Letters to Jack: 3.5 Years

My dear, sweet boy,

I don’t know why, but you are so incredibly scrumptious right now. Getting you dressed for bed tonight, I couldn’t stop giving you all the kisses and nuzzles, hugs and tickles. I’m a little obsessed with you these days, charmed by your easy hugs and bright smile and the fact that you still pronounce “little” as “whittle.”

You’re at the crossroads of toddler and little kid, and I think my brain is trying to hold on to every sweet moment.

Your teachers are desperately enamored with you, too. Each time I drop you off or pick you up, one of them exudes her love of your effusive personality, your adorable vocabulary, your gentle affection. One teacher said she wishes her future grandchildren will be like you (she’s the one who nicknamed you “handsome”). Even the parents of your schoolmates seem excited to see you; they all know your name, whereas I can name maybe four kids in your class, on a good day.

Preschool is going very well. My hangups about the classroom have mostly dissipated. You’ve made friends. You come home happy and healthy, even if you groan all morning about not wanting to go to school (who knew complaining started this early?). And the whole pooping-in-the-potty thing finally clicked. One day about six weeks ago you woke up and — poof — you were a kid who pooped in the potty. Now our big battle is getting you to pee more frequently so you don’t find yourself at DEFCON 1 so often.

I can tell you’re learning so much at school — in English and in Mandarin! I was practicing Mandarin on Duolingo the other day (decided I should learn some basics about the language to keep up with you), and you said, “zài jiàn? — that’s goodbye!” For the past several days, you’ve been singing a song about a radish. You tell me it’s not in Mandarin,  “It’s just bá luó bo!”

Charlie and you are getting along better. Shall I dare acknowledge there is sometimes laughter in the house between you two? I give credit to Dad, who devised a brilliant challenge for Charlie’s upcoming 8th birthday that’s made a world of difference in our house (I’ll give more details when I write Charlie’s birthday letter in a few weeks). You two seem to particularly get along when you’re ganging up on or teasing me. Hey, I’ll gladly be the brunt of your jokes to avoid all that screaming.

We’re working on a few of your behavior quirks. You get this nervous laugh when we call you out on something you’re not supposed to being doing (like hitting Charlie). I try to remind myself you’re probably not trying to be defiant; it’s most likely some kind of auto response, but it can be aggravating.

Or, maybe it’s because you’re acting pugnacious lately. You’re kind of a dick to your brother at times, which is unfortunate because he’s working so hard to be nicer to you. You’ve learned that taunting Charlie can get a rise out of him. For example, you’ll say over and over, “I’m taller than youuuuu, I’m taller than youuuuuu,” even though that’s demonstrably false. Charlie gets angrier and angrier until he blows up, and then everyone is yelling.

Dad pointed out the other day that when you boys leave for college, I won’t hear “mom…mom…mom…MOM!!!!” every few seconds. He was probably trying to give me comfort during a relentless weekend, but the thought made me feel unexpectedly sad. While I absolutely love my relationship with Charlie as an almost 8 year old, I know how much it’s changed since he was your age. I’ll probably feel just as great about us when you’re at that age, but there’s something about you being my last baby that makes me feel like clinging.

Each day, you have more trouble fitting into my lap. Your hands are now longer than they are wide. We went to Legoland a few times over Spring Break and you were tall enough to ride a roller coaster. The signs are everywhere, reminding me that time marches forward.

But this time together brings such sweetness. The other night before bed, you grabbed my shoulders and pulled me in close for a big snuggle. Then you demanded “100 kiss and 20 hugs!”

My sweet, sweet boy. You can always count on me to give you that — and a “whittle” more.

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Letters to Jack: 3 1/3 years


Hey there, Jackers,

It’s funny what people will do to keep their sanity. On the 25-minute drive down to Ashleigh’s yesterday, you said “mom” 43 times. How do I know? Because keeping a tally in my head was the only way I wouldn’t drive off the road.

In the car, you want to ask and tell me everything. Sometimes you don’t even make sense. “Mom, why is that tree there?” “Mom, why are there no school buses?” “Mom, are we at Grandma Z’s yet?” “Mom, a construction site…did you see the digger? Did you see it? Mom, did you? Mom?,” “Mom, why is street?”

If I don’t acknowledge you right away, the “moms” get louder and more demanding. “Hey mom……..Maaaoomm……MoMoMoMoMoM………….MOMMY I’M TALKING TO YOUUUUUUUU.”


I read somewhere that age three is the “magical year.” That author must not have a toddler because I feel like I’m in the “threenager” year. You have many opinions. Things have to be exactly so. We can’t move on to any next thing until you finish a task just the way you want. I had to restrain you in the car seat last week because you didn’t like the way you’d climbed in the car and wanted to do it over and over again. We had three minutes to get Charlie to school.

You’ve begun talking back. Popular phrases these days include: “But, mom…” “I’m just,” “You are MEAN at me,” and “No, I can do it myself!”

You and Charlie are still fighting. A lot. In fact, as I write this, Dad is putting you both in time out for something. I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t have waited 4.5 years before having a second child, that maybe the age divide is just too much to bridge. But then I see other siblings that far apart in age who get along, and I realize it’s just your personalities that clash. That could have happened at any age. With hope, you are re-reading this as an young man and Charlie is your bestest friend in the world.


You’re entering your third month of preschool, and I’d say the transition is ongoing. You were — and still are — the youngest child in class, by at least six months. I didn’t realize how big a difference that was until I chaperoned your first field trip to the aquarium.

You were all over the place, both physically and emotionally. I attribute part of that to me being there with you, but it really was a full-time job trying to keep you from escaping into one of the tanks. You have another field trip to a busy museum coming up this week, and your teacher pretty much asked that we keep you home if neither Dad nor I could attend.


I can only imagine how tough it would be going from a class of four students taught by your grandma to a class of 22 students with several teachers. Not to mention an entire elementary school! During the school’s Lunar New Year celebration, you melted down in front of several hundred students and visitors while your class performed a Chinese song about a turnip. You’d never seen that many people before!

Your teachers say you definitely require more attention than the other students at this point. This is especially true of the potty. When I last wrote you a letter, we had eight days to get you potty trained before school began (a requirement to enroll). That first day, we felt pretty confident about pee and crossed our fingers about poop.

Well, we’re still crossing our fingers. We’re two months in, and I think you’ve pooped in the potty at school maaaybe four times? We’re at a loss for what to do, and I know it’s increasingly frustrating for your teachers. I can’t tell if it’s fear of pooping in the potty,  not knowing that it’s coming, or just stubborness. Like a cat, you tend to poop at recess when you’re playing in the sandbox, so maybe you’re just feeling relaxed?


It’s not much better at home. We started you on the “chip” system  in hopes that you’d be encouraged to poop in the potty. Achieve that and you earn six chips — that’s TWO “Umizoomis!” You’re not buying it — and I’m not getting far.

Me: Jack, I know you want to feel like a big boy. Big boys put their poop and pee in the potty. 

Jack: I’m not a big boy, Mommy.

Me: But I know that you want to be! And Daddy and I want you to be. Babies poop in their diapers, and you’re not a baby, Jack.

Jack: Mom, I’m NOT a big boy and I’m NOT a baby………I am Batman. 

I keep fearing the teachers will say you can’t stay in the classroom, but I think they like you too much. Especially your head teacher. She’s been so kind and gracious about your transition into her class. She’s always telling me how bright and articulate and energetic you are. She assures me that you’ll get there when it comes to the potty. At nap time, she sings to you while you rest your head on her lap.


I may get frustrated as we navigate these developmental milestones, but, Jack, there’s no one who can make me laugh like you. You are so curious about the world and so full of life. Your facial expressions and giggles are often the best part of my day.

You spread joy wherever you go. Leaving class the other day, I reminded you to say goodbye to your teachers. You stood in the middle of the class, threw up your arms, and shouted, “GOODBYE, FRIENDS!” Everyone beamed.

When we bought breakfast at the bagel shop, you asked if I could carry you to the counter so you could say thank you to the cashier. At night, after I’ve given you a hug, a kiss, then another hug, then another kiss, you always ask if you can have an extra hug and kiss in the morning.


One of my favorite things about having babies was when your hands were wider than they were long. I noticed the other day that this isn’t the case for you any longer. You’re growing so quickly. Potty trained or not, you are getting to be a big kid, and part of my heart aches for that.

Even though I need a break sometimes, I can’t be away from you or your brother for very long. Dad and I escaped for a night away last weekend, and while it was AMAZING to get that time alone, I started feeling a little antsy for you boys after about 30 hours.

There’s just something about being your mom that completes me. A colleague asked me recently about my 5- to 10-year goals, and what came to my mind was that I wanted to be a good mom.

So, please have patience with me as we travel down this road together. There are some days that are long and frustrating for me, as I’m sure they are for you. Know that I feel so damn lucky to be your mother, and I can’t wait for the adventures ahead — even if that means you say “mom” 3 trillion times on the way there.

“Hey, mom!”



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Letters to Jack: 3 Years, 2 Months


My dear boy,

Oh my. What a past few months!

It’s been a time of change for our family — filled with some rough times, but also sweet family fun, exciting transitions and 3-year-old towhead who is trying his darndest to pee in the potty.

As of today, we have eight days to get you fully potty trained. You’ll be starting your new preschool in just over a week, now that Grandma B has closed her preschool after more than 30 years. She opened the school when your Daddy was just a little boy and ended it with her last grandchild. Daddy and I are so excited for the good times ahead for her in retirement.


Our intention was to send you to a different preschool — one more aligned with the Montessori education you (and we) were used to, and one that didn’t require stubborn 3-year-olds to be fully potty trained. The school was 20 minutes from our house, but we could make the drive work because it was on the way to both of our jobs.

However, in November, Daddy was laid off, meaning that the company for which he worked decided he and a few dozen of his colleagues were no longer needed. This was — and still is — a shock to us. The severage package was insulting (in my opinion), and it happened just before the holidays.

We decided we couldn’t enroll you in that preschool we loved, not knowing where Dad would ultimately land a new job and not feeling financially confident to pay the up-front fees and tuition. The idea of finding you an acceptable preschool with an open spot on such short notice seemed terrifyingly impossible.


But, Serendipity was on our side. We received a call from our back-up preschool where you’d been on the waiting list since April. It’s five minutes from our house and doesn’t require exorbinant pre-enrollment fees. They had one opening starting in January, and would we like it?

While I am so grateful for this turn of events, and love many things about this new school, I have some worries (shocking, I know). Potty training aside, you will be the youngest student in the entire school — younger than Charlie was when he started a new preschool. I’m trying to remind myself that I was just as nervous when Charlie made the transition and he turned out fine. But you’re just so little! Will you be OK without me? Will you be able to keep up? Will the older students let you play with them?


The curriculum is traditional and very structured. I’ve seen how children, and you especially, thrive in the Montessori environment, and I just don’t like the idea of designated blocks of time for different types of learning. Also, when we visited, the puzzles the kids used were really simple, and it didn’t seem like one of the teachers had any control over the class while we were there.

Ugh, I know I sound like a judgy asshat. I know I need to reel it in. You will be fine. You loved the classroom when we visited, especially the fire truck on the playground and the play kitchen inside. The head teacher seems wonderful and loving. You will be fine.


Our family will be fine, too. While Dad continues searching for a job, I was offered a promotion at mine. I’ll never forget coming home that night and getting big hugs from Dad and Charlie. Then you ran around the corner, flung out your arms, and yelled, “CON-GWAD-DOO-LAY-TONS!”

While Christmas was more low-key than other years, it was filled with such sweet moments. We went on nightime walks around the neighborhood to check out the lights. Grandma Z helped us trim our tree while we listened to Christmas music. We watched the “Cars” movie a hundred million times. Our dear, former neighbors took us to the Zoo. You rolled the dice for Uncle Pete during our family’s famous marbles game. We all decorated, then devoured, ice cream snowmen at Grandma B’s. You fell asleep in my arms as I sang you, “Silent Night.”


The list goes on. While there’ve been some rough moments over the past few months, what is always true is how lucky we are to be a family. Regardless of what happens, we have each other.

My dear sweet boy, I look forward to all the adventures — potty, preschool or otherwise — that await us in 2018.


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Letters to Jack: On Turning Three


My dear boy,

I apologize for writing this letter a few days late. October has been the busiest month for our family in recent memory — Dad has been traveling, I’ve begun editing the parent newsletter for Charlie’s school, and there seems to be non-stop soccer practices and games and birthday parties and other things we’ve promised to do.

But nothing could keep me from wishing you the happiest of birthdays, my dearest three-year-old. Sometimes my heart aches thinking about how quickly you and Charlie are growing up. And sometimes — usually when you’re fighting — I calculate the number of days until you’re both off to college (roughly 3,944 days for Charlie, 5,405 days for you).


Actually, things have been better lately. You and your brother are slowly finding things to do together — building forts, chasing each other around the house, jumping on the bed, hiding in the hamper, and dancing with glowsticks in the dark alongside Dad and me.

The yelling is still a problem when Charlie makes you unhappy. Dad and I’ve had to speak with you several times about just how scared we get when you scream like someone is cutting off a limb. The encouraging news is that sometimes you yell this loud because you’re happy to be playing with your brother.


There’ve been some momentous milestones in the past few months. You transitioned to a big-boy bed, which went smoothly. I wanted to keep you in the crib for as long as possible (#anxiousmom), but it was pretty clear you were ready the night I watched you scamper over the railing like a monkey and plop yourself into bed.

You were very excited to learn that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. So happy, in fact, that you’ve been repeating it often: “Jack have penis….. Charlie have penis….. Daddy have penis….Mommy have nooooooo penis.” You called me into your room one night after bedtime just to verify if I had a “‘gina.” Yes, sweety. Go to bed.


We’re inching forward on using the potty. You’re completely potty trained when naked, but there’s something that hasn’t clicked about underwear. You’ve asked a few times to wear underwear to school instead of a Pull-Up, but then you peed through the underwear and additional pairs. Your grandmas can usually convince you to pee on the potty once during the day, but that seems to be your cap for now.  Oh well, I’m not stressing. The new preschool you’re attending in January doesn’t require a potty-trained kid. You’ll get there.

Everything else about your life has to follow a strict order. At Grandma B’s school the other day, you refused to walk through the front gate when I opened it because that’s Grandma B’s job. She was busy with another student, so you stood there for several minutes completely unwilling to budge.


You’re also obsessed with doing everything by yourself. I forgot how frustrating this stage of development can be — for toddlers and for me. Climbing into your car seat takes several excruciating minutes. If I try to help speed up the process, you thrash and wail and go limp, and there is no easy way to get a struggling child into a carseat. I’ve found it helpful to turn this torture into a game (“Let’s count up from 1 to see how fast you can get in!”). You also like when I sing the carseat song I made up for Charlie as a kid, to the tune of “Twist and Shout” (Come on, baby…let’s twist and plop….come on, baby, let’s twist and plop…..Climb into your carseat, and twist and plop).

You love singing the “ABC Song,” still. Dad and I went to a conference in September and every time we video chatted with you and Charlie, you started singing. But, when you messed up the letters, you had to go back to the beginning and start again (see above re: order).

Sometimes, you’re a grumpy morning person. When Dad or I creep into your room to wake you up, you yell, “Get… out…of my…. room!” You were sent to bed early one night for refusing to eat any dinner, so the famous three-year-old stubbornness is developing, too.


You’re pretty smart about extending our bedtime routine, something we also experienced with your brother. When I get about 5/6ths done reading a book you’ve selected, you suddenly decide, “Not that book!,” and try to convince me to start another one. You ask for several hugs once the lights are out — and you’re usually successful with this strategy because mommies love hugs!!!

Speaking of books, you still enjoy them a lot. You’ve begun reciting stories out loud while turning the pages and pretending to read. In the car the other day, I heard your sweet voice from the back seat, saying, “Are you my mother?….No, I’m a COW!”

You’re so expressive. I love the way your face lights up when you see something exciting (“Wook! I see a pwane in duh sky!”) and the way it gets all scrunchy when you’re mad. At your family birthday party, I took video after video of you opening presents just because you were so ebullient about every gift. “It’s a diiiiiiiinooooosauuurrrr! Guys, a diiiiiiiinooooosauuurrrr!!!!


The other day Dad remarked how easy it is to love you. It’s so true. You give your love freely and easily. You love getting and giving kisses and hugs. You softly rub my arm at bedtime when I’m singing to you. You hold my hand for no reason at all. You even enjoy housework! (“Oh, I’d wuv to, Mommy!,” you exclaim when I ask if you can help with laundry.)

This morning you woke up before the sun rose, so I snuck you into bed with me. We talked quietly in the dark, and every time I moved, you pulled my arm back so that I was holding you tight under the covers. I told you I loved you, and you burrowed deeper into my side.

My sweet boy. You and I may have only 5,405 days left until you’re off to college, but know this: For all those days — and all of the days that come after — you have my heart, and my arms will always be waiting for your hugs.



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Letters to Jack: Nearing 3


My dear, sweet boy,

I know you’ll hate me one day for starting my letter this way, but you just pooped in the potty! Yaaaaaaaaay!!

Such are the milestones that parents pine for. I longingly imagine the day when there are no more diapers in this house. Just think of how much money I’ll have to buy episodes of “Dinosaur Train” off the internet!


As you can see, we’re making some progress on the bathroom front. You almost always use the potty if we keep you naked (wooooo!!). But, this happens rarely when wearing your diaper. We’d like to transition to “big boy” underwear, but you’re not ready to consider it. However, you’re spending several days at Grandma Z’s next month and she says her mission is to get you there. #goodluckgrandma

Right now, you and Dad are riding bikes to the park. One thing I love about you is your willingness to do things, even simple errands. Charlie fought to stay home from the moment he learned “no,” so it’s refreshing to go places without resorting to screams and threats.

(::insert sigh::)
You and Charlie. Oil and water. Trump and sane people. Some things just don’t mix.

There is too much fighting in this house. Charlie can be a hellion and you screech bloody murder at any hint of conflict. I lost my shit last Saturday, a sign I was in major need of a Mommy Time Out. Dad had recently returned from a four-day business trip and was away again at his monthly guys’ disc golf game (no irritation about that, just setting the stage).  You screamed at each other all morning. Calm Jess had tried conflict resolution, setting timers for toys, and even separating you in different parts of the house.

But at some point, I had to pee. The second I sat down on the toilet — with high hopes of playing just one game of Candy Crush — chaos erupted. Calm Jess turned into Pantsless Jess, standing over you in the living room and yelling my face off.


When dad came home, I left the house with the intention of running until exhaustion and pain outweighed my desire to be as far from the screaming as possible. Several miles later, I walked in the door, not because I was ready to be done, but because I started to feel guilty about being gone so long (shout-out to other slow runners).

The change in me for the rest of the weekend was profound, a reminder to parents about the importance of exercising so that you don’t kill your children.


Aside from your blossoming friendship with your brother, you are muddling through serious Toddler Brain. This is especially heightened for a kid like you, who’s always wanted things just so. You get mad if I don’t wear pants. When we play with cars, I have to “rescue” your car from a fire or from falling off a cliff — over and over and over again. Or you tell me there’s a lion (“Mommy! There’s a why-on!”) and our stuffed animals have to run away.

Sometimes, your brain is just mush. At breakfast the other day, you asked for a fork for your yogurt instead the spoon I gave you. When I exchanged the utensils, you wailed for the spoon because WHY WOULD I EVER WANT A FORK CRAZY WOMAN.


I tried to take you to the beach while Dad and Charlie went camping. Packed everything up, drove 20 minutes to the water, and paid $15 for all-day parking. At first, you loved splashing around as the waves came up to our feet. But the seaweed kept sticking to your legs as the waves washed out, which you were NOT OK with. And every time I tried to brush it away, another fucking wave would come (curse you moon!).

Sandcastles, I thought. We could play sandcastles. As soon as you sat down and got (gasp!) sand on your hands, you were over that, too. “Go home,” you said, with finality. “Go home now.”

You began walking toward the parking lot. I gathered you back and you started to struggle. I tried to distract you with a walk along the beach, but that didn’t work either. “Mommy, go home now,” you wept. “I don’t want to beach.”

So, 17 minutes after we set foot on the sand, we were back at the car.


This letter is starting to sound whiney, so I will list off some awesome moments from the past few months:

  • Charlie came up with a great game called “Tickle or Pass,” where you run in a circle around Dad or me, and we decide whether to tickle you as you run past, or let you go. This has led to explosive shrieks of laughter in our home.
  • We’ve had a great time swimming lately. Charlie is getting more confident in the water, and you’re finally comfortable with bobbing solo in your floaties. Our trip to the local water park was one of my favorite days of the summer.
  • You can put on your shoes and pull up your pants. You finally figured out how to rinse and spit when brushing your teeth.
  • I love your expressions, which seem to become more exaggerated and funny as you age.
  • The “Alphabet Song” is most requested at bedtime. I hear you sing it to yourself over the monitor as you fall asleep.
  • You always ask to watch “Me-wana.”
  • One morning you were so giving of hugs and kisses that you made Dad cry.
  • We had friends over for dinner and you brought to the table a book for their 2-year-old daughter to read, just like you.
  • When we play “sleep,” you pretend to be a rooster and love to yell “COCK-A-DOODLE” as loud as you can.
  • During an arduously long car ride, we stopped for a snack at a sandwich shop across from a construction site — which was next to train tracks. I don’t think you’ve ever been so excited.

You just returned home from the park with Dad. Skin warm, smelling like fresh air. You sought me out immediately and climbed onto the bed.

“Why you need write letter?,” you asked, laying your head on my chest and poking at my keyboard with your tiny fingers.

For these moments, my sweet son. The ones so commonplace as to be easily forgotten. For the day-to-day delights that too often get overshadowed by the day-to-day frustrations.

When I look back on my experience raising you boys, I want to remember the subtle joys of being your mother — from quick kisses to silly jokes to finally getting that poop in the potty.


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Letters to Jack: Almost 33 Months

IMG_20170527_072304_nMy dearest boy,

I get a feeling when I know it’s time to write you a letter. It’s part wonder, part pride, part recognition that time is moving forward and you continue to grow.

The feeling struck me earlier this week at the end of your bath. While Charlie likes to hop out as soon as he can and seek out dessert, you always take time to clean up. One by one, you pick up each toy and place it along the edge of the tub. Then, you inspect your placement and inevitably move some objects to another spot. The bath is done only when you feel that everything is just where it should be.


This is such an interesting part of your personality, and it manifests in other ways. You don’t like to be naked, or when I’m not wearing pants, or when your shirt gets food on it and omg we have to change it IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS RESTAURANT RIGHT NOW (sorry, Boston Market).

I wonder how this trait will shape the man you will become. Maybe you’ll be a mathematician. Maybe you’ll always have a clean house. Maybe you’ll drive your partner crazy by adjusting all of the soup cans on grocery store shelves (callback to your Grandpa Z).


Whatever happens, I hope you always give me such great hugs. Although you’ve grown out of needing to touch me at all times, you still love to nestle into my lap with a cup of milk when you wake up in the morning. We cuddle by the front window and talk about the neighborhood outside.

A few months ago, right after settling down on the couch, you shouted, “I see fmeengo (flamingo)!” I pulled the curtain wider, thinking you were noticing my gorgeous, pink roses, only to discover a flock of plastic flamingos dotting our front yard. Apparently, someone (still don’t know who) donated to a high school cheer squad in order to “flock” our house overnight.

Though the birds only stayed for 24 hours, our gag in the morning has become opening the front curtains, looking out at the lawn and sadly remarking, “No fmeengos.”


Your language acquisition progresses. I surprised Dad with a special no-kid weekend over Father’s Day (ironic, I know), and I swear you were speaking more fluently when we returned after two days. You’re working hard on your pronunciation, too. Poon is slowly evolving into spoon, trut into truck, Jat to JackThere are still occasions when I ask Charlie if he has any idea what you’re saying. Or I pretend to understand, like any good mother.

You’ve begun participating in our dinnertime tradition of naming what we we’re grateful for, or what made us happy during the day. “Jack, did you do anything fun at school?” … “I play trucks!” Or, “Jack, what did you do with Grandma Z today?” … “Lagooooon!”


My last letter focused on your Charlie-induced screaming fits. The yelling is still pretty prevalent in our house, but I have noticed you playing together more often. Usually a good chasing game will get you both laughing, without a meltdown. It’s still difficult when Charlie kicks you out of his room, or wants to play with one of his friends without you tagging behind. As a younger sibling, I know this will be a challenge throughout your childhood. Older brothers are just so cool.

I worry that some of Charlie’s big-kid habits are rubbing off on you. Just like Charlie, you ask if you can watch videos as soon as I pick you up from school. And I notice you use his vocal inflections more and more often — often when you’re telling me “NO!” Usually, your agreeable disposition finds a way through.


Recently, one of my friends rightly commented that having a toddler is an exercise in patience. Your quest for independence continues to blossom; you — and only you — have to do everything — climbing into the car, climbing out of the car, putting on your shoes, taking off your shoes, brushing your teeth, pushing the stroller (even as you hit walls, other people, etc.).

I wish this quest for autonomy carried over to potty training, which has still failed to launch. We’ve made slight progress, in that you’ve worn “big boy” Thomas the Train underwear around the house a few times (though you peed in them — and all over our couch). You’ve even asked if you could sit on the potty a few times. But that’s about as far as we’ve gotten.


I’m not sweating it. Maybe because you’re the second kid. Maybe because the new preschool we’ll be sending you to doesn’t require it. Either way, I’m pretty confident you won’t enroll in college in a diaper.

As an anxious mama, I have enough to worry about. So, instead, I will try to focus on our morning cuddles, our constant laughs, and the knowledge that with you, Dad, and Charlie in my life, everything is just where it should be.






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Letters to Charlie: On Turning 7


My dear boy,

Years ago, I was hired by a friend to photograph her seven-year-old daughter’s birthday. You were a baby then, maybe as old as Jack is now, and I remember thinking how big, how adult, all of the kids seemed at the party compared to my little guy at home.

Now, here we are. We just finished your seventh birthday party and I’m struck by the significance. Seven seems important. Seven seems serious. Like we’ve bid farewell to all things baby and landed solidly in Kid.

“Who told you that you could grow?” I joke with you when I realize you’re taller than the last time I paused to recognize it. You giggle and can’t tell that my heart is both aching and bursting with pride.


A word I’d use to describe your past year is bravery. You’ve always struggled with anxieties — fears that kept you from experiencing a lot of things kids enjoy. But I got my first glimpse of your budding resolve last summer at the county fair. From a distance you saw the Jumbo Slide and asked to ride on it, but realized the meaning of the word “jumbo” when we walked up.

“Mom, I’m scared,” you said, shakily.
“It’s alright, bud. Let’s try something else.”
“No, I’m going to do it.”

You grabbed the blanket and trudged to the top of the seemingly 20-story-tall slide as my heart felt faint. At any moment I expected you to turn around and head down, but you kept going, waited your turn in line at the top, then climbed aboard the blanket.

Your face was white with fear when you got to the bottom of the slide. “I don’t think I’ll do that again,” you said, affirmatively.


This bravery surfaced again during your first-grade production of “Traveling Through the Rainforest,” in which you proudly played Ant #3 (shout out to Dad, who made your costume). A year ago, getting you onstage was a challenge. This time? You sang and danced and recited lines about nasty developers cutting down trees in front of hundreds of parents.

IMG_20170428_082106You’re even more open to watching movies, which you’ve always avoided because of how overwhelmed you feel watching them. It took us four nights to get through “Trolls,” but we did it, even though you desperately wanted to stop the movie at the scariest parts.

And just the other day, at Savy’s birthday party, you nervously asked me to join you on the ferris wheel at Boomers. When they told me I couldn’t go (really, Boomers? I’d have to pay just to sit next to my scared kid?), tears filled your eyes, but you climbed aboard any way — and had a blast.


First grade went much smoother than kindergarten. You were assigned the “strict teacher,” which worried me initially because I was thought she would ignore your emotional needs (I recognize I sound a little helicopter-y here), but she was just what you needed.

It wasn’t all rosy; we encountered some behavioral challenges. Most were benign 6-year-old antics, but a few situations required parental and school intervention. Those were tough times (especially the month when we didn’t allow you to play with your best friend, Allie), but I’m hopeful you’ve learned from them.


I’m also hopeful you absorbed something from another big event this year: the presidential election. I wrote a letter to you and Jack once Trump was elected, so I won’t rehash the specifics of that time, but I was (and still am, honestly) in shock. I began to channel my anger and disbelief into action and brought you along to a few events.

First, we went to a gathering in Balboa Park to write thank-you notes to Hillary Clinton. Then we marched with 60,000 of our neighbors in downtown San Diego during the Women’s March. You were in a sour mood that day because the march kept you from seeing Allie. “I love Trump,” you grumbled as we walked through the streets.



This past year, you discovered your new love: soccer. Though Dad and I liked the structure and philosophy of karate, it never really stuck with you. Once you got on the soccer field, we realized why: no one can win in karate. You scored three goals your first game and never looked back.


Reading has also become a passion (yay!). This began when you realized we’d let you read at the dinner table instead of talking with Dad and I about your day. You’re now reading at a fourth-grade level and just tearing through chapter books. We let you stay up late to read on the weekends and often catch you with a flashlight under the covers on week days.


Other highlights from your sixth year:

  • Lost teeth: Three! The first one popped out when you were eating fro-yo with gummy bears.
  • Halloween costume: Spaceman Spiff. This was the second year in a row you’ve chosen a Calvin & Hobbes-inspired costume. At the school carnival, you were confused the other kids had no idea who you were, though a dad in line behind us for the Haunted House — who was dressed as Han Solo, natch — thought your costume was cool.
  • Favorite dance move: The dab. I can’t take a photo of you without you dabbing.
  • Favorite game: Slamwich
  • Favorite video game: Trials Fusion
  • Favorite TV show: Either “Dinosaur Train” or “Chuggington.” I love that you still like these sweet shows.
  • Best friends: Though no one shines as brightly as Allie… Raeden and Cooper.
  • Favorite of mom’s and dad’s buttons to push: ALL OF THEM
  • Times you’ve forgotten your lunch bag at school: At least 30
  • Favorite thing to pick up on the playground and stuff in your pockets: Hair ties
  • Favorite fruit or vegetable: Hahahahaha!



My favorite memory from this past year may be our mutual love of “Hamilton.” It’s been so fun learning the words together, watching the videos, and singing songs in the car. Your favorites are “Ten Dual Commandments,” “Guns and Ships, and “The World Turned Upside Down” — basically anything that involves firearms and fighting.

You have such astonishing observations about the music. The other day, while listening to “Right Hand Man,” you told me the song made you feel like you were a hunter in the forest or deep under the ocean in a submarine. How poetic is that!

IMG_8091Charlie, year six really was the best so far. You’re such a smart, inquisitive, creative, interesting kid. Though I miss that you can no longer fit in my lap, I love that you still try at times. On some mornings, you slip your hand into mine as we walk to your classroom, and I try to keep you from hearing my gasp.

Back when you were rehearsing for your breakout role as Ant #3, you asked if you could sing me a song from the play  — “Under One Sky” — before bed. I kept it together until this verse:

Under one sky, there’s a baby’s cry
Under one sky, a mother’s lullaby
Under one sky we are all a part of everything

Because I remember a time, not too long ago, when you were that baby, and I was that mother singing you a lullaby. Now, there we were, lying next to each other in the dark, while you sang to me.

Being a parent — being YOUR parent — is a magical experience, Charlie. Age seven may seem important, it may seem serious, but it’s also incredibly joyous.

Happy birthday, my sweet boy.


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