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Can’t Beat 5 with a Stick

July 29, 2018

The birthday party with its “Jurassic World”/Marvel Superheroes/ Mexican fiesta theme was in full swing. Steven, who’d turned 5 that day, stepped up to the oak tree where Uncle Steve and Papa had strung the taco piñata.

Young Steven prepared himself as his fun-loving uncle leaned down and gently tied the bandana blindfold around his nephew’s sweaty head and placed the Wiffle bat in his searching hands.

His brother, Robert, 8, said, “Make sure he can’t see. No cheating.” His cousin Collin, who turned 10 in May, came over to me and asked why he had to go last. “Youngest to oldest ...”, said my daughter, who was within earshot, and I repeated the edict, an arrangement that was only fair. After all, Collin had the added years of honed fine motor skills, a sensory adeptness, accuracy and speed that his age had afforded him, which was a huge advantage over a group of 5- and 6-year-olds. At the same time, he was worried he wouldn’t get a whack at the crepe paper target.

Ah, to be “The One” to render the thunderous clap of paper-mache tearing asunder with the resulting deluge of all that sugary loot to the ground. My daughter, recognizing the genuine concern in Collin’s eyes and taking her nephew’s point, reasonably advised, with a glint in her eye, of course, “Be the first to dive in if that happens!”

The pandemonium of kids on hands and knees grubbing through the grass for bubble gum, plastic whistles and a scattering rainbow of hard candy was also a recipe for injury.

Papa, who was operating the piñata twine, and moving within what appeared to me to be the kid batting zone, was in danger of getting whacked where it counts.

“Stand at a safe distance, everyone!” I commanded.

Steven’s preschool party-goers lined up and got ready to take a bite out of the papery taco. It was all so very exciting. Robert stepped up and took a powerful swing, making contact. Collin then gave the swinging taco another whack, and after a battery of blows by the birthday boy himself (with the help of his brother), everyone was cheering and diving for goodies.

At 5, Steven could do many things. For one, he was able to respect his mother’s directions and patiently wait to open his birthday presents until she said it was OK. And with an occasional prompt, Steven offered high-fives and hugs as thanks for his gifts.

His fifth birthday went off without a hitch. Taco lasagna, guacamole dip, birthday cake complete with helicopter-destroying dinosaur, colorful bouncy house, backyard trampoline, dance music, goody bags with stickers, temporary tattoos, slap bracelets, dino masks, and candy party favors filled with kid stuff, and his posse of friends and family with whom to share it all.

Later, as the evening wound down, I was in the kitchen wrapping the leftover yummy Dutch oven cake with its blue frosting when Steven found me. Without a word, he looked up with his big brown eyes and raised his Captain America-muscled 5-year-old arms. I scooped him up. I knew that look. It was time for turning in and cuddling up with a book. In this case, and quite appropriately, “Skippy Jon Jones,” by Judy Schachner, although I really have to brush up on my Spanish. “Grammy, why do you read so slow?”

The next morning, Papa and I were having coffee on the front porch. Steven was up and popping like popcorn in the bouncy house before it would be deflated, folded and trucked away. When our daughter found out that her young son had let himself out the front door, crossed the porch, trotted across the grass and climbed up into the rubber superhero castle without asking first, it was time for a talk about the importance of communication and being responsible.

“Steven,” explained his mother, “you should always ask first when you want to go outside and play. It’s important to let me know where you are.”

He nodded and gave his mom a hug. She kissed his forehead.

Later that morning, we all sat down to a breakfast of bananas, eggs, bacon and English muffins, to which Steven responded casually as he walked into the kitchen, “I want cereal.”

It was a potential pitfall for a battle, but instead, I said, “You can have a little cereal as well.” I went into action, serving the boys their plates. No questions. And then we talked about the word “compromise” and how important it is to be open to giving a little and getting a little on both sides of an issue.

And, just as I suspected, a few minutes later, as we were all gathered around the breakfast table, directly across from me was our new 5-year-old hungrily stuffing a forkful of cheesy eggs and slices of banana into his mouth. An empty cereal bowl to boot. Success.

“May I have some more bacon?” he asked. My daughter and I traded satisfied glances.

The thing is, sometimes kids know what they want, and sometimes kids don’t know what they want, and that’s when we should keep it light and simple and just take action. I can’t tell you how many times I heard from our kids as they were growing up, “Mom and Dad, you were right, avocado does taste good,” or, “Yuck, I tried tomato, but no thanks,” or “Wow, I’m really glad I decided to come along to the family reunion. This is fun.”

In the process, they learned to trust that we were out to take care of them, not to get them -- a big difference, and one that I care not to ever contend with in my family.

Happy fifth birthday, Steven. You’re on your way.

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