My boy recently marked his fourth whirl around the sun, giving me reason to channel my creative energy into party planning (with barely any energy for this or that). With months of build-up, the anticipation resulted in the full spectrum of almost-four year old behaviour, from the excited-yet-gentle questioning ‘is it my birthday yet?’ to the frustrated, foot-stomping, lego-throwing, angry exclamation that ‘MY BIRTHDAY is NEVER COMING!!!’
Pre-birthday weekends involved hours of research (flipping through dinosaur books); drawing and painting (silhouettes of dinosaurs and foliage); piñata making (tearing strips out of the local paper and pasting on an oversized balloon with homemade glue that proved to withstand the brute force of little people with big sticks); and, baking. Ruben’s notable creative direction included the suggestion to add trees and leaves to our décor, choosing the piñata’s colour scheme, and supervising stick collection to build a nest for our giant egg. The float in our party planning *Gantt chart allowed time to op shop for supplies—we scored amazing on-theme items such as an as-new erupting volcano science kit, a dinosaur stamp set, and a packet of dinosaur napkins I would have baulked at buying at the recommended retail price.
Once we got within ten finger’s count of days before his birthday, I churned out dino-skeleton cookies; the mound of t-rex, triceratops and stegosaurus resembled a palaeontologist’s dream haul. The final additions to our decorations were a couple of dinosaur skeleton figurines I found in hard rubbish days before the party—there is something so satisfying about finds like that which fit into a greater plan.
On the eve of the big day, Mr almost-four helped decorate the venue, although most of his efforts were directed at manipulating the time-space continuum to make the whole affair take three times longer than necessary. In the meantime, I was nervously clock-watching, feeling the passing minutes encroach on the limited time I had to finish off some cooking in parallel with sculpting and decorating cakes to build the landscape I’d imagined for months, tasks that were on the *critical path and laden with the risk of going from concept design straight to construction with no plan B. Aside from the panic of a first timer’s attempt at edible grass, it went off without a hitch, thanks to lessons taken on board from birthday number three. Of course, after I finished the cake, the relentless perfectionist in me piped up with how I could improve the volcano (all it needs is crushed chocolate biscuit to give it the texture of rock and dirt), but at well past 1AM and with no chocolate biscuits in sight, I ignored that voice and went to bed.
The party was a lot of fun— great friends; doting grandparents; Ruben’s eclectic playlist; an abundance of food; a sun-kissed winter’s day; dad’s creative orienteering game that got kids and parents running around the beautiful gardens; a piñata that defied the strength of the toughest little kids around; and, a cake with a smoking volcano!
Four. How did that come around so soon? It was a big year with a hell of a lot of growth in all aspects of his life. A look through my phone memo with a search on ‘Ruben’ gave me a nice snapshot of the changes over the year. I’ve kept mum with the more personal milestones in the timeline, but suffice is to say, enough stickers were earnt after successful toilet training to make a trip to Melbourne Zoo a few months after his third birthday.
Here are some memories from the year between threenager and dino-roar four:
15th July: Ruben’s first meteor sighting!
17th July: Notable expressions ‘See you when your ship sails in Mummy’ and, to express his refusal of dinner, held up his hand and said ‘This sign says Stop! No dinner.’
26th August: Asked me ‘Is it dark inside grass?’ while out for a walk on our property.
2nd September: First time getting his face painted (zebra), at a Motor Show. Significant for me as I love face painting and was excited at finally having a willing face to paint (not long after, I painted a very impatient and wriggly giraffe).
17th September: Moved from cot to single bed!
7th Jan: First words of the day to me were ‘I want lots of kisses and cuddles.’
1st Feb: Woke to see the super blue blood moon with his dad.
14th Feb: Made a hexagon with sticks at daycare.
5th April: First bike ride with me, on a path leading to La Larr Ba Gauwa Park (a mountain bike track).
8th April: Rode trail 1 on La Larr Ba Gauwa with me. He aced it, I wobbled and had two uneventful falls off my hybrid.
28th May: Early hours of the morning, he woke me when he came to set up camp in my bed. I couldn’t get annoyed at the sleep disruption when he said ‘I love you with all my love yous.’
11th June: Saw his cake and exclaimed ‘It looks tastier than my skate park cake‘ Yes!
In amongst all that, other feats over the year include writing his first name; recognising the first letter of a bunch of words; a growing awareness of good and bad choices; picking up on social cues (which he mainly disregards); inventing an insult that is nonsensical yet stings whenever I hear it directed at me (Silly Gup Face!); discovering a love of jigsaw puzzles and board games; a greater interest in crafting; being more loving and kind to Djembe (our cat); counting past one hundred; and, getting a feel for the concept of infinity (thanks to a beautiful book Infinity and Me which we bought at a library book sale).
Happy Birthday my sweet potato. I love you with all my love-you’s. In fact, my ‘love you’s’ are infinite nowadays because of you.
*I’m kidding, I didn’t create a Gantt chart, but a to do list in my phone was essential and was made easy by editing the list I had for his third birthday party. Hmmm…now on to choosing a theme for Fantastic Five!
All photographs by Richard Baxter.