Letters to Charlie: On Turning 11

Dear Charlie,

One of the reasons I could never be a book critic — and why I’ve always sucked at arguments — is because I react to life with a lot of feeling, and can never quite seem to put those feelings into words.

I’m in this position now. How do I describe all of the complexities of you — my 11-year-old (gasp!) guy — at this stage in your life?

I was trying to think of some words this morning on the way back from the store with breakfast fixings. It’s Memorial Day weekend, and your cousin, Grayson, slept over after your birthday dinner with family last night. The dumb pandemic kept us apart for so long, so this time together — filled with laughter and shouting, good food and blissful chaos — felt particularly special. As the oldest cousin, you are the one they all look up to.

The words that came to mind were a mix of things, so I’ve decided to list them here — in no particular order — and just go with it.

Tall – You come up to my shoulder. You fit into some men’s clothing. When did this happen? This is not OK!

Smart – This week you take an assessment for an accelerated math program in middle school next year (middle school?? gasp!), and I know you’ll rock it. You’ve fallen in love with chess and are stoked to be going to chess camp this summer. You’re always reading, always; everywhere we go. The Golden Compass, Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter, Dragonlance, and Redwall series remain in rotation. You love thought puzzles, trivia, and “would you rathers.” You constantly ask questions. You designed an entire game of “Amazing Race” throughout our house for your grandmas.

Argumentative – You often challenge rules and requests, remembering that one time THREE YEARS AGO when I said the opposite or let something slide. “But, why not?” is a frequent response when I say no to something, followed by a litany of reasons why you think I’m wrong.

Loving – I always thought Jack would be the one to take care of me when I’m old and decrepit, but it might be you! You have the sweetest heart, and you’ve been particularly kind to me this year, always remembering to provide encouragement and give me a hug as I slog through my MBA program. Lots of “you can do it”s and “yay mom”s to help get me through. You always remember to hug me and say “I love you” before bed, or before you walk into school. You remember to tell your Grandmas how much you care for them and appreciate when you can see them.

You have a lot of heart for animals, too. The cats (yes, they’re still with us!) now allow you to pet them, even though they still run from Jack. You’ve decided you hate the Zoo because animals there are “kept in cages,” despite our efforts to explain the benefits and nuances of that truth.

Funny, Mischievous – Your laugh — those deep belly laughs — is one of the best sounds in the universe. You’ve watched a few stand-up comic routines with Dad, and some SNL episodes with me, and the sound of this laughter soars through our home. You’re developing Dad’s talent with puns. You went as “COVID” for Halloween (and even made the costume yourself). You love to tease me, calling my ’90s playlists and corny movies something the “ancients” liked.

Maturing – I’m stunned during those moments when you act far older than your 11 years. The other day, you came home from a movie night at Grandma’s and discovered we were watching “Rouge 1,” which had been on our family watch list for awhile. You asked to speak with me alone in the other room, and when we got there, you calmly, but shakily, explained that you felt hurt and angry that we were watching the movie without you. You used “I” statements! Well, I was floored and started crying because ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? Most adults have trouble recognizing — let alone verbalizing — triggers for their emotions.

You did something similar on a bike ride a few months back. You fell, and were upset. I tried to comfort you by saying that falls happen to everyone. “Mom,” you replied. “I know you are just trying to make me feel better, and thank you for that, but it doesn’t help.” Well, OK then!

Private, Homebody, Uninterested in Physical Activity – I grouped these because I think they’re interrelated. It remains a struggle to get you out of the house — especially when it comes to anything active. You want to be reading inside or playing video/board games inside or smacking your brother with pool noodles inside. You thrived during the two months of virtual school because you didn’t have to go anywhere.

Dad and I sometimes force you and Jack on walks, hikes, and bike rides — even just to eat dinner in the backyard — and it’s always grooooaaaaaaaan and whiiiiiinnnne and how much loooooooonger. I got you to run with me twice during the past year.

As a fifth grader, you had the option of getting a yard sign announcing your graduation. “No thanks,” you said. “I don’t want people knowing my business.” Um, are you sure you’re my kid??

Musical….Maybe? – You are so musical, Charlie — always singing and humming. You love EDM, and have even recommended some cool running mixes. Dad and I had unrealized hopes that you’d enjoy band this year (you picked the trombone because it had the “fewest number of buttons I need to press”). But, because of the pandemic, band practice was virtual this year, and it took place after formal school hours, when you were at the super-fun after-school program. You were never motivated to remember to log in, or you “forgot” your instrument at home on band days. You hated to practice. Your instructor wasn’t very engaged either, and actually left partway through the year. Dad and I should’ve been more on it, but we weren’t. When spring came around, we cut our losses, returned the rented trombone, and emailed the new instructor that you wouldn’t be signing in the rest of the year. Sigh.

When it came to picking an elective in middle school, you balked at band and orchestra, and initially rejected the idea of choir. This particularly pained Dad, who deeply feels the value of a music education (we were both choir geeks in high school; his won best in the country!). Dad struggled with whether to require you take a musical elective, but we both knew that would set you up for failure. Instead, you chose a general, non-music elective. After a few weeks, however, we noticed some cracks in your anti-choir façade, especially when we received an email from the school encouraging you to take a second look at the program. You learned that part of the course involved making your own music at a “digital workstation” and you were suddenly in!

I’m hopeful, but cautious. As mentioned, you can be a private person, and not a huge fan of getting up in front of people. Also, I’m worried that my BIG ENERGY around Broadway will discourage you from leaning in to musical theater (that’s what happened with “Hamilton”; I was just too extra about it when I thought you liked it and ultimately pushed you away). But choir people are awesome, so I’m hoping you’ll start to find some of your people in that group.

Sensitive – You’re like me — you feel things deeply and your emotions are always right on the surface. If you feel wronged, or if something isn’t fair or doesn’t go the way you pictured it, you can get overwhelmed. While home is always a safe place for this to happen, it sometimes occurs when you’re at school or with your friends. I know how challenging and frustrating this can be for you — especially since fellow 11-year-olds aren’t known for their emotional sensitivity.

I wish I could tell you what a gift this is — that emotional people experience the world in such a special way. We love fiercely, and live a life of many colors. But, that also means our brains can be prone to crushing self-doubt, anxiety, and depression, which can lead to all sorts of challenges. My goal as your mom is to teach you how to embrace this reality about yourself, but not let it control you.

Changing – You’re on the cusp of some big changes in your life. Already, your body is different and your voice is deepening. Your emotions swing. You often run into walls and stub your toes because it’s hard to keep track of your body in space. Dad and I need to be more cautious about what you’re looking at on the Internet, and what your friends are telling you about the world. Three boys at your birthday party already had phones (gasp!). (As an aside, I think you should get one in middle school, mainly for tracking purposes, but Dad is vehemently against it).

I remember middle school as a time of awkward transition, when I started hearing about drugs and sex and other adult things. It was tough, but I also remember the thrill of breaking away from my elementary school friend group, discovering who I was beginning to be as a person, and finding others like me.

I know you struggle with your identity. You feel self-conscious that you’re smart, love to read, don’t like sports, have big emotions. You’ve been called a nerd, and made to feel like the odd one out. I try to tell you that everyone feels like this — even as adults — but I know you won’t understand until you’ve lived more life. And that’s OK.

And finally,

Gratitude — This is a word for me, about you. It perfectly summarizes what I feel about being your mother. You are complex, wonderful, dazzling. You were the child who made me a mother and you remind me every day what a wonderful gift that is.

Happy 11th birthday, my dear boy. In seven short years, you’ll legally be an adult. While this is boggling and terrifying, I can already tell what a cool adult you’ll be.

Perhaps you’ll still want to hang around with us “ancients.” I truly hope you do.

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Letters to Jack: On Turning 6

To my dear Jack,

I know I’m a few days late in writing this letter, but it’s 2020, so what does “time” mean anyway.

When I wrote Charlie’s birthday letter in May, we were in the throes of quarantine. Five months later, our life feels a little more settled, though maybe I’m just forgetting what before was like.

Take yesterday, for example. I made pancakes while you and Charlie played video games. I went to Target (alone!!) to return a light-up pumpkin whose eye burnt out. We took you for haircuts, which you complained about for days. We met Amy for our annual family photos (more complaining), and capped off the evening with a lovely dinner at a patio restaurant.

Yes, we wore masks, washed our hands, stayed outdoors, and kept our distance from others, but it just felt so ordinary.

Helping to restore this normalcy is your return to physical school. You and Charlie go half a day, then spend the remainder at the after-school program. I have full confidence in our school’s safety protocols, and wearing a mask all day doesn’t seem to much bother you or your brother.

Before the switch, you attended Zoom Kindergarten for six weeks, which was …incompatible with 5 and 6 year olds. It was tough for you to stay focused and motivated, even though your AMAZING teacher gave it her all (major props also to Grandma B, who helped Dad and me with virtual schooling). At one point, you told the teacher — and your entire class — that you thought the prior day’s instruction went on waaay to long.

I almost cried the first day you logged in; it was just unbelievable that you were attending Kindergarten over a screen.

You’re so much happier to be back at school. You come home full of stories about your class, how Nathan and Cole made you laugh, and what games you played on the playground (hooray for physical activity!).

As Charlie and you grow older, it’s becoming clear that he takes after your dad’s introversion and analytical brain, while you have my love for being among others. Your face brightens when in a group. You talk to everyone and make friends wherever you go. Quarantine has been tougher on you than your brother.

At six, you’re straddling the line between little kid and big kid. I remember this time with Charlie, too. Some moments, you seem so young, cherubic, and new. Other times, you talk like a teenager.

The night before your birthday, you lost 15 minutes from your bed time because you refused to wake up and get dressed (“But I’m tiiiiiiiiiired”), then threw a fit about what I made you for breakfast. If you’re too sleepy in the morning, I explained, that means you need more sleep at night. You can earn the time back tomorrow if we have a smoother morning.

The next day, Charlie and I crept into your room and woke you up by singing “Happy Birthday.” You groggily opened your eyes, realized what was happening, then threw off your blanket to reveal you were wearing school clothes. “Mom, I woke up in the middle of the night and got dressed so I could get those 15 minutes back!” Nice work, dude.

You and Charlie still fight, but it feels less frequent and more normal than when you were younger. You take after him a lot, as I’m sure most little siblings do. You emulate the way Charlie speaks, his physical affectations, even his likes and dislikes. Peeking through are your own special characteristics, though, which I look forward to seeing grow.

Jack, there’s no one better in the world to give presents to; you’re just as excited by a balloon as you are about a big Lego set. You make Dad and I laugh all the time. You tell me how pretty I am before I go to work. Often, we watch you move through the world, then say to one another, “He’s just…joy.”

And you’re still so loving. In fact, this was how I described you during a Zoom icebreaker with other Kindergarten parents. One day, you’ll decide you’re too big to snuggle with your mom, especially in public. Luckily, we’re not there yet. You often climb onto my lap when we’re watching TV, even though you barely fit. Yesterday at dinner, you found my lap again; I wrapped my arms around you and just swayed to the music while you chomped on a quesadilla.

Sometime during quarantine, you started crawling into our bed in the middle of the night. I know Dad isn’t a fan, but I love it. You’re so warm and snuggly, and I feel such strong maternal contentment knowing you’re next to me, safe and asleep.

At home, you randomly come to me for a hug or kiss, although sometimes you use affection as a delay tactic to eating dinner. “Jack, sit down and eat your salad.” “But I just want to huuuuuuuug you.”

At night, Dad and I must follow — in perfect order or we’ll have to start again — a bedtime routine you’ve created:

KissHugEskimo kissEskimo hugJellyfish (the involves moving our hands like we’re at the disco?)… Turtle (we make forehead horns with our hands??)… Turtle Eskimo kissTurtle Eskimo jellyfish… and finally Fish (forehead shark fin with one hand, turtle horn with the other, wiggling???).

Kids are weird.

We’ve tried to make the most of this past year of quarantine. Right before the world shut down, we took a big family trip to Yosemite. We told you and Charlie not to look down at your books as we wound our way through the mountains. Near Wawona, you announced, shakily, “Mom, I think I have to go to the bathroom,” then proceeded to vomit all over yourself and the car seat. We turned off the road only to discover that we had NO WIPES OR NAPKINS and there was no place to buy anything until we got down to the Valley floor. So, that was a fun family adventure. (The rest of the trip was great.)

This summer, with a lack of options for what to do, we became a beach family. Dad bought a rad beach tent and cooler and we spent many weekends building sand castles and battling the waves. We forgot to put sunscreen around your eyes one trip and you came home looking like Uncle Fester.

Also, in my quarantine-fueled fear that you couldn’t swim yet, we spent way too much for eight “private” lessons through the school district. Because of COVID, however, the instructor couldn’t get in the pool, so I basically paid someone to unsuccessfully teach me how to keep you from sinking. With hope, the YMCA will open next year.

Here are some other highlights from your fifth year:

Career goal: After-school program teacher
Favorite song: “Old Town Road”
Favorite joke: “Why did the pig go into the kitchen?” “Because he felt like bacon!”
Favorite word: Literally

Halloween costume: Halloween is cancelled this year (thanks, COVID), but you’ll probably wear your Batman costume to school once again. That night, we’ll watch movies and eat candy.
Best friends: Grayson, Charlie

Bad habit: Sucking on the collar of your t-shirt, refusing to pee even though it’s obvious you’re desperate
Favorite hair-do: You occasionally ask me to comb your hair before school so you can look “handsome.”

Favorite toy: Anything Lego
Favorite video games: Lego StarWars, Minecraft Dungeons
Favorite movie: Incredibles, Frozen 2, The Grinch
Favorite TV show: Top Gear, the Mongolian Special (#dadshow)

Favorite book: Superhero comic books (you’re still obsessed with Batman)
Favorite restaurant: Panda Express
Favorite board games: Llamanoes, Uno, Cars and Trucks

For your birthday this year, we had two mini parties. The first was before you and Charlie went back to school, when we felt safer getting together with your cousins, aunt and uncle for an outdoor dinner. The second, on your actual birthday, was smaller, but just as special. Because of the pandemic, I’m not sure what we’re going to do for the holidays.

I wondered whether we should even take family photos this year. There is so much suffering in the world, and so many things have been put on hold in our lives. I joked about just sending out a photo of a dumpster fire. But, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the value of family — the one you’re born into and the one you make.

We’ve been blessed with both this year, just as the world has been blessed with you. The happiest of birthdays to you, my sweet boy. Welcome to six.

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Letters to Charlie: On Turning Ten, In Quarantine

My dear, sweet boy,

This isn’t how I imagined your tenth birthday.

Back in February, before the world stopped, we thought this day would be filled with a disc-golf game for your friends, cheap pizza and soda, and almost certainly a game of 10-year-old tag in the park.

Instead, we are waking up on day 77 of California’s quarantine. You and your brother have been out of school since the middle of March. Your routine of teachers, friends, recess, and running around just gone.

I work at a hospital, so I barely saw you during the first several weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. Things are calmer now, but still busy, and it’s only through the grace, patience and fortitude of your father and Grandma B that you’ve continued to learn anything at all.

Luckily, you’re at an age where you still like to hang out with us, and you’ve never really enjoyed going outside anyway, so quarantine has been less traumatic for you than I imagine it’s been for other kids.

I’m grateful you have a sibling with whom you can share this time, but, hot damn, you two can get into it. I don’t blame you; being trapped in a small space with a 5-year-old for 77 days would make anyone loopy. Still, there are brief moments when I glimpse the foundation of a lifelong friendship. Then you go back to pummeling each other with our couch pillows.

In regards to your brother, you’re showing some impressive grown-up behavior. Perhaps it’s because you’re getting more mature; perhaps it’s the only way to survive quarantine with him. You’re at an age where you understand more of where the “adults” are coming from, but you can still relate to Jack on a kid level. Through rational talk, shifting his perspective, and even silly humor (he loves when you pretend to fall down), you’ve helped move him along in times of sheer obstinance.

Before quarantine, you and Jack were taking Saturday gymnastics, and the coaches were consistently impressed with your leadership and hard work on the mat. Without the structure of that class, finding physical activity for you has been tough (see earlier comment about not wanting to go outside). Walks are boring, bike rides are tough (both logistically, and, you know, hills), and god forbid you ever go running with me. We forced you and your brother on a 3-mile hike through a nature preserve last weekend and you said it was one of the worst days of your life. ::eye roll::

In late February, right before Evertything™, we went to Yosemite for a week. In hindsight, it was great practice for being stuck with one another, with not much to do. In between grumbling about being outside, you and your brother saw waterfalls, climbed rocks and trees, poked each other with sticks, and raced twigs in the river. Dad and I drank a lot on the balcony.

At that time, fourth grade was going well. This is the year teachers focus on building kids’ independence, so Dad and I were more hands-off with your schoolwork. At our November parent-teacher conference, we heard expected feedback about your progress: Charles is incredibly bright, though he can lack focus and self-discipline. He also moves too quickly, especially when it comes to test questions and assignment directions. And, he continues to sneak-read books while he should be paying attention in class.

We’ve tried our best to keep you engaged with school during quarantine. Class over Zoom seems like torture for you; I’m sure it’s torture for your teachers, too. It’s just not the way kids learn! You do a pretty good job following your daily assignment sheet, but you sure don’t like when I edit your writing. Yesterday, we argued for several minutes about the use of “it’s” vs. “its,” as well as proper subject-verb agreement.

Like always, we try to engage your brain in other ways. We’re making our way through National Geographic’s “Lost Treasures of Egypt” (history: check), we listened to a Radiolab about an octopus that protected her eggs for over four years (science: check), and Dad and you have dismantled your broken Nerf bow in an attempt to fix it (engineering: check). You’re also learning a lot from our dinner-table conversations about the interplay among federal, state and local governments (social studies: check).

STEM seems to be where your interests lie. In the fall, you participated in First Lego League, where you used robots to build houses (or something like that; truthfully, all that stuff is over my head). You were in the non-competitive team this year, which meant you got to practice skills like teamwork, and research, and presenting in front of an audience without squirming like a monkey. I hope this activity can continue; we still need to work on the monkey bit.

Despite our best efforts, you’ve spent a lot of time in quarantine playing video games and watching Disney+. To extract you from the screen, we’ve played a ton of board games. You won at Monopoly once and now you’re hooked, even though that soul-crushing game makes Dad and me feel sad. Our family’s Marbles game is still a favorite here and at Grandma B’s house. You have insane luck against her; I think you’ve beaten Grandma over 110 times since you started keeping a tally last year.

Other highlights from your ninth year:

Halloween costume: We caved and let you wear the “Navy Seal Black Ops 6” outfit that you wanted last year. However, we removed the knives and grenades, and didn’t let you wear to school the skeleton mask that came with it. That’s called good parenting.

Favorite book: You’re deeply into the Redwall books by Brian Jacques, which Dad loved as a kid. Sometimes, he’ll read the books to you out loud, and he does the most amazing voices. I suck at them, so you don’t ask me to read much. These days, it’s hard to get you into other books — you like what you like and will read them over and over and over again.

Best friend: You said Cash without any hesitation. I wish you could see him.

Favorite TV show: Odd Squad.

Favorite music: EDM. Sometimes, we put it on in the dark and dance around with glow sticks. (PE: check)

Favorite celebrity: It’s still John Cena! I will never understand this. You and Jack both pretend you’re him when you wrestle. I don’t think you’ve ever even seen wrestling on TV.

Favorite food: Ice box cake. A classic.

Favorite sport: You told me it was “whistle” ball, which is this cheap toy that Grandma Z got us from the dollar store that makes a high-pitched screech when you throw it. We toss it around outside when I’m desperate to get you some physical activity. You have a really good arm.

Favorite clothing: Basketball shorts. At some point, I bought you shorts with — gasp! — buttons and a zipper and you absolutely refuse to wear them. Good, you can start doing your own laundry.

Hobby: Video games. All the video games. So many video games.

Favorite way to sleep: Door shut, surrounded by a fort of stuffed animals to block out every single glimmer of light in the universe. I can’t even properly check on you before I go to bed because you’re so hidden. Note to self: Keep an eye on this tactic when he’s a teenager.

My sweet boy, I wonder what you’ll remember about this time. I hope it’s long days spent with your family, laughter over Mom losing at board games, cuddles and back-scratchies while watching movies, a sense that you were safe and loved.

I know this isn’t the tenth birthday you thought it would be, but Dad and I will make it the best we can. We’ll throw some discs into the backyard basket that Dad set up before quarantine. Grandma Z will bring over a few boxes of your favorite pizza (meatball and onion from La Bella), and we’ll eat it with proper social distancing. And, of course, we’ll have ice-box cake (no blowing out candles, though).

Happy birthday to my double-digit boy. This is a nutty world we all live in, but it’s so much better with you in it.

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Letters to Jack: On Turning 5

Oh, my sweet son.

I’m struggling with how to begin this letter because there’s so much I want to say, and yet so many things that can’t be put into words. This is my last “letter of frequency” to you boys; when Charlie turned five, I stopped writing regular, public posts out of respect for his burgeoning privacy. As I transitioned to only writing about him on each birthday, I still had my tiny guy at home to talk about with abundance.

And now here we are.

These letters were a commitment I made when you and your brother were born. Most every mother with older kiddos tells me how raising children is like an hour glass — fleeting and fragile. You blink and suddenly your children are grownups who rarely call. These letters were an attempt to capture — for me as well as you — the magic of our early years together. They were also a way for me share the experience of parenthood with friends and loved ones, who I could lean on for advice and support.

And while I will continue to write yearly letters (with your permission, of course), I can’t help but feel the sands somewhat slipping away.

Yet, along with this sense of loss is such pride and excitement at how you’re growing. You are at the crossroads of Little Kid and Big Kid, and it’s fascinating to see those two sides interact.

You began Transitional Kindergarten in August, and you’re in a TK-K class with Charlie’s wonderful former kindergarten teacher. While other kids cried to leave their parents on the first day, you sat happily on your appointed square — having made at least two new best friends already — and waved goodbye to Dad and me. A few weeks ago, your teacher took me aside to tell me how great you’re doing in school, and how much fun you seem to be having.

Tomorrow is Halloween, and my streak of “Jack”-themed costumes for you has come to an end (as a five-year-old, you now have opinions about such things). Gone are the days of lumberjacks, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Jack-Jack. This year is all about Batman, and only Batman.

Keeping track of you at the school Halloween carnival was a challenge. Most kids go out on the playground, in the deepening dusk. As it gets darker, parents struggle to follow their little ones, and I imagine from above we all look like scurrying ship tracks. The one saving grace was that your costume has a blinking Bat-Signal.

That night I realized how attracted you are to Big Kids, which makes sense given you have an older brother. At the carnival, you quickly found a few of your third-grade “buddies” and ran with them all night. In fact, I texted Dad at one point to say you all reminded me of a gang of T-Birds. I wasn’t sure if they necessarily wanted you tagging along, but you happily kept up with them.

To that end, you’ve also stopped wanting to read with me — or any adult for that matter — during Morning Read at school. Big Kids come in each morning to help your classmates with reading, and as soon as you see one (usually a Big Boy), your eyes light up. Sometimes Charlie’s class comes in to help, which is fun for me to see. The Big Kids seek you out, too, because they can tell how much you admire them.

You’re an extrovert, at least right now. We went to a lovely restaurant for dinner last Friday (one with a play area for kids where parents can drink craft beer), and your Dad and I watched in awe as you just collected friends, of all ages. When one kiddo had to sit down to eat, you simply sauntered up to his table and started chatting with the family.

You have such a bright light inside of you, my boy. You’re funny, smart, expressive, and sweet. It’s effortless to love you, and it’s no wonder people want to be around you.

While waiting for Charlie to finish his gymnastics class a few weekends ago, I pointed out a young girl twirling in the air on a hoop.

“Isn’t she pretty?” I asked.

You replied: “Mom, there’s only one girl here that I like.”

“Oh yeah? Who?”

Then, you tapped me on the shoulder and gave me the most honeyed smile.

You and your brother still fight. A lot. And in those times — after I’ve sent you to your rooms — I lament that I don’t have children who like each other. Yet, there are sweet times when you make each other laugh, when we can all play Chutes and Ladders without you screaming your faces off, and — like any good sibling pair — when you gang up on Dad and me. Everyone says you’ll be best friends in college and adulthood. Here’s hoping, although I should bill you both for all the dye I’m needing to cover up these gray hairs.

Screaming bloody murder continues to be your MO when things don’t go your way, so we’re still working on that. And at times, you struggle deeply with following our house rules, including not playing with toys on school mornings until you’re completely ready. The other day you shouted, “NO! I AM THE RULES,” when I said you couldn’t have ice cream cake for breakfast. (I’ll have to try that phrase at work.)

These are all par for the course at your age, and Dad and I have been through it once with Charlie, so we know there is another side. What I hope to remember from these days are the tender moments of early childhood. Like after the first day of school when you announced, “Now we can dance!,” after you finished your celebratory fro-yo. There we were, outside of a Golden Spoon, twirling to Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” on the sound system, while Charlie tried to look like he didn’t know us.

Or, in the middle of the night recently, when you crawled into bed next to me. You began to stir at 6 a.m., but I kept my eyes closed hoping you’d stay quiet for a little while longer. After a few moments, you leaned close to my ear, whispered I love you, then snuggled back into the covers against my chest.

My sweet, five-year-old boy. I know that time is fleeting, I know these moments only last an instant, but I want you to know — and I want myself to remember — how grateful I was for them, how I cherished them in the moment.

Happy birthday, my love. Now, please excuse me. I’m going to call my mother.

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Letters to Jack: Nearing 5

Hey Jackers,

Summer is drawing to a close, and in a few weeks you will embark on a new adventure: Transitional Kindergarten! You’ll be attending the same school as Charlie, instead of the school with the Mandarin program. In short, there was a deadline to submit a transfer request — which I didn’t know you needed in the first place — and all the spots were already filled. Lame.

Part of me is relieved. I worried whether the program was a right fit in the first place. Plus, I don’t mind having only one drop-off and pick-up, and I know your school is a good one. I’m just hoping this won’t be a critical crossroad in your life. Will we look back and think, “Everything would’ve been better if he went to that other school!” Then I remember that you’re an able-bodied, white male born into the upper middle class (::insert wry commentary about American socioeconomics). Plus, you’re 4. You’ll be fine.

Because you’ll be in public school next year (thank you, CA), you were able to attend your new school’s summer camp with Charlie, run by the same teachers who operate the after-school program that you’ll both attend next year. It was thrilling to walk you in together the first day. You were just an infant in my arms when Charlie began this program, and now you’re a student there! Both you and Charlie were excited to be there with one another, and I felt assured that your big brother would help look after you. I was also excited for the teachers to get to know my lovable little Jackers.

For the most part, the summer program has been great, and you’ve been happy. You’ve come home smiling and filthy (always a marker of a good camp day).

Then, a few weeks ago, the main teacher gave me the look when I picked you up. “Noooooooooooo,” I whimpered, wondering what your brother had done this time. “It’s about Jack…..,” she replied. Jack, Whaaaaaa???? Yes, my sweet baby boy had been hitting other students and running away when the teachers called for him.

Hmmm. Well, everyone has bad days, I thought. We talked about the importance of keeping your hands to yourself and following your teachers’ directions. Then, last Wednesday happened. Main Teacher shared with me the following:

  1. You scratched another child with scissors during craft time.
  2. You drew on another child’s face with markers.
  3. You keep trying to steal toys from camp and take them home with you.
  4. Instead of running away from your teachers, you are now hiding from them. You’ll only come out when you can shout “boo” and scare them.

I’m feeling a bit mortified at this point — how must this teacher think I’m raising my children?! Then, you scream at me when I say it’s time to go. I ask you again to get your backpack, and you yell “NOOOOOOOO.”

Now, I’m getting pissed. I try to give you the look, but instead you shriek again, then run outside while yelling angry things about me.

One of the teachers says she will follow you, so I calmly collect your backpack and lunch and go outside. You are nowhere to be found, and neither is the teacher (I never actually found out where she went). I call your name. Nothing. I walk completely around the building. Nothing. I go back inside to see if you are in there. Nope.

I start counting down from 5, the universal parent signal for, “You best cut yo shit now.” I hear a guttural scream from inside one of the play structures and ask you to come with me, once again. We make eye contact, then you form your hand into the shape of a gun and mock shoot me.

Well, that was the last straw. I announced that you could no longer go to the next day’s much-anticipated field trip to an arcade.

Cue lots of screaming, crying, whining, yelling and bargaining (this was a new strategy). “Mom,” you said through sobs. “Give me a chance. You have to give me a chaaaaance.” I finally got you home and got food into your system; within 20 minutes, you were back to normal.

Grandma B (who graciously took you in the next day, which was amazing because I had no back-up plan) reminded me that your brain is still growing, and not growing evenly. We brainstormed some ideas to help you — including a sticker chart for good days at camp — and you had a productive day on Friday. How I wish you could still take naps (how I wish I could still take naps…).

You’re definitely going through some sort of developmental leap. Defiance and trickery aside, your brain is doing some interesting things (see above re: bargaining). Your vocabulary is growing. You’re speaking in more complex sentences. You can hop(ish) on one foot!

My goal this summer was to jump-start your reading. A friend gave me a few Bob Books Collections, and we’ve been reading a few every day after camp. You’ve already completed the beginner’s set, and, while I can’t call you an avid reader yet, you are reading!

Independence is coming a little more slowly. We’re still working on your refusal to pee in the morning. Now, an elaborate farce is required before you venture forth to the restroom: I hold all 18 million of your stuffed animals while sitting on your bed and I close my eyes (you always check). After you pee, you creep — not very silently — into the room and sit behind my back. Then you yell, “Open your eyes!” and I have to pretend that you’re still in the bathroom and wonder when you’ll be back. Whatever. It’s the quickest way forward right now.

The other day, I remarked how grateful I was that you could get out of the car by yourself while my hands were full. Cut to the sound of the car door slamming, followed by a shrill scream. You had closed the door on your hand, which I’m sure was karma’s reminder never to say anything like that out loud again. (You were fine after a few hugs and some ice.)

A few weeks ago you had your first sleepover with your cousin. At first you both insisted you’d sleep inside his one-person Batman sleeping bag (because why not), but it was too hot for that to be comfortable. You started the night next to one another on the floor, talking and giggling in the dark (Charlie complained several times that he couldn’t fall asleep in the next room). After about an hour — and several reminders from me to be quiet — your cousin hopped on the bed, which you were NOT OK with. An argument ensued and we eventually determined that you’d both sleep on the bed, head to foot. He ended up falling off the bed and settling in on the floor again, so all turned out fine.

I know this sleepover is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the fun times ahead of you — with your cousin, with your new school friends, with Dad and me. Sometimes, when I peek in at night and give you a final kiss before I go to bed, I’m struck by how big you are lying in bed. Wasn’t it just yesterday that you were a tiny peanut, curled up in a crib? Who’s this kid with such long, strong, beautiful legs?

There are so many things I love about you, and love about being your mom. You’re the only one who compliments me on my choice of necklace, or my painted toenails; you always notice the tiny details. I love how much fun you’re having telling jokes (“What’s brown and sticky? Poop.”). I love how you woke me up early one morning while Dad was away and asked if I could play Weird Al. I love how you give “moose kisses.”

And I love how we just spent a half hour playing cars in your room; you were naked, having soaked yourself with the hose earlier while we watered the plants. Your skin was warm, and you nestled into to me, using my round, motherly belly as a pillow. (Can you believe I felt grateful that it was there for you?)

Now, you and Charlie are beating the snot out of each other with foam lightsabers. Dinner is cooking in the crock pot and smells good. An evening summer breeze is blowing.

My dear boy, I am so grateful for you. I’m so grateful for this life.

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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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.”


“I dunno, Jack. What is it?”

“A deady bear!!!!!!!!!!”


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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