Tuesday was Atticus's birthday.
I had planned on writing some kind of sweet post, lauding all his positive attributes and talking about how much he's learned and grown over the past year.
Then I got sick.
Not super-sick; just a nasty cold whose low point happened to fall on Tuesday. So rather than doing all kinds of fun birthday activities throughout the day with the boys (things I don't allow on a regular basis, like painting and digging in the dirt), I spent his birthday trying to come up with yet another game that we could all play together that would a) burn through as much time as possible and b) allow me to lie down the entire time.
As a result, instead of me doing fun, birthday things for our newest four-year-old, he spent the day doing things for me: rubbing my back when I suspect I looked particularly miserable, lowering his face to the floor until it was about two inches from mine and asking, "Can I get you anyfing else, Mom? Do you need more Kleenexes?", snuggling right up next to me in a mound of blankets under which he had buried my feverish body (Atticus is by far our most physically affectionate child).
That day was actually a pretty good representation of how Atticus has changed over the last year. One year ago, there was no way I could have gotten away with spending most of the day horizontal, no matter how vocal I was in an attempt to fool the boys into the thinking I was engaged in their play. I spent a good portion of my days correcting Atticus's behavior and trying not to lose my ever-lovin' mind in the face of his frequent meltdowns.
Anymore, the meltdowns are increasingly rare. He still has one every couple days, but if I remain calm and catch him early enough, I can usually coach him to the point where he regains his composure. (Usually. Not always.) He's gotten much better about "using his words" (in quotation marks because I probably say that three million times a day) to express what is upsetting him. In short, he is maturing.
I'm also trying harder to understand what it's like to be the middle child. It seems tough. You're not the high-achieving, already-reached-all-the-fun-milestones oldest child, but you're also not the cute, look-at-how-I-can-turn-the-most-mundane-activity-into-something-adorable baby of the family. You're stuck in the middle. And that kind of sucks. (Props to Derek for pointing out the middle-child-sucks thing to me.)
To help compensate for his less than ideal placement in the birth order, I've been trying to spend a little extra time and attention on Atticus each day. Not a lot- there really just isn't time- simply an extra few minutes here and there throughout the day. It's incredible how quickly he responds to it; just taking the time stop washingthedishesfoldingthelaundryvacuumingthefloorsetc to get down on my knees, look him in the eyes, say, "Hey, Bud!" and give him a hug can change his attitude for an entire morning.
Did we spend his birthday the way I had envisioned? No. And make no mistake; I felt a good deal of Mommy-guilt over my failure to make his day special: no creative, messy painting, no made-from-scratch chocolate birthday cake; instead, lots of pretend-mommy's-a-sick-monster-and-you-have-to-make-her-feel-better and a quick trip to Dollar General for crappy chocolate cake mix with canned frosting.
You know what, though? He didn't seem to care one bit. It all bothered me way more than it did him. Any lingering guilt I felt was assuaged when, after pulling up to McDonald's- his birthday supper pick- and catching sight of the school bus in its parking lot, disgorging swarms of middle school athletes, Derek and I looked at each other, groaned, and contemplated leaving to find somewhere else to eat.
And went inside anyway.