Thursday, December 3, 2015

His Greatest Year

It has been almost ten months since Kendan turned five years old. Most of a year has passed since my oldest child reached the age I consider him to be a "big kid." We celebrated his special day accordingly. We had every single boy from his Pre-K class and some good friends over for a dinosaur-themed party. He was giddy and appreciative. And I was completely overwhelmed with the feeling that my baby was officially a kid. In the days that followed I could barely bring myself to accept this fact let alone sit down and write about it. And now as I sit here after so much time has passed, I find it even more difficult to log this memory with so many already on this blog. I find it more overwhelming. Not because the details have faded or because I don't know how to express how I feel. I remember the bits of his birthday as if it were yesterday. Filling goody bags with dinosaur toys and temporary tattoos. The smile on his face when his friends sang to him. The house buzzing with the noise of 15 boys exploring every room. And I'll never forget what it felt like to look at my first-born son and try to register the fact that he was now five years old. It felt like I was betrayed. Like it became resoundingly clear that the only person who agreed my baby couldn't grow up was me. I felt my heels digging into the ground while my son pulled me further and further into a reality where he was no longer a toddler, far from a baby, and was maybe never an infant. I can write about those details with complete clarity. What I struggle with now is not how long it's been since his fifth birthday, but with how much more he has done and has happened since then. It seemed like the idea of sitting down and capturing a still of who Kendan was at five years old was futile. He changed and grew and learned and loved more deeply every moment. I couldn't keep up with him! I still can't, truthfully. Every day he surprises me with some knowledge or skill or understanding I didn't know he had. He blazes through shoe and jeans sizes. His interests change like the wind. To do the last nine months of his life justice would require a whole lot more than a recap of a birthday party. That was just a glimpse of what was in store for him. 

Shortly after Kendan's fifth birthday he tested for and earned his yellow belt in Kempo Karate. Karate was something we always knew he would love and need to be enrolled in. He has been adding "hi-ya's" to every single super hero move since before he could properly talk! So it was no surprise that he fell in love with being a ninja from the start. He takes it very seriously and really pays attention to his Sensei, soaking up every single lesson. After his quick promotion to yellow belt, he was then promoted to orange belt, and is currently ranked purple belt; all within ten months of signing up. And these are not just lopsided kicks he's throwing into the air. He's required to learn several long forms and defensive maneuvers. I was completely useless in helping him past white belt status! Every test he participates in has me a nervous wreck but he just remains calm and kicks butt. It's quite impressive. I know I will always be in awe of what my child does, as made evident by some of the questionable art work hanging on my fridge. But I truly admire his determination in karate. My heart swells with pride at each high five his Sensei gives him and wink she shoots over to say, "Did you see that, Mom?" I hope he always loves this art and keeps going until he's a certifiable deadly black belt. 

The summer after preschool ended was a big deal for Kendan. Not only was he no longer a preschooler but he got to experience some firsts and conquer some fears. We took a short trip to meet my mom in St. Louis in June. We had a wonderful visit filled with all of the kid-friendly tourist attractions you can think of. But the most memorable part was our trip to the St. Louis Arch. We decided to visit the arch on our way out of the city as our last stop. As we approached it Kendan observed how tall it was and had many questions about how you get to the top. Tired from several days of fun and cringing at the thought of being stuck with my kids in a tiny cage, I knew I would not be viewing the city from this landmark. I assumed my children would also stay behind. My step-father announced he planned to go to the top and Kendan exclaimed, "Me too!" And that was that. He was in. Not afraid to let go of my hand, wave to me as he walked into a long tunnel, and knowingly travel several hundred feet into the air. This is the same kid who almost cried on a kiddie coaster and refused to put his hands in the air with me sitting next to him only one summer ago. I was shocked. And a little sad that he was so indifferent to whether or not I would be joining him. I mean, don't you want your mommy? No? Ok. *insert dagger into my heart* I promptly purchased a (very official) certificate for his "First Time to the Top" in the gift shop and nervously waited for my child to return. I'm so glad he experienced that. He loved it. And I realized this was just the first of many firsts. For him. For me. 

No fear quickly became the theme for the next couple of months. We spent a lot of time poolside as we usually do each summer. And every summer my children look like the tropical version of Ralphie's little brother from A Christmas story. Completely covered in a layer of sunblock, a swim shirt and shorts, swim shoes, puddle jumper flotation device, goggles, and sun hat. Sorry, kids. Not only do we burn, but we sink. And two children at a pool with 50 other children is difficult. But this summer was different. There was no lounging in the shallow end with my feet in the water while throwing toy torpedoes for my kids to fetch. Off to the deeper end Kendan went as I move all of our pool gear across the way. And then came "going under." So much for relaxing at the pool. We spent the remainder of the season completely submerged in the deep end. I've never seen him so proud of himself


Fourth of July also forced me to recognize just how grown up and fearless he was becoming. Other than a sparkler or two Kendan has historically liked to observe fireworks from a safe distance. In years past that could even mean indoors while Dad set them off .... with his ears plugged. Not this year. He was the only kid out of five to stay outside with the adults from the start. He even wanted to hold the fireworks as they were firing into the sky. I hate to admit that I was, once again, shocked. But I was. What was it going to take for me to realize that this kid was brand new? Gone are the days of him timidly crossing the bridge at the park and insisting the slides are too tall. Clinging to my leg and sucking his thumb while shaking his head back and forth. That was my baby. And now this is my big boy. 
In August we took a family trip to Hilton Head. I expected the boys to enjoy their first beach experience but did not think much about it before leaving. Having spent the summer poolside already the thought of sun blocking my children every day for one more week exhausted me. But this trip was so much more wonderful than I ever imagined. The boys loved, LOVED, the beach. Sandcastles and seashells, racing into the waves and splashing literally all day long. I could hardly get them to the blanket to take two bites of sandwich for lunch before they were dying to get back in the salt water. Kendan began by sticking close to us but was barreling into the water as it rushed back and forth around him after only one hour. And the giggles and squeals and joy on his face! Completely overwhelmed, I closed my eyes while waist deep in the water and just thanked God for all of it. For the vacation and for my family. For the incredible ocean and for my son so full of exuberance and wonder. There are some things I have discovered in life that are far better once you have children. Christmas and birthdays, movies in the theater, popping popcorn, and the beach. Definitely the beach. We filled in our moments away from the beach with ice cream at the local shops, long naps in the beach house, and the boys loved helping Craig crack the shells of his All You Can Eat Crab dinner. But every day began the same. We woke up and headed straight to the water. Put our toes in the sand. Built monster sandcastles that the boys smashed while pretending to be dinosaurs. We would even return to the beach in the evenings for the kids to hold onto the sandy, salty magic just before bath and bed time. It was a memorable family first to say the least

By mid August I began to stress out about Kendan going to Kindergarten. Would we adjust to the earlier, busier schedule with longer days and attending school five days a week? Would Kendan keep up with the curriculum and make new friends again in another new school? Would he have trouble finding his classroom? Would Damien and I miss him terribly all day? Or, worse, would he be at school missing us? I think the issue that had my mind racing the most was the change in our daily lives. For over five years Kendan and I had stayed home together. We spent the majority of every day with each other since his birth. If we wanted homemade pancakes on a random Wednesday we had the time to whip some up. All of the museums and the zoo and play places were manageable because we went on week days. We had all day, every day, to make our own. To make memorable. Yes, he attended two years of preschool that had him out of the house occasionally. But that was only a few days a week and didn't even start until 9am. Now we had strict instructions to be at school by 8:10am, every day of the week, for seven hours a day! The life we built and enjoyed together was going to completely change. It made me very sad. Sad to think that all of the fun stuff he gets to do with Mom is now reserved only for weekends and holidays, when the rest of the city is also out attempting to have fun on limited timelines. No more sleeping in and making a day of movies or costumes knowing we didn't have to get dressed that day if we didn't want to. It felt like a split custody situation and kindergarten was getting the better end of the deal. It truly broke my heart. All of those feelings mixed with the idea of my first born being old enough to be in Kindergarten and I was a bit of a mess. I definitely broke down in the parking lot of a Whole Foods on his second day of school. Simply because he was not with us running errands. Cut to five months later ... We love school. I realized that I may have over reacted to this milestone for him and I now see that this is a wonderful beginning in our lives! Yes. Our day-to-day changed. A lot. But now we are in the school days. And, even though waking up early is not for us, we are already well adjusted to our new reality. My ability to embrace all of this is all because of my incredible son. Kendan has done so well and loves Kindergarten immensely. He is reading, he's writing, he's picking up on math extremely well! He's become even more creative and his drawing and coloring skills have advanced. And he is so much more independent since school started. When we sat down with his teacher she only had wonderful things to say. About how helpful he is, smart he is, and about what a great addition to the class he is. He has made some great little friends and I have been able to volunteer at every class event to date. Kendan even lost his first tooth at school during lunch. There was a small part of me that was devastated to have missed it but I knew just how cool it was to him to lose it while at school. It has been a great start to real school for our family and I hope he always has positive experiences going forward. Oh, and he hasn't gotten lost on the way to class once
The birth of the boys' baby cousin, Winnie, in September was also a very sweet reminder of just how much older Kendan has become. Of course his physical size is more substantial than that of a newborn. Seeing Kendan hold Winnie only hours after her birth was startling. His arms wrapped around her tiny body in a swaddling blanket. Kendan's head competing with his little cousin's whole torso in size. But more touching than just how much bigger he was than her was how sweet he was with her. When Damien was born Kendan was a month short of two years old. And he was far from doting with his little brother. He was jealous. And feisty. He was rough and insensitive. But as a child who has grown so much in the last few years he showed nothing but great admiration for the precious newborn in his lap. I could watch him hold her for hours. It was a moment I'll never forget

Five was the age I dreaded the most. I could only see it as a number. To think of my baby being that old was hard. But I didn't know just how special it would be. So many firsts for Kendan. So many wonderful moments that added up to make a year in his life that, I believe, has been the most telling of just what a special person he will be in this world. And the year is not even over for him! I will always remember this age as the moment I realized that it's ok for your kids to grow up. They may not always be small. Or need you in the same ways. But the things they say, the way they think, the qualities they begin to offer you and the people around them are worth their growing up. I'll always miss Kendan as a baby. But I now know the best is yet to come