Before I get started, I feel compelled to provide an explanation for the adorable black eye (and the lipstick kiss!) you are modeling in some of these photos. The kiss came from Grandma, who we saw at our family reunion in Colorado the week before Christmas, at which, I should also document, you woke up every 5 minutes for most of the first two nights, so sick you were. And you got re-acquainted with your cousin, Nate, who you hadn’t seen in two years. But I digress. The black eye came from a handle on the foosball table. It seemed for someone your size that, in fact, playing on top of the foosball table was safer than walking around with it at eye-level. Pictures don’t lie.
And now, where to begin? It’s 6:15 and I just tucked you in for the night, all by yourself. Meredith is toddling around beside me but you had passed your sell-by date a long time ago. I am home alone with you guys on this customary Thursday, and after a few minutes of damage control and putting out tiny fires I realized that the best way to aid you in your journey of sanctification was to hasten an unconscious state.
I have no idea when you last napped, except that I don’t think you’ve napped since well before Christmas. You need that sleep so much but you just have too much on your bucket list to feel like it’s worth your trouble, no matter how long I make you stay in bed. So by 5:00 p.m. you are just cranking away at everyone and everything. Tonight I decided we could all benefit from you being in bed, and so there you are, in your beloved motorcycle jammies, and a kiss for your lambie. Sweet dreams, my boy.
You are completely driving me crazy right now. You are endless talk and constant stress. More than anything, Daddy and I find ourselves saying “Be calm. Use a calm voice. Calm down. You need a calm heart and a calm voice. Stop stressing. Stop freaking out. No big deal. Say ‘No big deal.’.” I am pretty sure this has more to do with your sleep deficit than your actual convictions about the state of things, because in the past you have been pretty chill.
You are also constantly saying stinky things about your sister in a very yukky voice. The chief of these routine pronouncements is “Baby’s stealing my….” A variation is “I not want baby stealing my…” Or just “Baby’s heeeaeeaeaere.” The fact is that 55% of the time this is all in your head, and the threat level is, well, not orange. As for the other 45%, we are trying to teach you to have a calm and generous heart, and trying to teach you not to control your sister, but to trust Mommy & Daddy to save you from tragedies like having the bathtub drained or your head smacked with a sippy cup. That’s what we’re here for, so like I said, be calm.
You are hilarious these days, too. You say so much and you know so much. You’ve started doing this thing where you say “Should I? Should I?” or “Could I? Could I?” I have no idea where this came from, but most of the time it makes just enough sense in context that I have a hard time keeping a straight face. Your vocabulary is enormous, thanks to all the books we read, and the other night at dinner you were suggesting that perhaps what was on your plate was “watercress.” Then there was the frog you referred to as a “hop-toad,” and the random use of the word “huckleberry” the other day that had Daddy & me baffled until I realized that it, too, came from one of your current book obsessions.
As for reading books, when we are doing it, which is pretty much always, and I am desperately seeking variety by having a leisurely conversation about the picture instead of reading the text verbatim, or if I am distracted (say, because I am in the front seat of the car while you are in the back seat) you will announce: “Please Mommy talk.” Then if I talk, but don’t say the actual words, you clarify: “Please read talk.”
On a completely unrelated subject, you rocked Christmas. You completely got into it and it’s been so much fun to walk through this season with you. You got so psyched for the eventual lighting of the red candle and every day one of the first things you’d mention after waking up in the morning would be “What we readin’ ’bout?” because you’d want to know which character was going to put in an appearance in the evening advent story. And your memory and grasp of what we’ve read has astonished me. You and your Daddy, being the OCD sort of folks you are, weren’t satisfied with just hanging a new ornament on the advent branches each night. Instead you wanted to go back through each previous symbol in an ever-longer litany. “Who are the stars for?” “Who is the ark for?” I’d say you could score a solid B+ on a pop quiz right now. And I love how you say “John the Bapsit” and “Moah.”
I was so proud of you the other day. I sent you outside to play after putting Meredith down for her nap, trying to make the most of a couple balmy days. You played nicely for awhile, and a few times you came to the door with the sole purpose of poking your head in and saying “What’s up?” to me. (I have to disguise so many grins these days so you know that I take you tremendously seriously.) Once you came and very maturely asked “May I have my coat now?” And then you were done. “If you want to come inside, it’s time for your nap. Are you ready to take a nap?” “I’m ready to take a nap,” you said. “OK, go clean up your toys and then come in.” I said this fully expecting to go out and do most of it myself when you got side tracked, but at least it was buying me some more time. But then I looked and there you were, on a mission, cleaning up every last thing, even hoisting your scooter up the steps without any instruction. I was so happy to brag to Daddy later about how you took responsibility for all your toys.
You impressed me this week with your first memorized poem. That board book we bought you when Meredith was born called Roadwork… We read it to shreds over a year and I had to throw it away this summer. But a couple weeks ago when we were at the library (“lie-low-ee”, as you call it) we found it and, of course, brought it home. Now it is one of Meredith’s favorites, and the other day as I was reading it to her you joined in and soon I realized you knew the whole book by heart. So now I turn the pages and you recite the book for Meredith. What’s especially darling about this is that you memorized it back before you could talk, so when you recite it what comes out is very different from your usual speech patterns. There are some sounds you make in reciting that book that you don’t know how to make if you’re trying. And the vowels are always exact, because what you memorized wasn’t so much the meaning as the sounds.
The biggest news this month is the Big Boy Undies. You are wearing them with pride and doing much, much better than I thought you would. I feel slightly ridiculous at how easy it was, actually, but that shouldn’t have surprised me. Your obsessive, particular personality was in play, and your sensitive spirit, too. So the first day we got started and after the second accident you were practically traumatized. We ran to the bathroom every 5 minutes and drank tons of juice and you figured it out pretty quickly, but still, there were so many accidents and it was so much work that by lunch time you were begging to wear a diaper again. When I came to get you up from your “nap” that afternoon the first thing you said, with big, hopeful, naive eyes, was “We can take the big boy undies back to the store?” So I was a bit worried that this was going to be an agonizing saga.
But the next day you had one accident, Day 3 none, and you’ve been an absolute champ. Sure, there are accidents and it is still a work in progress, but you have taken ownership of it. It helps that you get excited to read “Potty Stories” while you sit on the potty, or sing the “potty song,” which happens to be Father Abraham–random, right? And I’ve gotten boat loads of good advice from veteran moms, including “Make them take responsibility for the whole process so you don’t have a kid who doesn’t know to flush and wash hands.” So I just let you do it yourself and it’s adorable to listen to you tell yourself what I told you 500 times that first weekend: “I’m ready for toy-it paper. Push up sleeves. Now soap. Wash all the way up your wrists. Now rinse. Now turn off the water. Now dry my hands. Now turn off the light.” (This is a good picture of how extremely verbally you approach all your activities these days.)
There’s been another big change, and the two things together have been the big triggers of your failed naps. We decided it was time for Meredith to inherit the bedroom for her afternoon naps. She is a light sleeper, unlike you, and every little noise upstairs was waking her when she slept in Mommy & Daddy’s room for her naps. And with Daddy home on vacation and practicing every afternoon, she was missing more naps than she was getting. So the new system which I am trying to shepherd you into is that you get some time to play or help me with chores, some time playing in Daddy’s office, and some quiet rest time (ideally, eventually, hopefully an actual nap) either on the couch or in Mommy & Daddy’s bed. You like the concept, but you are not sleeping. I’m not crazy about the new system but I know it’s best for our family.
This brings me to my main point. I’ve been feeling the burden of our family growing pains the last few days. I didn’t ever think about how exhausting it would be to be on a 5-minute schedule to keep the undies dry. I just thought it was going to be one big happy celebration of no more diapers. The first couple days of potty training felt more exhausting for me than taking care of a newborn.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I was ready to take the big boy undies back to the store too. And today as I was lying next to you in my bed, futilely trying to coax you to sleep, antsy to do the chores that I usually stock pile for the sweet nap time hours, I was feeling defeated. I’ve been through this cycle a few times, though, and I’ve learned not to give in to those feelings. I know it’s a wave and all we have to do is ride it out. These family growing pains exhaust me, and what’s worse, they make me feel like I’m doing something wrong. Like I’m not good at it. Like I just want to take the big boy undies back to the store and give your sister’s paci back. Maybe wave a magic wand so you’re both just younger again.
It got me thinking about what my job is around here. It’s facilitating our flourishing. The fact that sometimes we don’t flourish doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong. Just like I keep telling you, I just have to stay calm. The truth is, we are not living very well these days. We are surviving while we learn to internalize these changes, and it is not terribly lovely. As the new year has rolled around I’ve been thinking a lot about what new rituals I want us to assimilate for the sake of our flourishing. Creating a life that we’re good at, day after day, is how I nurture you. So when we’re in the middle of a big ugly blip like right now I am just learning to hang on and wait until we learn the new rhythms – to hang on until it feels more like walking and less like staggering. It will never be the same, but once we are steady on our feet again I know we’ll find new ways to make new things lovely. We always seem to manage that; you were born into a family of artists. As much as going back to the way things were might be appealing, I’ve learned that’s really no better than choreographing a new dance. And besides, we’ve grown out of the old one so there’s really no point in trying to fight the change.
Happy New Year, little man. I hope as each new year rolls around and you find yourself needing new rhythms, you’ll learn peace to ride the waves and grace to choreograph each new dance beautifully. Here’s to flourishing. And big boy undies.
I love you.