A few weeks ago Bella turned four, which I can’t even get my brain to accept. I tried to schedule her for a three-year checkup at the pediatrician’s office until Phaedra corrected me. “Um, Bella’s going to be four, Mom.” No she’s not. That’s not even possible, because I just brought her home from the hospital the other day. Now, Phaedra? Oh yes. In fact, she’s getting ready to turn sixteen in April. I know that’s true because just the other day, she asked me to stop kissing her goodbye when I drop her off at school because it embarrasses her. Then she put on too much eye makeup and asked me to add her to our auto insurance.
My plan on that lovely Valentine’s Day (Bella is a Valentine’s Day baby, which I’m positive her future boy/girlfriends will be just thrilled to find out) was to drop her off at preschool, head to Toys ‘R’ Us, pick up her birthday presents, and have them wrapped and ready to go for opening when she got home. Of course, just like most of my plans that I concoct in my head that allow me to procrastinate until the last minute, it didn’t work — Toys ‘R’ Us doesn’t open until 10:00 am, which is also when preschool ends. I tried browsing at my retail love, Target, but nothing jumped out at me. There is a distinct boy/girl demarcation in toys at Target, and Bella doesn’t really fit in either category. She’s not into Barbies or Ninja Turtles; doesn’t care about baby dolls or Legos.
Finally, I just thought: fuck it. I’m going to pick her up from school, take her to Toys ‘R’ Us, and let her go on the tiniest shopping spree on Earth. She can pick out whatever strikes her fancy that comes in under the dollar amount I’m willing to spend, and everyone’s happy. Now, part of me wants you to believe that this was me thinking I had hit upon a far superior idea that would delight her to no end. The truthful part of my brain wants you to know this was actually me giving up and taking the easy way out. It was the equivalent of throwing a twenty in a birthday card and calling it good. Which, I’ll have you know, is one of my signature moves.
Birthdays are hard.
I don’t think she fully realized where we were going until she saw the sign on the front of the store. “Mommy, where are we?!?!” She went from zero to HOLY-SHIT-THIS-IS-THE-BEST-DAY-OF-MY-LIFE in about five seconds. I know for a fact this was her first trip to Toys ‘R’ Us because I literally take my kids to only two stores: the grocery store across the street from our house and Target. One time my mother-in-law took my girls shopping at the mall, and it blew their fucking minds. They wandered around like they were visiting the future.
I realized that Bella knows about this place because of the Christmas ads: she goes through their big ad every year, circling toys she wants me to buy. She recognized the logo on the front of the store, and realized her dreams were about to come true. Guys, if you’ve never taken a four-year-old on a shopping spree at Toys ‘R’ Us, you’re seriously missing out on one of life’s great pleasures. The kid that normally takes twenty minutes to walk from the parking lot to the front door of a store was dragging me inside, urging me to hurry because “we’re going to miss it!” When she got in the door and looked around, it was like that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when the kids enter the room in which everything’s made out of candy. She didn’t stop moving the entire time, running from toy to toy, narrating her thoughts through a steady stream of chatter and laughter.
At one point, Bella had to decide between two toys — a Peppa Pig treehouse playset, or a Minnie Mouse bathtub toy. “Hmmm…” she said to herself. “It’s really hard to decide. It’s hard to make a choice.” Then she bravely made her choice, even walking it back to the shelf herself. That’s when I melted into a puddle onto the floor and bought it for her anyways, because guess what? I’m a grown-ass woman, and if I want to spend more than I budgeted for my kid’s birthday at an unplanned shopping spree at the biggest, most overpriced purveyor of toys in the country, then I’m doing it, dammit. GET THE FUCK INTO THE CART, MINNIE. YOU’RE COMING HOME WITH US.
An winter electric bill’s amount of money later, we headed home, where she spent the entire car ride home talking nonstop to the $1.00 stuffed reindeer left over from Christmas that we found on the clearance rack.
Sometimes I find myself thinking about the idea of memory and ownership with kids this age. How many of you can honestly say you remember your fourth birthday? I certainly don’t, and I’m not sure that Bella will either. So many of the memories and experiences my children have at this age don’t necessarily belong to them; they belong to me. Things that are current, vivid memories for me have faded for my kids after six months, a year. Sometimes it makes me sad that they lost the memory. We used to share something special and now we don’t. They’ll have to rely on my retelling of the memory as I experienced it instead of keeping their own memory as they perceived it.
One of the privileges of being a parent is getting to witness the rare moments of pure, unblemished joy that are sprinkled throughout childhood. Another privilege, even more rare, is the opportunity to be the person that provides one of those moments.
I’m not sure if she’ll remember this birthday or not, but I know I’ll never forget it.