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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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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Letters to Jack: 3.5 Years

My dear, sweet boy,

I don’t know why, but you are so incredibly scrumptious right now. Getting you dressed for bed tonight, I couldn’t stop giving you all the kisses and nuzzles, hugs and tickles. I’m a little obsessed with you these days, charmed by your easy hugs and bright smile and the fact that you still pronounce “little” as “whittle.”

You’re at the crossroads of toddler and little kid, and I think my brain is trying to hold on to every sweet moment.

Your teachers are desperately enamored with you, too. Each time I drop you off or pick you up, one of them exudes her love of your effusive personality, your adorable vocabulary, your gentle affection. One teacher said she wishes her future grandchildren will be like you (she’s the one who nicknamed you “handsome”). Even the parents of your schoolmates seem excited to see you; they all know your name, whereas I can name maybe four kids in your class, on a good day.

Preschool is going very well. My hangups about the classroom have mostly dissipated. You’ve made friends. You come home happy and healthy, even if you groan all morning about not wanting to go to school (who knew complaining started this early?). And the whole pooping-in-the-potty thing finally clicked. One day about six weeks ago you woke up and — poof — you were a kid who pooped in the potty. Now our big battle is getting you to pee more frequently so you don’t find yourself at DEFCON 1 so often.

I can tell you’re learning so much at school — in English and in Mandarin! I was practicing Mandarin on Duolingo the other day (decided I should learn some basics about the language to keep up with you), and you said, “zài jiàn? — that’s goodbye!” For the past several days, you’ve been singing a song about a radish. You tell me it’s not in Mandarin,  “It’s just bá luó bo!”

Charlie and you are getting along better. Shall I dare acknowledge there is sometimes laughter in the house between you two? I give credit to Dad, who devised a brilliant challenge for Charlie’s upcoming 8th birthday that’s made a world of difference in our house (I’ll give more details when I write Charlie’s birthday letter in a few weeks). You two seem to particularly get along when you’re ganging up on or teasing me. Hey, I’ll gladly be the brunt of your jokes to avoid all that screaming.

We’re working on a few of your behavior quirks. You get this nervous laugh when we call you out on something you’re not supposed to being doing (like hitting Charlie). I try to remind myself you’re probably not trying to be defiant; it’s most likely some kind of auto response, but it can be aggravating.

Or, maybe it’s because you’re acting pugnacious lately. You’re kind of a dick to your brother at times, which is unfortunate because he’s working so hard to be nicer to you. You’ve learned that taunting Charlie can get a rise out of him. For example, you’ll say over and over, “I’m taller than youuuuu, I’m taller than youuuuuu,” even though that’s demonstrably false. Charlie gets angrier and angrier until he blows up, and then everyone is yelling.

Dad pointed out the other day that when you boys leave for college, I won’t hear “mom…mom…mom…MOM!!!!” every few seconds. He was probably trying to give me comfort during a relentless weekend, but the thought made me feel unexpectedly sad. While I absolutely love my relationship with Charlie as an almost 8 year old, I know how much it’s changed since he was your age. I’ll probably feel just as great about us when you’re at that age, but there’s something about you being my last baby that makes me feel like clinging.

Each day, you have more trouble fitting into my lap. Your hands are now longer than they are wide. We went to Legoland a few times over Spring Break and you were tall enough to ride a roller coaster. The signs are everywhere, reminding me that time marches forward.

But this time together brings such sweetness. The other night before bed, you grabbed my shoulders and pulled me in close for a big snuggle. Then you demanded “100 kiss and 20 hugs!”

My sweet, sweet boy. You can always count on me to give you that — and a “whittle” more.

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Letters to Jack: 3 1/3 years

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Hey there, Jackers,

It’s funny what people will do to keep their sanity. On the 25-minute drive down to Ashleigh’s yesterday, you said “mom” 43 times. How do I know? Because keeping a tally in my head was the only way I wouldn’t drive off the road.

In the car, you want to ask and tell me everything. Sometimes you don’t even make sense. “Mom, why is that tree there?” “Mom, why are there no school buses?” “Mom, are we at Grandma Z’s yet?” “Mom, a construction site…did you see the digger? Did you see it? Mom, did you? Mom?,” “Mom, why is street?”

If I don’t acknowledge you right away, the “moms” get louder and more demanding. “Hey mom……..Maaaoomm……MoMoMoMoMoM………….MOMMY I’M TALKING TO YOUUUUUUUU.”

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I read somewhere that age three is the “magical year.” That author must not have a toddler because I feel like I’m in the “threenager” year. You have many opinions. Things have to be exactly so. We can’t move on to any next thing until you finish a task just the way you want. I had to restrain you in the car seat last week because you didn’t like the way you’d climbed in the car and wanted to do it over and over again. We had three minutes to get Charlie to school.

You’ve begun talking back. Popular phrases these days include: “But, mom…” “I’m just,” “You are MEAN at me,” and “No, I can do it myself!”

You and Charlie are still fighting. A lot. In fact, as I write this, Dad is putting you both in time out for something. I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t have waited 4.5 years before having a second child, that maybe the age divide is just too much to bridge. But then I see other siblings that far apart in age who get along, and I realize it’s just your personalities that clash. That could have happened at any age. With hope, you are re-reading this as an young man and Charlie is your bestest friend in the world.

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You’re entering your third month of preschool, and I’d say the transition is ongoing. You were — and still are — the youngest child in class, by at least six months. I didn’t realize how big a difference that was until I chaperoned your first field trip to the aquarium.

You were all over the place, both physically and emotionally. I attribute part of that to me being there with you, but it really was a full-time job trying to keep you from escaping into one of the tanks. You have another field trip to a busy museum coming up this week, and your teacher pretty much asked that we keep you home if neither Dad nor I could attend.

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I can only imagine how tough it would be going from a class of four students taught by your grandma to a class of 22 students with several teachers. Not to mention an entire elementary school! During the school’s Lunar New Year celebration, you melted down in front of several hundred students and visitors while your class performed a Chinese song about a turnip. You’d never seen that many people before!

Your teachers say you definitely require more attention than the other students at this point. This is especially true of the potty. When I last wrote you a letter, we had eight days to get you potty trained before school began (a requirement to enroll). That first day, we felt pretty confident about pee and crossed our fingers about poop.

Well, we’re still crossing our fingers. We’re two months in, and I think you’ve pooped in the potty at school maaaybe four times? We’re at a loss for what to do, and I know it’s increasingly frustrating for your teachers. I can’t tell if it’s fear of pooping in the potty,  not knowing that it’s coming, or just stubborness. Like a cat, you tend to poop at recess when you’re playing in the sandbox, so maybe you’re just feeling relaxed?

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It’s not much better at home. We started you on the “chip” system  in hopes that you’d be encouraged to poop in the potty. Achieve that and you earn six chips — that’s TWO “Umizoomis!” You’re not buying it — and I’m not getting far.

Me: Jack, I know you want to feel like a big boy. Big boys put their poop and pee in the potty. 

Jack: I’m not a big boy, Mommy.

Me: But I know that you want to be! And Daddy and I want you to be. Babies poop in their diapers, and you’re not a baby, Jack.

Jack: Mom, I’m NOT a big boy and I’m NOT a baby………I am Batman. 

I keep fearing the teachers will say you can’t stay in the classroom, but I think they like you too much. Especially your head teacher. She’s been so kind and gracious about your transition into her class. She’s always telling me how bright and articulate and energetic you are. She assures me that you’ll get there when it comes to the potty. At nap time, she sings to you while you rest your head on her lap.

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I may get frustrated as we navigate these developmental milestones, but, Jack, there’s no one who can make me laugh like you. You are so curious about the world and so full of life. Your facial expressions and giggles are often the best part of my day.

You spread joy wherever you go. Leaving class the other day, I reminded you to say goodbye to your teachers. You stood in the middle of the class, threw up your arms, and shouted, “GOODBYE, FRIENDS!” Everyone beamed.

When we bought breakfast at the bagel shop, you asked if I could carry you to the counter so you could say thank you to the cashier. At night, after I’ve given you a hug, a kiss, then another hug, then another kiss, you always ask if you can have an extra hug and kiss in the morning.

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One of my favorite things about having babies was when your hands were wider than they were long. I noticed the other day that this isn’t the case for you any longer. You’re growing so quickly. Potty trained or not, you are getting to be a big kid, and part of my heart aches for that.

Even though I need a break sometimes, I can’t be away from you or your brother for very long. Dad and I escaped for a night away last weekend, and while it was AMAZING to get that time alone, I started feeling a little antsy for you boys after about 30 hours.

There’s just something about being your mom that completes me. A colleague asked me recently about my 5- to 10-year goals, and what came to my mind was that I wanted to be a good mom.

So, please have patience with me as we travel down this road together. There are some days that are long and frustrating for me, as I’m sure they are for you. Know that I feel so damn lucky to be your mother, and I can’t wait for the adventures ahead — even if that means you say “mom” 3 trillion times on the way there.

“Hey, mom!”

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Letters to Jack: 3 Years, 2 Months

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My dear boy,

Oh my. What a past few months!

It’s been a time of change for our family — filled with some rough times, but also sweet family fun, exciting transitions and 3-year-old towhead who is trying his darndest to pee in the potty.

As of today, we have eight days to get you fully potty trained. You’ll be starting your new preschool in just over a week, now that Grandma B has closed her preschool after more than 30 years. She opened the school when your Daddy was just a little boy and ended it with her last grandchild. Daddy and I are so excited for the good times ahead for her in retirement.

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Our intention was to send you to a different preschool — one more aligned with the Montessori education you (and we) were used to, and one that didn’t require stubborn 3-year-olds to be fully potty trained. The school was 20 minutes from our house, but we could make the drive work because it was on the way to both of our jobs.

However, in November, Daddy was laid off, meaning that the company for which he worked decided he and a few dozen of his colleagues were no longer needed. This was — and still is — a shock to us. The severage package was insulting (in my opinion), and it happened just before the holidays.

We decided we couldn’t enroll you in that preschool we loved, not knowing where Dad would ultimately land a new job and not feeling financially confident to pay the up-front fees and tuition. The idea of finding you an acceptable preschool with an open spot on such short notice seemed terrifyingly impossible.

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But, Serendipity was on our side. We received a call from our back-up preschool where you’d been on the waiting list since April. It’s five minutes from our house and doesn’t require exorbinant pre-enrollment fees. They had one opening starting in January, and would we like it?

While I am so grateful for this turn of events, and love many things about this new school, I have some worries (shocking, I know). Potty training aside, you will be the youngest student in the entire school — younger than Charlie was when he started a new preschool. I’m trying to remind myself that I was just as nervous when Charlie made the transition and he turned out fine. But you’re just so little! Will you be OK without me? Will you be able to keep up? Will the older students let you play with them?

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The curriculum is traditional and very structured. I’ve seen how children, and you especially, thrive in the Montessori environment, and I just don’t like the idea of designated blocks of time for different types of learning. Also, when we visited, the puzzles the kids used were really simple, and it didn’t seem like one of the teachers had any control over the class while we were there.

Ugh, I know I sound like a judgy asshat. I know I need to reel it in. You will be fine. You loved the classroom when we visited, especially the fire truck on the playground and the play kitchen inside. The head teacher seems wonderful and loving. You will be fine.

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Our family will be fine, too. While Dad continues searching for a job, I was offered a promotion at mine. I’ll never forget coming home that night and getting big hugs from Dad and Charlie. Then you ran around the corner, flung out your arms, and yelled, “CON-GWAD-DOO-LAY-TONS!”

While Christmas was more low-key than other years, it was filled with such sweet moments. We went on nightime walks around the neighborhood to check out the lights. Grandma Z helped us trim our tree while we listened to Christmas music. We watched the “Cars” movie a hundred million times. Our dear, former neighbors took us to the Zoo. You rolled the dice for Uncle Pete during our family’s famous marbles game. We all decorated, then devoured, ice cream snowmen at Grandma B’s. You fell asleep in my arms as I sang you, “Silent Night.”

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The list goes on. While there’ve been some rough moments over the past few months, what is always true is how lucky we are to be a family. Regardless of what happens, we have each other.

My dear sweet boy, I look forward to all the adventures — potty, preschool or otherwise — that await us in 2018.

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Letters to Jack: On Turning Three

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My dear boy,

I apologize for writing this letter a few days late. October has been the busiest month for our family in recent memory — Dad has been traveling, I’ve begun editing the parent newsletter for Charlie’s school, and there seems to be non-stop soccer practices and games and birthday parties and other things we’ve promised to do.

But nothing could keep me from wishing you the happiest of birthdays, my dearest three-year-old. Sometimes my heart aches thinking about how quickly you and Charlie are growing up. And sometimes — usually when you’re fighting — I calculate the number of days until you’re both off to college (roughly 3,944 days for Charlie, 5,405 days for you).

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Actually, things have been better lately. You and your brother are slowly finding things to do together — building forts, chasing each other around the house, jumping on the bed, hiding in the hamper, and dancing with glowsticks in the dark alongside Dad and me.

The yelling is still a problem when Charlie makes you unhappy. Dad and I’ve had to speak with you several times about just how scared we get when you scream like someone is cutting off a limb. The encouraging news is that sometimes you yell this loud because you’re happy to be playing with your brother.

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There’ve been some momentous milestones in the past few months. You transitioned to a big-boy bed, which went smoothly. I wanted to keep you in the crib for as long as possible (#anxiousmom), but it was pretty clear you were ready the night I watched you scamper over the railing like a monkey and plop yourself into bed.

You were very excited to learn that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. So happy, in fact, that you’ve been repeating it often: “Jack have penis….. Charlie have penis….. Daddy have penis….Mommy have nooooooo penis.” You called me into your room one night after bedtime just to verify if I had a “‘gina.” Yes, sweety. Go to bed.

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We’re inching forward on using the potty. You’re completely potty trained when naked, but there’s something that hasn’t clicked about underwear. You’ve asked a few times to wear underwear to school instead of a Pull-Up, but then you peed through the underwear and additional pairs. Your grandmas can usually convince you to pee on the potty once during the day, but that seems to be your cap for now.  Oh well, I’m not stressing. The new preschool you’re attending in January doesn’t require a potty-trained kid. You’ll get there.

Everything else about your life has to follow a strict order. At Grandma B’s school the other day, you refused to walk through the front gate when I opened it because that’s Grandma B’s job. She was busy with another student, so you stood there for several minutes completely unwilling to budge.

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You’re also obsessed with doing everything by yourself. I forgot how frustrating this stage of development can be — for toddlers and for me. Climbing into your car seat takes several excruciating minutes. If I try to help speed up the process, you thrash and wail and go limp, and there is no easy way to get a struggling child into a carseat. I’ve found it helpful to turn this torture into a game (“Let’s count up from 1 to see how fast you can get in!”). You also like when I sing the carseat song I made up for Charlie as a kid, to the tune of “Twist and Shout” (Come on, baby…let’s twist and plop….come on, baby, let’s twist and plop…..Climb into your carseat, and twist and plop).

You love singing the “ABC Song,” still. Dad and I went to a conference in September and every time we video chatted with you and Charlie, you started singing. But, when you messed up the letters, you had to go back to the beginning and start again (see above re: order).

Sometimes, you’re a grumpy morning person. When Dad or I creep into your room to wake you up, you yell, “Get… out…of my…. room!” You were sent to bed early one night for refusing to eat any dinner, so the famous three-year-old stubbornness is developing, too.

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You’re pretty smart about extending our bedtime routine, something we also experienced with your brother. When I get about 5/6ths done reading a book you’ve selected, you suddenly decide, “Not that book!,” and try to convince me to start another one. You ask for several hugs once the lights are out — and you’re usually successful with this strategy because mommies love hugs!!!

Speaking of books, you still enjoy them a lot. You’ve begun reciting stories out loud while turning the pages and pretending to read. In the car the other day, I heard your sweet voice from the back seat, saying, “Are you my mother?….No, I’m a COW!”

You’re so expressive. I love the way your face lights up when you see something exciting (“Wook! I see a pwane in duh sky!”) and the way it gets all scrunchy when you’re mad. At your family birthday party, I took video after video of you opening presents just because you were so ebullient about every gift. “It’s a diiiiiiiinooooosauuurrrr! Guys, a diiiiiiiinooooosauuurrrr!!!!

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The other day Dad remarked how easy it is to love you. It’s so true. You give your love freely and easily. You love getting and giving kisses and hugs. You softly rub my arm at bedtime when I’m singing to you. You hold my hand for no reason at all. You even enjoy housework! (“Oh, I’d wuv to, Mommy!,” you exclaim when I ask if you can help with laundry.)

This morning you woke up before the sun rose, so I snuck you into bed with me. We talked quietly in the dark, and every time I moved, you pulled my arm back so that I was holding you tight under the covers. I told you I loved you, and you burrowed deeper into my side.

My sweet boy. You and I may have only 5,405 days left until you’re off to college, but know this: For all those days — and all of the days that come after — you have my heart, and my arms will always be waiting for your hugs.

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Letters to Jack: Nearing 3

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My dear, sweet boy,

I know you’ll hate me one day for starting my letter this way, but you just pooped in the potty! Yaaaaaaaaay!!

Such are the milestones that parents pine for. I longingly imagine the day when there are no more diapers in this house. Just think of how much money I’ll have to buy episodes of “Dinosaur Train” off the internet!

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As you can see, we’re making some progress on the bathroom front. You almost always use the potty if we keep you naked (wooooo!!). But, this happens rarely when wearing your diaper. We’d like to transition to “big boy” underwear, but you’re not ready to consider it. However, you’re spending several days at Grandma Z’s next month and she says her mission is to get you there. #goodluckgrandma

Right now, you and Dad are riding bikes to the park. One thing I love about you is your willingness to do things, even simple errands. Charlie fought to stay home from the moment he learned “no,” so it’s refreshing to go places without resorting to screams and threats.

(::insert sigh::)
You and Charlie. Oil and water. Trump and sane people. Some things just don’t mix.

There is too much fighting in this house. Charlie can be a hellion and you screech bloody murder at any hint of conflict. I lost my shit last Saturday, a sign I was in major need of a Mommy Time Out. Dad had recently returned from a four-day business trip and was away again at his monthly guys’ disc golf game (no irritation about that, just setting the stage).  You screamed at each other all morning. Calm Jess had tried conflict resolution, setting timers for toys, and even separating you in different parts of the house.

But at some point, I had to pee. The second I sat down on the toilet — with high hopes of playing just one game of Candy Crush — chaos erupted. Calm Jess turned into Pantsless Jess, standing over you in the living room and yelling my face off.

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When dad came home, I left the house with the intention of running until exhaustion and pain outweighed my desire to be as far from the screaming as possible. Several miles later, I walked in the door, not because I was ready to be done, but because I started to feel guilty about being gone so long (shout-out to other slow runners).

The change in me for the rest of the weekend was profound, a reminder to parents about the importance of exercising so that you don’t kill your children.

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Aside from your blossoming friendship with your brother, you are muddling through serious Toddler Brain. This is especially heightened for a kid like you, who’s always wanted things just so. You get mad if I don’t wear pants. When we play with cars, I have to “rescue” your car from a fire or from falling off a cliff — over and over and over again. Or you tell me there’s a lion (“Mommy! There’s a why-on!”) and our stuffed animals have to run away.

Sometimes, your brain is just mush. At breakfast the other day, you asked for a fork for your yogurt instead the spoon I gave you. When I exchanged the utensils, you wailed for the spoon because WHY WOULD I EVER WANT A FORK CRAZY WOMAN.

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I tried to take you to the beach while Dad and Charlie went camping. Packed everything up, drove 20 minutes to the water, and paid $15 for all-day parking. At first, you loved splashing around as the waves came up to our feet. But the seaweed kept sticking to your legs as the waves washed out, which you were NOT OK with. And every time I tried to brush it away, another fucking wave would come (curse you moon!).

Sandcastles, I thought. We could play sandcastles. As soon as you sat down and got (gasp!) sand on your hands, you were over that, too. “Go home,” you said, with finality. “Go home now.”

You began walking toward the parking lot. I gathered you back and you started to struggle. I tried to distract you with a walk along the beach, but that didn’t work either. “Mommy, go home now,” you wept. “I don’t want to beach.”

So, 17 minutes after we set foot on the sand, we were back at the car.

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This letter is starting to sound whiney, so I will list off some awesome moments from the past few months:

  • Charlie came up with a great game called “Tickle or Pass,” where you run in a circle around Dad or me, and we decide whether to tickle you as you run past, or let you go. This has led to explosive shrieks of laughter in our home.
  • We’ve had a great time swimming lately. Charlie is getting more confident in the water, and you’re finally comfortable with bobbing solo in your floaties. Our trip to the local water park was one of my favorite days of the summer.
  • You can put on your shoes and pull up your pants. You finally figured out how to rinse and spit when brushing your teeth.
  • I love your expressions, which seem to become more exaggerated and funny as you age.
  • The “Alphabet Song” is most requested at bedtime. I hear you sing it to yourself over the monitor as you fall asleep.
  • You always ask to watch “Me-wana.”
  • One morning you were so giving of hugs and kisses that you made Dad cry.
  • We had friends over for dinner and you brought to the table a book for their 2-year-old daughter to read, just like you.
  • When we play “sleep,” you pretend to be a rooster and love to yell “COCK-A-DOODLE” as loud as you can.
  • During an arduously long car ride, we stopped for a snack at a sandwich shop across from a construction site — which was next to train tracks. I don’t think you’ve ever been so excited.

You just returned home from the park with Dad. Skin warm, smelling like fresh air. You sought me out immediately and climbed onto the bed.

“Why you need write letter?,” you asked, laying your head on my chest and poking at my keyboard with your tiny fingers.

For these moments, my sweet son. The ones so commonplace as to be easily forgotten. For the day-to-day delights that too often get overshadowed by the day-to-day frustrations.

When I look back on my experience raising you boys, I want to remember the subtle joys of being your mother — from quick kisses to silly jokes to finally getting that poop in the potty.

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