For the last month, it's been a regular litany of, "I'm gonna be 4 on my birthday!" People don't even need to ask him, he's willing to tell everyone he meets that the big day is coming soon and he won't be 3 any more, he'll be four.
Most days, it's just a matter of fact. The miracle of becoming four is buried in the day-to-day frustrations of "Don't hit your brother!" and "I don't care what you think you heard, you can't have cake for breakfast!" The messes that need to be cleaned up, the backpack and lunch that needs to be packed two days a week, the strange conversations that one can only have with a preschooler. And, of course, it's lost among the stresses of getting ready for the day - where to have the party, what kind of cake does he want, who will be coming, how can we afford this once he actually has friends?!!!
But then there are times like today when I sit back and wonder where my baby has gone. A year ago, he was in diapers. We flirted with potty training, but that's all it was, a brief glance across a crowded room before diapers closed between us again. You couldn't understand a lot of what he said, his speech was still so much the baby talk of a two year old. He had no interest in doing anything beyond playing and coloring. He loved dinosaurs and pretty much ignored everything that Teddy was into.
Today, I realized as he ran around the house naked (a common occurrence now that he knows how to use the potty), that he's even closer to becoming his own person. He wants peanut butter and jelly and it has to be cut in half or he won't eat it. Chocolate milk is his drink of choice. He understands now, where a year ago he didn't, that he can't get nuggets and fries from McDonald's at 8am. He tells me stories, "reads" to me from books, and wants to learn how to play Pokemon with his brother. He adores Teddy's DS and tells everyone who'll listen that he wants one of his own. He has bumps and bruises, really plays with other kids, and doesn't need Mommy for much anymore.
But I also know that my baby isn't gone. This morning, as we were coming in from the car after dropping Teddy off at the bus, he tripped and smacked his face into the sidewalk. From the heavy rain we had, he ended up completely black with mud, scrapes on his knees, and a bloody lip. He cried. Loud, piercing sobs. And I wrapped him in my arms, held him close and told him that it would be ok. Mommy would fix it. We came inside, I cleaned him up on the bathroom sink, then got him an ice cube in a paper towel to hold on his lip. And then I just snuggled him. It made him feel better. And it made me feel better.
He's growing up. I can't stop it. But somewhere in there will always be my baby. My sweet angel who tells me, "I love you, Mommy." and comes to me to be held. The one who curls in my lap and sucks his thumb while watching TV, because Mommy's lap is still the most comfortable place to be. It's hard to get him to slow down sometimes, but when he does, and when he falls asleep, my heart swells. My baby.