I think the highlight of this month for you was on Thanksgiving night, when we tucked Meredith and Hilary into bed after our day of celebrating and you joined us in the living room for the wine and cheese and olives and dates and poetry readings and part-songs. We let you stay up past 9:00, and explained that you were getting to be a grown-up. It was deep magic for you and you rose to the occasion. You’ve told that story to a few people since. You were so proud of it.
You just keep getting bigger. You are tall, and somehow almost skinny. You are a sweet little boy – no toddler left. In fact, you kind of remind me of Christopher Robin. That might be because Christopher Robin makes an almost daily appearance in our house, if not in the Winnie the Pooh movie you and Meredith are near to memorizing, then in the books we read aloud. You’ve made friends with all those characters. You know their ins and outs and all the stories about them. I can’t get over how they make you giggle as you watch the movie and how sometimes you bounce up and down with the delight of it. You are lost in that little world, and I love that.
You’ve been amazing me this month with your growth in mind and spirit. I’m thankful to see you beginning to take responsibility for things. You are invested in getting yourself dressed and you work on it patiently. In fact, usually the whining and fussing that has always accompanied this task is replaced by quiet, calm focus. This is a big, big step for you! And you are just downright potty-trained. All day I notice you heading off to the bathroom, or I realize that I’ve just missed the moment entirely. You’re handling it. My memory of the constantly wet (or worse) pants is starting to get a little foggy.
You’re getting better at handling your emotions, and it’s been interesting to notice that you’re almost always successful at getting them in check – if I help you – unless you’re over-tired. You tend to use words more than just whining, and I don’t think this is all a result of my nagging at you to do so. I think you’re just finally there. It makes sense, because at the end of the day when you’re tired and hungry you lose those words again and things start seeming like a big deal. Mostly, I love that you are able to identify what you’re feeling and talk about it and get help. This has been a long, long, long time in coming for you and I’m feeling so proud of you.
Sometimes the words aren’t quite the right ones, and we’ve been trying to show you how to make conversation effectively. You love to talk about stuff you notice, but this results in a constant string of really annoying “Why?” questions. Annoying because I just don’t know the answers. So I find myself thinking twice before I say something because I know I need a strange philosophical explanation for why the potty in the public bathroom is a high potty. And you’ve passed this litany on to your sister, which means I now have two kids battering me with “Why?” all day long. So when you ask a question like “Why is that truck white?” I try to suggest something else you could say, like “I think white trucks are cool.” You seem pretty satisfied with these alternatives, which is why I think you’re really just wanting to share your interests with me, not actually wanting to know all the answers.
Frankly, a few of your “Why?” questions have been downright stupid, and I don’t think I’m sorry to say I’ve told you so. Like the other morning when I told you to take your jacket off before you went pee and you argued with me and so I let you engage me and replied “Because you’ll get pee on your coat.” Your response, of course: “Why do we not want to get pee on our coats?” Umm, because pee. Besides, the rule is you are not allowed to ask “Why?” when Mommy tells you what to do.
One “Why” question tonight was pretty adorable. We were eating chicken thighs that I had roasted with honey and dijon in an attempt to disguise their horrible, horrible taste. I’d bought a bulk package of boneless chicken thighs at Sam’s early this fall and these last few had been waiting in the freezer to get used, ignored week after week because our first tastes of this package were awful. Clearly they weren’t bad (we didn’t get sick) but, well, I think Mommy is about done buying meat from the vast agroindustrial empires that stock so much of America’s food. Not wanting to waste it, I decided tonight was the night. And honey and mustard not withstanding, they were still nasty in my opinion. I said so, just making mundane conversation with Daddy, and you thought it was very strange. “Why are you calling that chicken gusgusting Mommy?” Then you said something about how you’re not supposed to say food is yukky, which was quite true, and I apologized.
Speaking of “gusgusting,” it is one of the only words you still don’t say right. Even “amzuimp” is slowly turning into “ambulance.” You’ve been a cute, cute baby, my boy.
You are making so much progress in working on the little foolishness patterns that have been our themes this fall. You are getting better at loving Merry, and you often respond well when I say “Don’t control your sister,” or “Merry has good ideas too. Let her do it her way.” You are slowly gaining wisdom to choose not to pick (or respond to) a quarrel with her. (A “stupid argument,” we call these moments – when you start bickering about things like whether it’s daytime or nighttime.) Sometimes I explain to you that “Merry doesn’t know that yet, she will when she gets older.” And you’ve been accepting that. I’m happy about that, because I don’t want you acting like it’s your job to school her. She will grow old in her own time, and so will you. It’s been nice to have that concept in my arsenal for some of your questions, too. “You’re not big enough to know that yet, but when you get older you will.” Total get out of jail free card.
But there have been a couple new struggles in our terrain of growing out of foolishness and into wisdom: Right now we’re working on curbing a developing habit of tuning out my voice. That one is ANNOYING. And then there was the big, serious, sweet come-to-Jesus we had a couple days ago before your nap when I caught you telling two bold-faced lies in a row. That was new… We talked about how dangerous lies are and you understood well and were appropriately contrite. You got really nervous, then, when I told you that you’d have to tell Daddy the story of those lies when he got home at dinner time. I assured you that you were forgiven and would not get in trouble but that telling Daddy the story would help you to remember not to tell anymore lies, and so you told him, first assuring him that you were forgiven and didn’t need a spank.
You are getting really interested in “school” and you tell me all the time that you are going to school or that you have to go to school or that you went to school today. You are also obsessed with letters these days, and one day after my piano student left you asked if you could have flashcards. I’m not doing much formal work with you but we spend a lot of time with your alphabet puzzle and we chat about letters and the sounds they make all day long. Sometimes you ask baffling things like “What does ‘cub’ mean?” and then when I question you it becomes clear that what you were looking for was an explanation of how the sound “cub” is part of the word “Jacob” and you want me to spell it. So we just talk about sounds and spelling in all sorts of places and I’m satisfied that you are learning at your own pace. In fact, I was surprised one day to realize that you know a lot of the letters by sight already. It’s fun to think of you sitting down to read your own book not too many years from now. We will have good times curled up on the couch together sharing silence, you and I.
But for now, as you tell EVERYBODY, you are three-and-a-half. Only three-and-a-half. And the last thing I want is for you to rush through your childhood on a constant quest for the next benchmark. So we’ll just keep things casual for awhile longer and you will keep thriving on hours spent in solitude. I love to come check on you during your quiet time in your room to see what you’re up to, because your play is getting more creative and thoughtful every day. One day you’d built this amazing tower on the back of your fire truck and leaned the ladder up against it to make a “tower truck.” Today you were outside “building a new sidewalk.”
But while you are busy with your sidewalks and tower trucks I have been busy thinking and questioning and reading on the subject of education. All these questions about letters and sounds have driven home to me that the beginning of your formal education is looming large on the horizon and I need to start figuring out what that will look like for us, or at least start asking some questions. Last week I read a wonderful volume on the work of a famous educator from a century ago, Charlotte Mason. Her approach and philosophy resonate with me and I could see us – you, me – living the life she prescribed. At least in these early years, it fits with my jealousy not to stifle you and waste your precious childhood time with busy work and milestones. I want you to revel in stories and play. Mason advocates an education with literature at its heart. No boring educational texts: instead, teach children about the world by letting them hear about it in good writing, good stories. I’d grasped this idea long since, but what was new to me, and intriguing, was her model of narration: a child hears and then narrates – internalizing the story, re-telling it himself. He learns to communicate. He learns (and so do you) what’s important to him. I want you to be a good story-teller. Partly this is because I see in you an enormous difficulty communicating yourself, and I want to help you towards that. Partly it is because this is the way the world should be. I want you to love stories, to know stories, and to know how to tell them. Your story, God’s story, all the thousands of good, good stories. So it was with delight the other night that I sat across from you at dinner and listened to you going on and on with enthusiasm and so much clarity and detail and delight about what Winnie the Pooh did about those bees, and I realized how this is already happening: stories are becoming a part of you, and you are finding your voice to give them back.
It seems you really are turning into a grown-up.
I love you.