His favourite pastimes are chasing pigeons, raiding cupboards and eating bagels.
At lunch-time, he ignores what everyone else is having and goes his own way, even if that’s Ready Brek with fives spoons.
At dinner-time, he gets up from the table and walks off to play with toys. I bring him back and he looks up at me with a confused expression. As if to say, “I don’t get it – why are you putting me back here?” before getting up and walking off again.
He has taken to dressing himself every morning, and has a good eye for coordination, but then at breakfast asks, “Is it night-time now?” Just when I think he’s getting sense, I realise he hasn’t an ounce.
He loves baking – grabbing the step stool as soon as he hears there might be some ingredients to throw together. His two big sisters are often too busy to bake, but he never misses a chance. Sometimes he goes rogue – racing to tip a big lump of margarine into the beaten eggs, just because it’s too irresistible not too. I get cross and tell him we have to follow the recipe. He hugs me and says sorry, then “Can you forgive me?” Of course I can.
He loves cooking too, chopping peppers with a butter knife and insisting on peeling carrots. His favourite place is up at the counter with me, apron on, ready to work.
Except when his favourite place is down on the floor playing with My Little Pony, or the doll house, or his train set. Or the Barbies, making up games where “bad Barbie” is clobbering all the other Barbies over the head.
He has no awareness of norms and rules. He asks for cake for breakfast and is perturbed when the answer is no. He insists on making his own porridge, and says “It wasn’t me, it was the porridge,” when it all goes wrong.
At bedtime, he sometimes goes down with just two stories. But other times he says he’s not going to bed, and arrives back downstairs. “I watch TV with you now,” he explains to us, with no doubt in his mind that this is anything other than a reasonable statement at nine o’clock at night.
When he finally goes to sleep, it’s always with his beloved red dodie – woe betide the frantic parent who can’t find the red one, because no other one will do.
Sometimes when I check on him as I go to bed, I find that he has put trousers on over his pyjamas, for no apparent reason. Just notions. He has lots of notions.
And the next morning, when he patters in, he climbs into my bed, lies all the way across me, and says, “Mummy, you is boo-tee-ful, I need to sleep on your heart.”
And on Monday, he starts preschool. The child who, unlike his sisters, has never been to crèche, will be staying behind when I walk back out the door.
The child who does nothing I say will be expected to do what the teacher asks him to do.
The child who thinks you can have cake for breakfast will have to eat what everyone else eats.
The child who never sits down for meals will have to sit at a table with other kids.
The child who plays whatever he wants to play whenever he wants to play will have to follow a curriculum.
The child who wanders happily around his house all day will go somewhere new.
I don’t know if he’s ready. But I know for sure that I’m not ready. Because he’s still small, and because I like hanging out with him, and because I only got four months at home with him, and because he’s my last baby.
This is it. Into the system he goes – only for three hours each morning – but it’s the start of a fifteen year schedule that’s longer than his childhood. He doesn’t understand that, but I do. And that’s why every time I think about it, my eyes fill up and my throat gets tight. I’ll miss my fabulous baker boy. Off he goes.