01/16/2013 10:56 am ET Updated Mar 18, 2013

To Little Dude, on the Occasion of Your Fifth Birthday

Dear Little Dude,

You're turning 5 this week. You are one-eighth as old as me, yet sometimes you seem worlds wiser. On occasion, you seem bat crazy too, so it all balances out. Surviving half a decade is no mean accomplishment, which is why I'm awake at 5 a.m. thinking about your life so far. You are many things, but a late sleeper is not one of them. Mommy has learned to do the important things very, very early.

Five, huh? Big day. The first night we brought you home, I slept with my arm draped over your Moses basket, my hand on your chest, so I could make sure you were still breathing. You won't remember that even though it was the first and last time you ever got to sleep in our room. Sorry, sweetie, but boys who thrash about and snore sleep in their own beds.

Now you pick out your own pajamas, brush your teeth, choose bedtime stories and beg to keep the light on so you can "read" in bed. Sometimes you sing yourself to sleep. Instead of worrying about your making it through the night alive, I pray you'll sleep in until 7 a.m.

You've changed so much in these past 1,825 days.

You've lost your baby belly and have exchanged your chubby thighs for spindly legs and knobby knees. You're out of diapers (a milestone met with great joy by everyone concerned)! You can open doors, write your name, recite the alphabet, count to 40, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, feed the dog and dress yourself. You have learned to say please and thank you, do your homework, use the remote (when did that happen?), play by yourself for an entire morning, swim, and recite most of "The Grinch" and "The Unruly Queen." You say "I love you" frequently and occasionally to get yourself out of trouble. You stay up past your bedtime reading even if you have to crawl to the end of your bed to catch every bit of light from the hall. You come by that honestly, so Daddy and I let it slide, but don't think for a minute we don't know what's going on.

You prefer raspberry to apricot jelly and will only eat crustless sandwiches. Breakfast is always cinnamon and sugar toast and vitamins and you'd wear your cement mixer shirt to school every day if we let you. You've had your first kiss. You know what the rules are and try to circumvent them with a mischievous smile. You don't like being told what to do, and can throw a wicked tantrum. We'll be happy when you outgrow that.

But for everything that's changed, so much is the same. I still watch you sleep every night before I go to bed. My heart skips when you smile at me. Daddy and I talk endlessly about how lucky we are and spending time with you is one of our favorite things. You wake us up every morning earlier than we are ready to get out of bed. We are tired. Very, very tired. Not too tired, however, to know that you are one of our greatest gifts. Even with the tantrums.

Your first word was "Yes!" and that captures you perfectly. Although you've gotten bigger and more independent, you haven't lost your earlier optimism and excitement. That's true even when you're hesitant about new things. That might make this year a challenge because your world is going to get bigger. You're going to leave preschool and start kindergarten and everything will be new. People will expect more of you. You'll ride a school bus with older kids and they may push you around a little. You won't like it, but it will be ok. Remember how it feels so you won't do it when you're the big kid. You're also going to learn to read, which, I promise you, is the coolest thing ever. Cooler than ice cream with sprinkles. Honest.

Five seems like a threshold, the time you change from a baby into a boy. It's not college, but it feels like a leap, which is why there are a few things we should talk about before you officially enter the world of "big kids." First, three one dollar bills are worth less than a 10 dollar bill. I wanted to clear this up before you start trading lunch money on the kindergarten playground. Second, it's "Jesus Christ", not "Jesus Price." I almost hate to fix this one, because it's ridiculously cute, but it's probably for the best. Finally, ketchup is not a vegetable. It's just not. And for the sake of transparency, the "magic sprinkles" I put on your food to convince you to eat it aren't magic. They're just salt. Sorry.

This weekend, while you're celebrating with Batman cupcakes and balloons, I know you won't be thinking about any of this. You'll be blowing out candles and opening presents. What matters to you is frosting and your friends and the spinning toothbrush I promised you. Which is exactly as it should be. But it's different for me, and that's why I may get teary and hug you too tight or kiss you too often. Try not to let it bug you. Someday you'll read this and know that, for me, 5 is about letting you step out into a vast and fascinating world, full of possibilities. Five is about watching you start to figure out who you are and where you belong. The next five years are going to be interesting, but I know you're going to love it.

Happy Birthday!


P.S. I'm really sorry about the magic sprinkles thing. It seemed like a good idea at the time.