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:
Kiss… Hug… Eskimo kiss… Eskimo hug… Jellyfish (the involves moving our hands like we’re at the disco?)… Turtle (we make forehead horns with our hands??)… Turtle Eskimo kiss… Turtle 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)
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.