Three.

To Holden, on the eve of his third birthday:

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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.

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There is this serious browface, which you administer to items you are examining. Sometimes you shoot this look at people. It is withering.

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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.

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This is your 30-year-old face. It’s like peering into a crystal ball.

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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.

My little shark

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.

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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.

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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.

Saying hi to passing cars, as you do.

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,
Mama

Summer

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It took him a little while to be open to the idea of going out in the middle of a water minefield, but he eventually decided he could dig it.

Can I just add that Mt. Juliet’s Splash Day at Charlie Daniels Park is adorable? We had all kinds of super nice church folk coming up to us and giving us water and icy pops all day long. I got warm fuzzies while eating a free hot dog and working on an epic sunburn.

Preschool, week two

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.

The first week of preschool

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.)

School’s in for summer

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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.

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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.

2.5

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Our sweet man,

How do we catch up?

You are two and a half years old now. You’ve dug in to the Terrible Twos lately in that you Just Cannot Handle It if your will is defied sometimes. You get really, really upset if we try to make you use the potty and you’re not in the mood or if we try to make you come inside or get in the car if you’re not ready. Cue meltdown. You really have taken to being a drama queen when the occasion arises.

And yet! You are such a sweet boy. You wake up happy every day and you want a cup of milk and a banana. Every morning. You want to sit on the couch with me and watch your Elmo potty DVD while I have my arm around you, holding your belly. If my hand is not on your belly, you will put it there. Grammy says you do this to her too. You love being held with a hand on your belly, and you a very good snuggler.

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You’re learning so much these days! We have so much fun talking about what the different animals say. Your favorite animal noise is “mooo” but you do adore a good bird tweet too. The kitties don’t live here anymore but you still ask about them and meow quite a bit. Your pig oink is hilarious. Some day I hope to sneak a video of it.

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You’re counting — you can make it to 10 on your own and even further if we count with you. You can identify some numbers on sight, which is CRAZY since we didn’t teach you how numbers look! (I have to credit this to Sesame Street, seriously.) Grammy had you out on the porch one day and she pointed to the house numbers and you told her what all four of them were! We were all so shocked and bewildered by that, but mostly impressed.

We’re working on our colors, too, and the alphabet. You love to sing the alphabet song followed by “Twinkle Twinkle,”which I catch you humming throughout the day.

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The past few months you’ve made big friends with your cousins Shannon and Levi. You see Levi every few weeks and you ask about him when you see his picture on the fridge. You guys get along like gangbusters, except when you have sharing issues.

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We’ve been trying to puzzle out this long-standing nighttime cough you’ve had for months. We think it’s probably allergies, and we’ve tried several remedies. Lately you’ve been better so maybe we have it figured out. Still, I hope you grow out of whatever is giving you trouble now. An allergy test showed you’re allergic to dogs, cats, mold, pollen, trees and grass. So … the world is going to be tough on you, kiddo.

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You are still very much into balls — footballs, tennis balls, basketballs, soccer balls. You like to talk about the moon (and when it might be up in the sky), and big trucks, big cars, and big planes flying overhead. Helium balloons make you BATSHIT CRAZY. You love being outside. You went through a shy spell but lately you’ve been delighting in other people. Just today you were swinging at the park and cracking up every time some other kid came to swing beside you. That is so fun to watch.

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You like to make us laugh and surprise us. You love to jump on the bed and turn flips. You love your Glowworm, which you call your “Woo woo.”

We found out recently that you were accepted to pre-school! That starts next month. We are so nervous and excited for you. You had to do a one-hour evaluation in a classroom and you were very reserved. I’m sure when you spend some time at school you’ll love it. There’s so much more to do there, and so much to learn. You’re going to make friends and really be a big boy, going to school every day. I almost can’t believe it.

Lunchtime selfie party Sad day. Taking the kitties to live with my parents. Holden's allergy test showed us they can't live with us anymore. Bummed. This guy is enjoying the V-Day balloon more than anything has ever been enjoyed before.

A little Saturday afternoon Egg huntin’

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We had our first proper egg hunt last weekend at Mom and Dad’s. Evan had a bunch of eggs — including some cruel camouflage ones! — and threw them out in the yard and Levi and Holden went for them. Levi had done an egg hunt before so he kind of had the idea but Holden wasn’t sure of the point until a few eggs in. He found an egg with a dollar in it and pitched it to the ground but pocketed the egg. My child, the hippie?

It was really fun and sweet to watch, but the best part is watching Holden and Levi play. There are times when they don’t share very well and they can get annoyed with each other, but for the most part they delight in each other and that is so great to watch.

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Sleep cry

It is early in the morning, the wee hours, and he is crying. It’s sudden, and so rare that it shocks us, this sound coming across the monitor. It’s a pitiful cry, a whimper and a wail. I sit up, my bones cracking, and stumble out of the bedroom and up the stairs to him. He is asleep but crying, and I imagine he’s been overtaken by sadness or worry in a bad dream. I reach into his crib and pat his back gently; sometimes my touch alone soothes him out of these rare spells. But he’s wailing now, eyes still closed, warm red cheek pressed against the sheets. I pick him up and without waking fully, he clings to me, arms tight around my neck and legs wrapped around my belly. It’s the most sincere hug I may have ever experienced. I sway back and forth, shushing him, rubbing his back, as his wails turn to sighs and then just soft breaths. He breathes me in, his nose in the crook of my neck just so that my hair grazes his own. We stand there, swaying, holding each other for five or so minutes, and I speak softly to him and tell him it’s okay, that mama is here and will always be here and he will be fine. He believes me, and when I lay him back down and stroke his face and tell him to go back to sleep, he does so without so much as a second thought.

It’s a tiny triumph, but the kind that sticks.

Dat smile

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Sometimes I stare. It’s hard to believe someone so beautiful could have so much of my DNA, you know?