Across the room from me on the floor is a small red toy basket filled with plastic food.
Next to me on my dining room table, you know, the table that nothing was ever supposed to be set on so that it wouldn’t get scratched, lies a paper plate with a plastic butterfly and a small row of trains that seemingly have nothing in common except in the creative mind of a two year old boy.
Bright colored hair clips are on my right, and flanking both sides of my captain’s chair at the head of the table are two small plastic kids chairs, one even has green crayon all over the seat. That one has affectionately been deemed forevermore to be Pax’s.
I’m nostalgic about all this stuff tonight because of a very casual comment my wife made that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around. “Next week is Ella’s birthday party.” She’ll be five.
Every year I lament the fact that my kids are getting older, and Ella’s birthday is twice as hard to swallow because it falls on – of all days – Independence Day which always causes me to go into a diatribe in my head about just what it means for my kids to grow up and eventually leave…
Tonight though, I pushed these serious thoughts out of my head and just wanted to enjoy them the way they are. We set out for the local schoolyard playground, where we would have a pirate adventure on Grandma’s Island searching for buried homemade cookie treasure (nothing like this amazing pirate adventure, but we still had a good time).
Both kids are old enough now to ride a bike of somesort. Ella chose to ride a Barbie Big Wheel, she has yet to touch the Barbie bike we bought her for her third birthday, but I’m cool with that. Pax jumped on his little tricycle and I said to Erica as we headed out the door that I’d probably end up carrying it on the way back. “You’ll probably end up carrying him and the bike.” she said, but off we went for the short walk to Adventureland.
After playing till the sun started to fall behind the clouds, but not so late that dusk had come, we began the trek home. Pax did amazingly well and only asked to hold my hand a few times while he pedaled and steered, moving at a snails pace at times, but refusing to give up which made me proud that he stuck it out.
Ella is more advanced, and raced ahead. With her hearing loss it makes it difficult to communicate to her when to stop and my heart skips a beat or two every time she wheels close to the curb cuts in our suburban neighborhood. We have developed a system that after much repetition has finally started to pay off. She can race ahead to the next driveway where she has to stop and wait for daddy and Pax to catch up before I give her the green light to move on again.
After observing her for a couple of blocks, pedaling her heart out until suddenly spotting a path of cement leading to the road and slamming her feet down on the sidewalk to stop herself, I realized something. The next time we caught up to her I had to let her know what I was thinking.
“Hey Ella, when you stop at the driveway you are keeping your promise and that makes me trust you.”
This filtered through her mind in light of a book we have been reading about breaking your promises by Joy Berry, and a few weeks ago I had to take a plastic cup away from her because she was playing in the water with it, even after promising not to do that very thing. Now I could see her mind was moving. “You do?”
It was one of those little moments that came and went, but somehow helped me make peace with the fact that next week she will have aged an entire year in one day, which is what it feels like to me. I saw just how trustworthy she was, how even in this simple thing she tried so hard to do the right thing.
I also watched her as she pedaled past two ruts filled with gravel that didn’t seem to fit the bill, and how as we got closer to home she stopped less and less, but I also saw her hesitate a few times at the junction between the sidewalk and a path leading to the front door, evaluating it briefly to determine if it was “driveway status” or if she could move on. She also dutifully stopped at the second driveway, even if it was only a foot away from the previous one. So I easily overlooked the few infractions she had made otherwise. I knew in that moment that she was becoming a girl who I trusted, and who I will continue to teach and trust more every year until she is finally on her own.