Imperfectly Nice

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My little man,

You are three now. A question you have asked me every day since your birthday. “Mommy, am I still three?” Yes, you are still three. You will be three for an entire year, but I have a hunch it will feel like too soon when I am reassuring you of your status as a four-year old. Next year, you will have just started school when your birthday arrives. You will be exiting the car on your own to run into pre-school with your little back pack swaying and bouncing with your steps. You will know new friends and have new places to go and learn so many new things. But I won’t think of any of that now. No, now, I am going to enjoy three.

The problem is, though, that I don’t think I’m very good at three so far, and that is troublesome. Three, three is the age I have been looking forward to the most, I think. Well, three and four. When I worked in the summers in college at a daycare, I adored three. Three with all of its unpredictably hilarious behavior, three that still has chubby fingers, three that is independent but still so sweet …

Well, my son, you are knocking the gently hazy edges of three right out of my brain. There is nothing gentle and hazy about three. Three is wiggly and challenging and alive. So alive. Three is you being able to express your emotions with your very adult vocabulary, but not quite knowing that you can use those words all of the time, instead of screaming your discontent. You can say, “Mommy, I am frustrated with (fill in the blank) because (fill in the blank) but it takes us so long to GET THERE. Your first reaction is tears and squeals when I know you’ve got it in you to just tell me about it. It’s that, your amazing capacity for words, that makes me expect too much from you. The tantrums and screams are puzzling to me because you have the words. I’m sorry I expect you to know at three years and a few weeks old exactly how to use them, when there are so many grownups who never learned to do so. I should understand, especially me, who is so much better on paper, who can’t always get there when I have to say the words out loud instead of typing them.

Three is wonderfully funny and fiercely loving. There is desperation in your little fingers when you cling to me when I try to crawl out of your bed at night to head to my own. You are tenacious, wanting and needing me to hold you, to let you sit on my back piggyback style as I go about my business. At least, as much as I possibly can go about my business with a three year old cutting off my supply of oxygen. I have been told I shouldn’t let you. I have been told I should really make you sit in your own seat to eat and not in my lap, grabbing my hair with your food-stained fingers. And I know. I know that I shouldn’t but then I think, but next year, he may not want me this ferociously. Someday, all too soon, you will be a big boy and I will miss those days that I couldn’t eat without you wiggling on my lap. And my confession is that there is desperation for me too, when I kiss you goodnight and leave you. My grip is tenacious, too, little one, because I know you will want it less and less the older you are.

You already tell me now that you are a grown up. You tell me this when it is time to get in your car seat and when I try to make you do any of the things you deem fit for babies only. “But moooommmeeee,” you protest. “I am a GROWNUP!” Oh, my love, you are so grown up in so many ways, so let’s hold on to those things that make you my baby for as long as we can. Let’s make tents with the sheets, and pretend, and play, and read, and laugh until we can’t breathe.

In the meantime, I’m going to collect these moments, these memories, so I never forget. I wish there was a way to record each and every one of them. I want to write volumes – an entire encyclopedia set’s worth of memories. Except I don’t want them to sit and get dusty like encyclopedias tend to do. I want them to be well read and loved, with cracked spines and worn pages. I want them to be your favorite books, the ones you’ll read until you are quite an old man. I won’t be able to write as much as I want. If I did, I would spend so much time writing about you, I wouldn’t really experience you, so I’ll settle for something in between.

I want to remember that you say “sher” instead of she or her. That you get upset when I tell you I love you because YOU want to love ME, so I tell you that the great and awesome thing about love is that we can love each other infinite amounts. And, now, when I reluctantly drop you off at the baby sitter’s every morning, you say, “We both can love each other.” And I turn into a little puddle on the floor because that is the sweetest thing my ears have ever heard. You still ask, “Mommy, can I hold you?” when you want me to pick you up. You are loving and kind. You helped me shoo a grasshopper out of the house last night for 10 minutes, telling him the whole way, “I KNOW you can do it, grasshopper!” You love our dogs, and you love to be silly. You are still a little question mark to me in many ways, and I have a feeling that won’t change with three or four or maybe ever. But I wouldn’t change it all, any of it, for the world. Even the moments I worry, or feel frustrated. Not one single moment. Well, maybe the one where you accidentally slammed a hand weight down on my ankle the other night, but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing. Keep challenging me, my little man, and please keep asking me to snuggle with you, to kiss you good night, and please keep reminding me that we both can love each other. We can. We do. And I am so, so lucky because of it. 


I got 99 problems …

Vaught is two. “Terrible” two. I have spent most of his “terrible” twos telling other parents with younger children, “Oh, please – terrible twos! Ha! Two is totally fun! Toddlerhood, in my opinion, is much more fun than the infant stage! This is great! Awesome, even! It is nonstop fun over here and don’t listen to parents who talk about those ‘terrible twos!’ They are obviously a little crazy!” Do you see all of my exclamation pointed excitement about two and being two, and two is just a big pile of AWESOME?!

Ha! Hahahahahahaha! Oh, universe. You sure do like to make me eat my words, don’t you? It’s a fun little game you play, isn’t it? While I have been busy being all smug about the greatness that is two, my child has been busy plotting. Yes, plotting, I tell you. Maybe I can blame it on the approximately 72 trillion showings of “Despicable Me” he’s watched recently. (And, yes, I am aware that I am the one pressing play. But, for a kid who likes to be outside or playing and not in front of a TV all that often, and for a mom who personally loves Gru and his little minions, I allow it.) Anyway, he particularly loves the parts where Gru is bossing his minions around and does an awesome “Listen UP!” that even Steve Carell would be proud of. It’s cute. Or it was until I realized he was taking pointers.

This whole waiting until he’s almost three to hit this stage is part of his strategy, I think. He got me all comfortable thinking I totally had this toddler thing covered while, in reality, he has been plotting all Gru-like – probably late at night with Woody and Mickey and the two Bullzeyes that share his bed. Oh, and the dinosaur. I’ve never trusted that dinosaur. Anyway, he’s gone from sweet snuggle fests and playing and toddler blissdom to testing our boundaries every chance he gets. It started off slowly. A finger pointed at us here and there, an exasperated sigh from time to time. He has always been a strong-willed child, and he has always challenged us, but in ways that haven’t driven us crazy. And now? Well, hello there, crazy! We’ve have come careening into terrible two just like some certain toddler making laps around the couch on his tricycle.

Here are some of the ways I’ve RUINED his life recently:

–          I opened the crackers before I opened the juice.

–          I opened the juice before I opened the crackers.

–          I opened the juice but was supposed to let HIM do the straw.

–          I made him do the straw.

–          I let the corner of the white blanket peek out from underneath the blue blanket, which MUST go on top. And it MUST completely cover the white blanket. Please note: The blue blanket is smaller than the white blanket. This is … math I can’t even do. I have become a master of blanket origami is all I can tell you.

–          I said something out of order at bedtime. It goes, “Sweet dreams. I love you. Okay.” NOT “I love you. Sweet dreams. Okay.” I mean seriously, after I’ve mastered the illusion of full blue blanket coverage I can’t always be expected to remember the script exactly, can I? The answer is yes, yes, I can. Also, I don’t even know when the “okay” became part of the script. What in the world? I need these changes in writing.

This list could go on for quite a while. I could write volumes. The point is, this kid – he is testing us. Most of the time I tell him something like, “Well, yes, I did open the refrigerator door in a way you found offensive, but, son, we must move on with our lives,” but lately, I notice myself having more days where I sound a little short and a little stressed. There have been days that when he has done his Gru “Listen UP!” speech that I’ve thought … hmmmm, that maybe sounds more like me than Steve Carell. Just maybe. Oh, and that exasperated sigh? Wow, that’s all me.

But now I do understand the conversations I used to have with my sister, who has three children, when she would tell me that yes, there will be days they will drive you nuts, there will be days you long for 30 minutes of peace, there will be days that you yell too much and feel like a bad parent, but most of the time, by the end of those days, there will be a moment that puts it all in perspective. For me, even if there have been stomped feet and clinched fists and tears, he still wants to snuggle with me on the couch before I go rock him, and that’s my moment. I know that is a luxury. When he is all grown up, he won’t want that. He won’t say, “Sweet dreams. I love you. Okay.” So even when he gets frustrated when I say it “wrong,” I try my best to remember I won’t always get to tuck him in and suddenly the feeling of, this too shall pass, thank God, becomes, oh … this too shall pass. Oh. Perspective. See?

And if it’s been a particularly challenging day when even the snuggling isn’t working? I find one of the final scenes of “Madagascar 3” works wonders for our moods. You try to spin a two-year old around the room to Katy Perry without laughing. You can’t. It’s one of those things like not being able to lick your own elbow. Physically impossible. Because some days, you just gotta ignite the light and let it shine. Just own the night, like the fourth of July. (You will have that in your head the rest of the day now. You are welcome. I recommend not fighting it. Just find a two-year old to spin with.)

ImageYep. He’s got me exactly where he wants me. (Photo credit: Jennifer Jones Photography.)

The eagle has landed … or is dead in the backyard

So, a couple of nights ago, a little after 4 a.m., Vaught woke up. This is pretty rare so I assumed illness, nightmare, a tiny Jake or one of his Neverland Pirate sidekicks painfully poking into his fleshy little knee, something. He didn’t seem too bothered though – just awake. I didn’t think much about it until he really and truly woke up for the day and started telling me, in confusing detail, about the eagle that landed on his bed and eventually came to rest on my shoulder. Now, I know it was 4 a.m., and I was a little groggy, but I think I would remember if a large bird of prey was anywhere on my person.

His story sounded a little like something like this. Which makes sense to me. I am a PR person. This just sounds like a crisis communications meeting to me. We’ve come up with far crazier scenarios and have written press statements for them. Anyway, I did my best to reassure him that I am pretty sure none of that ever happened, but here’s where my logic was woefully flawed – I was trying to reason with a two-year old. Reason with a two-year old. Still, it seemed like a fantastic story he was enjoying telling so I wasn’t concerned. Until that night at bedtime, which is typically full of snuggly reading and rocking, was suddenly an all out battle against the tainted bird bed. He insisted an eagle was IN HIS BED, and he was not, repeat, NOT going to get in that bed. He basically told me to sell my crazy somewhere else because there was clearly a terrifying taloned fowl in his crib and that I was blind not to see.

I determined that the best plan of action was to explain it was all a dream, there was no bird in his bed and hey, look at that, your pals Bullseye and Mickey are the only things in there. No eagles, not even a tiny little sparrow. He seemed to buy it for a few minutes but, for the next hour, he fought, he cried, he insisted he wasn’t getting anywhere near that crib so just give up the fight, mommy lady.

After several tries, I tagged Neil. He rocked, he reasoned, he took everything out of the bed to remove any doubt that an eagle could maybe be hiding under his pillow pet. Still, no dice. I was listening from the living room, trying to think of what we could do and trying to determine if this was true fear or clever two-year old manipulation. I decided that it was fear and was debating maybe going into his room to shoo the imaginary bird out of the real window, mentally weighing the psychological ramifications of that decision. Would shooing the eagle out make him think there actually was an eagle? Would he think another eagle could get in? I even briefly considered pretending I was stomping the bird like I would a bug, but I couldn’t bring myself to really consider birdicide as an option. It’s an eagle. An endangered animal. And, I mean, America. It was about that time that I heard Neil say, “There’s no eagle, buddy. Daddy took care of it for you. I took it out back and shot it.” Vaught’s response? “Okay. Night night, Daddy.” And he  peacefully drifted off to a birdless slumber. I, however, am considering talking to a professional about my inner conflict about ridding my home of imaginary animals.

Can I hold you?

There are things you don’t say any more at two and a half, like hydeco, which was your word for motorcycle for some inexplicable reason. It makes me a little sad because seeing you point with chubby little fingers and hearing you scream, “hydeco!” every time you heard the bapbapbap of a motorcycle engine made me happy. But there are new things every day to make me smile. My favorites are, “Mommy, can I hold you?” when you want me to pick you up, and, “Mommy, I want you. Can I have you?” The answers to both of these questions, by the way, is yes. Always and forever, yes. I just hope you keep asking for a very long time, my sweet man.

Vaught in the bay

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