Letters to Charlie: Four and Three-Quarters

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Hey there, my little man,

I should be packing. In a few days we’ll be moving into our new home. It’s larger than this place, where you’ve lived your entire life. There, you’ll have your own room, a backyard to run through, and children in the neighborhood to play with. I can’t wait.

I hope the extra space will be good for you, good for our family. We’re practically on top of each other here. Dad and I have nowhere to hide.

#jokingnotjoking

You see, Charlie, being a parent is tough. And throwing another baby into the mix has definitely made things more chaotic. So, it’s understandable these past few months have been filled both with exhausting challenges and moments of pure bliss.

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Let’s talk about school. Your report card from the fall semester was mixed. In short, you’re super smart, but your behavior needs work. Take this week, for example. You used the word “duplicate” correctly in a sentence, but also BIT a classmate and drew on the cabinets with a pencil. Twice.

There wasn’t anything in the report card we didn’t know or expect; your impulse has always been to do what you want when you want – to hell with authority. Out of 14 behavioral categories, you received one “good,” seven “satisfactorys” and the remainder “needs improvement.” Here’s what your teacher had to say:

Charles has made progress in all of the curriculum. He stays busy during work time, but not with materials that challenge him. Charles is easily distracted. If an exercise is the least bit difficult, he will not attempt to complete it. Charles relies on help to perform tasks. We are working on following through verbal directions. 

Charles’ very social nature requires consistent teacher redirection and correction. Charles often cries when corrected by his teacher and seems to resent this. He likes for things to go his way. He can become uncomfortable about taking responsibility for his choices. We are helping Charles to cope with situations without becoming overly upset over minor affronts. 

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Your teachers have started a sticker reward system similar to the chip program we’re doing at home. At the end of the day, you and a teacher discuss the day and decide together whether you’ve earned a sticker. When you get five in a row, you can spend your Target gift card, and I agreed to buy you a Batman shirt (you’re really into Batman these days).

We’ve yet to see three days in a row, but I can tell you’re trying.

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After a series of particularly bad days as school, I half-jokingly asked one of your teachers if they were ready to throw in the towel. She smiled and shook her head. “Charles is a handful, but everyone here loves him. There’s just something about him.”

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I saw that “something” during your Christmas program at school. When it was their turn to perform something solo, your classmates walked purposefully and calmly to the front of the stage. When you went to recite “Winter Moon” by Langston Hughes, you sauntered on all fours – LIKE A GORILLA – to the front of the room and lined up your feet just so before beginning to speak. Afterward, you threw yourself into your seat with an “uggghhhh” as if you’d finished running an exhausted mile.

Goofball.

Lately, you’ve shown us how clever you are. I came upstairs one morning to catch you stealing chips and putting them in your chip bank. When I asked why, you responded, “Because it’s faster!”

I found toothpaste smeared all over the bathroom. You blamed the cat. I told you the cat doesn’t have opposable thumbs so couldn’t have squeezed out the toothpaste.  You responded, “He must have stepped on it.”

Out of the blue on Christmas Eve, you asked Dad whether Santa was real. You told him you were confused you never see Santa in real life. That same night, you asked whether people are reborn when they die.

OMG, Charlie. You are only four! Thankfully, you showed your age when you exclaimed, “My fart just sounded like the cats vomiting.”

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You’ve always been a sensitive child, with your feelings right on the surface. I didn’t realize how much you struggle with this until we went to a birthday party with other kids your age. Poor guy, you pretty much cried the entire time. Someone fell on you while chasing after a Frisbee, and you never quite regained control. At one point you burst into tears surrounded by all your classmates and their parents because someone had thrown away your plate with half-eaten pizza on it. It took at least 10 minutes to calm you down.

I’d given Dad the afternoon off, thinking you would be occupied with your friends while I cared for Jack. Instead, I was stressed and overwhelmed trying to comfort you while juggling Jack, who, of course, decided to be fussy. At one point, another mom who saw me struggling took Jack so that I could be with you.

Dad and I are working hard to teach you emotional management skills, but it’s tough. Your first instinct is always to cry, or hit, or kick, or bite (sorry, Max).

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That being said, I can tell how caring and loving you are. Driving home from school, I often glance in the rearview mirror to see you holding Jack’s hand. Recently at the grocery store, you asked to get flowers for Dad and a balloon for you. I told you we could only take one home. Though you clutched the balloon through the entire store, you asked to keep the flowers for Dad (I let you take home both).

You are such a big kid, getting close to five. You tried to climb into my lap the other night during story time and I couldn’t hold on to all of your long limbs.

Still, there are times you still seem so small, so new.

A few nights ago, you had a bad case of croup. You’d woken up in the middle of the night and coughed so hard you puked all over everything. Afterward, I settled next to you in your bunk bed, feeling your body relax as you fell back to sleep. I couldn’t help but cry.

I know there will come a time when I can’t lie next to you in the dark of night, rubbing your back. When my presence alone won’t be enough to comfort you when you’re sick.

That day is coming fast; just yesterday I kissed your cheek and you rubbed it off.

Until then, my son, I will take every opportunity to snuggle close to you and be grateful that I get to be your mom – biting and all.

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