Point of No Return — Little one turning 4 is a game-changer for this dad

So, Riley is 4.

The apple of my eye, the cherry on my sundae, the little freeloader who lives in my home and eats my food without paying any rent, is now 4 years old.

I mean, it’s not like it’s a surprise, right? She turned 3 last year. The year before that, it was 2. It would only make sense that she would be turning 4 this year, even to someone with my rather-pedestrian math skills. And it’s not like she’s packing up her stuff to move out in the next few months or anything — though she has often considered it, judging by the facial expression she fires at me whenever I have the audacity to tell her to pick up something she threw behind as she moved on to do something else.

Like a zillion times a day.

Regardless, she is now 4, and it alternates between feeling like she was born just a few days ago to not even remembering what it was like to have a life before she came along. I think there was whiskey back then. And sleep. I remember something about sleep.

But what we’ve lost in sleep, we’ve surely gained in poverty. I had always heard that having children was an expensive proposition, and I often snickered at the thought. “Have you seen my bar tabs,” I would answer. “Staying at home with a kid has to be a much-cheaper lifestyle.”

Yeah, here’s the thing: It’s not. Increasing the mouths in our home from two to three did not increase the amount spent on groceries by 50 percent, as one might assume. No, somehow that figure shot up by about 941 percent — a remarkable figure when you take into account she will only eat about one in every 15 things you prepare for...

But I digress. I shouldn’t have paid my credit card bill right before sitting down to write this column.

So, yeah, as those of you who have raised children already know, it’s a lot of work. There is frustration, exhaustion, agitation, aggravation and a ton of other “...tions” that I don’t even have time to get into today. There are times when you begin to question if you can in fact do anything right, and moments when you just want to throw up your hands and beg for help from anybody who can hear you.

And, make no mistake, Riley is the kind of kid who can send you through a kaleidoscope of emotions quicker than a season finale of “Game of Thrones.” She can make you laugh. She can make you cry. She can make you want to summon fire-breathing dragons, simply for the sense of security.

And now she’s 4.

I admit that this birthday’s bugging me a little bit. It’s kind of a big deal to turn 4, right? It’s not like she’s off our health insurance or able to see R-rated movies now, but she’s somehow managed to sneak out of baby and toddler age to becoming a full-fledged kid. When I sit on the couch watching football, it’s no longer a cooing blob that sits next to me, stealing my attention by making adorable little noises or playfully squeezing my finger. No, now she’s a talking machine who asks me question after question, disputes each and every answer I offer in response and ultimately laughs uproariously when she passes the kind of gas that should require a HAZMAT team and federal environmental legislation.

But I’m thankful for that. No, not the gas. I could definitely do without the gas. I’m thankful that she is a ball of energy and personality. I always get a kick out of people’s reactions after they spend some time with her for the first time. I usually hear, “Wow, she has a lot of energy,” followed up with “She really never stops, does she?”

No, no she does not. From the moment she wakes up until the time she goes to sleep, Riley is a Tazmanian Devil, whirling and twirling around the house with a frenetic energy, only topped by her creativity and imagination. She sings. She dances. She tries on different dresses and shoes. She stages massive battles between toy dinosaurs and overwhelmed Barbie dolls.

And, she’s pretty good. She says, “Excuse me,” when she wants your attention. She’s big on “please” and “thank you,” and she nearly always gets up from dinner and takes her plate to the sink when she’s done. I know those are small things when compared to helping elderly people winterproof their homes or curing Alzheimer’s, but it’s what she can do, and she does it.

She’s also great with our pets, and enjoys her job of feeding the fish every morning before she eats her own breakfast. It’s been told to me before that you can judge a person’s character by how they react with animals, and if that’s true, she seems to be on a good path.

So, yeah, it is almost depressing to see how much she’s grown up, and how eager she is to grow up even more. But it’s also rewarding to see that she is seemingly growing up to be a good person. We need more of those these days.

Happy birthday, Riley. I love you, kid.