“No,” I said, firmly.
Mother shook her head slowly, eyebrows raised, hand still working the spoon.
“I said no!”
She sighed loudly, slouched, gazed skyward.
“I don’t want to,” I pouted.
Silence. An amused, exasperated stare.
“I don’t want to!”
“Honey, I told you already,” she sighed: “You don’t have a choice.”
I shook my head and held up three fingers.
“That isn’t how it works,” she laughed.
“But I don’t want to!”
“You’re being silly, and it’s already done. Get used to it.”
“I said that’s enough!”
I crossed my arms and thought my mother should be more accommodating on my birthday. It was my birthday, after all. My birthday, and I was supposed to get what I wanted on my birthday. Even more than on Christmas, because this was my birthday! I thought to say so, but it was the wrong argument and I vaguely knew it.
“I don’t want to!” I bellowed.
“Want to or not,” Mother groaned, stabbing a waxen numeral four into brown frosting.
And so it really was done. I bawled in protest, but she ignored me so completely that I abruptly stopped it. Maybe I am being silly, I thought. Maybe I don’t have a choice. Maybe this isn’t how it works. I sometimes found it hard to tell: is this natural law or mere convention? Is it like the oven: ready to burn me whether I want it to or not? Like cleaning my plate, which I’d avoided two years before the sudden prohibition? Like going to church, which I had to do freely even when I’d rather stay home? Or like messing myself, which had recently been causing a lot of excitement but was punished too mildly to dissuade me?
I hadn’t protested the last time this happened. I’d embraced it fully, owned it. It was fun: lots of people all around, smiling, singing, giving things to me, telling me how handsome I’d grown and how smart. And I’d never forget the cake! It was at least half my size and covered in creamy, yellow sweetness with big, bright lollipops stuck up top: one red, another yellow, the third green. Only Mom was more beautiful, and nothing ever tasted so good.
Even better, everyone kept saying I’d arrived: “You’re not a baby anymore!” they said, looking askance at my brother. “No more terrible twos!” they enthused, hugging each other. “You’re a big boy now!” they said, nodding at me.
That was at three. Three! I could misbehave until the count of three. Young girls swooned, grandmas cooed, and grandpas cheered if I just held up three fingers. I was happier before the fourth of us arrived—that baby. I’d even heard that even God is only three. Three seemed so ultimate, so perfect. I didn’t think I could top it.
So all I really wanted for my fourth birthday was to keep on being three.
(To be continued in #22)