I wrote about Kina’s fourth birthday last December 11th, and it is one of my favorite newsletters from the last year.1 Not thinking that I would ever write another birthday newsletter, I went deep on the history of Kina’s birthdays and waxed nostalgic. If you want waxy things, go back and read that. This year is about last year, and about knowing what’s going on.
When Kina turned four, it happened on Zoom. We invited one of her favorite singalong people. Adults’ faces and kids’ faces were the same size, each in their own proper rectangles. Kina didn’t seem to understand what was going on. Strangely, the thing I most recall is that we had entirely too much cake (because there were only three of us to eat it).
Last year, Kina was stranded between suddenly understanding that what her birthday meant and suddenly not understanding why she couldn’t have one.
This year’s birthday party will be profoundly different—a party, in a place, with people who love her and who live outside our apartment, and presents that she will open in front of those people. There will be cupcakes eaten by those people. At the end, those people will take home goody bags. We are lucky for this; the timing is everything, as it turns out.
This birthday, like the last one: balloons. Like last year: cake. As before: love.
Kina cried a lot today, over very small things, and I don’t know why, but I suspect it’s because being five is kind of a big deal. As I said yesterday, she’s not quite old, but it’s hard to argue she’s a baby anymore, and she knows she can’t pretend to be a baby anymore, either.
In the last few months, as Kina has adapted to in-person school and life lived more in the open, we’ve been using the phrase “when you’re five” a lot. As you can imagine, not everything that follows that clause is about the myriad privileges that come with being five. Five comes with requirements.
This year: more patience. Now: fewer snacks. Looking ahead: less TV. Moving forward: less crying.
I suspect five has seemed far off for all of us in this house, but here we are, and Kina clearly is waking up to the reality of it.
I have talked a lot in the last year about the ways in which I’m grateful for Kina’s lack of awareness. Many of the things that are happening out here are things she hasn’t quite grasped, reality she’s been fortunate to have slept through. I thought I had written about protecting her from that reality so many times, but I can’t really find anything I’ve said about it. Maybe I just felt it.
The things on the horizon now feel uncomfortably familiar. It feels like we are sneaking in one last rager before the storm. When I look back on her third birthday, in 2019, that’s more or less what it was. We had no idea what was coming, at our little birthday party in the neighborhood discotheque. We were unmasked! The doors were closed! Kids were singing!
It’s probably not useful to pattern match today for circumstances that have changed in the intervening two years, though. We are, most of us, vaccinated (and Kina will be in exactly one week). We know more about the virus and more about the world—maybe too much, really. We are better prepared, but I am more anxious.
Tomorrow we will all twirl together on a carousel, and for her there will be nothing to worry about; she will enjoy her birthday party, because she’s earned it. Kina is a big girl now—a whole hand of years, a whole fingerful of wisdom. Maybe just enough wisdom to recognize that life gets a little more serious with each passing year.
We have to be stronger and more patient. We don’t have to cry less, though.
There are things she’s going to understand this year that she didn’t understand last year: What it means to get older, what it means to know things, what it means to be safe.
But still loving. Just as loving.
And no less loved.
It is technically not from this last year in any capacity, but you know what I mean.