You are another year older, another year taller, and another year obsessed with bugs and spiders. The other day you found a wolf spider outside our garage that had given birth to a gazillion little babies. “Aww!” you said. “Look! Baby spiders!” You paused. “Don’t kill them yet, Dad, I want to watch them some more.” Because you’re so interested in insects and spiders, you’re well aware of how the circle of life works. You killed a fly one time and then promptly put it on a web outside so that a spider would have something to eat, like you were some kind of Sonic car-hop who served fly smoothies instead of cherry limeades. Another time, when a ladybug landed on you, you excitedly shrieked, “Ladybug likes me because I’m salty!” After a pause, you added, “Ladybug pooped on me because I’m salty!”
You’re not as tolerant of all bug processes. When you discovered that flies vomit on things they’re going to eat you became distraught. Eli helped you face your fears, though. As he explained to us later, “I helped her not be afraid of flies. I told her that when they vomit, they suck it right back up so it goes away.” You’re also not quite clear on when a bug is dead or not. You picked a black beetle up once and put it in your bug catcher, showing it around proudly. “Honey,” your mom told you, “I’m afraid he’s dead.” “Nuh uh!” you yelled. You paused and then shook the bug catcher violently. “See? He’s moving!”
Your real obsession, though, has been our dog Anwyn. You’ve been asking us to get a dog since you were two, which means we’ve been listening to your pleas for 21 dog years. You had elaborate plans about the dog we were going to get. A bit before your birthday you announced that we were going to get a dog and that your mom and I would wrap it up and give it to you on your birthday and then you’d be surprised. Instead of going the fake surprise route, we visited a bunch of local shelters, finally adopting a young corgi-yellow lab mix that we named Anwyn. She is young and energetic and some twenty feet long. We thought that her being a lab/corgi mix was an accident of breeding, leading to much speculation about whether a step stool had been involved, but it turns out that lab/corgi mixes are a thing that some breeders are doing. They call the hybrid breed “corgidors,” which is totally fun to say. As a friend of mine said, “Beware the corgidor, my son! The eyes that plead, the legs that creep!”
We thought having a dog would make you less dog-obsessed, or at least focus your dog obsession. It hasn’t. You’re still able to spot dogs with frightening acumen. It may be in part because you have a love-hate relationship with our corgidor. Anwyn appears to think of you as another young dog. She plays with you by mouthing you and putting her teeth on your ankle to herd you, or by leaping up and knocking you down since she’s only fifteen pounds lighter than you and about as long as you are tall. You are very not crazy about this behavior, and it sometimes sends you into tears. But then Anwyn will calm down and you lie down beside her, hugging and petting ehr and occasionally wanting to play with her ears in a way that would lead to you being called Liza of the Nine Fingers if Anwyn weren’t so patient. I’m sure the two of you were made for each other, though: Anwyn also loves bugs, having a great time nosing them about and snapping at them so that they’ll scuttle away and she can chase them.
Your relationship with Anwyn is reminiscent of your relationship with Eli. You and he get along great until suddenly you don’t. You can’t stand to be around each other and then you can’t be separated. Eli has had a sentimental streak for you since you were born, but you’re starting to have one for him. In September you and he got into the habit of collecting acorns from the trees by our church and bringing them home to rot quietly on tables and counters. Eventually we outlawed more acorns coming into the house. He and you decided to plant the acorns instead so you could have as many acorns as the resulting tree would produce. “That’ll take a while,” I warned you two. “You may not have acorns until Eli is in college.” Eli looked so sad that you had to comfort him. “It’s okay, Eli, you’ll be in college and I’ll be in school but we’ll still love acorns!”
Of all of us, you’re the most athletic and the most pain resistant. You’ve taken up swimming, though saying like that doesn’t convey the intensity with which you swim. You leap into the water and paddle furiously. You’ve been taking swim lessons and can just about swim the length of the pool at the Y, and have developed a tiny six-pack and swimmer shoulders. That’s also helped you master the monkey bars, where you swing across them before dropping down from them like a blond-haired ninja from on high. You love riding your scooter and your bike, showing bike trick after bike trick that boil down to two basics: ride really fast, and then slam on the brakes so that you stop really quickly. When I was your age I rode a Big Wheel down the hill at break-neck speed until turning into the driveway and pulling the brake and spinning out, so I understand your love of moving fast and stopping suddenly.
Did I mention your tolerance for pain? In July you had minor stomach surgery. Eli wanted to comfort you and talked about how his anesthesiologist had told him that the anesthesia mask smelled like a monkey’s butt. “No,” you replied, “I want mine to smell of puppies and rainbows.” The surgery went fine. Your doctor told us that you’d need to take it easy for a few days until everything healed and it didn’t hurt to move. Two days later you were tearing around the house like crazy. I asked if it hurt. “Yeah. But I don’t care.”
Your true love is reserved for crafting. You draw. You color. You glue things onto other things. When you stay with me in my office, you color on my whiteboard. “See? This is a sea serpent. Here are the fish in the sea under it.” You give your creations names, like UNOST. You can’t read, though you desperately want to be able to, but you’ve figured out the rhythm of consonants and vowels that let you string together letters in word-like ways. Just last week you turned to me and mom and announced, “God made me to make art,” at which point the sky opened up and your mom went up in a whirlwind into heaven, her earthly work complete.
If I’m not careful, it’s easy to make Eli the child of firsts and you the child of lasts. Eli has ushered us into various stages of parenting, while you have heralded the end of those stages. That’s not fair to you, though, and minimizes your own firsts and the ways in which you’re carving your own trail through childhood. You are very much your own person, and I celebrate that every day.
You requested a birthday celebration at Chuck E. Cheese again this year, and so it came to pass that Mumsy, your mom and I spent another birthday watching children bounce around and ride rides and play video games and vibrate with excitement. Chuck E. Cheese had added something to their birthday repertoire: a ticket-blowing machine. After you had eaten your fill of cake and pizza and also more cake, one of the employees led you into a large, clear cylinder filled with tickets and with an attached air compressor. The employee tucked your shirt in and gave you glasses to protect your eyes from the wind and the flying cardboard slips. She then put one of the tickets that was worth a thousand regular, lesser tickets onto the floor and slid your shoe over it. “When the fan starts,” she murmured, “grab it and stuff it in your clothes.” She then wedged another high-value ticket into a seam in the tube and pointed to it. “And pick that one up as well.” Then she closed the door, the air compressor kicked on, and cardboard went flying. With a nonchalance that made it look like you did this every day, you picked up the two high-value tickets and then plucked a few others from the air for good measure.
Life in our house has swirled around like the air in that cylinder. Every day you’re buffeted by new emotions and new experiences. It’s not going to get any slower. Next year you start kindergarten, and you’ll have to learn how to deal with a new group of people while adjusting to an amount of homework that gives me pause. As with Eli, I see the future in front of you and am both excited and afraid for you. But I see you in that rush of life moving past you, carefully and thoughtfully picking up opportunities as they move past, and I know you’ll do great.