Letters to Charlie: On Losing Papa


My dear child,

It’s easy to say that all grandparents love their grandchildren, but there was something truly special about your relationship with Papa. Perhaps it was because you have his name, or because he cared for you so much when you were an infant. Maybe it was because you were the son of his beloved son. Regardless, it was clear to anyone who saw you together.

We lost Papa unexpectedly a few weeks ago. He suffered a stroke following an operation, fell into a coma and could not recover.


After the stroke, through the following weeks of unknowns, and since he died, we have all grieved. Papa was only weeks away from meeting his second grandchild, which feels bitingly unfair. My heart aches knowing your baby brother will never know him, but it shatters when I think of what you have lost.

There is so much I want to tell you about this man who easily had a spot in the Top 3 greatest men I’ve ever known (your Dad is also among that group). I’m sure you will keep some memories of Papa as you get older, but I want you to know how much he loved you and what he meant to the people who loved him.


I could give you biographical details about his life — when he was born, where he grew up, that he fixed helicopters in the Air Force, how he met Grandma B and stayed by her side for nearly four decades, that he was a teacher for many years. But those details seem inconsequential somehow.

He was kindness. He was giving. He was bravery. Your grandfather was love.

This was the man who welcomed me wholeheartedly when Daddy and I started dating 14 years ago. Compared to my own, your Dad’s family was huge, intimidating, and so very different. Papa was my gentle guide as I slowly found my way.


He always cracked a joke to make me feel at ease. I could count on him to have just enough room for dessert. He never complained about anything when it came to his family.

I was inspired by the love he and your Dad shared and how carefully he cared for Grandma B. He taught your father how to be a good man. He showed him how to be a great father.


He loved nothing more than his family. Some of my favorite memories with him are spending the day together, just hanging out. You’d cuddle up next to him on the couch as he read book after book to you.

You were the one who named him “Papa,” deciding that “Grandpa” just wouldn’t do it for you. By the time you graduated from Grandma B’s Montessori preschool, all of the kids were calling him that. It’s how I mainly referred to him, too; three “Charleses” in one room could get confusing.


His loss has been difficult on you, of course. Not really knowing how a 4-year-old understands death, we tried to shelter you from the worst of it. At first, we let you know Papa was in the hospital, that he was sick, that we were worried about him and hoped he got better. But you also saw us crying, you heard us talking about it.

You made videos for Papa that we played in his ear during more lucid moments. A tear fell from his eyes when he heard a video of you singing. He knew you loved him and were thinking of him.


Even when it was clear we’d lose him, we chose not to bring you to see him. We wanted to protect your memory of your last time together — when you, Dad and Grandma B. ate sandwiches at a cafe a few days before his surgery.

When he died, we told you softly. You responded incredulously. “Papa died?….I had a grandpa and he died?!” Then you curled up in Dad’s lap and fell silent.

You’ve mentioned his death here and there over the past few weeks, never stopping for more than a few moments to share your thoughts or ask questions. We are letting you set the course for how much you want to discuss it and for how long.


This weekend, you broke down. We were in the car, imagining up a story about Grandma Z and Faraway Speaker (a horse/unicorn that features prominently in our tales) riding their motorcycles in a parade.

“They were very sad,” you said, “because the one person they wanted to be there wasn’t there, and that was Papa….because he died.”

We were at a stoplight at this point, so I turned around, and put my hand on your knee.

“I can tell that you are missing Papa, Charlie,” I said gently. “I just want you to know it’s OK to miss him, and to think about him. I miss him, too.”

Your eyes filled with tears. A moment passed. “Will I never see Papa again?,” you asked in a small voice. “Never ever?”

“No, my sweet boy. You will not see Papa again. But we will always be able to remember him, and all the things we did together, and what we learned from him.”

“But…but….why did he die?”

“Well, he was old, and his body couldn’t work anymore.”

“….I want to be with Papa every day until I die.”

“I know, baby. I want to see him every day, too. But I also want you to know that I’m here, and Daddy’s here, and Grandma B. is here, and Grandma Z is here…there are so many people who love you and are here for you. You are safe.”

I continued, “And even though Papa is gone, we had the chance to have him in our lives, and I am very thankful for that. We got to know him.”

“But,” you said, tears falling. “I don’t know him anymore….”

Oh, my dear boy. That almost overwhelmed me.


In the past few days, we discovered you peeing throughout our house — on your bedroom rug, in the closet, next to the toilet. Your teachers have told us you are pocketing small items from the classroom, saying you want to take them home.

Perhaps this is part of your grief. Perhaps it’s because Baby Jack is almost here. Perhaps it’s a combination. There are a lot of changes happening in your life right now.

What won’t change is how much we love you, my dear son. How we will walk by your side as you navigate this new and unsettling part of your life. You, me, Dad, Grandma B. – we will all get through this together, as a family.

As Papa taught us to do.


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Letters to Charlie: Almost 4 1/3 Years

photo 3

Dear Charlie,

Congratulations on your first night in your big-kid bunk bed!

The bed comes in anticipation of your brother’s arrival (which should be in fewer than three months –– oh.em.gee.) because you two will eventually share a room. You’re not a big fan of change, so I was worried the novelty would wear off when actual bed time came, even with the super-cool construction bedding. I’m happy to report the first night was a success.

It was a success for me, too. You see, when you were born we bought a fancy monitor that tracked your breathing and sounded an alarm if no movement was detected. It was so comforting for your neurotic mother to know you were alright in the middle of the night that we just kept using it. For four years. Last night, we turned it off — and I survived!

There was a sweet moment when Dad was setting up the bed. We were talking about how comforting it will be for your baby brother to know you are with him at night, how important you will be to him because of all you can teach him about the world. You walked over to where I was sitting and kissed my belly.

I wonder what it’s like for you to go through this experience. Luckily, lots of kids at school have siblings, so I feel you understand the general concept. You’ve seen my belly grow, and experienced my diminishing ability to play with you in all the ways I used to. Sometimes you target my stomach for kicks and hits when you don’t get your way. But other times, you lean toward me and ask your brother funny questions, such as “Do you have a TV in there?!”

IMG_9529 Last night, I read through the pregnancy post I made at this point with you. I wrote about how active you were, how I could feel your kicks up to my rib cage, and I felt this overwhelming sense of awe at the whole damn thing. That little baby once inside of me was now sleeping his first night in a big-kid bunk bed. /boggle

You’re a pretty obstinate little dude and you act all kinds of tough, but we’re increasingly noticing a very sensitive side to you. Take movies, for example. You don’t want to watch “Cars” because you don’t like when Lightning McQueen and Mack get lost. In “Rio 2,” you were upset when the birds’ home was cut down by loggers (that’s my budding environmentalist!). And at school last week, they showed you “Charlotte’s Web,” which may have traumatized you just a bit.

During Singing Kisses before bed this week, Dad made up a seemingly benign song about 29 singing kisses that went downriver and said goodbye to a kiss that stayed behind. You burst into tears. You felt so bad for that one kiss that was left all alone.

Dad reminded me that he cried as a little kid during Wily Coyote cartoons because the coyote got hurt, so apples not falling far from trees and all that.


Your sweetness, however, is such a gift to others. You’ve struck a deep friendship with an incredibly shy and introverted boy in your class.  According to your teachers, you are the only one able to coax him out of his very private shell. Now, when together you become typical rowdy, playful boys, and your teachers just glow when they describe the transformation.


At work a few weeks ago, I received a call and voicemail from a number I didn’t recognize. When I had the chance to listen to it, I heard one of those phrases that strike icy fear into a parents’ heart.

“This is Miss Paula from (school). I just want you to know that Charles is OK. We called the fire department and they assured us he’s fine.”

Turns out you were in the office getting ice for a bruise you received falling off a wagon (of course) when a teacher bumped into the fire extinguisher — which fell on the floor AND EXPLODED. The hose whipped back and forth uncontrollably, sending plumes of extinguisher into the air until the principal was able to secure a trash can over it. You weren’t physically hurt, but the school called two fire departments to find out whether you needed medical attention for inhaling the chemicals (they said you didn’t).

Well, you just thought that experience was the coolest thing ever and talked about it for weeks. Once my heart stopped racing, I found the whole thing pretty amusing, too.


What I didn’t find amusing was the pile of change you stuffed into my car CD player. I could have anticipated this would happen, as we’d recently parked downtown and I let you put coins in the meter. And I couldn’t be angry, because it seemed a rational thing for a 4-year-old to try. Still, it borked my entire car stereo.

Apparently, the mechanics had a bet on how much change they would extract. The final count was $0.81. Do that again, and I’m taking the money out of your college savings.


Here are some other fun tidbits from the past few months:

  • Daddy introduced you to Calvin and Hobbes, which you enjoy reading together. It’s fun to see what you “get” about them, even at such a young age. You love Spaceman Spiff and the funny faces Calvin makes. You find this particular comic hilarious and recite it often:
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  • You’re showing a serious preference for me over Dad, to the point that you cry when he walks into your room in the morning. We’re letting you navigate through this normal developmental phase, but it hurts me to see Dad’s feelings hurt. I try to assure him that you’ll be all about Dad in a few years and I’ll be the lame one.
  • You’ve started exclaiming “Oh my gosh!” when you find something exasperating.
  • You called me “sweetie” the other day, instead of “mom,” as in “Sweetie, can you get me some milk?”
  • When I find something incredibly funny, I hit the table or my knee while laughing. You’ve begun to mimick me, but don’t quite understand the concept. Instead, you laugh and hit me.
  • You spread a blanket on the floor and asked if we could play tea party “like on the iPad.” #ChildOfTheDigitalAge
  • You asked when you’ll be 10 years old. Daddy replied, “In 6 years…..I’ll be 40. Oh GOD.”

Last month I faced a parental situation that continues to bother me. You see, I fancy myself extremely progressive, open minded, and belligerently accepting of others. One of my main goals as a parent is to raise children who are empathetic and kind. Yet, when faced with the opportunity to be so, I feel like I failed.

We were at a children’s clothing store to buy Savannah a birthday present when you asked if you, too, could get a dress. I pretty much froze. My brain yelled, “No, no, no, no, no.” I flashed forward through years of bullying, teasing, and trauma, and I wanted nothing more than for you to forget the request. I said we were there to buy something for Savannah and that we could look for a dress for you another time. You didn’t bring up again, and neither have I.


My gut reaction startled me. I’m the one who uses gender-neutral terms when I talk about your future “partners.” The week before, I proudly shared the story of a local couple who made the brave and admirable decision to raise their transgender child as a boy. And recently you and Savannah ran around her house in Disney princess dresses (you were a lovely Snow White). But somehow that was OK because it wasn’t in public?

I’m still struggling with how I reacted and contemplative about how I might react to future requests. Was I just caught off guard? Was it just my fear that you’d encounter assholes that would make your childhood miserable?

I don’t know the answers, and maybe that’s OK. Being a parent doesn’t mean you always know what to do or what decisions to make. It’s a constant exercise in self-reflection and I’m grateful to you for raising the questions.

Charlie, you cannot know how thankful we are to have you in our lives. You fill our days with joy, you constantly challenge us, and you make us better parents — and better people.

Albeit $0.81 poorer.


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Letters to Charlie: On Turning 4

_MG_1188My sweet boy,

It’s the little things that strike me.

You no longer need a step-stool to reach the sink. You used the word “meanwhile” correctly in a sentence. You know where the recycling bin is and what to put in it.

You are growing up, my son. You are now four years old.

My feelings about this are mixed. I am filled with wonderment and gratitude every day for the opportunity to see you grow and thrive. Yet, there’s a feeling of wistfulness, a tinge of sadness at what has already passed.


Perhaps I’m sensing this more because you have a little brother on the way. You are going to seem sooo big when that little guy arrives later this year. Although we are excited about adding this new member to our family, I am struck with a touch of heartache about losing some of our one-on-one time.

I think you’ll make a great big brother. You know so many things about the world, and every day brings new discoveries. You’ll be a fantastic teacher.

You’re so inquisitive already. When we told you a baby was on the way, you immediately asked, “But how did it start getting in there?” Taken aback, we offered a less-than-ideal/cliché answer that you immediately called us on. “But how did it get IN there?!” After a few rounds of this, I told you Daddy gave me a piece of himself and I mixed it with a piece of myself, and now a baby is growing.

BFF Ashleigh lent you a book called “How Babies Are Made” and now you can’t stop talking about sperm and uteruses. Especially in public.


You were NOT happy to find out the baby is a boy. In fact, you collapsed into tears when we told you. After assuring you it was OK to feel disappointed and that we empathized with you, I asked why you preferred a sister.

“Because,” you wailed. “I loooooooooove girls!”

My dear boy, I have a feeling you will be surrounded by girls your entire life. ;)

Just the other day in the grocery store, I heard “Charles!” and a little girl from your school darted from an aisle and into your arms. Your smile was grandiose.


Your school year is about to end. These days, we rarely have trouble getting you out the door and you seem to enjoy going. We have hit a few rough moments, though. One morning, you said, “I don’t want to go to my new school. I want to go back to Grandma B’s school, even if that means I am a baby and not a big boy.”

I understand, baby. It can be so hard to grow up.

Growing up also means facing some tough questions, for you and me. You’re asking a lot about death: will I die, will you die, will it hurt, etc. I am trying as hard as I can to answer these questions pragmatically, yet with comfort and love, but it’s difficult. Perhaps t would be easier if I had any religious faith. It’s hard to find the words. I don’t want to shield you from what I believe is the truth, but I also understand how that truth can feel.

It’s hard to find the balance between protecting you and letting you experience the world. I let you watch “Frozen” for the first time a few weeks back, thinking it would be fun. And it was fun, until I glanced over during the snow monster chase scene and tears were streaming down your face. Then the floodgates of fear opened.

I felt like an awful parent, exposing you to something so obviously scary before you were ready. We paused the movie, and I tried to explain reality vs. fantasy, but I don’t know how well a 4-year-old understands all that. I was incredibly proud when you grabbed a safety stuffed animal from the other room, brought it back with you to the couch, and asked to finish the movie. That’s my guy!

(On a side note, Grandma Z bought you a “Tales of King Arthur” book for your birthday. You squealed “Frozen!” when you saw the cover for the first time. LOL.)


You brought home your first “report card” the other day. It was the most fascinating, exciting thing I’ve ever read. You’ve mastered every skill under the verbal section, which is no surprise to anyone who’s heard your made-up stories. You definitely need to work on listening and following directions, however.

I was full of praise for this progress report. Dad, on the other hand, was a bit more reserved.

Dad: He did OK…. I mean, he got a lot of “satisfactorys.”
Me: But, Charles, he’s THREE!
Dad: Yeah, but he’s not being measured against Harvard grads! He’s being compared to other three-year-olds.
Me: Harrumph.
Dad (to you): I’m very proud of you Charlie, but there are some areas in which I think you could work harder.
Me: sigh
Dad: I want to set the bar early.


I had an awesome surprise a few months ago related to parenting. I received a comment that one of my YouTube videos of you was featured in a post on Psychology Today. A child psychologist chose eight videos of children exploring puddles and discussed what was special about each one. She was incredibly complimentary, at one point calling my parenting a “master class.” ::feels smug::

I really do hope I’m a good mother, Charlie. There are days I kick ass, and days when I just can’t “pretend to put the Christmas Cow to bed” another time.

I do know that I will try my best every day. You are so worth it.

Happy Birthday, my smart, compassionate, silly, curious, musical, active 4-year-old. May our next year be filled with more amazing adventures.



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Letters to Charlie: 3.75 years

IMG_8537Dear Charlie,

It’s midday on a Saturday. You just walked into the living room — abandoning your prized fire truck that squirts water out of the hose (thanks, Grandma Z!) — and asked, “Mom, can you put me to bed?” and now I think it must be snowing outside even though it’s in the mid-70s.

With you all snuggled in bed, we went back and forth making up a story about a little boy who had a dream about an adventurous penguin. Then I sang “Hakuna Makisses” and covered you with sweet smooches before I left.

Life = win.


First day of school.

In the past few months, you successfully transitioned to preschool. Dad dropped you off the first day because I was afraid I’d be a watery mess, and he said you walked in like a champ. Since then, you’ve been rocking it.

Getting you out in the mornings wasn’t so easy at first. When you attended Grandma B’s school, we could drop you off late, unfed and in PJs, and she’d take care of things. That’s not the case now, so you were suddenly faced with more responsibilities and expectations. That resulted into mornings of uncontrollable tears, tantrums, time-outs and punching/kicking.

Near the end of my rope, I begged for advice. Grandma B suggested we make a chart and reward you with stickers for every morning you kept your shit together and got stuff done in time (my words, not hers). Once you achieved a certain number of stickers, we could take you on a special adventure — something we wouldn’t otherwise do.


I’m happy to report this idea was brilliant. Mornings are so much smoother now, and we’ve had some really great adventures: a trip on the Coronado Ferry, a ride on the downtown historic trolley route, and a city-wide trolley romp. Next up, you’d like to ride on the train.


Speaking of trains, I was a chaperone for your first field trip, to the Train Museum. It was surreal because I remember Grandma Z joining my class trips and that doesn’t seem too long ago. You talked about the upcoming trip for weeks, and were pretty much jumping off the rails  the morning of.

My biggest takeaway from chaperoning was immense respect for your teachers. These two women — who face two dozen kids, on their own, every day — are goddesses. Even with a total of 10 adults on this field trip, it was HARD. Remind me to buy them Starbucks cards.


It was interesting to observe you among all the other kids. You are one of the youngest, but also one of the loudest most expressive. I’m not sure how much of that can be attributed to my presence, but you were incredibly talkative, animated, and social compared with the others.  You were also not very interested in following the rules: you skirted the lines and refused to wait for the teachers before exploring more of the museum. At one point, you were reprimanded for purposely and loudly singing the wrong words to “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” I have a feeling your future teachers will have their hands full with you, and shhhhhhhhhhh but that makes me feel a bit proud.

While you’ve adjusted to preschool very well, some parts are not so easy for me. Though you’re exposed to wonderful new knowledge, there are still things from which I desperately want to shelter you. A few weeks after you started school, you announced that when you grow up you want a “gun job” so you can “shoot old people.” After we explained the heavy responsibility that comes with gun possesion and the seriousness of shooting people, I asked where you learned of the concept.

“Martin Luther King,” you said. (Well, actually you said, “Martin Luther Cake,” which was awesome and hilarious, but let’s focus on the gun thing right now).

I am incredibly sensitive about guns and gun play, and I feel a rush of despair when you tell me that you play “shooting guns” with other kids on the playground.  And you’ve been asking questions about what it means to be killed and to die. This is probably not realistic, and “boys will be boys” whatever, but I don’t want you knowing about these things yet. You are only three years old! This all just feels so soon. 

You’ve also been bullied by a child who hits you, grabs your face, tells you that you’re “bad,” and threatens to kill you. How is it possible that we’re dealing with this in preschool?! 


Let’s stop talking about my neuroses and focus on some of the fun times we’ve had lately.

I’m not sure where you learned this, but out of the blue in the busy parking lot outside Corvette Diner, you grabbed my breasts (I was carrying you) and yelled “BOOOOOOOOOOOBS” at the top of your lungs. I tried to hold it together, but a giggle escaped, and then I was laughing so hard I almost peed. This made you laugh and then I laughed harder and then you realized that yelling “BOOOOOOOOOOBS” in public can get you attention. So that has been fun to deal with.


You had your first ear infection this month and your first encounter with bubble-gum flavored amoxycillian. I LOVED this stuff as a kid. You hated it, so much that you refused to swallow the medicine and threw desperation tantrums to avoid it. At one point, we had to force it down your throat. Then you threw up on my face. After that, I came up with a brilliant idea to let you use the turkey baster to take the medicine. You loved that. Problem solved. Point for me.


My favorite moment was discovering Dad’s umbrella in his car, opening it up, then dancing together underneath it in the rain, in the alley behind our house (of course, we sang “Singing in the Rain” while doing so). It was just one of those moments when time stood still, when the joy I feel at being your mother, and the joy we felt being together filled the entire universe.

You seem to inspire this joy in most everyone you meet — from your family, to your new teachers, to your classmates, to the grocery store check out lady. It’s quite incredible to witness and to know that you and I belong to one another.

Well, at least until you grow up and find someone else with, well, you know.


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Letters to Charlie: Month 43


My sweet Charlie,

We are only a few hours away from another major milestone in your life: your first day of preschool. Of course, this isn’t technically true, as you’ve been attending Grandma B’s Montessori preschool since you were 13 weeks old, but this feels different somehow. Tomorrow I will hand you over to a stranger’s care, and you will make your way in a new place.

I am nervous for you, as I imagine many parents are at this moment. Change causes you anxiety (::insert “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” cliche::), so we’ve decided to treat this first day like any other, meaning that Dad will drop you off and I will pick you up. I ache to think of you stepping into that unfamiliar classroom and watching Daddy walk out the door. What will you think? How will you feel? Will you cry for us? Will you think we abandoned you? Will you make friends? Will you know how to use your lunchbox?! 

Despite these worries, I know that you’ll not only survive, you’ll thrive. You are so ready for a more challenging environment. You need it. 


We visited your new classroom and teacher a few weeks back. She took you through a series of activities to, I imagine, gauge your abilities. And you fucking rocked it. Dad and I sat there, in too-small plastic chairs, grinning like idiots and feeling like we’d raised the smartest child in the history of this school. I was so mesmerized by how the teacher guided you, and how you responded to her, that I couldn’t think of any questions to ask when she — repeatedly — inquired if we had any. 

Afterward, Dad went back to work and I took you to a nearby diner where we drank vanilla milkshakes with rainbow sprinkles and played SkeeBall. It was the best. day. ever.


The holidays were pretty great, too. For Halloween, you informed us that you would be a duck, and Dad decided we would make your costume. It was probably more expensive than buying something online, but I’m proud of the final result. And you owned that thing; people asked what you were and you simply quacked back at them.


Thanksgiving was delayed a day because you were sick with some stomach bug that caused you to vomit a lot. Surprisingly, you felt it coming and chose to throw up in the toilet. (Forty months of not wanting ANYTHING to do with the potty, and now you use it for everything.)

Christmas was lovely. You made cookies and ornaments with Grandma Z. We made our annual gingerbread house at Grandma B’s. You pointed out every house with lights that we came across. We sang Christmas carols together (well, until you ordered me to stop). 


I emphasized Santa this year, so you knew something special was coming. When you woke up on Christmas morning and realized what day it was, your face lit up like it was…well…Christmas morning. We ran into the living room to see stuffed stockings and presents under the tree. Santa had made such a mess; rocks from the fireplace were strewn everywhere and he didn’t even bother to close the fireplace door!

Dad and I Santa got you your very own digital camera (waterproof and damage proof from three feet high!) because you’ve shown a great interest in using my way-too-expensive-for-your-slippery-fingers SLR. You’ve taken a lot of pictures of your nostrils.

New Year’s was once again at our house, which has become much too small for our friends and their growing families. It was so loud that you kept asking people when they were going to leave.  


So now it’s 2014. We’re heading into the new year full of hope and gratitude, mostly about and for you. 


Last week Grandma B wrote a letter to your new teacher regarding your development. I must have read it 15 times because it so perfectly captures your essence in a way that I couldn’t (gosh, it’s like she does this for a living or something). Here are some of my favorite passages:

“His curiosity is endless and he remains willing to satisfy it without thinking through the consequences, so he bears watching, and watching over. In practical terms, this means he will stack, fit, push, wrap, lick, and otherwise investigate the properties of whatever is around him after he has seen and experienced the way it ordinarily works. Nice young-scientist behavior, but somewhat challenging to deal with.”


“He will likely love practical life projects involving water, or big math work. Dance, jogging, climbing, building, balancing—these are active interests. He has had long periods of intense small motor development, of course, but his mom and dad are both active people; right now he often just must walk or run or climb or race.”

“Although he is intelligent and self-sufficient, funny and lively, he is also emotionally volatile. He can be anxious about changes, annoyed by affection, frustrated by group requirements. He has always been disinterested and unmotivated by the opinions of others.” (Editor’s Note: Emphasis is my own). 


“He participates only when he wants to, although with a daily requirement, he is fairly cooperative. He does not like to be touched unless he chooses it, does not seek approval, and would really like people to get out of his way when he has an idea, so he can just get on with it. He wants life on his terms.”

“This does not mean he avoids tickles or hugs—he loves them—but he absolutely must be in charge of when they occur and whom they are with. When crossed; when the task is, in his mind, too hard; when hungry or tired, he is capable of all kinds of outsized behaviors that nobody will enjoy.”

“When he cares to be, he is an automatic leader, vital and funny and interesting to be around.”


I know that you won’t remember your first day of preschool tomorrow, but know that I will be thinking of you every single moment. I feel excited that a whole new group of people get to meet you and become part of your creative, funny, stubborn, musical universe.

You are such a gift to this world, my love. Go forth and rock it. 


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Letters to Charlie: The Toddler Potty Training Edition


My dear Charlie,

It feels great to write this post, the mother of a boy who pees in the potty! I strut victoriously, as if this achievement wasn’t entirely yours to claim. Because, really, Charlie—you did it.

Here’s how it went down:

As you recall from my last post in September, your Dad and I stopped pushing the issue. You were more than ready physically, but your brain hadn’t quite caught up. Though I hated, hated, hated changing the diaper of a 40-pound, wriggling 3-1/2-year-old, we decided to give you more time.

Even the Grandmas—with 50+ years of experience between them of helping to potty train children—were stumped. You were defiant, adamant, EXPLOSIVE about not taking this step. I requested an observation by a behavioral therapist, fearing there was something much deeper behind your attitude.


Then in early October, Grandma B suggested pulling off the proverbial bandage. Being supportive, though passive, was obviously not working, and we were likely enabling your insurgency. Your Dad and I would try anything at this point, so we sent you to school in underwear for the first time, our fingers crossed.

You didn’t get it right away. In fact, you spent at least the first two weeks peeing your pants. You didn’t seem to mind at all, even when that meant you couldn’t play outside because your shoes were wet. You would just play inside today, thank you very much.


You also started acting mean. While stuck in traffic, you’d taunt me with the threat of peeing in your carseat. (I know there are critics who’d say 3 year olds can’t taunt, but they’re wrong, so very wrong.) I asked you to grab new underwear after you peed through your pants at home, only to later discover you’d opened a tube of Desitin and painted all over your clean pairs. “Now I can’t wear underwear, Mommy. Sor-ry!”

(Mommy took a Time Out with a glass of white wine after that one.)

At some point, we got you to pee your pants while standing inside the bathroom. At least this meant you weren’t getting the furniture or carpet wet. Then one day, I had the idea (a flash of brilliance, obvi) to let you hold a diaper against your body and pee into it while standing in the bathroom. Ashleigh and Savannah were over; Ash played some special “potty music” for you (I think it was a waterfall setting on a sleep app), and you were able to go.

For the next several days, that’s how you’d pee: walk into the bathroom, drop your pants, pick up a diaper, hold it against you, and go. You knew when you had to pee and you were able to let us know. We had few, if any, accidents. In fact, we started slowly cutting the diaper into smaller and smaller sections.


Then came your father’s flash of brilliance. You could continue peeing into the diaper, but you had to do it while standing right up against the toilet. And one day, he snatched the diaper away just as you started peeing, and it went straight into the potty. You peed in the potty (technically)!

Within a few days, you had no more need of a diaper. And on Halloween, you pooped in the potty for the first time! Just like that.


It’s amazing how this success has affected your attitude and behavior. It’s as if this one puzzle piece is in place, and now the rest of the picture is coming into focus.

Potty training was definitely one of the toughest challenges your Dad and I have experienced as parents. One of the longest, too—I think we started working on this after you turned 2. There were many moments when we faced one another, exasperated, out of ideas, conflicted about what was best for you.

Yet, we learned a lot about you through this process. My dear boy, you have a very healthy sense of self; no one is going to push you around. I’m not so worried about peer pressure as you get older.

And if kids get too pushy, just make sure you have a tube of Desitin on you.


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Letters to Charlie: 3 1/3 years

IMG_5973Oh my dear Charlie,

It’s been nearly three months since my last letter. Remember when I used to write to you every single month? Well, I didn’t have a rambunctious 3+-year-old to chase around then.

We just returned from the grocery store where you had two massive meltdowns. The first occurred because I didn’t park in the underground structure, where we usually park. The second came on after I chose the “15 items or fewer” aisle; you apparently wanted self-checkout.

In situations like this, all I can do is hug you. Logic has no place inside your emotional, misfiring brain. I bet these times are confusing and exhausting for you.

They can be confusing and exhausting for me, too. You’ll have a few days where things seem to be coming together, then — BAM! — you become inconsolable at the most (seemingly) random thing.


Other parts of your brain are growing great. Three-letter words are no problem for you, and you’ve successfully read several four- and five-letter words. You’re incredibly curious; you recently asked Grandma B how cell phones work and expressed confusion when you learned that “jazz” has two Zs. (Answer: No one really knows!)

The other day you called me an “anus.” I was pretty excited that you knew the correct term.

Your physical skills are stellar. We enrolled you in gymnastics (you pronounce it “ma-jastics”) because you like moving your body so much. I’ll admit that I felt a mixture of sadness and pride when I watched you head into the gym for the first time with Coach Jen and the other kids. You are such a big boy! And you love your class, during which you get 45 minutes to tumble and climb and balance and roll and swing and bounce on the trampoline (your favorite).


In calm moments, we work on your reasoning skills. Here’s a recent conversation we had in the car:

Charlie: That hill is stupid!
Me: Why?
Charlie: Because it is.
Me: Well, that’s not a good-enough reason. When you decide that you don’t like something, you should be able to explain why. 
Charlie: That hill is stupid….because it is too skinny.
Me: ………OK. That’s a reason….I’ll give you that.  

Amazingly, you willingly eat (some) fruits and vegetables. I about fell out of my chair at dinner one night when I asked if you wanted more ham or turkey, and you replied, “Salad!” You love when we pretend you are a leaf-eating moose having dinner with us.


We’re working on your manners, and you’re doing great! Recent examples: “Would you kindly get out of here, Mommy?”, “Would you please stop talking, Daddy?” And you’re as obstinate as ever. I told you to pick up a shirt you threw on the floor, and you responded with, “No! I don’t feel like it.”

Oh boy, your teenage years are going to be fun.

We’re still nowhere on the potty. We thought transitioning to pull-ups would help, but we keep hitting dead-ends. We’ve stopped pushing it. Though you are ready intellectually (I mean, you TELL us when you have to pee!), you are not ready emotionally. You’ve made it clear this is a decision you will make on your own. I just hope it happens before college.


Speaking of emotions, you are feeling increasingly sensitive about some things. You clap your hands over your ears any time you think there could be a loud noise (July Fourth was a challenge). We’re having trouble getting you to leave the house; you don’t want to go anywhere, and you often burst into tears at the suggestion. You shrink away from any kind of crowd.

We have a small house—with no backyard—so getting out is  key to our sanity. Your Dad and I are trying to make you feel safe, trying to give you some control over where we go and when. But sometimes in life, you’ve just got to go places!


You’ve had your first experience with death, and we had our first experience talking to you about it. Grandma Z’s beloved lab “Jersey” died a few weeks ago. The dog was my father’s before he died, so it was tough to see him go. Neither your Dad nor I are religious, and we wanted to give you the facts about what happened. We told you that Jersey had been old and that his organs stopped working. He was no longer alive; it was OK to miss him.

You spent a few days repeating what we told you, and we reiterated the information when you asked us to. Soon after, Grandma rescued “Buddy”—who you unsuccessfully tried to name “Nobo”—and you’ve been preoccupied with him. Still, I felt sad that you had to learn about death. I struggle with the concept as an adult (who doesn’t?), so my instinct was to protect you from the knowledge as long as possible. But I know that’s not beneficial or realistic.


In a few months your first cousin is going to be born. It will be incredible to watch you meet him.

You and I have shared some incredibly sweet times recently. Before bed on Tuesday, I kissed you on the forehead. “Thank you for a wonderful day, Charlie,” I whispered. You sighed contently and replied, “Thank you for a wonderful day, Mommy…..Thank you for a wonderful day, Daddy.”

The next morning you demanded “Kiss me! Hug me!” before Daddy drove you to school.

But my favorite moment came one day after school, when we were playing in Grandma B’s backyard. You threw your arms into the air, lifted your face to the sun, closed your eyes, and called out, “It’s a beautiful day!”

My dear sweet boy, may all of your days be filled with such joy and life.


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