My daughter is turning five in a month and I have already started mourning. I’ve hit this milestone with my three sons, but the pain is just as real with her. Five is my very least favorite age. This is the year that they go away. Five is when they grow their little, blessed wings and fly off to kindergarten. This time, it’s going to be even harder for me to accept my child turning five. She is my last. I will never have a baby at home again. I am heartbroken.
I am sure that this sounds dramatic to many of you. Words like “heartbreak” and “mourning” are powerful. But for me, that is truly how I feel. Five means the end of an era of sorts. That baby that you spent sleepless nights with, who you nursed for hours at a time, that sweet little one who hated the first time they tried peas and gave you a miserable time potty training; that baby is ready to leave the nest, and to leave you behind. Sure, you’ll always be their mother, but the utter dependence is fleeting and it’s hard to be ready.
I’ve known it’s been coming since I enrolled her in preschool. Those couple of half-days a week have prepared her for all kinds of things. She can patiently wait her turn. She can drink from a cup and clear her plate. She doesn’t need my help in the bathroom anymore. She has learned to form her letters in such a lovely preschooler way, with precision and a heartfelt effort to spell her name. These things were all in preparation of five. These skills are all there so she can be on her own in kindergarten in just a few months.
I don’t want to thwart her. She needs to bloom, and I encourage her. I love her pictures that she proudly presents after coloring carefully in the lines. I could listen to her recite “The Pledge of Allegiance” over and over again. Her smile beaming as she holds her hand to her heart. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to hold on to four just a little bit longer. Four is magical. She can have an intelligent conversation with me and sing along to her favorite songs on the radio. She will play games with me — Old Maid is her jam — and watch movies in the afternoon. But as she crawls up to snuggle, she’ll still close her eyes for a quick little snooze after a tiring morning at Pre-K. She is still holding on to those last little moments of being a baby, and I am breathing them all in.
Recently she has gotten into the terrible habit of waking up in the middle of the night and crawling into our bed. I know that I should take her back to her own bed, but I can’t. This is my last chance with a little one. My almost 13-year-old son certainly isn’t coming in for a hug and a kiss at 2am. I am taking advantage of it while I still can. I asked her one night why she was coming in and she said, “Because I think about where you are and I miss you.” Tell me that you wouldn’t revel in that a little bit.
At almost five, she is really starting to assert her independence. There is a call for privacy in the bathroom and she wants no one around when she changes her clothes. After a bath, she will brush her own hair and head right back to brush her teeth, without being asked. In the morning, she is in charge of her wardrobe and is very vocal about what she likes and what she doesn’t like. Don’t even try to help zip up her coat. She’ll bark back and start over on her own if you do. It seems like just yesterday that I was strapping her into a carseat with a blanket wrapped around her to be as safe as I could. Now she buckles herself with pride. How did it happen so quickly?
We are getting so close to homework sheets and packed lunches. She’ll wear a uniform in the fall, her only choice being her bow and shoes. Her cousin is in kindergarten this year and she can’t wait to wear the same thing as her. She is getting ready for five. I registered her for kindergarten last month and I cried driving out of the parking lot. She is getting ready, but I am still in denial. Where is that baby? Why can’t time slow down? Please just give me a little more time.
But my desire to keep her four isn’t fair. She has a world waiting for her that she is so excited about. She rides along with me in the morning to drop her brothers off at school and smiles from ear to ear when she sees the playground that she’ll be playing on next year. She waves at the teachers who are taking temps and passing out hand sanitizer. If I said that sending her to kindergarten in a COVID world wasn’t part of my sadness, I’d be lying. But I digress, that’s the way of our world.
She is beautiful, she is smart, and she is strong. She will do great things. And it all starts at five. If I know my girl, she’s going to take on the world with wonder. I can’t wait to see where she will go. I will smile warmly at her first Christmas program and I’ll proudly display her artwork on the fridge. We’ll do our homework and practice our sight words. We will tackle five and we will master it together. But until the very last minute, I am holding on to four. I am taking afternoon trips to Target and playing hooky on the occasional Tuesday so that she can hang out with her cousin. We will continue to dress in our mommy and me shirts that she chooses for us. And I will move over in the bed every single night that she needs me, because you’re only little for so long.
I may never have a four-year-old again, but I will have five and six and seven and eight and many more years after that. I am honored to be chosen as my children’s mother. They make me whole. While I miss the early years, as they age they are getting so much better and their lives so much richer. And when the day comes for my last little one, I will say goodbye to four, embrace five and thank it for coming. For turning five means adventure and fun, and I can’t wait for the wild ride.