Ten years into parenthood, I have come to realize a few things:

There will always be something to worry about.
There will always be something that makes my heart burst with pride.
And they grow from baby to five years old in what seems like a day. 

So far, five is the hardest birthday for me. When my first son turned five, I was in complete shock. How was it possible? How could this little person who had made me a mom, who cried all night and made me wonder if I could really do this motherhood thing, be FIVE years old? But now that boy will turn 10 this year.

And then, his baby sister grew. And grew. And a couple of years ago, SHE turned five. And I thought I was ready. I’d been here before. But it gutted me. My only daughter. Truly the kindest soul I know. Always with a stuffed animal in hand—since she could walk, and still, at five, sneaking them in her backpack as she headed off to big-kid kindergarten.

And then there’s my baby. My little boy who came roaring into this world as one of the biggest babies the nurses had ever seen. The loudest, the funniest, and most stubborn—he completed our family. I think he was a baby once, then a toddler. It’s a blur—which frankly, devastates me. Three little sets of feet running around meant for a few years, we all spun around and around and wiped and cleaned and spilled and wiped and cleaned . . . and then poof. It was over. 

And now, my last baby is about to turn five.

There are no more diapers. Or pacifiers. Or cribs. The stroller has long since retired, and in May, we will say goodbye to preschool forever.

Five. 

Five is hard. Four was not. And for the other two, six was not. I had made peace with five by the time they turned six, so I was ready. But despite knowing it’s coming, I can never properly prepare myself for five.

I am not ready for the last time he says “wobot” and “lellow” and finally masters his Rs and Ls. For the last time I carry him to bed after falling asleep during Friday night family movie night. And the last time he puts his shoes on the wrong feet.

I wish I could freeze four. I tried with the other two, but they went ahead and grew up anyway. And it looks like my baby has his mind set on doing the same.

I’m not ready. Because I know what five means. Although five means more independence and easier vacations and maybe Mom and Dad getting to sleep in on Saturdays once in a while, it also means the beginning of “Mom” over “Mommy.” It means in five years he’ll be nearing 10 like his brother, stuck in video game world and drifting away from Mom a little bit more each day. It means the occasional eye roll and talking back and snuggles getting shorter.

How much longer can I kiss him in front of his friends?

How many more nights will he climb into our bed at 2 a.m.?

How much longer do I have with him running into my arms at school pick-up? 

The other day he drew a picture of him and his sister—no bodies. Only long legs sticking out of their heads. And tears welled up in my eyes. This is four, I whispered to myself. Soon his drawings will be more anatomically correct, and his lowercase Ds won’t look like Bs anymore.

One month. I have one month left of four. Will there be a noticeable difference that day? Will he wake up in his own bed and not mine? Will he look older? God I hope not. But I know he will. And he will smile and feel big and celebrate all the wonderfulness that is five. And it will be just as it should be. Because no, I cannot freeze time. And I shouldn’t try. Because ages five through 10 have been pretty awesome, too. And he deserves to grow up and experience all that life has in store for him. Even if it means I am in the picture a little bit less. 

So fine. I’ll embrace his birthday with Star Wars balloons and new Nerf guns and Power Ranger swords. But I may spend the next month flipping through his baby book and crying in my wine after he falls asleep at night. Because he’s my baby. But I’ve done my job, because he’s ready. Even if I’m not.

Why is five so hard? 100 times harder than four or six. It's a milestone. It means no more preschool and wobots and more "Mom" and less "Mommy" and I'm not ready.

Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson is a free-lance writer who blogs at The 21st Century SAHM http://www.the21stcenturysahm.com/ —a cathartic mix of sarcasm, angry Mama Bear rants, and confessions about how she's probably screwing up her kids. She is also assistant editor at Sammiches and Psych Meds and has had work featured on Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, What the Flicka, and Bon Bon Break, among others. Karen is also a contributing writer in Lose the Cape: Never Will I Ever (and then I had kids!) and in What Does It Mean to Be White in America? and she writes monthly for KC Parent magazine. Follow Karen on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/21stcenturysahm/, Twitter https://twitter.com/21stcenturysahm , and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/the21stcenturysahm/