I watch him grow and change and it’s hard to believe I made him with my body.
So sweet and funny and feeling. So much like me in so many ways but so much himself.
My heart bursts on a constant basis.
It’s such a weird thing to watch a child acquire language.
When your child is in school full time, he’s picking up all sorts of stuff from teachers as well as the adorable little tykes he’s with all day, on top of the stuff he picks up from you and anyone in your house. So you are never quite sure where some of the stuff comes from. And when he busts out with something hilariously bossy or rude, it’s hard not to react with an incredulous laugh. Which a toddler probably considers the jackpot of parental reactions in most situations.
Here are some things Holden’s been saying lately. I wish I could get this stuff on video so I could preserve the inflection and conviction, which adds a whole other layer of hilarity. But, he is pretty good at shutting down shenanigans as soon as he sees me train a camera or phone on him.
• “O-B-E!” — I have a theory that there must be some song they sing at school where they spell out the word “obey,” which is delightfully Orwellian.
• “Are you OK? I’m OK.” — To people or toys, whenever they might have gotten bumped or jostled.
• “I can’t like it.” — Not I don’t like it, but I can’t like it.
• “The number B!” — He sometimes calls letters numbers and numbers letters, even though he knows all his letters and many numbers backward and forward.
• “Scoot that booty!” — For scooting out of chairs or down stairs.
• “That’s enough!” — For times when he is tired of your drama.
• “ROOOOAAAARRRR!!” — Used when we read books about lions, tigers, sharks or snakes, and used to scare the bejesus out of strangers at restaurants or grocery stores.
• “That is soooo sad.” — Proclaimed when he sees pictures of people or animals not looking very happy, or when we pretend to scare off monsters and lions.
• “Come back here!” — To be said to someone who is walking away in his view prematurely, or to poop making a getaway down the toilet.
• “Wait on meeeee!” — To be wailed to any parent figure who might take two steps away from him when he’s feeling like an integral part of the mission.
• “Put it in your pocket!” — About your mobile device when he wants your undivided attention.
• “Stop it, mama!” This is usually accompanied by a threatening finger point, followed by a time-out, because oh hell no.
To Holden, on the eve of his third birthday:
Three years ago at this moment you lived inside my belly and I had no idea who you were. I knew you got the hiccups regularly and I knew you had a rump about the size of your head, and that I could never be quite sure which was which just from running my fingers along your contours. But I didn’t know you. I saw ghostly ultrasound photos of the silhouette of your face and I assigned hopes to you and for you, but you were a mystery to me. A mystery right up until you came barreling into this world, announcing your arrival in a chattery newborn tongue that, when I hear it on video now, breaks my heart, because it is the language of a place nowhere near here. Another world entirely.
Flash forward three years and I know you. I know that when you wake up every day you are going to point out some things in your room to make sure they are as we left them the night before. I know that you are going to want Cheerios with raisins for breakfast, or maybe a waffle. I know that you are going to want a nice cold glass of milk every day. I know that you collect cardboard tubes from the paper towels and the toilet paper, and that if I throw one away without offering it to you first, I will have to answer to you. Dude. I know you.
You are this little bundle of insane energy, a tiny English-speaking person who knows the alphabet and can count to 20 or so and identify letters and numbers as they pop up around you. And you’re starting to spell your name. You love music and putting color onto blank surfaces. I make up songs for you and you catch on to them quick, and have the melody and even the lyrics down pat after only hearing them a couple of times. At nap- and bedtime, I sing two lullabies to you and you hum along with me and sink your head into the crook of my neck as I rock you. I have to tell you, those moments are some of the rare times when your poor ol’ overextended mom really feels loved in this mean old world.
(One of the lullabies is a modified version of this song, which my mom sang to me as a baby. I sing to you: “Lay your head on my shoulder. Whisper in my ear. Baby, you’re the one I love. Baby, you’re the one I love.” Repeat ad nauseum. I also sing “This is my Holden, this is my friend. He is my baby until the end” to the tune of “This Is My Story,” a hymn we grew up singing at church. You love both these lullabies.)
You are pretty much potty trained (I say “pretty much” because we still put a diaper on overnight, even if you only really use them half the time, and I suppose you still have accidents once in a while during the day when you’re too busy playing to take a pee break). You look like a little man in your boxer briefs and we are so incredibly proud of you for mastering the potty before even turning three. Seriously, dude, you’re a toilet rock star.
Your faces remain incredible.
There is this serious browface, which you administer to items you are examining. Sometimes you shoot this look at people. It is withering.
This is the face of pure joy. In this photograph, you made this face after chucking a rock into a river. You are often easily amused, which you get from me.
This is your 30-year-old face. It’s like peering into a crystal ball.
Your eyes are bright and searching and invite comments from strangers everywhere we go. Someone always says something about your eyes. I am holding out hope that you get your dad’s vision and not mine, or else you will end up having to obscure those big blues with glasses.
We went trick-or-treating this year. It was our first proper Halloween outing. (Last year there was bad weather that abbreviated our attempts and the mall was cleaned out by the time we got there.) You dressed as a shark and were not terribly happy about it as we cluelessly tried to cram your limbs into the getup. You got the hang of the whole trick-or-treating thing about halfway through, and even actually said “trick or treat” to some folks near the end of our outing. You collected quite the haul from the fine folks along McChesney. I am glad we have such good friends in walkable neighborhoods. It was so much fun and I think next year you will be even more into it.
Speaking of good friends, you and Rory are going to have a new friend on the scene in a month or so. Rumor has it that it’s a lady friend to add to the mix. Not to mention your new friend Ruth, who was born not too long ago in Chicago. Are you ready for all that pressure, of being the oldest in the bunch? You are going to need to make sure you are being a good toddler role model for all your new friends. Last time you hung out with Rory, you froze with a mix of bewilderment and terror every time he grabbed at you. But you returned the favor by sort of poking at his eyes and laughing. Boy, I see so much of me in you that it scares me.
You have very strong opinions and we are working on your tendency to get frustrated and lash out. (Again, I see a lot of me in you.) But you are such a point of light. You wake up happy every day and instantly start observing and asking questions about the world. Lately you are fond of “Where did it go?” and “What happened?!” You are intrigued by process and pattern. You like to deconstruct things. You like to organize and group. You like to surprise and be surprised.
You still have an arm on you, and your aim is pretty good. We’re working on catching.
You love to identify colors, shapes, numbers and letters, wherever they pop up. If you can identify a number, letter or shape that’s a color, then it’s like you’ve hit the lottery.
You get so excited when we understand what you are trying to tell us. And it gets easier every day.
You like to help load/unload the dishwasher. You like to “help” with laundry. Turning lights on and off is your jam. You like to pick out your spoon for your morning cereal. When you make a mess, you like to point it out and be allowed to clean it up. You like finding trash and throwing it away, even if it’s not yours. You like finding things in the trash that you think we should reconsider. You LOVE flashcards and have learned some insane words (“vicuna” and “urchin”???) from the ones we have. You love your grandparents and ask about your cousin Levi a lot.
You are obsessed with Farmer Jason and we have watched his DVD probably a hundred times. I can recite it from beginning to end and I bet you could too, if pressed. You think that Taylor Swift “Shake It Off” song is top shelf, but you like just about any kind of music as long as it’s loud enough and mama and daddy will get up to dance with you. You like to do “red bed,” which means wrestle on mama and daddy’s bed. (We had red sheets a while back.) You are a ruthless wrestler, and not above roundhouse kicks to the face.
School is going great. You like seeing your friends and getting to play outside. Your teacher says such wonderful things about how sweet and inquisitive you are. You talk a lot about your friends Madisyn and Kaia. I think you’re sweet on Madisyn or maybe it is the other way around. We do homework on the weekends and turn it in on Monday.
You seem happy. Occasionally you have your meltdowns or you have to be put in line when your attitude gets a little too toddlerish for our liking. (We don’t want to end up needing a Supernanny in three years, so we are trying to keep you in check.) But for the most part, child, you are happy. And I couldn’t be more grateful that that seems to be your baseline.
I’m proud of how you are growing and how much you love to learn. I watch you and wonder how much of me got into you, and hope that I can help you navigate the difficult parts a little better, now that I have lived long enough to know a little bit about myself.
You’re having a big time. We’re having a big time. Year three is going to be so much fun.
I love you,
It’s kind of amazing how each weekend brings little doses of new words, phrases, behaviors. I get to see Holden for about an hour each morning during the week and that’s it. I drop him off at school and I go to work and I’m at work until after he goes to bed. It makes weekends more precious (and weekends spent working more dreadful) but it also makes his little changes seem much bigger to me when I get to witness them in action.
Today I noticed a new behavior: Putting his finger to his mouth and shushing. Ha! They must do that at school. We have never done that at home and he hasn’t watched anything like that he could mimic.
Other newish things, now that we are at 30 months (!!!):
• He is so tall and lean for his age that he’s still wearing some 18-24 month pants. They fit at the waist but they are basically capris on him. He looks so silly and adorable. And often has plumber’s crack because the rise is meant for shorter babies.
• He wears boxer briefs and looks so unbelievably cute running around in them.
• He says the alphabet (gets a little hung up at the beginning — “A B A B E F G…” — but always crescendoes into a really excited Z.
• He is recognizing letters. He has beautiful animal flashcards Tabitha gave us way back when but I don’t bust those out too often because I want to preserve them. So Ray made him some flashcards on sticky notes, and he picks them up randomly and says what they are. Except today he insisted that U was an A, and would not take my protests seriously.
• He loves to sing “Twinkle Twinkle” and gets so beside himself when he sees moons and stars. In the morning I will often hear him wake up and start singing “Twinkle Twinkle” or the alphabet song first thing. It’s cripplingly sweet, wafting across the monitor.
• He is so into sticks. Big sticks, little sticks, little pine needles he calls sticks. He finds one and wants to take it with him everywhere. We have had some epic meltdowns over having to leave a stick outside when we come in.
• We’re all done with the highchair and he’s eating all his meals at his little table and chair Grammy got him for his birthday. They do this at school so all it took was a little peer pressure to get the idea. He still likes to get up and run around and smear peanut butter on things when given the chance, but I totally get that.
• He has his basic colors down (yellow, green, orange, blue, red) and we’re trying to teach him weird colors like “grey.” He seems skeptical.
• I used to play “Airplane” with him — lying on my back and lifting him up flat on my shins — and I always thought he thought it was stupid or boring because it never got much of a reaction out of him. Lately he’s been crawling up on me and begging: “Airplane! Airplane!” He likes the part where I sort of let him fall but I catch him.
• This week is the first week we didn’t have weepy dropoffs at preschool. In fact, there were a couple of days when he walked into the classroom and went straight for the toys without clinging to me at all. When he noticed me waving and blowing kisses goodbye, though, he got a little panicked look in his eye. But I didn’t hear any crying on the way out. And his teacher told Ray upon pickup each day that he hadn’t cried at all. That’s so massive to me. Such a relief.
• He gets daily reports from school that tell how he ate, how the potty situation went, how he acted, and such. He always comes home with a note saying he was chatty and cheerful. That makes me so happy.
More weepy dropoffs. He wailed and shook his head and reached out for me and called for me. Every time, it feels like pieces of my heart are being scooped out with a melon baller.
BUT! Today I got to do a pickup. My first ever. I walked into the room and all the children were playing quietly, independently. Holden was on the floor, playing with blocks or something in a container. “Hi everyone!” I said, to get his attention since his back was turned to me. He looked up and said, “MAMA!” and then pointed to me and repeated, looking around at all his classmates, making sure they all know that I was his mama. He ran over to me and I scooped him up. He grabbed my face and nuzzled me tight, and kept saying, “That’s mama! That’s my mommy!” My melon ball-pockmarked heart could have exploded.
I had to work a half day to get that thirty seconds but it was so worth it.
It went well overall, I’d say. The first morning Ray and I dropped Holden off and there were no tears. Probably because he didn’t realize what was happening. His teacher said he had no potty accidents, he ate his lunch, and he napped for two hours. He was chatty, happy, cooperative and curious. Model student.
The next morning I did the dropoff solo, and he cried. It was tough. He had another good day, though. The rest of the mornings went similarly, and by the end of the week he was getting weepy as soon as we pulled into the parking lot. I hope that passes. It is not easy to unstick him from me and walk out the door with him wailing, “MAAA MAAAA!” and reaching out for me. Lawd, my feels.
The weekend was fabulous, though. We had adventures and hung out like best pals. I can tell he missed me a lot and, this might sound crazy, he seemed already to be more grown up and grasping new language concepts. Maybe that’s just the effect of being away from him all week. But I expect to see him grow by leaps and bounds now that I’m only seeing him about an hour a day during the week. (Sob.)
It’s hard to believe it but this kiddo starts preschool Monday. We’ve been so fortunate to have been able to have Ray stay home with him until now, but as he picks up more legal gigs, doing the childcare shuffle is becoming increasingly difficult. So it’s a good time. Plus, Holden is probably bored out of his mind at home and could use some stimulation from new scenery, new (read: cooler) toys, new faces, new stuff to learn.
Our school had an open house for parents and children yesterday. It went so well that I am feeling much better about this transition. His teacher seems like a sweetheart and he already has gotten acquainted with the other little boy in his class. (The rest of the class is girls! And none of them were there when we were.) He had a blast playing in the classroom and chucked big plastic balls at everyone’s heads. I hope the teacher has better luck than I’ve had getting him to understand that you can’t do that unless the person is looking at you and obviously ready to catch. He’s fast with his arm. And ruthless. (Come on, boy, remember your dear ol’ mama when you get into the big leagues.)
I was totally taken aback when he picked up a babydoll from the little crib and took it over to the chair and sat down to hold it. So sweet and gentle and loving. He’s not been around babies very much so that was very surprising to me. He’s run through with sweetness, this one.
Monday morning will be tough, and I’ll probably blubber like an idiot in the car. Possibly in the hallway. But it helps knowing that he’s in good hands and that he’s going to have a great time once the tears dry.
Another tragedy, a massacre orchestrated by a young man who felt entitled and spurned. Another young man who thought women owed him their affection and their bodies by virtue of his wanting them, and who, by ignoring him, earned violence.
He was broken. I don’t know what broke him or when, but it was a snap loud enough to have repercussions far enough outside his sphere of existence that I am now writing about him, an entire country away.
There is a little boy in my care and it is my job to teach him how to live in this world. No small feat, considering I barely have a handle on that myself. It’s on me to teach him to respect boundaries, to understand that nothing is owed him, and that women are not a reward or something he is entitled to. That he is not merely an animal who cannot rise above his hormonal instincts and base impulses. That he cannot lash out and hurt just because he is hurting.
That last one is important because it is something I haven’t mastered in my thirty-two years on this big blue rock. The difference being, of course, that there is a canyon between lashing out with passive-aggressive verbal barbs and lashing out with bullets. A canyon, right? But the two actions arise from the same stupid little neuron firing, don’t they?
I wrote after Newtown about how terrifying it is to be the mother of a boy. To know that he might carry within him this need to lash out violently and take as many as he can down with him in a spectacular display of self-destruction. Or, more likely, that I will not be able to develop in him a full understanding of what it means that women have agency, that they are not merely receptacles for your hopes or dreams or pride or scorn or spit or sperm. So many seem to struggle with this concept. The whole world over, this is still up for debate. For all our progress, we’ve gone nowhere.
This YesAllWomen thing is interesting and feels necessary in the face of this insanity, but I find it exhausting and depressing. I guess that’s the point. The state of being female in this world is pretty exhausting and depressing, when looked at objectively. Somewhere out there right now someone is grumbling while reading that sentence and saying, “Sure, whatever — the state of being human in this world is pretty exhausting and depressing.” Without a hint of irony.
I remain at a loss.
I was settling in for a long-overdue nap when I got a text from a second team member calling out. I was unable to coax anyone into coming in for an OT shift so I got in the shower and went into the office myself. Then I got some news about the house in Memphis needing a major repair, for which I do not have the funds, so I contacted my mom to ask to borrow money.
So, in conclusion:
Next Mother’s Day, my goal is to not abandon my child to go to the office and to not call my mom and ask for money.