Letters to Jack: Month 18

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My boy,

You are saying words!

It began suddenly, maybe only a few weeks ago, but you can definitely say at least a dozen words now, and you’re constantly trying new ones. You point to everything, wanting to hear the word aloud. Hooray for cognitive development!

My favorite, not surprisingly, is “mama.” For months, I wondered what this would sound like, and now it’s my favorite thing in the universe. This morning I was in laundry room and heard “mama!…mama!…MAMA!…” echo through the house as you made your way to me.

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If you’re ever diagnosed with some kind of compulsive disorder, I can point to this month as when it began. You can’t stand to have a mess on your hands. Doors must be closed when you leave a room (sorry to the cats, who keep getting locked in). You pick up anything on the floor that seems out of place.

On the bright side, my house is cleaner.

Routine is becoming a big deal, too. You need to sit in your special chair before you’ll take your toothbrush. When you’re done with dinner, you point to the ground because you know you can’t get down until we clean the floor. You put on your shoes just for fun. Going to bed is so much easier, too, as long as we follow the correct order of steps getting there.

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This month we transitioned to sippy cups, and WOE was our household. The bottle had become a comfort item for you, one you’d let hang from your mouth for hours as you played with toys, climbed on furniture. You shrieked when we took it away, shrieked when we tried to give you any other kind of cup. The last straw came when the babysitter sent me a photo of you lounging on the couch drinking milk. All we needed was to replace the bottle with a beer and you’d be Al Bundy (early ‘90s reference).

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We decided to go cold turkey, which meant you screamed for a week. You threw yourself down on the kitchen floor, usually in the early morning when your father and brother were trying to sleep, and just wailed. The good news is now you’ve forgotten bottles ever existed, so hooray for short-term memory!

My cuddle monkey is back, too. One early morning while snuggled on my lap, you rubbed my leg back and forth while you drank your milk. At our St. Patrick’s Day party, you asked to be picked up by Daddy’s friend, Josh, (who you’ve met twice?) and immediately burrowed into his neck. One afternoon at Grandma B’s, you ran straight to Charlie and threw your arms around him. (We were all blown away, as you typically just screech at him to leave you the eff alone.)

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You learned to say “wee-ooh, wee-ooh” from a book about fire trucks, so that’s now your word for every vehicle –– buses, Jeeps, bulldozers. Dad and I realized you probably haven’t seen many fire trucks, unlike Charlie at your age, who “grew up” in the city. You also haven’t seen many non-white people (:::insert long reflection about income inequality in America, white suburbanization, and guilt:::), which I discovered when you tried to claw your way out of my arms, panic-stricken, when I was talking to the elliptical repair guy.

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We love to rub your belly, and you pull up your shirt for us (and strangers) to look at it. You learned how to roar like a lion and now that’s your sound for most animals, including frogs. You say “buh-bye” and wave when we flush the toilet. After dinner, I chase you and Charlie around the kitchen counter island and you laugh and laugh and laugh.

Things just keep getting better, don’t they? My dear Jack, hooray for you.

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Letter to My Husband: On Our Tenth Wedding Anniversary

Us_1Dear Charles,

When Charlie was younger and beginning to ask questions about the world, he’d point to your wedding ring and ask, “What’s that?”

“Mommy,” you’d say, with tenderness. “This means Mommy.”

For 10 years, you and I have worn these rings, which represent each other and so much more. Though we placed them on each other’s hands at one specific moment, they really symbolize a love and commitment that started the moment we met and will continue for always.

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It was fall 2000. You knew about Tanis Half-Elven. We secretly held hands underneath the table at Denny’s. Later, a brief, sweet kiss on the steps of my on-campus apartment.

Years of late nights at the college newspaper and sleeping until noon on Saturdays (remember when we could do that?!). Graduation. Living apart for a year and a half. Getting our first apartment. Getting engaged. Getting Baron.

I remember the moment we put on those rings, standing in a spring garden surrounded by family and friends. DJ Earl played “Here Comes the Bride,” even though we SPECIFICALLY TOLD HIM NOT TO. We danced all night. I had three pieces of cake.

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Fast forward to today. I’m much softer around the tummy (see above re: cake), but my heart is just as big. You seem to get more handsome every day. We have two beautiful boys, with your fair skin and bright eyes.

We went from living an urban life, eating at hip restaurants, and staying up late watching “Lost,”  to tucking into bed two precious, cranky boys and crashing to sleep — well, after the dishes are done, lunches are made, laundry is folded and cats are fed. It took us almost a year to watch this most recent season of “Game of Thrones.”

Every so often we get a dinner date just for us, and we just talk, talk, talk, talk. We still have so much to learn from each other.

Over the last decade, we left our degreed careers and somehow both ended up in marketing. We collectively changed jobs six times, tenaciously leaning on each other for support and advice. We spent our entire seventh anniversary dinner strategizing for an upcoming interview with my now-employer (success!).

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We lost both our fathers — mine, only six months after our wedding to cancer; yours, only a year and a half ago following a stroke. We stood by our mothers through the grief. You stood by me through several emotional crises. We worked through a tough period threatened by jealousy.

You’ve made me laugh like no other. There’s not been one day I haven’t felt desired.

Like all married couples, we repeat the same fights. We spent several years arguing about whether or not you should correct my grammar and how judged I feel when you poke fun at pop songs I like. We grumble about who’s doing more of the child care, more of the housework, more of the sleeping. I know you wish I enforced more limits on the boys so you felt you didn’t have to. You know I wish you were better at calendaring.

We’ve had a few major blowouts (the most recent about a pair of shoes I bought Charlie), but they were resolved quickly. I can only think of one night in 10 years that I locked you out of our bedroom. I can think of countless nights when we locked the kids out.

Us_5I love how we’ve changed and grown together. We give each other the space to try out new interests, even if we don’t understand them (e.g., I’ll never get why you love Pistol Shrimps Radio so much). You let me go running, though it breaks your heart that your bum knee won’t allow you to join anymore. I get up early with Jack so you can stay up late watching YouTube videos of calligraphers, architects, race car drivers.

I love your entrepreneurial mind and ambitious, creative spirit. Our boys will grow up to be kind, thoughtful men because of your example. They will remember you stealing a kiss from their mother in the kitchen, buying me “I Love You Day” flowers, us slow dancing in the living room, valuing my career just as much as I value yours.

In our wedding ceremony, we included a passage from Hugh Walpole, who said:

“The most wonderful of all things in life is the discovery of another human being with whom one’s relationship has a growing depth, beauty and joy as the years increase. This inner progressiveness of love between two human beings is a most marvelous thing; it cannot be found by looking for it or by passionately wishing for it. It is a sort of divine accident, and the most wonderful of all things in life.”

Charles, our love truly is the most wonderful of all things in life. I am honored by our partnership, humbled by your adoration, and forever dedicated to being a woman you are proud to call your wife.

Happy tenth anniversary to us.

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Letters to Jack: Month 16 (and change)

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Oh, my dear boy,

This month a Grump Monster overtook my sweet, carefree little guy. The crying, the whining, the collapsing on the floor in utter anguish, the I-want-that-damn-thing-over-there-why-aren’t-you-getting-it-right-this-instant-woman grunting.

I blame two things for this emerging personality: 1) You’re at a developmental stage of having opinions, wants and dislikes, and 2) You still aren’t speaking. I speak English pretty well and I still have trouble expressing myself. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for you.

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That doesn’t make it easier on the rest of us, however. You also seem to rub off on Charlie, who whines alongside you. Then it’s surround-sound in my house and I want to hide in a dark closet with earplugs. But I’m sure you’d both find me and whine in there, too.

You’re not getting along with Charlie. You hate when he’s up in your space, especially when you’re both vying for my attention. You’ve started pushing him away, screeching in his face, even biting his limbs. Charlie, smelling blood, knows this pisses you off and doubles down on his affection toward me when you’re near.

“Charlie, stop doing this on purpose to make your brother mad,” I say.

“I’m nottttttttt,” he replies, climbing onto my lap, burrowing his head into my neck, petting my cheek.

“Boys, share Mom,” your Dad warns, ineffectively.

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You’ve had a difficult month for other reasons, too. Your dad and I left you and Charlie with a babysitter to have a rare night out with friends at BFF Ashleigh’s annual No Kids Allowed Mardi Gras party. About 90 minutes into it, the babysitter called. “There’re blueberries everywhere!” she wailed.

Turns out you had the stomach flu and proceeded to vomit for the next several days (once onto my face). Then, of course, I got sick, so basically the entire month of February was shit.

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In addition, Dad irrevocably scarred you for life by taking you through a drive-thru car wash. You cried the moment it started and didn’t stop for an hour. The next day, we took you to the beach at high-tide, and we think the roar of the waves reminded you of the car wash, and you sobbed again.

Since then, you’re no longer sleeping through the night. So, that’s also been fun.

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This month, you’ve gone cuckoo for books. Any book. Anywhere. You are obsessed with whatever book is in front of you, flipping through it again and again.

It’s because of these books that I’m not too concerned about your language development. I ask you to point out an object — the dog, the cup, the banana, the tree — and you get it right every time. You almost always do the sign for the word, too. Something just hasn’t clicked in the verbal part of your brain.

You’ve taken up some gardening, too. Mostly, this involves you sitting in holes I’ve just dug, or spilling the watering can all over you and THEN sitting in the hole I just dug.

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We took you to the cabin for the first time. It was fun to watch you explore, to point out the lake and the birds and trees, to watch your eyes grow wide and say “ooooooooohhhhhh” at the new surroundings. You slept in a pack-and-play in our room and when you woke up too early in the morning, I brought you into bed with me. We snuggled and fell asleep next to each other for the first time since you moved into your own room at six months. It was heaven.

My little guy, here’s hoping the next month will be easier — for your sake, for Charlie’s sake, and for the sake of our dark closets.

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Letters to Jack: Month 15

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Hey there, baby,

It’s 5:30 a.m. You just had your I’m-not-ready-to-be-awake-but-I’m-crying-anyway bottle of milk, so I have about an hour until you get up for reals. You woke me up from a nightmare about losing Charlie on Pirates of the Caribbean and simultaneously feeling desperate about getting teenagers to care about the devastating effects of climate change.

Welcome to my brain.

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Last week you were super sick. You woke up with a fever, then spent three hours fitfully sleeping on my chest. When I took your temperature midday, it read over 104 degrees F, and I FREAKED. THE. EFF. OUT. Cue me and your Dad rushing you to Urgent Care. You’re fine now, but it was scary, and I’ve never seen you look so sad and sickly in your life.

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I’ve been (slowly) working on your 1-Year-Old album, a hard copy of these letters. I loved this project with your brother and I love it with you because it reminds me of all we’ve experienced. Remember when you had severe acid reflux and had to chug a bottle of barium before an X-ray? That was terrible! Or that time we danced in the snow in Yosemite? Sweet. Sweet. Sweet.

I also marvel at how you’ve grown. Back then, you didn’t have any hair. Now, you have just enough to form the tiniest of Baby Mohawks. Progress!

I asked your brother what he would say if he wrote this letter. “Jack, don’t bite people when you’re sleepy,” he said. This is sage advice, and it reminds me to mention you’re definitely entering the toddler stage. You throw yourself on the floor when we thwart you from emptying our pantry. You scream and try wiggling from our grasp when we change your diaper. You toss food on the floor that you don’t want.

We’ve had to shout at you a few times for continuing to pull Baron’s tail. Poor cat can’t get away fast enough.

You’re still in the 99th percentile for head circumference and height. I’ve had to give away clothes that otherwise fit you because I couldn’t pull them over your noggin.

This makes you very top heavy. Earlier this month, Dad let you go down a slide on your own. Except you face-planted at the top, slid down on your face, then fell off at the bottom onto sand. Chicks dig scars, right?

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You know what they also dig? Kindness. Grandma B shared a story today of your empathy toward another child crying at school. You toddled over to the heating vent and began scratching the grate, something the boy enjoys doing. You kept looking back at him, as if inviting him to join you. It worked and he calmed down.

Your sweetness still abounds. You love to race across the room toward stuffed animals we hold out. You squeal, wrap your arms around the animal, bury your face in its fur, then collapse into our arms. Is there anything better in the universe?

In the last few days, you’ve begun patting us on the back when we hug you. “It’s OK,” you seem to be saying. “You’re going to be alright.” Aw, thanks, buddy.

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What you’re still not saying are words. I can definitely understand more of what you want –”uh” means up, “mah” means more, and you can sorta say Grandma B’s name – but that’s it. I even asked your pediatrician about it this week. “Charlie knew at least 10 words at this point!” I exasperated. “Should I be worried?!”

He said no. You’re the second child; it’s pretty common for Kid No. 2’s speech to be a bit delayed (who knew?!). Plus, it’s normal for babies your age to only know 3-5 words, which you sort of do. And, you’ve learned several more baby signs in the past month, so he’s not worried. I guess I shouldn’t be, too? (ha!)

You’ve probably decided to focus instead on your fine motor skills. You’re doing pretty well with a fork, and you’ve begun pulling zippers up and down. You’re an expert at getting puffs out of those fortressed baby snack cups.  Heck, this is a kid who was walking at nine months!

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Speaking of walking, one of our favorite things to do is a stroll together around the block. You stop to pat the top of each front-yard light and climb onto small garden retaining walls. You slap your leg (the sign for dog) each time you hear barking, sometimes so vigorously I think you’ll leave a mark. You adore being outside.

You also love turning light switches on and off (“What is this insane magic?!), putting on your shoes (“We’re going outside, right? RIGHT?”), and this Peek A Who? book (“Get it? Peek a Moo? Hahahahahaha.“).

Well, I hear you beginning to stir in your room. Chances are you’ll greet me with the biggest of smiles. You’ll make the sign for “Dad,” and we’ll go find him in bed. Then we’ll wake up Charlie and you’ll marvel at his high bunk bed. Before we leave for school/work, you’ll probably give us some cuddles, grab something off the counter you shouldn’t have, and pull the cat’s tail.

Good morning, beautiful.

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Letters to Jack: Month 14

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Sweet boy,

I never mind being up with you in the morning — just you and me in the living room, usually before dawn. You snuggle into my lap, rest your head on my shoulder, and stay there for long, perfect moments. You’re so warm.

Then you’re up, stacking blocks, pushing your car, giggling at the curtains. Your new favorite game is handing us a stuffed animal, rushing toward it, then lunging yourself into it and our arms, squealing with delight.

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Since my last post, we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both were lovely and low-key. Charlie and Dad camped out by the fireplace to try catching Santa in the act (they did not succeed; that jolly guy is fast!), but you and I were smart and slept in our own, warm beds.

As expected, on Christmas morning you were very much into the wrapping paper and boxes. Charlie gave you a Yoda doll he picked out during his first trip to Disneyland a few weeks ago. I’m hoping it will replace the Piglet doll you suck on every night, which may or may not be growing mold.

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You’re showing signs of a toddler temper, though nothing compared with Charlie at this age. You mainly get upset when we try to bring you inside the house, or when you want to eat something you can’t have, and sometimes when it’s time for a diaper change. You’re trying very hard to perfect “spaghetti limbs.” How do all children know how to do this?

You love the swings more than I think I’ve ever loved anything. On Christmas, after 20 minutes on the swing in the frigid cold (SoCal translation: 50 degrees F) in Uncle Dan’s backyard, we brought you inside, and it was the absolute worst moment of your life. Oh, such sad, sad tears fell!

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We’re working a lot on language. Though I can tell you understand a great deal, you aren’t saying actual words yet (inner anxious monologue: Charlie knew several words at this point; what is going on?!). You used to say “hi” and “uh-oh,” but you’ve stopped using those. You say “mamamama,” which we think is your way of saying “more.” When you want to be picked up, you pump your legs, grab onto ours, and say, “Uh-uh-uh,” which I guess is close. I can tell when you’re trying to say “moon,” but it comes out as “muh.” That’s about it for words.

Sign language is going … OK. You mastered “more” and “eat” this week, which is incredibly helpful. Animals are either the sign for “dog,” or you point to your head. “Dad” is also pointing at your head, so who knows.  We’ve tried watching “Baby Signing Time,” but you seem to be less interested in screens than Charlie was at 14 months (and every age).

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You still know the sign for “tree.” When Dad lugged the Christmas tree into our house you stared at it, looked at us, looked at the tree, made the sign for “tree,” pointed outside, then looked back at us like, “WTF is going on here, guys.”

I may write about this every single month, but I love, love, love how you and Charlie play together. Each month it seems like your fun gets richer. You’re starting to rough house and chase each other and grab toys out of each other’s hands. OK, that last one is not so fun, but you get what I mean. You played in the crib together the other night — alone — for 20 minutes. TWENTY MINUTES. I peed all by myself! It was Christmas miracle.

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The New Year is just around the corner, my dear one. We’ve been having so much fun lately as a family. I can’t wait for the adventures that await us in 2016.

I hope they come with snuggles.

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Letters to Jack: Month 13

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My dear boy,

We’ve finally reached an armistice.  A sleep truce.

Yep, I’m writing this letter five minutes after plopping you in your crib — wide awake — for the night, and I haven’t heard a peep out of you. It’s similar every night and during naps. If you do fuss, it’s only for a few minutes before you begin babbling and drift off to sleep.

HALLELUJAH, WE MADE IT.

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Now that going to bed isn’t so traumatic, you really are the happiest baby on the block (mom and dad are much happier, too). That 10-tooth smile of yours is infectious. Your giggles are like sunbursts through our house. You find everything hilarious — from new tastes, to the clothes hanging in my closet, to the cats’ fluffy tails.

It’s been a busy month. We celebrated your birthday with family and friends (you devoured the cake; atta boy!). You visited the dentist for the first time. And you experienced your first Halloween.

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I have to apologize for Halloween, actually. To complete your amazing costume (a lumberjack, get it?), I added a “beard” to your cheeks using brown eyeliner pencil. You wailed, which I thought was because you were being restrained by Dad. But when I washed your face that night, I discovered it was streaked with bright red slashes from where a sharp edge of the pencil cut up your face. No wonder you cried. I’m sorry for hurting you, little man.

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I feel like we’ve begun having real conversations. You started to use baby sign language; “cat” was your first word, no surprise there. Now you know dog, milk, all done, and down. You’re getting close to saying mama, dada, and up. Through a combination of babbling and body language, I can tell what you’re thinking sometimes — like when you want to go for a spin around the living room in your Little Tyke Coupe or go outside to play.

You point to your head when we ask you where it is. You can show us “nice hands” when you get too rough with the cats.

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You’ve discovered the moon and look for it every night. You know the sound of my keys jangling the lock on Grandma B’s door, and you run to greet me at the end of the day with squeals and smiles.

My favorite development this month is your love for music. You wiggle your tush, sway and pump your legs when you hear us hum or play a song on the phone, or when a toy makes music — even when we’re not in the room! Grandma Z sings a “Shake-a, shake-a, shake-a, shake it if you can” tune that turns you into Baby Stevie Wonder.

I also love your budding relationship with Charlie. My dream in life is for you to be close friends, and my heart swells to watch you play together. This evening, you spent 10 minutes together in your room. At some point, Charlie lifted you into your crib and climbed in next to you, and I caught you two jumping on the mattress and roaring with laughter.

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My dear Jack, I could go on and on. However, tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I’ve got pies in the oven. We’ll all be gathering at Grandma Z’s to eat yummy food and share gratitude for our blessings.

You bet I’ll be saying thanks for you.

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Letters to Jack: Month 12

_MG_3065My sweet, precious boy,

You were warm and cuddly, groggy and perfect when I lifted you out of the crib yesterday morning. I held you tight, whispered happy birthday as you nuzzled into my shoulder. Then it hit me: Just like that, you are a year old. You are no longer a baby.

Cue all of the emotions. Sadness, mixed with elation, mixed with 200,000 years of evolution screaming, “HAVE MORE BABIES. NOW.”

In these moments, I simply wait for clarity to arrive. Last weekend, it came after a solo trip to Target with you and Charlie – a challenge all teenagers should be required to face as part of sex ed. The birth rate would drop dramatically.

(Funny story: I mentioned this experience to another mom, who compared taking two kids to Target to sky-diving. Target, she said, was more extreme.)

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I can’t get enough of you lately. It’s as if my brain finally got used to you being in our family, and I’m overcome with gratitude. When I think about you, I feel lighter, like there’s a gentle breeze in the room.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not as sleep deprived these days. A week after last month’s post, I went on a business trip and – praise be! – you began sleeping through the night again. I was thrilled for Dad, who solo-parented for three days. I couldn’t imagine him handling you, Charlie, his job, the cats, the house, etc., all on little-to-no sleep.

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I discovered something truly amazing when I returned home: your smell! You see, I’ve been mourning the loss of your baby smell – that sweet, almost-toxic scent that drives all mothers batty. Lately, you hadn’t smelled like anything. But I also hadn’t been away from you that long.

I came home late. You were already sleeping, so snuck into your room for a kiss and –BAM! – this wonderful, deep, heavy scent just slammed me. I couldn’t even move. I got weepy. I leaned over your crib and gulped in the air around you. How did I not realize this smell existed, that it was so strong?

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When you woke the next morning, I discovered you knew the second half of “uh oh.” A few days later, you began saying “hi” (mostly sounding like “eye”) and waving, which you now do non-stop to trees, our furniture, breakfast, etc. There are few sounds sweeter in the universe.

We’ve entered the Thwarting Phase of your development; you want to touch everything except the stuff you’re supposed to have. Charlie isn’t a fan.

You’ve begun tearing toilet paper off the roll and trying to eat it. You love to give us objects, then take them back.

This month you really embraced laughter. To-your-toes chortles and giggles. Especially when we tickle you.

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When you see birds, you squeal loudly, your eyes get big, and you say “ohhhhhhhhhh.” I’ve never been a bird person, but I’d buy a whole menagerie for you.

Your “birthday party” is tomorrow. I jokingly put that in quotes because it really can’t compare to the resources that went into Charlie’s first birthday. It’s going to be small, intimate, and perfect for our family, just as Charlie’s was perfect then.

Perhaps this is more of that second-child syndrome, but you are special in such a profound way; it’s something I want to keep close.

Happy birthday, my sweet boy. No matter how many mornings I whisper those words to you, no matter how old you get, I know you will always be my baby.

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