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,