The 4th Birthday is dinosaur themed. Because you are a little boy, and you love dinosaurs. It’s scaled down a little from the first few parties, but do not hold that against us. The first birthday is always more for the parents than for the baby, and the second and third you were an only child still. The 4th Birthday is the first with a baby sister, and the last party with just one of those.
Do not hold that against us either. Some babies are like parties… they’re surprises.
Still, a “toned down party" is still a party, and there’s a lot that goes into it. Your mom stresses about balloon placement and cupcakes and getting to the church on time, and none of that matters to you. You like the indoor playground and the triceratops shaped balloon and the dinosaur tracks we taped on the floor.
You point them out to me, “Daddy look. Dinosaur tracks. What are they for?”
“We put them there to show people where to go to get to the party”
“Oh. Follow the tracks.”
You’ve got lots of friends here, but popularity matters little to you at this stage in life. You’re still at an age where you care a lot more about attention from your parents and grandparents. We encourage you to go play with the people your height. Show them the slide, share your balloons with them, enjoy your time with them now. You don’t really recognize how fleeting their time in your world is. A lot of these friends will all start attending different schools, moving away, etc.
They're put into your life now to help you learn to socialize and form relationships, and to continue your development from a “little kid” to a “big kid”. These friends are leaving tracks in your very core, pointing you towards the kind of person we want you to be. Someone who is kind and loving, who laughs and finds joy in the company of other humans. They’ll shape you and develop you, and eventually they may disappear from your life. But the tracks will remain, fossilized in you, permanent artifacts left by children who have no idea the role they are playing. Impermanent creatures leaving lasting impacts.
The same is true for us obviously, your parents and other adults in your life. We play a big part in leaving these footprints in you, though we may get less time with you during the week. Time makes no difference though, we could never shake the impact we leave on your soul. Big dinosaurs leave big tracks.
It’s a reciprocal process, you’ll leave these marks on your friends, and you leave them on us too. It’s hard for us to recognize that sometimes, that amongst all the stress and the whining and the “put that down please before you hurt someone” and the “why don’t you just try laying down and resting for 15 minutes”... every step forward on this journey leaves a footprint for us to look back to. A milestone to show how far we’ve come, how far we have left to go. Reminders of maybe what not to do the next time around (you are the first born after all), sign posts that show us what we should be. How we can be kind. And loving. And laugh. And find joy in your company.
That might be the hard part for us as parents actually. Not forcing ourselves to realize these things are happening, but forcing ourselves to allow them to change us. We are in our 30s, we are supposed to be complete people. Why are we still learning about ourselves? Changing the way we love others? Developing the same skills we want you to develop as a 4 year old? Why can’t we be stagnant, rigid people? People who aren’t perfect, but at least they’re the same from one day to the next?
Because stagnation is death, it’s extinction. It's watching the oncoming asteroid and refusing to step to the side. We must adapt and evolve or else we risk withering away and leaving nothing but dinosaur tracks for those coming after us. Warning signs of the pitfalls of complacency.
You help us avoid that. You, and your sister, and the sister on the way. We’ll never be able to thank you for it. Not really. There are no cards that say, “Happy Birthday! And Also Thank You For Helping Me Grow as a Person, Teaching Me to Re-evaluate My Own Past and Issues That I Bury! Couldn’t Do It Without You!” They shouldn’t, because it's not your job to fix your parents before you even understand what that means.
I’m thankful for all of it though. For the tracks you leave, messy as they may be. I hope I’m never afraid to go back to them, put my foot inside it and see the difference. Follow them to the edge of the map and jump if needed. I hope the ones we’re leaving on you are worth keeping there, that they will fossilize rather than scar. I hope that our tracks do not get lost in time, that when you're confused on where to go or what to do, you can look at them and remember those words.
"Follow the tracks."
I hope that they don't lead you astray, that at worst you keep them close to your own heart, and at best you make molds of them, enshrine them and display them for all the world to see.
Especially other little boys with dinosaur dreams.