Letters to Jack: Month 20

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My dear, sweet boy,

Sometimes I don’t know what to write in these letters. Though it’s probably not fair to compare, your brother was more challenging as a baby and a toddler (see Letters to Charlie: Month 20). Writing letters to him was somewhat therapeutic.

You? You’re pretty content with life. Grandma Z cared for you yesterday and said you just giggled all day. “He walks a few steps, then giggles. Walks a few more, giggles.” She sent photos all day of your grand adventures.

And you’re chill, too. The other day, I plopped you in front of a box of Duplos and you played — independently — for at least 45 minutes while I made dinner. I didn’t even know this was possible!

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That doesn’t mean you aren’t sharing some joys of toddlerhood with us. You run away at diaper-changing time and screech until we get a new one on you. You’re beginning to knock over your dinner plate if you don’t like what’s on there, or drop food to test the laws of gravity. And some days you are just plain grouchy.

You hit (and still bite, occasionally) when you don’t get your way. “Mine!” and “Move!” are favorite commands these days (though they sound mostly like “mye” and “moo”).

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You’re saying more words, but the rate at which you acquire new ones concerns me. This morning Dad tried working with you to say “cow” and “fire truck” and “lion” instead of mimicking the sounds they make. Raisins are”weeeee.” At least 80 percent of other nouns are “mama.” You continue signing Charlie’s name (a “C” over the heart, though you do a fist), instead of speaking it.

Grandma B assures me you’re doing fine, that you are the most accomplished communicator of kids your age in her school. You said your first sentence –“bye ball”– in her backyard just the other week.

To me, progress seems slow. Perhaps this is because my recollection of Charlie is that he was practically reciting Shakespearean sonnets at this age and/or telling me off.

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You’re beginning to mimic counting and every number is “nine.” You’ll line up your toys in a straight line — making adjustments along the way until they’re just right (my father would have been so proud) — then count with your finger: nine, nine, nine, nine, Nine!

You walk with your hands clasped behind your back, like a perfect gentleman.

You love to laugh, especially with us. “He’s funnier than any movie — this is so great,” Dad said the other day, when you were both squealing in the backyard. “We’re just watching a ball fall off a tennis racquet!”

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This month, you met Darth Vader at a birthday party (great gathering, Ash!). The kids played all afternoon with foam lightsabers, so now you want to sword fight with everything in our house.

We took you to the county fair, and you learned the hard lesson that you can’t stay on the merry-go-round with Grandma Z forever.

Last week, on a family walk around the neighborhood, we watched a giant hot-air balloon soar directly over us, just above the tree tops. This made a huge impression on you. Every time we’re outside, you look around frantically, make the sign for balloon, and point to the sky. I showed you YouTube videos of hot-air balloons and you just about lost your shit.

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You are such a sweet boy, my Jack. On Saturday mornings, when we watch Elmo (mel-moh!) with Charlie before Dad wakes up, you climb in my lap and snuggle into my chest. I’ve started calling you my “lap cat.”

You clutch your stuffed animals so tightly and love to kiss them on the nose. You travel from me, to Dad, to Charlie so we can kiss them, too. Then you ask us to smooch your soft, little lips. Oh, my heart!

You’ve fallen asleep in your high chair twice this month. I don’t know how this is even possible, and it’s one of the sweetest things in the universe to see.

Jack, sometimes the thought strikes me that you must be a reward for doing something right in this life. When I think of you, I feel calm and happy and complete.

And I can’t stop giggling.

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Letters to Charles: Year Six

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Dear Charles,

Notice I didn’t write “Charlie.” This is because I’m trying to honor your wish to be called by your official name. A week ago, you announced I could no longer refer to you by your nickname. My name is Charles, you explained, resolutely. Charles.

I described why this was problematic — how your nickname differentiates you from your Dad, how it’s just the best little kid name ever, how your rules don’t apply to me because I was in labor with you for 23 hours, and I can call you whatever I damn well please, Charlie.

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But you looked so confident. So sure of who you were and weren’t. I was struck by that cliché all parents encounter when they realize, with wonder, that their baby has somehow become AN INDIVIDUAL.

Today you turn six years old. You’re almost done with kindergarten. You can ride a bike. You can tie your shoes. You only miss the toilet about 40 percent of the time (this gets better, right?). You know how to read and do simple multiplication. Sometimes you make poop jokes, then turn around and ask stunning questions like, “What is on the other side of space?”

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You’ve worked really hard this year to be a better student, a better friend, a better brother. We faced some significant challenges during the fall, and you spent a fair share of lunches in the principal’s office, but things are moving in the right direction.

You started karate (all hail the yellow belt!), which we credit for giving our family a framework with which to discuss values like courtesy, integrity, perseverance, and self control. You sometimes grumble when you have to go to class, but you always have a good time. You recently punched through wooden boards!

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As you grow, I see more of me in you. Some might accuse me of projecting my own issues, but you’ve clearly shown you’re someone who feels a lot of emotion and anxiety and struggles to control it. A lot of the work we do involves putting words to what you’re feeling and trying to come up with solutions, instead of letting the feelings overtake you.

At times, you mirror your father, too. When I was ransacking the house in search of my phone, you reminded me, with a detectable air of superiority, that if I put it in the same spot every time I came home, then I wouldn’t lose it.

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You’re still stubborn as hell, mostly about food. Dad and you had a FOUR-HOUR standoff a few weeks ago when you refused to eat a grape at breakfast. A month before that, it was over one bean. I recently re-read your 18-month post, and you recoiled at vegetables even then, so I’m not expecting this to change any time soon.

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Together, we laugh and laugh and laugh. You love to be silly, especially when someone tries to take a photo of you. If I find something you do funny, you try it again and again. You’re always up for a game of chase or wrestling in the living room. When we leave the house in the morning, we yell to the cats, “You GATO have a good day,” then giggle all the way to the car.

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Here are some highlights from your fifth year:

  • Career goal: Astronaut
  • Favorite songs: “Shut Up and Dance” and “X’s and O’s” (without the context, though)
  • Favorite joke: “Why did the rocket ship lose its job? Because it got FIRED.”
  • Halloween costume: Stupendous Man from Calvin and Hobbes
  • Best friends: Allie, Frankie, Liam, and Lucas
  • Bad habit: Chewing your nails (just like mom!)
  • Favorite hair-do: Flattened in front of your face, no product allowed
  • Fun Christmas memory: Sleeping with Dad next to the fireplace so you could catch Santa.
  • Favorite toy: Anything Lego
  • Favorite video games: Minecraft and Angry Birds: Star Wars
  • Favorite movie: None, because you refuse to watch any
  • Favorite book: Any of Dad’s old Calvin and Hobbes compilations
  • Favorite restaurant: Rubio’s
  • Other favorite restaurant: THERE IS NOTHING BUT RUBIO’S

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One of the best days of the year — probably one of the best days of my life — was when Dad and I took you to Disneyland for the first time over Christmas. Jack hung out with Grandma B back home, so it was a rare day with just the three of us.

I pretty much cried the entire walk down Main Street, just watching you experience everything. We rode Astro Blasters three times. I was a wreck anticipating how you’d react to the Matterhorn, but you handled it like a champ, even though it scared you. You took home a green lightsaber and asked if we could buy a Yoda stuffed animal for Jack (he sleeps with it every night). We ate ice cream and popcorn and stayed up late.

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You were a cool baby, my son, but you’re turning in to a fun kid. I love hearing your observations of the world and working together through challenges. I feel honored to have a guiding hand in the man you will one day become.

Happy Birthday, my Charles. So many more magical days await us.

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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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