You were my fourth baby. My extra, truly wished for, bonus baby. You were so much littler than your three older brothers - the "triplets" as everyone called them because they were close in age and size.
You were the baby that rounded out our family. You with your incredibly fat cheeks. We called you "Dr. McCheeky" and "Cheeks Magee" and squeezed the heck out of those cheeks while you giggled and drooled.
When all five of us ran errands during the day and your brothers would be friendly to strangers, you would join right in - "Hi-ya!" "Bye-ya!" You would drawl like a little Southern baby.
You had this raspy little voice that none of the other boys had. That made you sound tough, which was good because it matched your "hell-on-wheels" personality. I once watched you, at age three, tell off some boys who were three times your age and size, only to leave them standing dumbfounded.
You've always been bold, loud, over-confident, keeping in perfect step with your brothers.
You were so little when Joey got sick - only 18 months old. You never knew him. You never knew what a wonderful brother he was, how good he could make you feel, and how happy you were just to be around him.
I left you. I left you with relatives and babysitters and strangers to take Joey to chemotherapy and radiation. They threw Goldfish crackers at you, and I wasn't there to read you books and practice the ABC's with you.
Now you are five, and despite your boldness, you know your limitations. You know that you don't know all your letters and numbers, and that sometimes you get your shapes confused. You have to wear glasses and an eye patch that you hate and you don't want to eat "real food", and I wonder how much of this is my fault.
I feel like I haven't babied you as much as I should have, protected you from all of our post-Joey pain. Your brother Knox takes out some of his anger on you, and all you want is to be his pal, just like he was Joey's pal.
The other day, the day before kindergarten, you got mad about something. You said you hate us. I reminded you that we don't hate you. What you said next broke my heart.
"Yes, everyone hates me. They think I'm stupid because I am." Was it something I said or did? Or was it just your brothers being mean to you? Where did you lose your brazenness? Your bold personality?
Later that night, I made sure I saved extra time at bed time to cuddle with you and read you a First Day of School story.
"Mommy?" You whispered in the dim light. "I'm not ready for kindergarten tomorrow."
"Why are you not ready?" I asked as I stroked your forehead, still brown from the summer sun.
"I'm scared," you confessed. "No one will know me, and I'm just nervous."
I couldn't believe you were saying these things. I promised you I would hold your hand, walk you to your class, and stay as long as it took for you to feel comfortable.
The next morning, I helped you get dressed, and your brothers assured you that kindergarten would be so much fun. Knox even offered to walk you to your class, but I said I would.
We walked up to the door, and it was like you had been going into that classroom, toward that desk, for a year. You sat right down, put on your name tag, and then . . .
You Were In Kindergarten!
And when you walked out to the parking lot after school, the first thing you said was, "It was AWESOME!" And my heart danced a happy dance.
You are just fine. You are in kindergarten.
And it will be awesome.
Just like you!