Month 72

On the morning of Thomas’s sixth birthday, he came downstairs and found four lightsabers on the mantle. Bursting with excitement, he handed one to each of his siblings. He didn’t for one second think all four lightsabers were his, or care that his siblings were getting presents on HIS birthday. He wasn’t thinking about equity or fairness, he was thinking about all the possibilities of using his Jedi powers.

The four of them ran through the house and then, once they lost indoor privileges, through the yard. They played Jedi school, slashing and laughing at each other. And Thomas was the ringleader. He was so just so, so happy. He was running wild and playing with his pack of Jedi siblings on his sixth birthday.

Thomas at age six loves bugs, Magnatiles, Star Wars, dinosaurs, and sneaking upstairs to play with his brother’s Legos. He could spend a full day exploring in the woods, jumping into the pool, or playing with a water hose. His favorite food is butter, his favorite contraband is Diet Coke, and his favorite outfit is his new camo underwear.

Recently I told someone the story of how when we flew to Canada, Thomas was the best little traveler. They responded, “Third kid! I guess they just go with the flow!”

But Thomas isn’t like that at all. It’s more like, “Third kid! I gotta get REALLY creative to make mom jump off the couch.”

He is sneaky and mischievous, and when I was outside chatting with a neighbor and Mary ran up to me to tell me that “Thomas found the Halloween decorations in the attic and now he’s decorating the house!” I just rolled my eyes and laughed because of course he did. 

If you’ve ever seen me running through our neighborhood, a playground, or combing the trails of a state park looking for a child, the child I am looking for is Thomas.

He’s the kid who is always hiding, always sneaking away, running ahead, or forging his own path. He’s the one I can never keep track of, the one I’m constantly concerned has run off with the circus. And honestly, half of the time I eventually find him quietly studying a beetle, right where I left him. (But I’d never think to look there.)

When he was younger, Thomas’s penchant for sneaking away and testing boundaries was terrifying for me. But now it’s one of my favorite things about him. He is a delight, a surprise, unpredictable, sweet, and a whole lot of fun. Aside from the months Thomas spent with an unfortunate parent laziness/COVID haircut (sorry, kid) he had an awesome year. It’s like he’s shaken off his toddler-ness and settling into himself — keeping the things that make him Thomas. In sum, is forts are bigger, his risks are riskier, and his stunts are even more death-defying, but his snuggles are just as sweet as they’ve ever been.

I’m not one for pandemic conspiracy theories, but if I was, I might say that COVID was nothing but a scam to give Thomas a gap year before kindergarten.

I think we can all agree that after the grueling requirements of wearing clothes for three years of preschool, he was due a break. As far as Thomas is concerned, the pandemic was a gift — one more year to run around in his skivvies, catching bugs and booby-trapping our backyard.

It’s funny to think back about how I worried about my decision to keep him home this year. I wrung my hands and cried when I called the school to withdraw him. But after that phone call, I never once looked back. This has been such an incredible year of growth and freedom for Thomas. I really believe that for the rest of my life, when I think about Thomas as a kid, I’ll pick from the archives of this year — wild hair, no clothes, always looking for adventure.

I had big plans to spend this year getting Thomas ready for preschool in traditional ways — letters and numbers and all that. I set up creative activities and followed educational Instagram accounts. Thomas responded by reminding me that he never enrolled in my classes…to put it politely. So instead he spent the year doing what he does best, playing outside. He was curious, he observed, and he learned on his own terms.

“Mom, if we just go outside I’ll eventually figure out something to do,” he told me one day.

This year, he SORT OF learned to write his name. But he mastered the art of catching chickens, starting a fire, chopping wood, and destroying my house by making a huge fort in the living room — that’ll come in handy in kindergarten, right?  When he goes to kindergarten in the fall, I’m confident that Thomas will be a little shaky on the names and sounds of letters, but I already know he’s going to correct all the kids in his class when they incorrectly identify ladybug larvae.

This year Thomas played video games for the first time, and it was love at first sight. The moment that controller hit his hand, he switched his career path from paleontologist/entomologist/survivalist/arsonist to “video game tester.”

There was a full month when the only thing Thomas talked about was Halo. He carried around the Halo instruction booklet and would ask me to read it. He would imagine hypothetical Halo scenarios and ask me which I’d prefer, or who would win in a match-up. I cannot hide my utter disdain for video games — my eyes involuntarily roll into the back of my head at the mere mention. Thomas and I are BFFs forever and ever when it comes to catching lizards and watching tadpoles. But video games? You’re on your own, kid.

But David’s an entirely different story.

Video games are David and Thomas’s shared obsession. And even though I wish they were fixated on something more…productive…it’s cool to see them talking this shared video game language. Thomas isn’t as good at the games as David, and pretty often David gets frustrated that Thomas can’t play to his level, but Thomas doesn’t care. He’ll tolerate anything just for the opportunity to play alongside his big brother.

Thomas LOVES David. He thinks he’s the coolest, funniest, most fascinating thing in the world. Thomas asks me to take videos of David doing cool things, like a great cannonball splash or a swish with the basketball. An adoring, pesty little brother. He’s David’s devoted hype man, and David doesn’t even realize it.

The map of relationships between my four kids creates a complicated web of friendship and rivalry. He is obsessed with David, and with Mary he’s either submitting to whatever game she’s making him play, or locked in battle. He and Anna are together all the time, and this year they’ve forged a beautiful sibling bond. As a big brother, Thomas is long-suffering and patient with Anna. She is his sidekick; he welcomes her into his games, always makes sure she has a turn, and waits for her when she can’t quite run as fast.

With Thomas as her teacher, Anna loves to play with the hose and isn’t convinced that she needs pants. The time they’ve had this year to forge a friendship has been amazing. I might be sad about when he leaves for kindergarten, but poor Anna doesn’t even know what’s coming.

With four kids, we don’t have a true middle child, but in practice it’s definitely Thomas. He gets left out of the big kid stuff, and then he has to yield to Anna because she’s the baby. Thomas gets the short end of the stick all the time, and he almost never (only sometimes) complains. It’s funny, I’m a middle child, so I’m always on hair trigger for which kid is getting left out or overlooked. AVOID INEQUITY AT ALL COSTS!! But for Thomas, I can see that this unintentional role has helped him develop so many great qualities. He is patient, independent, forgiving — all qualities he practices for day-to-day survival in the sibling jungle.

If you meet Thomas, you might be expecting him to have a stick of dynamite in his pocket or climb up your chimney. He probably won’t. He’ll probably be quiet, not answer your questions, and hide behind my leg. He’s a wild card through and through, but I think he’s a sensitive observer first and foremost. And perhaps that’s why he’s so good at climbing trees and catching bugs. Before he acts, he studies and understands.

It takes him a while to warm up to other kids, and even longer to adults. The best way to win Thomas’s heart is to just hang with him, just go along side him and find out what he’s doing. If that doesn’t work, it wouldn’t hurt things if you happened to have a frog up your sleeve.

Thomas is a bit like a puzzle, and if you just randomly grab pieces and try to force them together, you’ll never get anywhere. You have to take your time, look at the pieces, and study their shapes and colors. Thomas doesn’t respond to overt efforts, genuine or not.

At his 6-year well-visit, Thomas refused to participate in the eye exam. He didn’t care that the nurse was enthusiastic or encouraging. “Can you tell me what this shape is?” she asked. “yes,” he hissed, barely audible. He wouldn’t do it, and I couldn’t make him.

At that same appointment, the pediatrician told me she can tell that he eats to live. Yes, I laughed. That explains it perfectly.

I didn’t offer the detail that Thomas mostly eats carbs and butter. His pickiness doesn’t derail me, because all of my kids have gone through this little phase of exploring how close they can push me to the brink. But I’ve learned! I will not engage. I will not draw attention to your untouched plate and I will not growl “Just try it” through gritted teeth. Not out loud, anyway. But I will hold a grudge. And so every time Thomas eats a french fry, I smugly remind him that for YEARS he refused to try french fries. And now, who was right? Mom was.

This year Thomas instituted the routine of a morning hug. Every morning, he and I start the day with a big, long hug. We usually forget, which is fine, because it gives us the excuse to whisper in the other’s ear, “Guess what we forgot?” Then the other person exclaim, “MORNING HUG!” And we get to have a big morning hug in the middle of the day.

On the morning of Thomas’s birthday, I walked up to him and told him I was ready for morning hug. He looked at me and said, “Mom. Now that I’m six I think I’m too old for morning hug.” Before I even had a chance to dissolve into a puddle of tears, he flashed me his devious, beautiful smile, “JUST KIDDING!” And we had an extra big, extra long morning hug. The absolute best way to start any day.

Dear Thomas,

As far as six-year-olds go, you are the most definitely the best. Six is a great age, getting older but still little. I take extra delight in this because I have watched David grow out of his little boy tendencies and so seeing them in you, I know how precious they are. You love your wristwatch, even though you can’t tell time. You always have pockets stuffed with treasures for your collections. You have a locker upstairs that houses your wallet, your favorite diving toys, and special Lego pieces. You learns dinosaur facts with the importance and sincerity. Dinosaur facts roll off grownups like water because when are we going to use this? But you know — this stuff is important. Read it again, Mom. You are a little boy full of energy and imagination, who loves to cuddle with his mom, and to be prayed for at night by his dad. Your specialty is finding extraordinary in the ordinary, and that’s something I’ll cherish forever.

I recently read a biography about Leonardo Da Vinci, and at the end the author was cataloging some of the qualities that made Da Vinci great. Two of the things he mentioned were curiosity and observation. Now, I’m not delusional enough to compare you with one of the greatest artists in history, but those qualities piqued my interest because that is you. And those qualities are what make you who you are. You’re curious, that’s why you run off the sidewalk and dart behind a row of shrubs. You aren’t being disobedient, you just want to know what’s back there. You observe, you watch, you ask questions. You aren’t impetuous or impulsive; you’re the exact opposite. You forge your own path because you’re the only with eyes to see it.

Every time I tell you how much I love you, you respond,”I love you a million times more than you love me.”

As if that was possible, kiddo.




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