It only took us three years, but we finaly found the best place for your birthday party: Kidventure. It’s an indoor playground with an inflatable slide, a climbing wall, skeeball, and a pirate ship. We had the entire place to ourselves, and they let us bring in our own food, which meant that the parents got to eat something other than pizza! In previous years your outsourced parties have run like Mussolini’s trains, with the staff hustling us from play time to dinner time and out the back door. This year you got to play some, then eat some, then play some more, then eat the awesome robot cake, then play even more. This turned out to be a recipe for fun and not, as I had feared, vomiting.
Speaking of the awesome robot cake instead of vomiting, your robot cake was awesome. It was our friend Renée’s gift to you. It had a jetpack and a data tape coming out of its mouth that read, “Happy birthday, Eli!” You showed how thankful you were as only a newly-minted six year old can: you asked her, “Couldn’t you have made me a Pac-Man cake instead?” Fortunately you ended up loving the robot cake, probably because robots are awesome and jetpacks are awesome and together they are quadruply awesome.
This year marks your first year of school. You’re attending a wonderful school. It doesn’t hurt that you love your teacher and she loves you back. I wasn’t so lucky, and didn’t have a very good time that first year at school, so I’m glad that you love kindergarten.
I do not love kindergarten, and it’s not just residual bad feelings left over from that time when I was five and another kid peed on me. I do not love kindergarten because I now have to get up early enough to take you to school on my way to work. I used to be a morning person long ago, but now I am not, and this enforced early wake-up time is killing me. You, of course, wake up at 5:30 or so because God listened to my parents’ prayers that I would have a kid who was just like me. But even though you wake up so early, you don’t spend that time getting ready for school. Instead you’re busy making Lego robots and K’Nex robots and Lincoln Log robots, which I guess means you’re into pre-Steampunk Steampunk. Woodpunk? Anyway, we figured out how to make you get ready faster: turn it into a competition. Every morning we race to see who’s going to be ready to go first, me or you. The winner gets to do the Taunting Dance to the loser. Then we race to see who will be the first to get in my car and buckle up. You usually win, because I am old and slow and can only win through trickery like leaving my car locked until I’m at the drivers-side door and ready to get in.
Did you know they don’t make you take naps at kindergarten any more? I spent the better part of a year pretending to nap at school, and now they’ve removed that vital part of the curriculum. That’s undoubtedly good for you, since you don’t nap any more. On the occasions when you’re at home all day you spend “quiet time” in your room with the door closed, where by “quiet time” I mean “dad gets to play Xbox 360 time”. You’re not actually very quiet in there, since you have to make loud pew pew pew vrrrm whoosh noises for the Lego and K’Nex and Lincoln Log robots, or else what’s the point? Besides, if we ensure that robots always make pew pew pew noises then Skynet can never sneak up on us.
I love your creativity. I am so excited that you tell your mom, “I want to work on a project. I want to do a craft.” You doodle. You cut out paper shapes and glue them together. You draw. You tell stories that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Axe Cop.
I also love how you read. Sometimes you take a break from making robots and pull books off of your shelf to read. You’ve taken to reading stories to me at night, which I encourage by deliberately mis-reading the books you give me. It turns out that most of my parenting tricks involve annoying you until you do what I want, which I’m sure will win me the Parent of the Year award. We’ve taken to reading longer books, like the Magic Treehouse books. You’ve loved reading Toy Dance Party, giggling uncontrollably at the parts which involve me making groooonk noises.
You’ve got a complicated relationship with Liza. You play together better than ever before, mainly because you’ve discovered that she’s a loyal follower. She gets to play with her big brother and you get someone to boss around…for a while. You play dress-up with her, which has given us so many pictures to show your future dates. The two of you push toy shopping carts around the house like a miniature consumer-oriented Shriners parade. You make robots together.
Liza’s also teaching you how important it is to negotiate, though you’re still not great at it. A lot of your negotiation involves you making ridiculous demands, like, “Liza, if you don’t do what I want, then I’m leaving!” It’s all part of learning to deal with your storm of emotions that appear and recede with the suddenness of a summer downpour. You’ll clench your fists and say through gritted teeth, “That makes me so angry.” I’ve struggled with anger my whole life; I hope you don’t have to do the same.
Videogames continue to be a large part of your entertainment, especially since we got you a Didj for your birthday. A Didj is like a Nintendo DS, only the handheld console costs far less than a DS and the games are “educational”, which means every once in a while the game stops until you answer a math question. It’s good that you’re really young and don’t know how annoying those games are, or how cheap your parents are. Next I’ll start you on Pitfall so you can learn the true lesson that videogames have to teach us: everything is futile.
The other day we were driving home from choir, We got home and you ran outside into the darkness. When I asked you what you were doing, you said, “I wished on a star.”
“What did you wish for?” I asked.
“My own robot.”
Every night I tuck you into bed, and a few hours later I come back to check on you. You start out sleeping under your much-loved space blanket, but soon you wind yourself around and on top of it, clutching the stuffed ladybug that has become your favorite animal. I untangle you and stretch the blanket back over you. Some times you wake up and smile at me before sinking back into sleep. When I put you to bed you hug me tight and say, “I think I’ll keep you here forever.” I know that can’t happen, and I know it shouldn’t happen, but some times I wish it were true.