Letters to Charlie: On Turning 9

My dear son,

I’m writing this letter while you’re lying next to me in bed, reading. See, you’re 9 years old now, so you get to stay up until a very-late 8:30 p.m. On nights I put you to bed versus Jack, we often find ourselves curled up together with our books (you’re currently reading a “Teen Titans Go” graphic novel).

It’s one of my favorite times together. We don’t talk much, but I get a bit of that uninterrupted, one-on-one closeness with you, times that seem to grow fewer and fewer as you grow older.

You’ll notice that I’m writing this well after your May birthday. I had planned to at least start your letter that evening, but mere minutes after we got home, you accidentally slammed Jack’s fingers into the door jam in a fit of rage, and we all headed to Urgent Care to ensure they weren’t broken.

You were devastated. Partly, because you unintentionally really hurt your brother. Mostly, I suspect, because you felt your birthday night was ruined. You’d already had a tough day at school; you were really bothered by a snotty remark from a classmate about your birthday: “Congratulations, Charles, you’re one year closer to dying.” WTF, kid.

Birthdays were special in my house growing up, and I treat them the same way as a mom. That night, you were going to pick a place to eat dinner, and we had purchased a giant ice cream cake. All those plans got messed up the moment we heard Jack’s scream. (Sadly, for me, I had just taken the bottle of wine out of the fridge and set it on the counter.)

Luckily, Jack was OK, and an In & Out Burger was close to Urgent Care, so the night wasn’t a total wash. And, I hope you learned a valuable lesson about actions having consequences.

Speaking of lessons, this has been a year of challenges and also wins as you continue to grow and mature. Since you began preschool, you’ve followed the same pattern: The year begins great, but we start to hear about behavioral challenges around November. We work on those and winter goes well, but then issues bubble up again in the Spring. This year was no different.

In third grade, we’ve had two parent-teacher conferences, four meetings with the after-school program coordinator, and one call from the principal. At one point, you were in danger of losing your spot in that after-school program for poor behavioral choices. We told you that if we heard from the school one more time, we’d make the choice that you wouldn’t be able to look at a screen until the end of the school year. Things shaped up after that.

Third grade has been tougher for me as a parent. All of a sudden, you’re coming home with very adult questions and facing more complicated psychological situations at school. I’m incredibly grateful that you ask me these questions (ex: “Mom, what does it mean to be gay?”), so that I have a chance to frame a response that reflects our family’s values — and also one that is factually correct.

In the car one day, we were listening to a podcast about what age parents should start talking to their kids about sex. We thought you were buried in a book (note to self: children are always listening), but you piped up, “I’m 8 years old, and I already know about sex.” Ummmmm, Dad and I locked eyes and communicated non-verbally, We’re not sure you do. While the “What Makes a Baby” book was pretty good about laying out basic facts, I didn’t think you knew the mechanics.

I scrunched up my face and mumbled some high-pitched tones that communicated, “Should we tell him?” and your Dad shrugged acquiescently. So, I asked you what sex was. After a few seconds, you admitted you didn’t really know, so I told you. After the explanation, I asked if you had any questions; you nervously replied, “Um, no!,” and immediately stopped talking to us.

A few months ago, we learned you had tested into G.A.T.E., scoring at the 99th percentile nationally. Dad and I attended a parents’ information session where the instructor reviewed a list of character traits that are often associated with gifted students. It was REVELATORY. Dad and I kept meeting each other’s eyes and mouthing, “OMG, this is Charlie!”

— Strong willed; resists direction
— Dislikes unclear/illogical areas
— Manipulates words/information
— Worries about humanitarian concerns
— Constructs complicated rules
— May become class clown for attention
— Asks all the questions and draws inferences

I could go on. Not to make this all about me, but I’ve never felt so seen as a parent. So many of your triumphs, your struggles, your motivations, your reactions align with these traits.

I have some complicated feelings about G.A.T.E. As a kid, I didn’t get into the program, even though most of my friends were in it, and I carried shame about not being “smart enough” for many years. But at the parent-teacher conference, I learned that it’s more about the way your brain works versus how “smart” you are. I’m excited that you’ll be in the program next year, especially since your school puts an emphasis on your emotional development in addition to your academic development.

Let’s talk about how independent you’re getting, you 9-year-old. A few months ago, we took your younger cousin to LegoLand. At one point, you, he and Jack ran ahead of your uncle and me and we ended up losing track of you for several minutes. However, I felt completely comfortable in your ability to handle getting lost at a theme park, which still strikes me as super weird. I knew you’d take care of the two younger boys and come up with a solution to get us back. And you totally handled it.

I’ve left you home when I had to run up to the store. Dad and I have gone on a handful of after-dinner walks alone — gasp! — while you watched Jack. One morning on Spring Break, I left both you boys in front of TV cartoons in the hotel room and went to the gym (Grandma Z was next door), and also let you take Jack alone on the lazy river. Sometimes I can’t believe it.

Even Baron has started to let you pet him!

Other highlights from your eighth year:

Halloween costume: Some kind of dragon zombie (scary dragon mask + black clothes). Initially, you wanted to wear a terrifying “Navy Seal Black Ops 6” outfit that came with a skeleton mask and two knives. We decided that was a little too fascist-state for us.

Favorite book: The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Grandma Z brought over the book one day (it once belonged to my Dad — cue tears), and you started reading it aloud with Dad at night. Now, you stuff this thousand-page book in your backpack most days and take it to school with you, so you can read on your own.

Best friend(s): Jet, Everett, Ryan, Cash (Allie from across the street is well into her early teen years, so she has understandably fallen off the radar)

Hobby: Video games. Oh, so many video games. When you were born, Dad made a onesie for you that said, “One day I will beat you at video games.” Well, that day is clearly here. You love Lego Star Wars and Mario Kart and Splatoon 2 (I guess the first one sucked?) and, of course, Minecraft. A few times this year, you’ve gone with Dad to an all-day video game session at his friend Josh’s house. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you happier.

Favorite dance: This is clear tie between flossing and the Snoop Dog move from “Drop it Like It’s Hot,” which you do when you think something is cool.

Favorite TV Show: Top Chef or Nailed It!

Favorite celebrity: John Cena, though no one knows why. I guess a bunch of your friends starting talking about him and you thought he sounded cool? You definitely were never exposed to this person in our house. Now, you have some disturbing, roided-out photo of him with angel wings as the wallpaper to your iPad. It’s. So. Weird.

Favorite food: You’d say ice cream cake, but I have to go with bacon on this one. At Josh and Lea’s wedding, they had a Bloody Mary bar with a jar full of bacon as a cocktail accessory. You kept sneaking up to the table and grabbing handfuls of the stuff to shove in your mouth.

Favorite sport: None. You refuse to go out for any team sports. You and Jack both cry when Dad and I have the gall to suggest we go on a hike. Dad and you tested rock climbing this year. I even bribed you to run a mile with me, hoping you’d find it fun. One bright spot is that you’ve begun taking gymnastics again (flashback to when you were 3, and you flat-out refused to do the first half of your gymnastics class…we ended up dis-enrolling you because you spent most of the class stubbornly sitting down in the middle of the group).

One night I got home late from work and sneaked into your bedroom to say goodnight. This is when you feel most vulnerable, when I can get you to share some details from your day just so I’ll stay longer. Somehow college came up, and you got very quiet.

“Mom, do I have to go somewhere far for college?”
“Of course not, baby. But I have the feeling that when you’re older, you’ll want to go out on your own and attend school elsewhere.”
“I know you say that. But it’s not true….
(at this point, some tears begin to fall) ….Where ever I am during the day, I want to come home to you every night. Even if you make me move out, I’ll only live a few houses down forever. I want to always be near you.

Oh, my sweet boy. My heart. There is some part of me that desperately yearns for that. At 9 years old, you are halfway to being an adult and I can’t quite wrap my mind around that.

But the greatest joy about being your mother is watching you grow and change and become the person that you’ll be. I imagine I’ll feel the same sense of awe and gratitude when you do leave for college, even though there will always be a Charlie-sized hole in my heart when you’re not physically here.

Until then, I will appreciate these fleeting moments — even the ones involving the principal, and especially the ones like now, when we’re side-by-side, cuddling with our books before lights-out at 8:30 p.m.

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Letters to Jack: 4 Years, 7 Months

Hey there, peanut,

It’s Memorial Day, so we’re all home together. A few hours after you woke up, I found myself imploring, “Universe, grant me the strength to get through this day.”

By that point, you had thrown your stuffed Yoda at Charlie’s face for no reason, screamed at me for suggesting we take a hike today (we did, and it was awesome), peed on the couch, and had thrown a tantrum because you refused to change your wet pants and therefore couldn’t go with Charlie and me to the bagel shop.

They call these the “F*%k You Fours,” right?

It’s definitely been a challenge to foster your independence. At breakfast, you asked me for a fork. When I said you were perfectly capable of walking over to the drawer to get one for yourself, you let out an interminable whine, and groaned, “But I don’t want to get up agaaaaaain!”

Welcome to my life, kid.

Then, there are times you absolutely want to do things for yourself. Case in point: We park the car, and Charlie leans over to unbuckle your seat belt after he unbuckles his own. You explode in a fit of rage. By this point, Charlie has walked around the car to open your (child-locked) door, and you ratchet your screaming to deafening levels. So, you are yelling, Charlie is crying, and everyone in the Vons parking lot is trying not to make eye contact.

For some reason, you’ve decided to dig in on your refusal to pee. It can take me 20 minutes every morning to incentivize, beg, cajole, threaten and sometimes drag you into the bathroom before you will go. Dad and I at experts by now at identifying your pee-pee dance — all while you insist that you are in no need of a restroom. Then, of course, it’s DEFCON 1, and I’m praying that you don’t pee all over the home goods section of Target. (Sorry, Target)

In the next few weeks, you will graduate from preschool. You’ve been working really hard on developing your fine motor skills (particularly writing and coloring) and following directions. You know all your letters, have started doing basic addition and subtraction, and can read many three- and four-letter words. You even know some Mandarin! You’re improving at pronouncing “L”s; we’re also focusing on “R”s.

Your teachers say you are incredibly smart, that your vocabulary is far beyond grade level, and that your brain moves so quickly that it can be challenging for you to focus on the task at hand.

Still, we see progress. Last week was your end-of-the-year school performance, and though you spend a good 70 percent of the song fiddling with your costume, poking the student next to you, rolling around, and at one point licking your shoe, you stayed on the stage the entire time — and even sang parts of the songs!

Because you were born in the fall and we live in the great state of California, you will attend Transitional Kindergarten next year. Dad and I are grateful for this extra time to help you develop skills and prepare for kindergarten. We also need this additional year to determine whether we want to place you in the school’s Mandarin immersion program. It’s been our goal to have you enroll, but we’ve heard cautious feedback about the tough academic environment. While your primary teacher didn’t say you weren’t a fit when I asked her about the program recently, she mentioned the rigorous instruction and expressed appreciation that we have another year to decide.

It’s really incredible to watch you grow, even though I know it can be tough. Recently, Dad and I had a night by ourselves while you and your brother stayed at Grandma’s. Like all parents do when they’re away from their children, we reflected on all the reasons we love you guys.

For you, we celebrated your sweet nature, your unbounded capacity to show love, your joy of making others laugh.

In the past few months, you’ve embraced the phrase, “I love you,” and you say it with abandon. Where ever I am, you find me and climb onto my lap. You’ve begun participating in our dinner-table ritual of expressing gratitude for some part of our day (though we often have to encourage you to say more than, “I’m grateful for my day”). You shout “huggie” when you see me and run into my arms.

On the nights I get home late from work, but near enough to bedtime that I know you’re still awake, I love to climb into your bed. Your eyes grow big with surprise and awe, and you cover me in cuddles, kisses and hugs. I don’t know if there is a better feeling in the world.

Then, I’ll peek in a few hours later and inevitably find you wrapped around six or seven cars that you’ve dug out of your shelf in the darkness, even though no toys are allowed in bed. One time I found a drum kit.

You are my goofy, bright-eyed, loving little boy. Though I sometimes want to use a different “F” word to describe these years, I know deep in my bones that they really are simply Fantastic.

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Letters to Jack: 4 Years, 4 Months

Hey peanut,

As a parent, there are times when you can’t get enough of your kids. They seem extra cute, extra cuddly, extra special. Luckily for us, we’re in this phase right now.

This comes after a period in which your behavior and general emotional state led to a lot of aggravation and stress (see previous post about your screaming, hitting and biting). Things seemed to have calmed down; you’re happier, playing more with your brother, and keeping your teeth to yourself.

This doesn’t include the ruckus you caused when we went to mass recently with Grandma Z and your cousin (it’s amazing what she’ll get me to do with a promise of La Bella Pizza). At first we tried sitting next to Grandma’s friends, but you became squirrely fast. We moved to the enclosed “baby room,” but you began sneaking out into the adjacent hallway as a mischievous way to push limits with Mom.

I thought this was OK because it kept you occupied and the hallway wasn’t directly connected to the rest of the church. But suddenly the lights went out in our area because you found a crucial light switch. Later, you made a run for it when I was distracted. When I finally caught up with you, you were trying to steal a man’s glasses from his seat while he was kneeling in the pews.

At that point, I scooped you, clutched your wriggling body against my side, and headed for the exit. The crowd near the back doors parted like the Red Sea.

You almost broke your arm at a friend’s rehearsal dinner, so that was also exciting. You kept rocking back on your chair facing the wrong way, eventually losing to gravity, and your arm somehow got wedged between the backrest and the floor. The sound of your cry was awful, and I guiltily envisioned a tough night ahead for us in the ER. Miraculously, an angel appeared out of nowhere and said, “I’m a pediatrician. Do you mind if I look at his arm?”

Why, yes. Yes, you may.

Luckily, she said you just bruised it, and you were soon running around with the other kiddos. Phew!

You’ve definitely reverted to some kind of oral phase in your development. I picked you up from school one day and your jacket’s sleeves and collar were soaked. I thought you’d been playing in the sink while washing your hands, but the teachers said you were gnawing on the fabric all day.

Alex, your stuffed alligator, is practically missing his entire face at this point. What’s left is perpetually covered in your saliva, which you horrifyingly try to stick in my face to be funny. In fact, Grandma B wrote an entire poem for you at Christmas about your favorite stuffed animals and love of chewing them.

You also clog the toilet. Like, every time. It’s become such a funny occurrence in our house. How can something so big come out of someone so small?!

As mentioned, you’re getting along better with Charlie. The first thing you do when you wake up is search for him in the house, even if he’s still sleeping, lucky him. In fact, Dad and I get to “sleep in” on the weekends, meaning that you and your brother usually play together until the arguing starts to escalate (usually around 7:15). It’s nice that you’re old enough to spend this time with one another.

That isn’t to say there isn’t fighting. You recently came up to me with big, worried eyes and said, “Mom, Chawee is crying because I didn’t do anything.” Sure, kid.

I spent a few hours in your bed one night because you were struggling with a cold, and I woke up to you repeatedly smacking me in the head. You were completely asleep. Bet you’re dreaming about your brother, I thought wryly.

Your sweetness toward others, however, is unmatched. While visiting recently, Grandma Z announced it was time she headed home. “You can’t go; I wuv you!!,” you shouted. At the dinner table, I said I was chilly. “You awh cold?” you exclaimed, “I wull give you a hug!” and you wrapped me up as tight as you could in your little arms.

You burst into tears when our gardener cut down our roses for their January pruning; you thought they’d been hurt.

I took you to see “Mary Poppins,” and you snuggled in my lap the entire time. Last night I crawled in your bed to say goodnight after I got home after bed time, and you caressed my face until we both fell asleep.

Your brother is nearly nine (holy crap!), and I’m constantly confronted by how big and adult he’s looking. While Charlie refuses to hug me in front of his friends, you still rush at me with squeals and kisses every time I pick you up from school.

For this reason, I’m sure, I cling to and treasure this sweetness. Jack, you bring so much love and light into our lives. Whether you’re covering me in hugs, or trying to take down the Catholic Church, I will always be your biggest fan.

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Letters to Jack: 4 years, 2 months

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Hey there, sweet thing,

It’s a few days before New Year’s, mostly quiet in the house. We just finished reading two books — Thanks from the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Cars’ Tractor Trouble — in your new big-kid bed. We couldn’t find Alex, your green, stuffed alligator whose nose and tail you’ve chewed off, so we decided he must be playing hide and seek and, boy, he picked a really good spot. Dad and Charlie are taking turns reading a book in his room, and he’ll be going to bed soon, too.

Sounds like an idyllic holiday break, no?

In many ways, it really has been. Lots of time together, and time with your grandmas. Cuddles on the couch while watching old-school “Frosty the Snowman.” Trimming the Christmas tree and eating cookies. A blissful trip to a ranch where you got to feed sheep, ride horses, and go on a hayride to look for Christmas lights.

But there has also been screaming. So much screaming. And yelling. And crying. Your new four-year-old brain must be going through some kind of massive transformation because you’ve been acting downright bonkers for the past few weeks.

Lack of impulse control is a recurring challenge. A lot of Jack-don’t-touch/do thats followed by you repeatedly and unceremoniously touching and doing just that. On Thursday you locked yourself, me and Charlie in the garage only minutes after getting in trouble for locking the bathroom door. No phone. No shoes. No bra. Ah, fun times.

And there are the tantrums, those classic zero-to-60, I-want-what-I-want-and-I-want-it-now episodes that generally leave you writhing on floors or screaming in the car. You’re getting stronger, so you’ve begun responding physically to situations that you don’t find acceptable. Pinching, biting, hitting. While wrangling you at the Zoo the other day, you tried four times to tear my glasses off my face because you were so pissed.

The majority of these situations unsurprisingly involve your brother, because you still fight like you’re competing in the Hunger Games. If I hear another “No, you didn’t, “Yes, I did,” “No, you didn’t,” “Yes, I did,” exchange between the two of you, I may move out of the country.

Or, one instant you’re laughing uproariously at one another, then shrieking that one of you hurt the other — ON PURPOSE, of course — then back to laughing uproariously again. All in like four seconds. How can parents survive this madness?!

I took you and Charlie to Target a few weeks back — without Dad, silly me — and the entire trip was like this. One minute, I’m yelling out for you to stop playing tag in the breakable household goods section; the next, I’m trying to console your broken heart because Charlie said we couldn’t buy the gift bag of the dabbing Santa and ripped it out of your hands.

In the checkout line, you decided it would be fun to wrestle each other, right there on the dirty Target floor. Limbs everywhere. Giggles punctuated by screams of pain. I looked down at you both, exhausted defeat in my eyes, and heard a man chuckle behind me.

“Boys,” he said, with a look of empathy. “I’ve got two at home.”

Yet, between the fighting episodes have been some really sweet moments. Christmas Eve and Christmas morning were just lovely. You are fully immersed in the magic, and so is Charlie still, we believe, so the whole thing was such a joy for your Dad and me. Your favorite gifts from Santa were pajamas (PJ Masks and moose ‘jams), a Hot Wheel race care track, Alpha-Bots, and a neck pillow for the car. In fact, you love that pillow so much that you wore it on your head for at least 48 hours.

Your holiday concert at preschool was hilariously special. I joke that you’re not destined for the theater because you just marched to the beat of your own drum up there, baby. No singing “Gingerbread Man” with your classmates. And you forgot — or didn’t care about — choreography. Instead, you waved excitedly at Grandma B and me, gazed in giggly awe at all the parents in the audience, and didn’t quite feel like going back to your seat when your group solo was over. I’ll treasure the video I took of that performance forever.

For Halloween, I convinced you to be a “Jack” character for the fourth year in a row (victory!) and you went as Jack Jack from the Incredibles. In November, we took you to Disneyland for the first time, where
you loved the rocket ships and sat in the front seat on Splash Mountain!
Driving into the parking structure, Grandma Z said, “Jack, get ready to be amazed.” You exclaimed, adorable, “I wuv to be amazed!”

There are the more subtle joys, too. Like how you make friends with adults and kids wherever you go. The way you close your eyes and smile when you taste something that you like. Your obsession with whether or not we are driving on a freeway, and, if so, what is it’s name; if not, when will we go on the freeway?! Your preference for sitting on my lap on the couch, no matter how big you get.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the growing you’ve been doing. Perhaps it’s because you have a new baby cousin — Welcome to the world, Elizabeth! — and she seems so tiny. Or that I was pregnant with you when Charlie was four years and two months old. You’re in a booster seat, a big-kid bed, and you can get dressed and undressed yourself (when you want to). You’re reading a bit and doing early addition. We took you to see The Grinch, your first movie in a theater, and you did great.

I love that you are growing older, but I still cherish those fleeting moments when you still feel new. On Thanksgiving, you fell asleep in the car on the way down to Grandma Z’s and I was able to carry you into the house still zonked. For at least a half an hour, you lay on my chest, sound asleep, drooling a bit, breathing deeply into me. You felt warm and wonderful.

Now, that’s what I call idyllic.

 

 


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Letters to Jack: On Turning 4

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My dear Jack,

I knew exactly what was going to happen, and that made it all the sweeter.

Walking in the door at the end of the day, you and Charlie were in your usual spot– shoulder-to-shoulder on the couch, watching “Robo Car Poli.” I threw down my bags, threw on some ‘jams, and curled up next to you.

Without missing a beat, you climbed onto my lap (or, at least, tried to get as much of your giant body as possible onto my lap) and snuggled in close.

That was last night. And today, my dear boy, you turn 4 years old.

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I clearly remember Charlie’s fourth birthday; you were growing in my belly and Charlie suddenly seemed so big. 

You, however, still feel like my little guy. I think it’s because you’ve managed to retain a sweetness that feels so pure, a gift from the universe.

Besides being the world’s biggest cuddle bug, you’ve begun saying “I wuv you” unprompted. You say it often, while stroking my arm at the dinner table, when I’m buckling you into your car seat, as I deliver a fresh bowl of Cherrios to the breakfast table, when you’re stalling before bed. You close your eyes, flash your sweet smile, hug me around the middle, and all is right with the world.

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You talk to everyone — kid, adult, Vons checkout clerk, Amazon delivery guy — and strike up a conversation. You ask so many questions. You love to share facts about your life, about your big “bwothuh.” You have the most silly, expressive faces. You shouted, “MISS DAISY!!!!!!!!!!,” when you spotted your teacher on the first day of school, and ran at least 50 yards before jumping into her arms. You asked for Charlie to have a a turn opening your birthday presents so that he would be happy, too.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re sunshine and rainbows all the time. In fact, some of our most frustrating times with one another have occurred in the past few months. It’s the age, for sure. Tantrums happen quickly.  Time outs happen frequently.

You have very strong opinions about the “right” way for me to play toys with you. You still balk at eating most meat (vegetarian, maybe?) and hate sharing your “gratefuls” for the day at the dinner table.

The whining — oh, the whining! — can feel interminable. In the morning, it can take us a half hour to just get you on the potty and into some clothes. And you’ve begun shouting, “BUT I KNOW EVERYTHING!,” when I correct something you’ve said.

Also, you and Charlie tell on each other like I’ve offered some kind of reward.

However, there are more and more bright spots in your brotherhood. You’ve both learned that NOT waking up Mom and Dad on the weekends garners you more “chips,” which you can exchange for screen time, so Saturdays and Sunday mornings have been lovely.

I slept PAST 8 A.M. last weekend, while you played together in Charlie’s room. Quietly. Without killing each other. Me from a year ago would have never thought that was possible.

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You love weekends, actually. We bought you a magnetic calendar for your room because it became so difficult to break the news every morning that, no, it wasn’t a weekend day. You love to cross off the days and add magnet descriptors about what’s coming up, but get frustrated when I take down the “Snow Day” tile. Sorry, dude, we live in a desert.

Preschool is incredibly fun at this age. At four years old, you’re no longer one of the youngest kids. You can write your name. You’ve begun reading three-letter words. You ask me to read every display we see (last week, for example, the lipstick signage at CVS).

You’re a big kid, physically, too. In the last few months, we’ve had to plunge your toilet more frequently than the entire time we’ve lived in this house. I don’t understand, you’re so tiny. WHERE DO YOU KEEP SUCH GIANT POOP?!

You recently embraced your first joke, and tell it constantly.

“Mommy, what’s a zombie’s favorite toy?”

“Jack, you just told me the answer. Three times.”

“MOMMY, WHAT’S A ZOMBIE’S FAVORITE TOY?”

“I dunno, Jack. What is it?”

“A deady bear!!!!!!!!!!”

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I am so appreciative of this time with you, my little sweets. I fully recognize that as my youngest and last child, I’m probably holding on a little too tight to the baby in you.

It’s just that you cast so much love into this world. It’s almost too much for my heart to bear. I glance around, try to make eye contact with other adults, as if to say, “Can you believe this kid?! He’s so incredible, right?!”

While pushing you on the backyard swing the other day, you yelled out, “Push me higher, Mom, so that I can kiss the sun!”

You, my birthday boy, shine just as bright. May this coming year — and all the years that await — be filled with such light.

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Letters to Jack: Almost 4

img_20180626_072850.jpgDearest Jackers,

Wow — it’s really been a while since I last wrote you a letter. More than three months! I’m sorry, buddy.

The delay was due to a combination of factors: we’re a busy family, the obvious fact that I’m working too much, my struggle to find time to write, and just sheer exhaustion by the end of the day when I might have that time.

But, enough about me. Right now, you and Charlie are in the living room with Dad playing “Super Mario Odyssey.” Since his birthday, Charlie’s been on that game every time he has screen-time “chips” to exchange, and you’re content to sit next to him and just watch. Charlie will sometimes give you a play-by-play, you’ll tell him to watch out for bad guys. It’s very cute.

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You’re getting along better, and I think this is partly because you can do more big-kid things. You understand the concept of tag now, so you and Charlie play that often. The other night, Dad and I paused while making dinner and realized that Charlie was teaching you how to play Uno in the other room. It was quiet, no one was screaming, and I gave myself a smug pat on the back for having two children who could be each other’s friends.

Today is a bit of a milestone day. The road leading us here started a few months ago when my flabbergasted friends convinced me that you no longer needed the “OMG ARE YOU BREATHING” monitor in your bed. I slowly (though not completely) got used to the black void of unknowing, though I was still going into your room when I heard you stir in the morning.

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Well, something clicked today when you began calling for me before 6:30 a.m. If there is no monitor on your bed, I realized, then you can totally get out of bed on the weekends and play by yourself WHILE MOMMY SLEEPS. Gosh, I’m brilliant.

You’re potty trained at night now — another great success over the past few months — so I don’t need to worry about diapers and such. I dug through your closet and brought out The Tot Clock that Ash gave us years ago. Starting tomorrow, you will know it’s morning when the clock turns yellow and you can play alone in your room. While I stay in bed. (Here’s hoping.)

This summer, we took a big trip with friends up to the Redwoods. In total, there were 25 of us, 10 of whom were children. I loved spending so much time as a family, and you and Charlie had incredible fun bouncing back and forth among the cabins. There were two other kids about your age, and you often sat as a trio at dinner trading utterances of fart, poop and butt.

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One day, you and I stayed behind while the adults and big kids went on a long hike. That was OK with you because there was construction work happening along the main road, so we just sat by the entrance to our cabins and watched dump trucks and excavators pass by all morning.

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You also started swim lessons, and boy, you’re a fish. Charlie was fearful of, and resistant to, swimming until he was in first grade, so it came as a surprise how you jumped in — literally! The challenge is that you think you can do more than you’re able to, and you try lunging out of my arms to swim on your own. I let you go once, and you just sank, so we’ve got to be careful about that.

You were really into Fourth of July fireworks this year. We decided you were old enough to go to the show near our house. You loved how big and bright and loud they were, and now when you sit on Dad’s shoulders you pretend to be a firework exploding in the air. Poof!

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This summer, you’ve spent your days at a preschool housed in the local concrete jungle of a high school. It’s been fine, I guess. I mean who needs grass and open space when it’s consistently over 90 degrees outside anyway? They also have scrap paper for coloring from the local jail, which I’m sure there is a story behind. Still, I miss your home classroom and teachers, and I’m looking forward to school starting in a few weeks.

Before the school year ended, you and your classmates put on a music show that I couldn’t attend because of a work conflict. This was heartbreaking for me, but luckily Dad and Grandma B went, and smartphone videos are a thing. The kids wore some sort of costume during one of the early songs, and for some reason, the teachers didn’t take yours off. So, for the rest of the show, you sat happily at the edge of the group with a GIANT PINK FLOWER ON YOUR HEAD. Not bothered one bit. At one point during the show, you and your giant flower got up to pick up a piece of trash on the floor. The whole thing may be one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.

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Last night, we saw some families from Grandma B’s old preschool. It’s incredible to see all of you kids grow up. You, of course, talked the ears off one of the Dads as soon as we arrived. Later, another Dad remarked how you’re still so loving and affectionate.

This is one of my favorite constants about you. After all this time, you still love to cuddle on the couch. This morning, I brought you into bed hoping you’d fall back asleep, and you just rubbed my arms and touched my face and patted my hair. You still prefer to sit on my lap than anywhere else in the world, and it’s so comforting to feel your body tucked into mine.

The next letter I write will be for your fourth birthday (!!!!), and I know I need to hold on to these sweet moments when you still want to hold onto me.

Thank you for choosing us, little guy.

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Posted in Jack, Letters to Jack | Leave a comment

Letters to Charlie: On Turning 8

IMG_20180526_092659Happy birthday, my baby boy.

You always tell me you’re no longer a baby when I call you that, and I always respond with that awfully cliche, but so totally true statement that no matter what your age, you will always be my baby.

These days, it’s hard to believe you were ever a tiny newborn. You’re almost as tall as my shoulders, and now it’s a game to see what you can do with all of your limbs when you try to sit in my lap. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but the last time I’m ever going to pick you up may have already happened.

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There’s a certain amount of sorrow in that, but it’s quickly overshadowed by what a completely cool kid you are. Seven was my favorite year by far — and not just because you’re old enough to make your own breakfast most days. You are so interesting to be around, never afraid to ask questions about the universe around you. Sometimes, you make me roar with laughter at your clever jokes. And you’re still deeply into reading, so much that your teacher has caught you several times not listening to lessons because you’re sneaking a glance at the book  from inside your desk.

Speaking of school, it’s gone pretty great this year. You have two weeks left to go, so I’m knocking on wood while typing this, but you haven’t seen the principal once this year! You had a few struggles at after-school care — angrily pouring sand on a kindergartner’s head (in front of his parents) comes to mind — but it’s been pretty quiet for a few months.

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Last week, your teacher emailed us after you blazed through a quarterly reading comprehension assessment in 15 minutes (the school allows two hours for the test). Not surprisingly, you received your lowest score all year. Your teacher thought you were rushing to get back to your book (which would’ve been ironic, and not surprising), but when Dad and I spoke with you about it, it became clear you were trying to “beat” the boy next to you.

Thus ensued a lengthy conversation about how “winning” doesn’t always mean coming in first. You argued that you did win because you scored six points higher than the boy. Au contraire, we explained. If he scored even one point higher than his last test result, he actually beat you.

You didn’t like that very much.

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Age 7 is really when these shades-of-gray conversations about the world begin. Outside of Vons one day, I donated a few dollars to an organization that serves children with special needs. It spurred a deeper conversation about the organizations and causes your Dad and I support, including the ACLU. You asked what they do, and after I explained, you asked me if I knew that “people with our skin color used to hate people with black skin color.”

We talked about the history of why that was. I impressed upon you how these awful feelings still exist in our country and why “people with our skin color” need to be aware of that. To try driving home the ridiculousness of racism, I used the example of one of your friends who wears glasses. What if our society decided that all people who wore glasses were not as “good” as those who didn’t? What if they decided to hate your friend because of it? What if you couldn’t play with him simply because he wore glasses? You thought that reasoning was bonkers.

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These kind of complicated conversations also come with complicated feelings. Driving to Costco one day, I heard you begin to softly cry in the backseat. Turning into the parking lot, you’d seen a man holding a sign that read, “So broke it hurts. Help a homeless family with children.”

It was clear you’d put yourself in their shoes and were experiencing true, overwhelming empathy. As your mother, I felt a mixture of sadness that you were discovering these profound injustices exist in the world, but also pride at the way you reacted. You helped us pick out some food that we purchased for the man and his family.

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Sometimes I wish this kindness translated to your relationship with Jack. At one point this year, I had to escape from the fighting and shrieking before I lost my sanity, so went for a run. Each time I wanted to stop, I thought about having to go back into our shrill house. I RAN NINE MILES THAT DAY. Sheer exhaustion was the only thing that brought me home.

Dad devised a brilliant strategy for tampering this conflict. You’d been asking for a Nintendo Switch for your birthday, so he mastermined a challenge for you to earn that gift: Each time you had a constructive interaction with Jack, you received a point; each time you had a detrimental interaction, you earned a point for that, too. By your birthday, you needed twice as many constructive points in order to earn the Nintendo.

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Shockingly to us, it was easy to you at first. You were as sweet as pie to Jack for several days. Then, drift started to occur as your realized your brother can be a three-year-old asshat who sometimes bites.

Dad’s challenge gave us a framework for pointing out ways that you tend to stir up trouble, and there are more and more instances when it’s clear you’re trying to be nice to him, and he’s just looking for a fight. Suffice it to say, you’re really going to love your birthday present tomorrow.

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Besides Jack, you’ve grown some great friendships this year. At your birthday party this weekend, I was heartened that you had so many kiddos to invite. I don’t intend for that to sound mean, but there were periods over the past few years when I was concerned that your intense competitiveness and deep emotions would make it hard for you to find your tribe.

I think Lego League Jr. helped a lot. You participated in this amazing STEM program over the winter (Dad was team leader) and you really blossomed. You’d decided by early fall that soccer was definitely no longer your jam, and weren’t interested in any other sports. Lego team was the first activity you were excited to do every. single. session. No dragging you to the car, no fighting about all the other things you’d be missing, no crying over not being able to use screens. You developed friendships with several other boys who were just as excited to participate.

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Other highlights from your seventh year:

  • Halloween costume: Iron Man.
  • Protest attended: March for our Lives. “Mom, what’s the NRA?”
  • Ratio of “nice” smiles to silly ones in photos: 1:2056
  • First Broadway musical performance: Hamilton, in LA. Wooooooo!
  • Favorite board game: Marbles. You won your first game of this family tradition during a Christmas gathering, and now you’re hooked. You make all of our adult friends play with you when they come over.

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  • Favorite puzzle: Word Search. I love when we work on these together.
  • Way you wear your hair: Smoothed down straight over your forehead and NO OTHER WAY. I can’t wait until you realize how cute you look with it styled. Dad and I have tried to bargain with you for TV time in exchange for letting us shoosh your hair.
  • Favorite video game: Monster Hunter. A few weeks ago, Dad took you to a friend’s house where the three of you played this game together for several hours. I don’t know whether you or Dad were more excited about that.
  • Favorite TV shows: “Superwings” and “PJ Masks.” You also love watching “Top Gear” with Dad.

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  • Favorite book: Amulet series
  • Favorite song: “TNT” (Minecraft parody of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”)
  • Most despised song: “Breakfast Burrito,” when we curl Jack up in a towel after his bath and chase you around the house singing it.
  • Favorite sport: Bump.
  • Best friends: Raiden, Allie, Jet, Cooper, Everett, Forest…”Everyone who was at my party, mom.”
  • Favorite food: Grandma Barbara’s ice box cake and Grandma Z’s meatballs. You also ate HALF A LARGE PIZZA one day recently. I’m worried about your appetite as a teenager.

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  • Favorite podcast: Wow in the World. This has become our new bedtime story.
  • Favorite movie: You still really dislike movies. I managed to get you to “The Greatest Showman,” but you absolutely refuse to watch it again (even though it’s the best movie EVAH). And we can’t seem to get past  Yoda and Luke on Dagobah in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
  • Knowledge about your family history: Zero. During Heritage Night at your school, I asked if you knew your family heritage. “Duh, mom. Californian.”
  • Favorite language: Pig Latin. Dear Lord, please let me survive this difficult time in our lives.

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Wow, what a full year. I really don’t know how we’re going to top this one, buddy. But, knowing you, you’ll continue to bring magic, wonder and laughter into all of our lives.

I’m so proud of the person you are becoming. Whether you are 8 or 88, you’ll always be my baby boy — and I’ll always be grateful to be your mother.

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Posted in Charlie, Letters to Charlie | Tagged | 2 Comments