Some days in parenting are just magical. The air is clear of conflict, the kids’ spirits shine brightly, and the atmosphere hums with joy. Ben’s birthday was one of those days—the excitement over his graduation from four-year-old to five-year-old was practically palpable. Even Abby, whose own birthday is still months away, resonated with anticipation. In fact, her sincere and heartfelt celebration of Ben throughout the day made this birthday the best yet.
Josh and I woke to Abby’s voice that morning sometime after 7:00. From her crib, she called loudly to Ben through their shared bathroom door, “Ben, Ih’m soh happy ihs your birfday today! Ben, Ih’m soh happy you were bohrn today!” Ben, king of accuracy and precision, clarified with the patience of a wise, old sage, “No, Abby, I wasn’t born today!” but clearly enjoyed her excitement. Abby, undeterred by his correction, shifted into a rousing version of “Happy Birthday,” her exuberant two-year-old voice leaving Josh and I in silent giggles next door.
These are the moments parents dream of, the exchanges that sometimes feel like the stuff of parental fairy tales--until we wake one morning to find the fantasy has, in fact, invaded reality, that Love does exist on earth as it does in heaven.
The day continued as sweetly as it began. Over lunch at the kids’ favorite pizza restaurant, Ben leaned over and kissed my head, saying, “Thank you that it’s my birthday.” Josh and I could only smile at each other. It felt like we spent the whole day enjoying our children’s purest selves and glancing at each other in delight.
The highlight of the day, however, was taking Ben to see his first movie in a movie theater: Toy Story 3. I had previewed it a few weeks ago and decided it would be appropriate for Ben, who we knew would love the story and characters and play and with whom we could discuss the darker characters and themes. Abby, though disappointed she couldn’t join us, seemed to understand why she was staying home with a sitter to take her nap. And so the three of us drove to the theater, bought our tickets, bought a box of candy of Ben’s choosing, and settled into our seats with our 3-D glasses in place.
When the movie began, he sat on the edge of his seat, attending to every detail with absolute focus and concentration. He laughed out loud in the funny spots; he whispered questions (“What does ‘selfish’ mean?”); occasionally, he reacted in his normal voice (“Is that the real Buzz Lightyear, the one with the real laser?!”), which we figured added to the authentic viewing experience of the grown-ups around us. And when it was over, he asked, “Can we watch it again?”, his love of the experience clear. As we walked back to the car, he said, “Buzz Lightyear is my favorite superhero ever, and he’s always going to be my favorite no matter what, even when I die and am under the ground and not alive anymore. He’ll always be my very favorite.”
He’s there, he’s arrived at boyhood—a lover of stories and adventures and daring rescues and bad guys brought to justice or demise, with enough understanding of the world to appreciate conflict and plot but with enough naivete, still, to adore a superhero, to believe in an unstoppable force of good and strength capable of vanquishing any evil. Five-years-old ushers us out of preschool days and into the era of true boyhood. And this new age sparkles with wonder.
Ben wanted to keep his 3-D glasses rather than recycle them and asked to take one of our pairs home for Abby. He gave them to her as soon as we got home. And though, by the end of the night after dinner and cake, both kids had reached the edge of their self-control, Ben still offered to let Abby open one of his presents as he had promised earlier in the week, “because I love her.”
It was a magical day, full of everything good and right and true: love, gratitude, selflessness, innocence, joy, and enchantment. Not everyday is like this. But this day existed, without contrivance or reminders or promptings or any other intervention.
And I'm pretty sure I'll remember it for a long, long time.