Jacob: 36 Months

Dear Jacob,

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Happy birthday, funny little man.

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We celebrated your birthday yesterday because Daddy has a really busy few days starting today. It’s a good thing, too, because you started getting sick on April 1, you were on the down-swing yesterday, and today you are all-the-way sick. I’m glad we got our celebrating done before you totally succumbed.

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You are frustrating when you’re sick, though. You just go, go, go and don’t seem to mind, but you are particularly susceptible to whining. So it’s not like you flop around and snuggle during the day to give your mommy a break. Even right now you are on my bed where you’re supposed to be sleeping but you aren’t doing anything of the sort. Then night comes and you start to mind being sick. You are uncomfortable, you wake yourself coughing a hundred times, you toss until your blankets come off and then get angry about them. So I didn’t get much sleep last night. I wish you could do your cranking during the day and your not-minding during the night, but it’s not to be.

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Anyway, I don’t mind that much. I love you. The fascinating thing about a mother’s love is that it swells when her kids are sick. Who knew? So while I’d like to get some sleep tonight, mostly I just want you to feel good.

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Your birthday was so much fun. It was a special day of improvising, not at all how we planned it to be. The plan included WonderLab, warmth and sunshine, picnic at the park, and dinner with friends. But it poured rain all day and we tried to minimize germ sharing. But the things that grew out of those changes were great. There was quiet time in the afternoon for you to just play with your new train set, there was an exciting lunch-time ride to Daddy’s school on the city bus since we couldn’t meet at the park. There was a chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh by the open door while we snuggled under a blanket and listened to the pounding rain. There was all this relaxed time just the four of us before dinner to just enjoy each other. All in all, it was a great day.

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We managed to keep our plans to meet friends at the fire station after nap time. You were spooked and nervous for the first 20 minutes but then you finally warmed up to the size of those trucks and climbed your heart out for half an hour. There was the crowning glory of the day, your last birthday present opened just before bedtime, a big model fire truck with all the buttons and lights and sounds, about 14 inches long, from Nana & Papa. It is now your pride and joy. And then there was the small matter of the Fire Uck Ice Cream Cake, a subject which you have discoursed on at great lengths to friend and stranger alike for the last few weeks. I’d say we had a theme.

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Besides that there was the big red ball you’ve been asking for, Veggie Tales from Miss Claire, a few puzzles, a cash present so we can go to BUGS (the local gymnastics training facility) together some day this summer, and a wooden train set, a new match box car, and a story book. You made out pretty good. We also managed to throw in a few rites of passage, like a full-sized pillow and the assignment of your Very Own Chore, dumping your laundry bucket into the hamper by the washer each morning, which you are quite proud of. Objective: Keep you thinking these sorts of responsibilities are the fun parts of growing up. (Stop laughing.) We’re also trying to convince you that Three Year Olds keep their undies clean and dry. But you’ve been telling everyone you’re now Three Months Old, not Three Years Old, so maybe we’re asking too much.

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You don’t look like a three-year-old, honestly. You look like a five-year-old. You still have that darling baby face and those sweet round baby arms, but you are huge. You’ve grown a ton. You can reach all the light switches and you’ve got to be pushing 45 pounds though you are beginning to thin out and your little sister’s tummy is bigger than yours now.

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These days are full of imagination play. You get lost in your own little world, wandering around with a resistance band and a baseball bat, somehow settled on their function as a “fighter-fighter’s” (firefighter’s) apparatus. There’s still nothing you love better than zoning in on a little collection of match box cars and I marvel to see that the older you get, the smaller the ideal collection size is to you. You’re happier with 6 hand-selected pieces than a bucket of a dozen or two.

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You have been really excited about the tulips and crocuses (“Crocucuseses”) coming up outside. You love to go check on them. Sunday afternoon it was warm and sunny and you were “helping me” while I was planting a few primroses on our porch pots. You were shoveling dirt into the watering can. Annoying, but nothing I can’t see to later. The next moment I turned around and you were tipping the resulting sludge out onto Meredith’s head. So it’s going to be that kind of spring and summer. I’m cool with it, though. Mud washes out (usually) and your engagement with the real world around you, your awareness of its comings and goings, is fruit borne of lots of vision and lots of creating the the right setting, like getting a pair of strangers in a room with each other because you know it’s all they’ll need to become friends. It’s working.

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You love to be outside and you’ve grown so big and strong that you can tear around the sidewalks on your trike fast enough to keep ahead of Meredith chasing you. You also like to play catch and “volleyball,” which for some reason is your name for any sort of amorphous activity involving the soccer ball. And perhaps the cutest outdoor moment lately was on Sunday when you came to Daddy & me as we sat on the porch soaking up the sun and asked if we could please help you learn how to do summersaults. It’s something we’ve worked on off and on, but Sunday you got an itch to master it and you succeeded. The focus, enthusiasm, and determination as you worked brought me so much joy and satisfaction. These are the things I want to give you as a parent.

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You love to help me, and it’s in no small part thanks to a storybook called “We Help Mommy” that you recently took a strange liking to. I’ve heard you quoting it now and then, and sometimes when you’re helping me you explain that it’s just like in the book. You have taken a liking to the vacuum cleaner and you can practically set it up and take it down all by yourself. One day you were my sidekick all afternoon while I did chores, doing little jobs like putting away my purse and helping to empty the dishwasher. I was so proud of you, and full of idealistic daydreams about how to foster this kind of willing teamwork in our family as you guys grow older, exchanging wonder for boredom. A girl can dream.

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Speaking of books, you have quite the literary body of knowledge. You are constantly comparing something in the world to something in a book we read, or comparing something in one book to another, like when the Hungry Catterpillar (still endearingly pronounced “Catterpudder”) has a stomachache, you always point out that it’s just like Curious George in the doctor book. You have a handful of books memorized, too, and probably more than I realize. You can recite Madeline in its entirety with a couple prompts–you remember it better than I do!

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After some very rough weeks you’ve done exceptionally well in church recently. And what’s even better, you’ve internalized Psalm 122, which we memorized together during our daily worship, and you associate it with church. Several times as we’ve driven to or from church you’ve started blurting it out, unprompted. You just mumble the whole thing right out, spilling the words as fast as you can. You don’t really seem to understand more than the first line, but it’s clear that it comes to mind for you because you do understand that first one, and it is yours: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!'”

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At this moment you are deep in one of your soliloquies. You talk constantly, sometimes to yourself, sometimes to a captive audience. You are narrating things, pontificating, recounting, explaining… just about anything. “Here’s a maggot (magnet) who’s supposes to be on the maggot board. Now the train can go over to the train track and jump onto the train track. And now they have to go very fast. Now he’s going again. He does (“dooze”) it again. And again. Again again again again again. Then he dooze it again. ARRR! My train fell over! It was going very fast and it fell down!” Your tone is often a little on the bossy side and your inflection very dramatic. I’m slightly horrified to be able to hear my own speech patterns coming through in some of the stories you tell, realizing just how (ahem) “engaging” I can be in telling you stories of my own. “And THEN, we will go to the park!” You’ve explained to more people than I can remember about how the smoke detectors go off when we make pizza and we get a towel to wave the smoke away. You demonstrate exactly the pattern those beeps sound like and you explain all the background on fighterfighters and all their ways. The fire truck cake, too. You’ve told everyone how when you eat it up it’s going to go “Wee-o-wee-o-wee-o” in your belly.

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One night we put you to bed and suddenly you launched into a perfect rendition of the mantra we’ve unknowingly grown into in response to your post-bedtime antics. You sat there on your bed with raised eyebrows, counting off each point on a new finger: “NO getting out of bed. NO turning on the lights! NO getting toys in my bed. NO leading Merry into foolish.” (This last one means don’t put stuff in Merry’s bed or laugh at her if she’s being naughty. When we say it, we say “foolishness” but your way is much more fun.

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You have a new nighttime routine with Daddy. After we sing (your flavor of choice this month has been Rock of Ages) it’s time for “Smooches and Squeezes,” as we say. Somewhere in the last couple weeks Daddy started saying he was squeezing all your stuffings out, and now you have a whole myth constructed together where Daddy squeezes all your stuffings out, asking to make sure you don’t have any left, and then he tells you to go to sleep so you can grow some more stuffings for tomorrow.

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Here’s the funniest thing ever: You are a little sponge and take all your queues from how Daddy & I do things. This includes the proper way to say things, as I’ve alluded to already. So the other day you were down in the basement playing while I was up in the kitchen. I’d just put Merry down for her nap and she was less than pleased. After a few minutes you came to the bottom of the stairs and imitated the communication you’ve heard pass between Daddy & me. Because obviously. I couldn’t believe my ears and I can’t stop telling people this story. “Hey Babe!?” you yelled, “Merry’s crying.” I didn’t explain to you that calling Mommy “Babe” isn’t quite what you are wanting to get at, because I want you to know I take you seriously. And maybe a little bit because you’ve done it several more times since and it just about makes me split my sides.

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Your speech is so much fun. Just now you were discussing when we’d get Meredith up: “So we have to GET her. At FIIIIIIVE….Thirty.” You nod as you say it, looking through the tops of your wide eyes, chin tucked low. And when you’re finished you look straight through my eyeballs and blink your eyes slowly, deliberately, two or three times, as if to say “I hope you were listening to me because I’m not going to say it again.” (But then you do.)

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And now it seems as though some guys are having Christmas with Christmas trees. And they goed somewhere, too, (and goed and goed and goed and goed) from the sound of it. “And they GET! up and make! Christmas trees ready to turn on. And they will haaaaave Christmas.” You nod emphatically and you look over to see if I’m listening. When I look up at the end of your sentence the look you give me from over the rims of the glasses you don’t have is one of consummate, dignified disgust. Where do you get this stuff?!

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I’ve been aware of how slow my job is these days. You are learning at warp speed – not just your mind, your body, too – but that means I have a lot of sitting around observing to do. The other day we were getting into the car and you asked if you could do your seatbelt yourself. You’ve only just begun to be intrigued by this, and I am trying to remember to slow down and let you whenever we’re not hurrying. As I sat there and watched and kept my twitching fingers from butting in I thought how good for me this discipline is, practicing letting you manage by yourself, even if it’s at my expense. Fact is, I could save us gobs of time if I just got you dressed myself every morning. And fact is, I think you wouldn’t mind. You’re not much interested in that job. But I know you need to learn that skill so I impose those slow moments on us both as I sit on the floor with my hands tied, coaching you not to put your pants on until after your undies. I know the more times I let you do it yourself, the sooner you’ll be good at it.

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I remember being astonished at the state of a certain friend’s powder room one day I visited her house. At the time she had three boys and a girl all helping themselves to the bathroom, all squarely under the age of ten. The bathroom wasn’t filthy by any means. I felt perfectly comfortable using it. But I just couldn’t understand what the reason could possibly be for a bathroom to have no soap and a hand towel in the corner of the floor and the oddest things lying around. I didn’t even feel antagonistic, I was just confused.

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I think of that dear friend almost every day now. That mud you got on your sister on Sunday? You got it on you, too, and then of course you wanted to wash it off yourself, so you did. I walked into the bathroom later and there was mud on the sink and mud on the toilet seat. The towel was on the floor because despite your best attempts it is hard to hang it up. And, because your mom is past caring, there were two sets of wet pants on the floor by the toilet. It was just a day in the life, and what I thought as I saw all this was not “Oh for shame,” but: “This is how it looks when you go about your business, let your toddler learn to manage his own needs, and choose not to let unimportant messes tyrannize your time. This is a perfectly acceptable look for my bathroom at this moment.” I understand about the bathroom with no soap now.

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I love you. Just look at the bathroom.

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Love,
Mommy

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