Today is Toby’s birthday. He used to ask me: “When will I be as big as Calvin?” Or, “When will I be as old as Nate?” And I’d calculate it on my fingers, counting the years until he’d be ten, or twelve. But that wasn’t what he wanted to know. Rather: when would they be the same age? When, in essence, would he catch up?
Never is a terrible word to deliver to such a small boy.
It’s instances like this that have me convinced: the youngest in a family has the shortest childhood of all. He tries to outrace it. He spits in its face. He wishes it away.
He’s been working on his Christmas list. On it is an iPod Touch, a gift I’ve told him he’s too young for. But his brothers have one, and that’s good enough reason for him to want one of his own. Just like he wants to be a stronger reader, a faster runner, a better soccer player.
Just like his brothers.
When he wakes this morning, I know how it will go: he’ll be excited to be older–seven not six!–just up to the moment he remembers what this means. Each day he gains in age, Calvin is also that many more days older. And so is Nate.
So not fair.
This knowledge only seems to drive him. He’s internally motivated in a way not typical of last-borns: always reaching for the basketball that bounces too high, always sprinting against legs twice as long. He knows what awaits: the bigger bike stored for him in the garage, the later bedtime, paired with coveted booklight, the PG-13 movie everyone else seems to be talking about. And maybe this foresight has given him a skewed sense of his own capabilities, because he’s been diving into the deep end since he could walk. In the backyard, he doesn’t flinch as he faces off against fifth graders with Nerf guns, and on weekend mornings, he’s as adept with a Wii controller as anyone else.
All I can do is throw up speed bumps where I can: steering him toward his favorite Go Fish cards instead of the poker chips on game night, snuggling down for a chapter of Magic Treehouse instead of whatever young adult series Nate can’t get enough of. I stubbornly promote the footie pajamas and the bubble gum-flavored toothpaste, the Diego play set and the Last Airbender.
It works, for a time. And then Nate and Cal are there with their new fads fresh from school and their enthusiasm and their kind-hearted inclusion of little brothers. And after that, I can only watch as he dives back in.