My youngest just turned 4, and though I realize he's still a far cry from driving, shaving and telling me he's going to marry that girl no matter what I think, the turn of his years from 3 to 4 hit hard.

The husband says I shouldn't lament, but I can't take him seriously; he's the one who's putting red Xs on the passing years, getting more excited as they get older and taller. He wants bigger boys to play basketball with, to go on rides with him at Magic Mountain, and although the boys don't know this yet, he's waiting for the day he can pass our backyard pooper-scooper baton for that horrible chore.

We only have the two boys, yet they've experienced opposite rearing philosophies. With the older one, I actually get excited as he gets older; everything he does and accomplishes is a first for us. Thus, I push and push some more so he doesn't only arrive first, but arrives first in style. I think this is a pretty common firstborn thing. Born leaders and all that jazz.

However, I'm also protective of him. Sure, I want to shove him into deeper waters, encourage him to go farther, but by goodness, I don't know what's out there. So, I've decided to tag along, making sure all goes well. Poor guy. I fear he will always remember me as being this pestering shadow. He's vocal though; he'll tell me when it's time for me to go hide in the car. And as long as I have my zoom lens, I'll oblige.

The younger one has a different role. I want him to be my baby forever. I didn't encourage him to crawl and I certainly didn't reinforce that walking business. So, naturally, he went from sitting there like a log to flat out running.

But don't feel too sorry for him -- with the fact I tried to physically cripple him and all. He's had a much freer run of things than his older brother. For example, all those deeper waters I send the older one off into . . . the water's fine! So little brother gets his life-jacket, a slap on the shoulder, and I send him off without as much worry-warting.

Also, I released the everything-has-to-be-perfect death grip by the time my youngest was born. I think the best example to illustrate this is the Play-Doh. When my oldest was 3, we gave him this gigantor tub of Play-Doh colors and accessories. Whenever he wanted to bring it out and play, anal Mommy would give him only a few colors and a few of the accessories. That was until he started mixing the colors. Much to my current chagrin, I felt the chromatic carnage of mixing blues with oranges and reds with greens was too much to bear and subsequently, the poor guy was downgraded to playing with only one color at a time. I know! I'm horrible!

But because I felt so bad for being uptight about it, by the time the little one was into Play-Doh, I scrapped all previous inhibitions. I let him play with as many colors and accessories as he wanted, and then left him with only the following instruction: It doesn't belong in your nose, ears or mouth; and all the dogs' orifices are off limits, too.

Of course I'm still harboring remnants of the OCD that originally made me go bat crazy at the thought of an innocent, creative child mixing his Play-Doh, so even though the younger one gets to mix his colors, I have to remove myself from the situation. Often, I'll be in my room, rocking back and forth on the bed, muttering, "It's just Play-Doh. He's just butchering the Play-Doh."

Yes, I'm fully aware the disease lingers, but rejoice with me that I'm no longer imparting it to my children! You should also rejoice in the fact that the oldest isn't scarred from having Mommy trying to keep things orderly during playtime. He seems to have bounced back from my uptight stage. In fact, we're currently trying to get that one to remember flushing the toilet, so no way he has OCD. Wait a minute ... maybe that's payback for holding back on the Play-Doh for all those years. Touché kid, touché.

At any rate, Happy Birthday youngest! It seems like it'll only be tomorrow when I'm looking out the dining room window and wondering why you don't call. But for now, you're still my baby. And oldest, all our hopes and dreams are riding on you, so don't let us down. Kidding! Go mix your Play-Doh. Knock yourself out.

Heather Ijames is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Ijames, not necessarily The Californian's. You can send email to her at Next week: Inga Barks.