Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dear E.J. - Three Years

My dear E.J.,

Today we are celebrating your third birthday. This weekend we kicked off the celebration with your long-awaited, highly-anticipated baseball birthday party at the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp game. Ever since Ellie's birthday party in March, you have been anxiously awaiting your own turn. You chose to invite a couple friends and the nursery workers from church (plus we invited a couple family friends), in addition to our family, and we had a wonderful time. It was a perfect party for you, given how much you love baseball these days, but we'll get to that in a moment!

This year has been a pretty big one, both for you personally and for our family. At the time of my last letter, our family was very much in the midst of a transition. Daddy had finished his three years of teaching high school and the field of possibilities for the next step seemed to be narrowing - hopefully towards our final answer, but we weren't sure. As I wrote your second-birthday letter, I really didn't know what the next year held for our family.

Just a few weeks after your birthday, however, everything fell into place. Daddy got an awesome new job in education policy, one that not only challenges and excites him but also enables him to work from home! I know you love having him around all the time, even if you can't play with him as much as you'd like. We also moved to a new house, one with much more space to play both inside and out. Instead of feeling so in flux this year, we're feeling very settled as we get connected to church and school and our neighborhood.

We started going to church regularly this year, and you are famous all through the children's ministry as just an absolute delight of a child. The nursery workers adore you (you've been described verbatim as a "ray of sunshine" and "just the most precious thing"), you've made a couple sweet little friends, and you even attended your first Vacation Bible School this summer. You now know the Lord's Prayer in its entirety, and bedtime prayers have become a nightly ritual.

All your time in the nursery during church and my moms' groups will hopefully have prepared you to start school in the fall. You'll be attending the preschool at our church, as Ellie did, and will have the same teachers as Ellie did for her first year. I'm so excited to see how you do! I hope you enjoy it and it is a perfect positive start to your years of education. Of course, I'll be sad to see our days at home together starting to come to an end already! What a change for both of us.

You're just growing up so much. I mean, size-wise you're still a little on the smaller side (to illustrate, you're wearing the same size 12-18m shorts in this year's picture as in last year's), but I certainly don't mind that one bit as it enables me to imagine you as more of a baby than you really are. I especially love that I can still toss you on my back in the "wrapper" almost daily for walks to church/school!

Despite your smaller stature, you are growing into such a boy. You love (and seem to have a natural knack for) sports, baseball in particular. You love to play in our front yard, hitting the ball a good distance off the tee and happily running the bases with those adorably exaggerated arm swings. You also ran a couple of Disney races and the better part of a mile for a fun run, and love to play Gators (football), too.

As for other stereotypical "boy" things, you love to play in the dirt and I think you had a stick in your hand for about three months straight this year. You like to yell (we're working on keeping the yelling OUTSIDE), run, jump and climb. I'm constantly telling you to keep your tushy on the couch (rather than leaping all over it), and you climb most things at the playground with ease.

You still love Star Wars, so the light saber battles continue, and you can imagine anything and everything into a blaster. You've also told us you want to be a storm trooper when you grow up, so that's exciting news. We've had lots of fun this year at Disney World, with you in full Kylo Ren costume. You get lots of attention (including being chosen to march in a parade with the storm troopers!) and you love it. You get into full character, marching around with authority and using the Force on random passersby. That is probably one of my favorite E.J. memories from this year.

Yet even as you're growing into a little boy, there are still pieces of your babyhood that are hanging on (and I to them, for dear life). You still ask to be held a lot, especially if we walk to church or coming downstairs in the morning or after nap. When you wake up from a nap or are ready for bed, you like to cuddle up in my lap, resting your head on my chest, and lay still with me. When you sit on my lap and I drape my arm across your legs, you pull it in tight to your waist like a seatbelt and hold on. When I sing to you at naptime, you wrap your arms around my neck and pull my head close to you. You still have those soft baby cheeks and long (enviably so) eyelashes. Your hand still feels so tiny in mine as we cross the street. Despite your extensive vocabulary, your voice is still so young and sweet and if you never learn that the word is "dessert" and not "bessert," I will not be sad.

I should talk more about your speech, because it really is remarkable. Everyone comments on how well you speak, and they're right. In fact, your pediatrician reprimanded me earlier this year for missing your three-year well check (even though you were only 2.5), because she just heard you speak and assumed you were well past your third birthday. You have a lot to say and the means to say it. And your sweet little voice...Daddy and I often joke (except we're actually quite serious) that we wish we could mic you up for a day and record everything you say, just to go back and listen to it forever and and ever. We can't get enough of that little E.J. voice. My favorite is probably when you pray at the dinner table. Your favorite prayer is "God Our Father" and hearing you say "we all ask yer bwessin'" just breaks my heart every time. I also love to hear you say "Ewwie" (Ellie), "sit next by me," and "I'm thank you for" (I'm thankful for).

You're doing pretty well with your eating these days. You have your staples that you like (particularly ziti with meatballs, peanut butter sandwiches and chicken nuggets), and you live for snacks. I should mention that we did end our nursing relationship about a month after your second birthday. I was ready, and I think you were too, but it was still a tough thing for me to do. Very bittersweet. There are times that I still miss those quiet, still moments with you, but I am so grateful to have had so many of them for over two years.

In other Big News for you this year, you have officially potty trained (and ate so many M&Ms in the process), moved from a crib to a "big boy" (toddler) bed, and took your first international trip, to the Cayman Islands in May (you held a sea turtle and a starfish and petted a stingray!). You also had surgery (adenoidectomy) and were so brave, "like a Jedi." Hopefully that will be the cure for the unrelenting congestion and sinus infections you endured most of the year! As for your current interests, you obviously love all the Star Wars movies (Darth Vader and Kylo Ren are your favorite characters - you tend to identify with bad guys, for some reason!), the show Little Einsteins, playing in the front yard, fruit gummies, making a mess of your room during naptime, fun socks and band-aids. You like making forts out of the couch cushions, jumping off of things, running around like a crazy person at bedtime, and apple juice. You're getting more and more into books, and especially love books about - you guessed it! - Star Wars, or baseball. You love the beach and like to dive full-body into the sand and just roll around in it, so that's fun for me when it's time to go home. You like to sleep on your belly and like ice cubes in your water. You prefer shorts with pockets so you can store treasures (or, more often, have a blaster at the ready). You like to sing either "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" or "We Are the Boys of Old Florida" at bedtime. You're really a cool kid!

I mentioned in my last letter that you were learning to push Ellie's buttons, and that has certainly not eased up this year. You do love to tease and you love to get a reaction (and she is usually more than willing to give one). Despite the sibling spats, you two do play nicely together often and it's easy to see that you really do love each other dearly. You're so lucky to have each other and I hope you will always be there for one another. Who better to commiserate with about your crazy parents, right?

As we head into your fourth year, you are definitely becoming a "threenager." You have strong opinions (that can change on a dime), and are very demonstrative when things don't go your way. We often get a "hmmmph" with crossed arms and a scowl. We also see a lot of your lower lip and hear a lot of yelling. There has also been some throwing and hitting, so you're keeping me busy. I remember this stage with Ellie and I know it can be a doozy, so I'm hunkering down for the next year as we work through this together. I try to remember that you're feeling big things without knowing how to process them, though sometimes I admit that I do let my frustration get the best of me. For that, I apologize. You deserve the best, most patient mom and I know that sometimes I fail. That is entirely my shortcoming and not in any way a fault of yours, buddy. I love you so much and every day I try to do better.

Despite this stage of testing and tantrums, you are, for the most part, still your happy E.J. self. You still regularly laugh yourself into a fit of hiccups, and love to tell jokes with Ellie (potty humor is huge right now). You give hugs and "smooches" and love to be tickled. You're kind and thoughtful, and as I mentioned earlier, everyone that interacts with you regularly just goes on and on about what a sweet, precious kid you are. You really have everyone smitten, sweet boy.

I just can't believe that you're mine. You're so special, and so dear, and I get to be your mama. I love you so much, my heart just aches. Thank you for being you, for bringing so much joy to everyone around you, for challenging me and teaching me and showing me just what a delight it is to be a "boy mom." I am thankful for every moment of it.

I love you so, nugget. Happy birthday.

All my love,

* * * * *

My dear E.J.,

Happy birthday my dude! For the record, this is the nickname you said was your favorite. A few weeks ago, I think I called you 'little buddy' or 'Big Jet' like the bad guy from the TV show Little Einsteins, and you had a fun reaction. I asked which nickname you liked best without knowing whether you even knew what I was talking about. You said, ever so sweetly, 'my dude.' So, it's official. Which makes me wonder how in the world are you getting so big? Besides being big enough to pick a favorite nickname, three is also apparently old enough to be excited about a birthday. You have been looking forward to your "baseball party" for weeks and had such a pleasant, knowing expression during cake and presents. Speaking of being big, it is also true that you are finished with your crib and diapers, you dress yourself (for the most part) and are starting two-day preschool in the fall. I know Ellie did all these things, too, so I should have expected it, but it feels different for you. Maybe it's because with her, I can't help looking forward to what is next because it is almost always the first time I get to experience someone experience something for the first time. But it is easier to keep you young because there are fewer of these habits to rush you along. Although it is always a true statement, you aren't nearly as young as you used to be and that just seems crazy.

On July 4, I have been working on two big thoughts that apply well to the way I think about you on your third birthday. The first has to do with choices and the second with luck.

I asked your Mama a few weeks ago about turning points in her life. Moments that, had they gone differently, would have set her life on a different course. I also read an article about moments in American history that determined who we are today. I am not sure whether there will be a specific point in time where you settle on a personality this year, but I know there is more than one way it might work out. Before we get there, I want to mention what an interesting thought exercise this can be and express how much I hope you will always feel good about where things find themselves settled. For me, I cannot imagine anything that would have made me happier than for Mama to have ended up with me, here in Jacksonville, and for her to have given me you and your sister. I also love what I do and the people I have met along the way, even if the path wasn't always straight and almost never matched what I first expected. Though you are not anywhere close to old enough to make these kinds of decisions for yourself, I do think this concept fits really well with how I think about you as a three-year old. This is a very challenging age. You are so very passionate and I wonder where the pendulum will stop swinging when you come out of it.

First of all, you give the sincerest hugs and cuddles and can still be just the sweetest little boy. I would never have believed "charisma" was a word I could apply to a three-year old, but it might work in your case. It's not just that you are simply likable or polite, but that you have a certain charm that people are drawn to. One of the ladies in the church nursery said you "light up her life: and another with three jobs offered to babysit without asking. I don't know how else to explain it, but your Mama and I sometimes joke about attaching a microphone to you for a day to capture your stream of consciousness. You speak so well for someone your age and I love to heat what you are thinking. I did mention a pendulum earlier and am obligated to note that there are many other times where you seem to antagonize your sister because you know it will bother her. I don't want to dwell on it just yet, but I do have a preference for which personality I hope wins out.

Since my last letter, we have moved into a home we can't see leaving without buying a house, and I started a job I can't see leaving without a really good reason. I work for an organization whose mission is to end the injustice of educational inequity and I believe this work is important and necessary. As Americans, we believe in the idea of a meritocracy, where people get what they earn/deserve. As much as I want this to be true, I can't ignore how well outcomes can be predicted by how people look or where they live. Whatever becomes of you and me, we will no doubt owe some of our success to the "happy accident of birth." We are lucky to be Americans, to have our family, and, quite frankly, to be white men. I am not necessarily going to ask you to begin making the world a better place, but I do believe that to whom much has been given, much will be expected. I can't believe how fortunate I am to be your daddy and I will do everything I can to help you become the man you are meant to be. But for now, we'll take it one day at a time and keep having fun. You make it impossible not to.

All my love,