Today Ryan is five. So far it doesn’t hold the same emotion as it did last year when he officially surpassed Ben in age (although it is still early in the day). Instead I find myself kind of numbingly stunned. For there is a deep subconscious part of me that just assumed he would die. I suppose that is to be expected in some way when that is your first experience of parenting. But amazingly and thankfully Ryan is very much alive.

At five he is turning out to be quite the combination of Jeff and me. He is very into sports, stubborn, and funny with a flair for drama. We spend most of our free time these days introducing the starting line ups for the Husky or Stanford basketball teams (I know, go figure Cardinal fans) or applauding as the Huskies or Browns run onto the “field”. I have gotten pretty good at impersonating the UW announcer, with interrupting instructions from the players “in the locker room”. It is actually a nice change from playing baseball and re-enacting the Mariners game, which we did all spring and summer!

Ryan is learning to make his way in this world. He is in Pre-K at our elementary school this year, has little buddies that he enjoys and seems to be a happy child – despite the circumstances that surround our family. It is a new life for us, and a new stage of parenting for sure. School, activities, play dates and more were not exactly part of our life with Ben. And so in many ways I feel like there is a distance and a fuzziness that is starting to happen. A blurring, if you will, between our life “before” and our life “now”. It doesn’t erase the pain of Ben’s absence, or our longing for him – it’s just so different.

Ryan continues to ask a lot of questions about Ben and remains curious about his life, cancer and death. He energetically tours his new friends through Ben’s room (which makes for strange beginnings with the families we are getting to know). He is also becoming aware that most kids have a sibling here. Perhaps I am projecting this, but I think somewhere in his little heart he feels left out. And for that, my heart breaks – wishing it could still somehow be different. While he has amazing cousins and close family friends that surround him, the reality of our immediate family continues to be difficult to explain to such a little person.

But we are doing our best to figure it out as we go, just as all parents do in their own circumstances. And tonight our family will gather to celebrate his fifth birthday. Once again I will offer up my immense thanksgiving for this child who has lived and for our incredible extended family that has loved him deeply in the times when we were unable.

Happy Birthday to my sweet little Husky. And a small piece of motherly advice: If you really want to go to Stanford someday you will have to learn to wipe yourself. Love, Mom.