eye as you and the kids ran back and forth between Grandpa Manny’s garden and the house, tomatoes and peppers in hand, and soon your ragtag group had set up a salsa-tasting competition. As in, you and the kids made salsa in the kitchen using the Vitamix, with the help of some of the older kids. I have no idea where you got this crazy idea, but the symbolism of you using up the last of Grandpa Manny’s garden to make something we could all eat was not lost on me, or anyone else there who knew your grandparents.
At 5-going-on-6, you are really into rocks and crystals, so certain you’re going to uncover sparkly treasures in our urban backyard. You were so excited at the very unlikely possibility of finding a pearl in one of the dozen oysters we bought for dinner when we stayed in Port Orchard last summer. When you didn’t find one, you cried as if this was the greatest injustice in the world. Sometimes you cry when you don’t get to have dessert, too, which seems to be the second greatest injustice in your world.
You adore Star Wars and have seen five of the six movies, but you still like watching Curious George, even after all these years. You’re pretty into Frozen, too, which has granted you access into the exclusive world of girls. Your favorite songs of the past two years include “Chasing Stars” by OneRepublic, “All About That Bass” by Megan Trainor, and “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. We let you stay up late to watch cooking competition shows like “Master Chef Junior,” which you love, and you’ve been known to mellow out on the couch to “America’s Test Kitchen,” too.
When you turned 4, I wrote how you were starting to transition into being a big kid, and I was right: in two years, you’ve grown several inches and outgrown several sizes. You’re taller than most kids in your class, and when you hug me, I can feel how strong and solid you are. There’s no doubt about it — you are now a big kid.
But you are also a GREAT kid, Rowan. You are so loved, by us/your parents, of course, but by your grandparents, uncles, great aunts/uncles, our friends, your classmates, and pretty much anybody who spends any amount of time with you.
Happy Birthday, bud. You’re the best.