My oldest turned seven today. SEVEN! Man, that feels like a graduation away from “little kid” and into big kid territory.
In lieu of a birthday party, Jafta’s wish for his birthday was to go to Knott’s Berry Farm and ride all of the roller coasters with no younger siblings around to cramp his style. So, last Monday Mark took Jafta and two friends to Knott’s and did just that. Jafta rode every ride with gusto . . . even the ones that went upside-down. He’s quite the thrill-seeker.
Jafta’s big birthday gift was a pair of Heely’s – those shoes with the wheels on the sole. I don’t think any of us realized the learning curve that would be involved. He was like a wobbly baby deer, trying to stand up. It was comical. Since we did the big birthday event several days before his real birthday, today was an inevitable let-down for his siblings, who hadn’t quite realized that his trip to Knott’s without them was the main event. It finally dawned on India today that she had not been invited to Jafta’s “birthday party”, and SHE WAS MAD. She spent a good hour in a huff, making explicit plans for her birthday that would not include Jafta, and then talking about what a mean boy Jafta was. I kept telling her that we were going to celebrate as a family at a restaurant, but Jafta’s decision to get sushi for dinner didn’t exactly quell her disappointment. Finally, I caved and took the kids to a drop-in trampoline place, just to sort of fake a birthday party to keep the family peace. This is not the first time I’ve been bullied into doing more for a birthday by a sibling, and probably not the last.
We ended the evening by going out to Jafta’s favorite restaurant – a sushi place down the street that knows him by name. I still can’t quite comprehend a child that chooses sushi over pizza, but he was thrilled with his bento box and extra ginger.
One of our birthday traditions is that we all give affirmations to the person of honor, and this morning as we went around the table, the recurring theme was Jafta’s kindness and compassion. I’m so proud of him and so grateful that he sets such a great example to his siblings as an thoughtful and loyal brother and friend. It’s such a blessing to be his mom.
Tomorrow I leave for Louisville for a few days to attend the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit. I’ll be speaking on Friday afternoon about how to advocate for orphans as a busy mom (more on that later). I will also be a part of a blogger’s meet-up on Thursday night. So if you are going, stop by and say hi, and put me out of my socially-awkward misery. Because I’m introverted and horrible at chit-chat. Just come up to me and break right into something philosophical or inappropriate, and I will love you forever. I decided to take Jafta on this trip with me, because I miss my kids terribly whenever I’m gone, and I thought it could create a fun memory for the two of us. I waited to tell him about the trip until yesterday, because I know my son, and I knew exactly what would happen once I told him about it: he would talk incessantly about the trip until we left. So I broke the news to him yesterday, and he is out-of-his-mind excited. And also, gloating. A lot. Earlier this year, I would about a time that I visited Jafta’s class for his birthday and was mortified to find that my typically mild-mannered and considerate son turned into a power-hungry tyrant the minute the birthday crown was placed on his head. Similarly, he is practically glowing in his entitlement about going on a special trip with mommy. I asked him not to talk to his siblings about it, because I didn’t want him rubbing it in. So he has spend the day alternating between rubbing it in anyways, or calling me back into a bedroom so we could confer with hushed tones about the trip. It got so bad that mid-day I forbade him from talking about the trip, and refused to answer any pleas that he NEEDED TO TALK TO ME URGENTLY IN PRIVATE. He has seriously been acting like the two of us are planning some grand espionage scheme, rather than a long trip on economy class to Kentucky. And all of this excitement was despite the fact that he didn’t even know the whole story, which is that my sister-in-law Jodie is also going on the trip, along with her own 6-year-old son. Duzi was adopted about a year ago and the boys haven’t had much time together, so we orchestrated a little “Cousin Summit” for them. I was so excited to tell Jafta, but again I knew my persistent and neurotic son would speak of nothing else until the event happened. So I waited until this afternoon to break the news, and Jafta’s reaction was pretty much what I expected. It is nearly 2am and I am frantically packing (or should I say avoiding packing), and Jafta is STILL AWAKE and every few minutes calling me in and asking some minute detail about the trip. Like will Duzi wear jeans or shorts? Will they meet us at the airport? And will he and Duzi get to go swimming? And will Duzi use a booster seat, and will Duzi have an ipad, and can we skype with him right now??? Oh my word. This may be a long night. Just for fun (and really, to show to Jodie) I taped his reaction of learning that Duzi was coming. Notice at the end, when he throws in the part about not telling Kembe and India. He is loving this special privilege WAY too much. It’s pretty cute – even if it does keep him up all night.
So I’ve been meaning to write about Jafta’s birthday. It was way back in December. But it was dragged out nearly as long as it took me to write this post. Jafta’s birthday is a couple days after Christmas . . . an unfortunate date for a birthday (speaking as someone with a birthday in that same week). School is out, everyone is on vacation, and if any friends are around to come to a hastily-planned party, the chances are good that your gift is going to be a regifted reject from Christmas morning. (“Ooooh, Aunt Dolores really gave the kids some random stuff this year. Oh, and do we have a party tomorrow? I don’t really want to go to the store the day after Christmas. I KNOW WHAT WE’LL DO . . .”) I spent a childhood having poorly-attended parties where I received random gifts in Christmas wrapping. I’m still recovering. Jafta’s kindergarten teacher had the forethought to celebrate his birthday in class right before the Christmas break. Which is really thoughtful, because I seem to recall being jealous of all the kids who got to celebrate birthdays at school while mine happened on a non-school day. I don’t think my teachers held a party if you weren’t there on the actual day. It was a crueler time back in the 80’s. Anyways, Jafta’s school celebration happened about a week before his actual birthday. He is a smart kid and fully understood that is was not his real birthday, but that did not stop him from milking it ALL DAY LONG. (Also, it was pajama day at school, which made it even more exciting). Jafta’s teacher has a tradition that kids can donate a book to the class on their birthday, and parents can come in and read the book during the celebration. Jafta choose the book “No, David” . . . a favorite among my children thanks to the delightful schaudenfraude of watching another child getting in trouble over and over again. It was fun to visit his class, but I was a bit mortified to find that my typically mild-mannered and considerate son turned into a power-hungry tyrant the minute the birthday crown was placed on his head. He took his role of “Official Shusher” very seriously, chiding several of his classmates for talking moving while Mark read the book. He even employed the “I’ll wait” and “Eyes on me” warnings a few times. After the book, the students are allowed to bring a snack to share, or a small gift. Since they were already having treats I opted for some Cars journals from the dollar bin at Target. Jafta got to pass them out. And thus began the entirely-too-long process of Jafta mulling over which child was sitting quietly enough to receive a book. Oh, the dramatic pauses, and the shame bestowed upon any classmate not sitting in rapt attention of King Jafta. The entitlement did not end at school. For the rest of the day, Jafta requested every privilege he could think of since he was the birthday boy. Every though I reminded him, nearly 1 million times that day, that it was not his real birthday. Fast-forward two weeks, to his real birthday. Unfortunately, our travel plans required us to be on the road for his real birthday. Mark and I decided that we would just celebrate his birthday the following day. We have employing this strategy of lying delaying birthday celebrations in previous years so I didn’t think too much of it. Unfortunately I grossly underestimated his kindergarten math skills, because he woke up on his real birthday with full knowledge of the date. Mark and I glanced nervously as he pronounced, “it’s my birthday today” – because we knew that eight hours of him being cramped into the backseat of my nephew’s station wagon was a recipe for unmet expectations and birthday drama. So, we lied even more profusely. I can’t remember exactly how we convinced him that it was not the right day, even though it was. I think it involved a bar graph, some long division, and a clipped explanation of the lunar calendar, but somehow we held him off for the day so that we didn’t have to listen to him ask if the birthday boy could stop at every McDonald’s we saw between Atlanta and Orlando. So, the day after his birthday, we celebrated his birthday at a pizza buffet in Kissimee, followed by a trip to a room full of inflatables that now inhabits the mall where I got my ears pierced in 6th grade. Pizza birthday cake!! Followed by a Transformers birthday cake at my mom’s house. But wait. It still wasn’t over. You see, Jafta was very adamant that his birthday was not complete without celebrating with his best friend Ryder. We were in Florida until January 5th, and since I was in no mood to throw a party in the midst of my holiday hangover, I was thrilled when he agreed we could go to Disney with Ryder. I know this is going to sound insanely privileged (because it is), but this was kind of a hard sell. We have Disney passes – they are pretty reasonable for California residents if you get the kind that blackout weekends and summer. So we frequent Disney quite a bit, and Jafta felt that going to Disney just wasn’t special enough for his birthday. In fact, his exact words were that it was “too obvious”. Grrrr. So we brainstormed and offered him a special birthday privilege: to ride the Pirates of the Caribbean. This was his response to that offer. He was so. excited. Though I am hear to tell you, despite his professions of love for the ride, he was SCARED OUT OF HIS MIND the whole time. But he was very brave when it came to defeating his arch enemy Darth Maul. Which made the birthday celebration complete. FINALLY.
“I have a plan. The plan is to one day throw paper airplanes at the ice cream truck. It’s not going to be easy. But I’m never going to give up on this idea.”-Jafta Howerton
I’ve always had an affinity for five-year-olds. When I was a teenager, I taught Sunday School at my church, and the five-year-olds were my class. I just adored this stage – when they are developing their own little personalities but still have such an innocent curiosity about the world. Jafta’s fifth year feels like a whole new phase in parenting. Finally, there is a kid in this house that can be reasoned with. Who is able to talk about his feelings without a tantrum. Who gets my sarcasm. Who doesn’t need me to dress him or wipe his bottom. (On most occasions). Who loves Tuesdays when we strategize what he can take for show-and-tell that won’t be “too obvious”. Who frequently starts sentences with “the fact is . . .” or “I’m not even kidding.” The other day I let him watch Little Shop of Horrors for the first time. A little inappropriate, yes, but I make major concessions for musicals. He liked it, but he told me it was basically Dreamgirls, only with a plant that eats people. Which, in my book, is just a perfectly awesome observation. He likes showtunes, but he also loved Greenday, The Beatles, and The White Stripes. He is the master of air guitar. It has been a delight seeing him blossom this year as he entered kindergarten. He loves school. He is learning to read. The sight of him sounding out words in a book makes me a little misty. Yesterday he brought home a book from school and read it to Karis. I DIE. The other night we were eating dinner and I was frazzled from a long day. He could tell. As we sat down, he took charge and suggested that we light a candle and put on some music. He also suggested we do some affirmations, and he went around the table giving a thoughtful compliment to each of us. It was such a surreal moment. I do so much caretaking all day. Seeing him step up and lead us into a more connected dinnertime was an awesome glimpse of the young man he is becoming. He lost his first tooth. And then his second. If I could just freeze him at this age, I would. So, to exhausted moms of busy, hyerpactive three-year-old boys everywhere . . . I am here to tell you. It gets better. Five is a magical age.
Hi, I’m Kristen. I’m a mom of four kids via birth and adoption and a writer living in Southern California. Read More.