I have written here a few times about some of Riley’s sensory-related quirks—things like being unable to tolerate balloons or loud noises or water or new foods or tense scenes in movies. God knows I haven’t always handled it very well, but I’d like to think I learned a thing or two about how to be encouraging without being overbearing. Or, fuck, maybe I didn’t, it’s hard to say.

What’s easy to see, however, is that Riley is a very different kid these days. I actually noticed a pretty big change when he started going to school, although maybe that just coincided with his age. The sensitivities are virtually gone, and his anxiety about New Experiences has dialed way, way back.

Tonight I watched him do something I literally could not even begin to imagine last summer: he spent an entire swimming lesson with his face in the water. Swimming (assisted by a board) entire laps at a time, diving underwater to retrieve a tossed ring, practicing a dive position into the water from the side of the pool.

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At one point I realized I was watching him in a mild state of boredom: ho hum, there goes Riley, there’s Dylan with the pool noodle, is it 6 yet? Like, no big deal, my kid’s just out there swimming. Not crying, or protesting, or clinging. It didn’t even seem noteworthy, because this is just how things are these days.

It’s easy to mourn the loss of the younger years, especially when I look at old pictures or videos and wonder just where my babies went. But oh, it’s so amazing to see your kids grow and change and master new things. I used to be so worried about figuring out how to help him, and it turns out all he really needed was time to get there in his own way.

Dylan’s 4th birthday is coming right up (FOUR!) and I spent last night scrabbling around in some sort of endless Amazon.com rabbithole, surfing pages and pages of toys and lingering over the reviews in a futile attempt to understand how one person could say the Batcopter was absolutely for sure the best invention since the printing press while the next person vehemently described it as an utter piece of shit that was probably assembled by hallucinating orangutans. I don’t know why I even read the reviews ever, because no matter how many 5-star ratings a product gets if even one crackpot posts something about how THIS IS THE WURST DONT WASTE YOU’RE MONEY!!! I start stroking my chin worriedly and thinking, well, maybe “MJacksonfan4life” has a point.

I ended up getting him a balance bike and some sort of nightmare Hot Wheel configuration that in theory the boys can play with together but will probably just result in a lot of fighting and even more little cars all over the house, like I don’t get up their ass enough already for the constant Lego-spew. Why does boy stuff have to have so many pieces? My ideal toy would just be a big solid, silent chunk of something that doesn’t require batteries and can’t be thrown or moved around the house. Like, say, a slab of granite. Here! Happy birthday! Some India Juparana, just for you!

Anyway, FOUR, I can hardly believe it. I feel like 2011 just flew by in a whoosh of flapping calendar pages.

I put together a video of my goofball kids and I’ve been watching it over and over—not because it’s such a great piece of moviemaking, mind you, but because there’s something so captivating about seeing them through the camera lens. My brain flickers back and forth on how they look to me: so big! So little! Wasn’t Riley just a furrow-browed baby being toted around in a backpack? When did Dylan replace his round toddler belly with all those lanky limbs? (And will he ever figure out how to put on a coat?)

The other day I joked to Riley he needed to stop growing so that I could keep him this size forever, and he laughed and patted my knee. Like, for real: he patted my knee, and said, “Oh, Mom. I have to get bigger, that’s what kids do.” And then he ran off to do just exactly that.

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