Letters to Charlie: Almost 4 1/3 Years

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Dear Charlie,

Congratulations on your first night in your big-kid bunk bed!

The bed comes in anticipation of your brother’s arrival (which should be in fewer than three months –– oh.em.gee.) because you two will eventually share a room. You’re not a big fan of change, so I was worried the novelty would wear off when actual bed time came, even with the super-cool construction bedding. I’m happy to report the first night was a success.

It was a success for me, too. You see, when you were born we bought a fancy monitor that tracked your breathing and sounded an alarm if no movement was detected. It was so comforting for your neurotic mother to know you were alright in the middle of the night that we just kept using it. For four years. Last night, we turned it off — and I survived!

There was a sweet moment when Dad was setting up the bed. We were talking about how comforting it will be for your baby brother to know you are with him at night, how important you will be to him because of all you can teach him about the world. You walked over to where I was sitting and kissed my belly.

I wonder what it’s like for you to go through this experience. Luckily, lots of kids at school have siblings, so I feel you understand the general concept. You’ve seen my belly grow, and experienced my diminishing ability to play with you in all the ways I used to. Sometimes you target my stomach for kicks and hits when you don’t get your way. But other times, you lean toward me and ask your brother funny questions, such as “Do you have a TV in there?!”

IMG_9529 Last night, I read through the pregnancy post I made at this point with you. I wrote about how active you were, how I could feel your kicks up to my rib cage, and I felt this overwhelming sense of awe at the whole damn thing. That little baby once inside of me was now sleeping his first night in a big-kid bunk bed. /boggle

You’re a pretty obstinate little dude and you act all kinds of tough, but we’re increasingly noticing a very sensitive side to you. Take movies, for example. You don’t want to watch “Cars” because you don’t like when Lightning McQueen and Mack get lost. In “Rio 2,” you were upset when the birds’ home was cut down by loggers (that’s my budding environmentalist!). And at school last week, they showed you “Charlotte’s Web,” which may have traumatized you just a bit.

During Singing Kisses before bed this week, Dad made up a seemingly benign song about 29 singing kisses that went downriver and said goodbye to a kiss that stayed behind. You burst into tears. You felt so bad for that one kiss that was left all alone.

Dad reminded me that he cried as a little kid during Wily Coyote cartoons because the coyote got hurt, so apples not falling far from trees and all that.

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Your sweetness, however, is such a gift to others. You’ve struck a deep friendship with an incredibly shy and introverted boy in your class.  According to your teachers, you are the only one able to coax him out of his very private shell. Now, when together you become typical rowdy, playful boys, and your teachers just glow when they describe the transformation.

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At work a few weeks ago, I received a call and voicemail from a number I didn’t recognize. When I had the chance to listen to it, I heard one of those phrases that strike icy fear into a parents’ heart.

“This is Miss Paula from (school). I just want you to know that Charles is OK. We called the fire department and they assured us he’s fine.”

Turns out you were in the office getting ice for a bruise you received falling off a wagon (of course) when a teacher bumped into the fire extinguisher — which fell on the floor AND EXPLODED. The hose whipped back and forth uncontrollably, sending plumes of extinguisher into the air until the principal was able to secure a trash can over it. You weren’t physically hurt, but the school called two fire departments to find out whether you needed medical attention for inhaling the chemicals (they said you didn’t).

Well, you just thought that experience was the coolest thing ever and talked about it for weeks. Once my heart stopped racing, I found the whole thing pretty amusing, too.

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What I didn’t find amusing was the pile of change you stuffed into my car CD player. I could have anticipated this would happen, as we’d recently parked downtown and I let you put coins in the meter. And I couldn’t be angry, because it seemed a rational thing for a 4-year-old to try. Still, it borked my entire car stereo.

Apparently, the mechanics had a bet on how much change they would extract. The final count was $0.81. Do that again, and I’m taking the money out of your college savings.

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Here are some other fun tidbits from the past few months:

  • Daddy introduced you to Calvin and Hobbes, which you enjoy reading together. It’s fun to see what you “get” about them, even at such a young age. You love Spaceman Spiff and the funny faces Calvin makes. You find this particular comic hilarious and recite it often:
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  • You’re showing a serious preference for me over Dad, to the point that you cry when he walks into your room in the morning. We’re letting you navigate through this normal developmental phase, but it hurts me to see Dad’s feelings hurt. I try to assure him that you’ll be all about Dad in a few years and I’ll be the lame one.
  • You’ve started exclaiming “Oh my gosh!” when you find something exasperating.
  • You called me “sweetie” the other day, instead of “mom,” as in “Sweetie, can you get me some milk?”
  • When I find something incredibly funny, I hit the table or my knee while laughing. You’ve begun to mimick me, but don’t quite understand the concept. Instead, you laugh and hit me.
  • You spread a blanket on the floor and asked if we could play tea party “like on the iPad.” #ChildOfTheDigitalAge
  • You asked when you’ll be 10 years old. Daddy replied, “In 6 years…..I’ll be 40. Oh GOD.”

Last month I faced a parental situation that continues to bother me. You see, I fancy myself extremely progressive, open minded, and belligerently accepting of others. One of my main goals as a parent is to raise children who are empathetic and kind. Yet, when faced with the opportunity to be so, I feel like I failed.

We were at a children’s clothing store to buy Savannah a birthday present when you asked if you, too, could get a dress. I pretty much froze. My brain yelled, “No, no, no, no, no.” I flashed forward through years of bullying, teasing, and trauma, and I wanted nothing more than for you to forget the request. I said we were there to buy something for Savannah and that we could look for a dress for you another time. You didn’t bring up again, and neither have I.

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My gut reaction startled me. I’m the one who uses gender-neutral terms when I talk about your future “partners.” The week before, I proudly shared the story of a local couple who made the brave and admirable decision to raise their transgender child as a boy. And recently you and Savannah ran around her house in Disney princess dresses (you were a lovely Snow White). But somehow that was OK because it wasn’t in public?

I’m still struggling with how I reacted and contemplative about how I might react to future requests. Was I just caught off guard? Was it just my fear that you’d encounter assholes that would make your childhood miserable?

I don’t know the answers, and maybe that’s OK. Being a parent doesn’t mean you always know what to do or what decisions to make. It’s a constant exercise in self-reflection and I’m grateful to you for raising the questions.

Charlie, you cannot know how thankful we are to have you in our lives. You fill our days with joy, you constantly challenge us, and you make us better parents — and better people.

Albeit $0.81 poorer.

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This entry was posted in Charlie, development, family, Letters to Charlie, parenthood, pregnancy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Letters to Charlie: Almost 4 1/3 Years

  1. Barbara Crawford says:

    Hilarious and tender, as always.

    If Charles wants a dress, get him a kilt! He has every right to the Clan tartan 🙂

    If he wants to make a decision to wear a dress in public, you talk to him beforehand about it, the same way you would talk to him about why he looks both ways before crossing a street or puts on clothes of any kind before going outside. You help him think about what dressing that way might be saying to people, and make sure he wants to say that. You two can put together a dress-up box of costumey clothes including some frocks, for him to enjoy at home, and have conversations in the course of play. At his age, it’s all playful discovery, and none of it is a knife in the soul.

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