I came into your room in the dark an hour ago because you and Meredith were stirring. I fed your sister and put her back in her crib and then came to tuck you back in, snuggling your blankets around you and shifting you so your head wasn’t pressed up against the rail of the bed. You were coughing and wheezing and I prayed for Jesus to heal you. Then as I put your pillow under your head you smiled at me with so much understanding and appreciation. I realized in that moment how you’re growing up, and you made your mommy feel like a million bucks, how you seemed to recognize that I was giving you a gift in that moment, and you were feeling thankful.
It makes me think of the neighbor kids who always borrow our bike pump, and by always I mean basically every day. They come up to the door and all but demand it, and when you hand it to them if they say anything it is a terse and perfunctory “Thank you” that has in its tone more “I deserve this” and less “You have been kind to me.” Not that they are aware of the message hiding behind those customary words – these kids have walked a hard road in their young lives and they seem to know nothing of genuine human kindness, but they have already learned much about self-preservation, the impossibility of vulnerability, and the skill of never making eye contact. These are things I want to spare you if I may, so that when you are eight years old you can still look me in the eye with that much genuine emotion, confident it’s safe to let me see it, and I can still tuck you in without a word, confident you’ll feel the love and loyalty even in the silence.
We’ve seen some delightful moments this month. Grampa and Gramma have been visiting twice in the last two weeks and I love seeing you interacting with them. It amazes me how you and your sister have taken to them, almost as though trusting and loving them is instinctive. Of course, it’s helped that they dote on you, give you your first baseball and bat, play outside with you, read you stories, feed you ice cream at the mall, and take you for adventures.
You and Grampa had a pretty perfect day yesterday. He took you to Wonderlab and I’m not sure who had the most fun. And then you experienced your very own fountain drink of lemonade at Chik-Fil-A, complete with a full refill (sweet nectar from another planet since your hard-nosed Mommy only offers you water and milk at home), and an ice cream cone after your chicken nuggets. You came home positively dragging and went straight to bed. Later that evening you two were out kicking the soccer ball and you drank that up, too. Grampa was apologetic about the lemonade but I won’t hear of it: This is what Grampas are for and I am so glad you get to experience this kind of love. I did, but only as a very little kid and then my only living grandfather had Alzheimers’ and there was a lot that was sad.
You are awesome, little buddy. You just blow me away. You are a sweet helper. You know where everything goes, and you love to put things away and say “Goes here” as you identify the object in a little three-word sentence. When you spill something you know just where to find a rag and clean it up all by yourself, though usually I have to remove the dirty rag from the drawer of clean ones later. You’ve abandoned the phase where your post-naptime ritual was to throw every possible item out of your room and now I come to get you in the afternoons and you are usually happily building traffic jams in the tidiest of rooms. Your sense of order is astounding.
You are smart about so many things, and I’ve been amused to see your understanding of the kitchen lately. You know what to do if I ask you to get me the lemon juice. You stand on your step stool and endlessly shake the closed spice bottles into whatever is cooking on the stove. You even know where a lot of things go, and one day I finally figured out why you were frustrated, realizing you were on an elaborate mission to get the cooking spray from the counter where I’d left it into the cupboard where it belonged. Realizing you couldn’t reach even with your step stool, you finally coerced me into coming to your aid.
Your speech is a thing of beauty, and it cracks me up too. You’ve gotten to where you will attempt to say anything on your mind, and sometimes you have a lot to say. It’s still hard to understand a lot of it but it’s fun to learn your dialect. You are a master of Rs and completely incapable of Ls. You omit most consonants when they come in the middle of words, and one of your favorite phrases is “Ma’in’ cookies!” or “Ma’in’ pizza!” You have this awareness of grown-up humor now, too, and when everyone laughs, you laugh too even if you don’t know what it’s about. And if something you do makes someone laugh, you do it again a million times. One day this looked like responding to everything with a knowing nod and a “Nice…” just like you hear Mommy say.
You are creative and imaginative. I brought home an abandoned vacuum cleaner from a cleaning job a few weeks ago and you love to point it out. You recently began carrying the hose piece around the house “vacuuming” and then you discovered an even better use for it than vacuuming, and it became a match box car ramp from the couch to the floor and entertained you immensely. Your grampa was commenting yesterday on your amazing focus and patience. You get in a zone and nothing pulls you away.
You are growing more and more stubborn and willful, in your own compliant-child way. Sometimes we give you an instruction and we can see the gears turning and the limbs reaching to deliberately go your own way. The other night we were praying at bedtime and Daddy told you to stop playing with my necklace and you froze and then slowly started inching your little hand back toward it, as if to see how close you could come before we stopped you. Our biggest dilemma lately has been how you respond to my instruction and discipline. You seem to have much more respect for Daddy, but often you meet my words with whining or a full-on fit and in a particularly bad moment there’s not much I can do to stem the tide.
Your growing vocabulary has given birth to a growing toolbox for teaching you, and we have a developing litany that usually goes like this: “Jacob, is that wise or foolish?” Usually you say “Wise!” and also usually we have to set you straight. Sometimes it is “Jacob, are you going to be wise or do you need a spank?” That always seems to set you on the right path, your little imagination working in your favor. The other common conversation is “Jacob, are blocks for throwing?” to which you always reply, “NO!!!!!” with this goofy face. “Jacob, are feet for kicking?” “NO!!!!!” This particular conversation always gives me pause, because the last thing I want is for you to grow up thinking everything has only one possible use, because while technically books are not for building towers, you never know when you might feel the urge to build a book tower. So I have been trying to refresh my memory of my Wasteful, Dangerous, or Destructive rule of thumb in how I apply those questions.
We’ve moved to a new level of that guideline, though, because now I often tell you that you are not a baby anymore, you are a helper, and helpers shouldn’t make big messes, at least not if they’re not prepared to clean them up. So you are learning that there are some things Baby is allowed to do that are off limits for you, like dumping out the sock baskets and pulling all the scarfs off the stair banister. And slowly you are starting to understand and even take initiative for yourself. I am so thankful to a wise older mommy who told me a year ago that while she loved my idea about Wasteful, Dangerous, and Destructive being the only things that were off-limits, she had managed to raise a houseful of boys on those principles who were very good at making creative messes all over the house but had no eyes to see the aftermath. So that very day I started teaching you to put things away when they are done, and I shudder to think where we’d be now if it hadn’t been for that voice of wisdom to balance my whimsy.
My best story for you this month comes from last night, when you and Meredith were in bed for the night and Gramma and Grampa were babysitting. They went in to quiet you both down and couldn’t find Meredith’s paci anywhere and after some searching and some questioning, you appeared with it in hand and the only easy explanation of where it had been is that you had deliberately hid it there. And so it begins – the lifetime of genius strategies for antagonizing your sister. Just always please bring the paci back, or we will have problems.
And now we embark on a month of travels together. You will wear your first proper suit, see your very own sweet “Auntie” Laura get married, and your very own for-real-Auntie Gwen get married, acquire a new “Uncle” and a new Uncle, and hopefully get to kick a soccer ball around with two-year-old Judah, the little friend you had when you were a brand new baby.
I love you.