In mid-April five years ago, I was spending all my waking hours wishing to be asleep and wondering if my baby would ever stop crying. I wondered if I would ever understand this new child we had brought into the world. He was unhappy and obviously uncomfortable and was confusing to me. I vividly remember telling my mom, on a night when he was weeks old and Mark was out-of-town and I had called in tears just needing someone else to hold him and listen to him scream, that I loved him but wasn't one bit sure that I liked him.
That boy turned five a couple of weeks ago and somewhere along the way he has stolen my heart. He just goes around carrying the part of it that his brother hadn't already taken. He's subtle, though. He doesn't flaunt that he's got something that belongs to me, but I think he knows. Thanks goodness he generally tries to be careful with it.
That screaming baby just needed a little time, a lot of Prevacid, a tighter swaddle, bigger eustachian tubes and some understanding. His needs have actually not changed dramatically. It has just been an evolution.
While he no longer needs to be held upright for 30 minutes after each feeding, he is still a somewhat fragile ecosystem. His coughs go south with alarming speed and his allergies lead to headaches that are quite obviously real and those can wreck a day in a heartbeat. He's plagued by touchy lungs and sinuses, for which I'm sure he'll someday appropriately thank me. And yet, he's tougher for it all I believe. I think he's had some minor nagging pain or ache for most of his living days and as a result, he's kind of a tough little bugger. This is the boy who can be diagnosed with an ear infection about which he never complained and can swallow his prednisone without a chaser or a flinch, which is sad and endearing all at once. I love him for it.
His worship for his brother is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, because occasionally it's not reciprocated in the way a mother bear would wish. He thinks that Andrew hung the moon and would admit it too. He has nicknames for him and holds him in highest esteem even when Andrew doesn't deserve it. It is definitely an unconditional love. More often than not, he chooses to be wherever Andrew is, which frequently means that he camps out outside Andrew's room, or even outside timeout, just to wait for his company. He's becoming better able to stand his ground, occasionally even with words instead of his fists, but he's still often willing to play second fiddle.
He is also often underestimated, by me and others I think. He doesn't typically demand to be the center of attention in this house full of first-borns and possesses a subtlety that some of us don't. I took him to the pediatrician for his five-year-well visit and the nurse asked us questions about his development and skills. When she asked if he could write the letters of the alphabet I proudly told her yes. Then she asked if he could write numbers. I tentatively responded by telling her that he knew them but couldn't write them.
"Yes, I can," he said quietly. She handed him a piece of paper and he did it. One through nine. Who knew? He did; that's often enough for him. This boy who trails around after his brother is simultaneously self-possessed in so many ways.
His imagination is a colorful place and he's pretty darn generous with it. His "boys,"as he refers to them, are part of our everyday lives. The fact that Rexy the smiling dinosaur and Heysnickle the little blue bear are stuffed animals is lost on him at this point. They're his constant companions and they give him bravery and hugs and even sometimes trouble at bedtime. Many nights I listen to him talk with them about the behavior he expects and he regales them with stories of his day. They sometimes share their hugs with us and he frequently thinks of things that he wants to tell them when we arrive home from any adventure. He's immune to the heat he takes from his brother about these two creatures and he's steadfast in his devotion to them. He's going to make a great friend down the road.
That imagination translates into some pretty great independent play as well. He can spend hours creating scenes with cars and blocks and toys and carry on several parts of a conversation, oblivious to anyone around him. I sometimes find myself just watching him, when I'm midway through cooking dinner or maybe a load of laundry, because his ability to suspend disbelief is so intact - and utterly delightul.
And yet, he's sometimes so grounded in reality. This is not a boy that dives right in. This is a boy who surveys a situation and typically gets the lay of the land before he makes any bold moves. He's as cautious that way as his brother is bold. He always gets warmed up but it sometimes takes a bit because he's got some soaking it all up to do. Don't ever think he's not paying attention, though. He is. He's a baffling mix of serious and silly that I sometimes can't accurately predict.
At home he frequently asks to color or draw or paint or "do crafts." At school they have to strongly encourage him to even pick-up a crayon some days. Go figure. If you ask him why he'll shrug and say, "I don't feel like it there." I think that's code for, "I like to keep you all guessing. Don't get too comfortable." He is also the best helper you could hope to have. Need someone to help cook? He's quick to grab a chair, race it across the floor, bang it into the cabinets and assume his perch. We're currently battling a little ant infestation and he is ALL OVER IT. He stomps them with his bare feet and hands and then carefully wipes up the tiny ant carcasses without being asked. He genuinely loves to make himself useful and he's surprisingly able.
He's a gentle soul that's sometimes overtaken by a rowdy boy, but at the end of each day, when he's safe in bed with his "boys" and he's hugged and kissed and hugged some more, he's simply sweet - in a way I never would have predicted five years ago. I have often thought that I knew Andrew better than he knew himself, almost from the moment he arrived. I still don't think that's true of Thomas. He continues to reveal himself to us.
In some ways five years goes slowly. There have been long nights and much illness and phases of little sleep and speech therapy and days of frustrating school behavior and reluctance to try new things to a degree that's caused gray hair. And, in all the cliche ways about which people warn you, five years has vaporized.
That screaming, colicky baby is a boy. He's stretching into a lean and lanky kindergartner and has developed a sense of humor that's beyond entertaining. He is coordinated and he's a story teller and he's so very Thomas all the time. He is not perfect, but he is perfect for this family and he is good for me in a way I didn't know I needed until he arrived.
I forgive him for stealing my heart and I'm going to let him keep it.