To Eli on His Fifth Birthday

After the success of outsourcing last year’s birthday party to JumpZone!, we decided to do something similar this year. We let you choose where we’d have the party, which is how we ended up at Chuck E. Cheese’s. You’ve been a fan of the pizza rat for a while, even if his restaurant makes your parents’ heads hurt, so we said yes. You were so excited, and you had so many tokens to spend!

Ten minutes later you’d spent all of your tokens and were miserable.

This has been the Year When You Learned to Read. You’d been showing signs of reading for a while, but we weren’t sure whether you were really reading or just reciting from memory. On our Christmas trip back to Arkansas, you and I got into Pop Don’s car to go to the grocery store. You saw the Calvin sticker on the back of his truck and said, “Look, dad! That says ‘Fords suck!'” And thanks to you reading, your mom and I can now sleep late. You happily go to the kitchen, grab the giant tub of pretzels, take it back to your room, and read quietly to yourself while scattering pretzel crumbs everywhere. This is what we call “advanced parenting”.

I don’t know if it’s due to your reading, but your story-telling tendencies have really increased. One morning you came into our bathroom while I was getting ready for work. You opened a drawer and found a three-pack of floss. “Look!” you said. “This floss is green, and this one is a different kind of green, but this one is white.” You hauled them all out and onto the counter. “The flosses are going on a trip. Look, here they go, they’re going up Scope Mountain.”

Your creativity extends to re-writing the rules to board games. You got May to play one boardgame with you. She sceptically asked, “Is this really how you play the game?” after you explained how the pieces all had to hop over each other and then you spun the spinner and then you got to take all of the game tiles. “Oh, yes,” you said.

Most every night, after Liza has gone to bed, we play videogames. I say “we play,” when what I mean is that “I play videogames, and you tell me what to do.” Sometimes you even let mom play. Your love of story above all else has helped decide what we play. You loved Psychonauts, but had no interest in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz despite its much higher monkey-to-gameplay ratio. We’re working our way through Kingdom Hearts now, so all of your questions are about the Heartless and why that skeleton guy is so tall.

Even though you’re now five, you still need naps, even if we can’t convince you of that. Whenever you are tired or hungry — or both! — then you grown twenty extra arms and can’t be still. If we could keep you from sleeping or eating for two days, I’m convinced you’d develop superpowers and go on to have a dramatic and fulfilling life until finally merging with the Speed Force.

This year we took you to the theatre for the first time. We saw Wall-E, which you loved because ROBOTS. Even before the movie you were fascinated with robots. You have robot t-shirts. Mom made you robot thaumatrope invitations for your birthday party and robot buttons as gifts for everyone who came. Every morning, as I leave for work, you tell me, “Be careful! Don’t run into any robots!”

I’ve been fascinated watching you become a more independent person. You play on your own more, and there are times that you shoo your mom and me away. You’re learning how to deal with your emotions. Temper tantrums have become a regular fixture, as have demands and threats. It’s all we can do to keep from laughing, though, when you tell us, “If you don’t do what I want, then I’m not going to play with you now!” That threat is emptier than Pellucidar, coming from a boy who has trouble breathing if people aren’t watching him do it. You’ve also started talking back to us. “Whatever,” you say, channeling your thirteen-year-old self.

Say, did you know you have a sister? Liza now walks and talks and forces you to interact with her. She idolizes you, you know. And there are times when you are lovingly, achingly sweet towards her. Two minutes later you’re picking her up and dragging her around like a sack of wet cats. “She won’t get out of my room!” you yell over her shrieks.

I’ve been hard on you a lot this year. I’ve been tired and sick, and too often I’ve taken it out on you. I think that’s what happens to parents. When I’ve been really strict, I look at you, see an echo of how you looked when you were one, and realize that you’ll be gone before I know it.

Eli, Liza and dad play videogames

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