Turning Three: A Birthday Letter

My sweet boy,

The first year of life brings so many changes, but it has been this year between two and three that I have seen the most growth in you.

It has been this year, my sweet boy, that you have stopped nursing, have fully potty trained, and started sleeping in your own bed. (Some nights.)

It has been this year that you have stopped referring to yourself as “baby” and instead say “Noah.” You have even learned how to spell your name and proudly walk around saying “I am N-O-A-H Noah!” You have even learned to write the letters “O” and “H.”  My heart swells every time.

It has been this year you have decided you want to be a “digger man” when you grow up, and in the last few months you have changed your aspiring profession to “actor.” I will be proud of you no matter what you choose.

It has been this year that you have gone to your very first year of preschool, two mornings a week from 9 to 12. It was the very first time that you had ever been away from me, and though it was hard for both of us at first, we have both thrived with the expansion of your world.

It has been this year that I have seen you develop real relationships with your friends as you have moved from parallel play to interactive games.

It has been this year that you have mastered your motor skills. I’ve never been more proud of someone jumping in puddles or riding tricycles.

This year, you have established family roles. “Daddy is the cooker, Mommy is the cleaner, and I am the helper.” ~Noah summer 2012

Though you have always been a strong verbal speaker and communicator, this year your vocabulary has expanded and your thoughts are always expressed in complex sentences. I am often amazed at the way your mind works, and especially at the way you are able to tell me about it.

“Mommy, I have a story. Once upon time, there was a kitty cat and it got up up stuck on the roof. And the helicopter came and got the kitty cat and put it down. And then everybody was happy. The End.” 

“Wow, Noah, that was such a good story! It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. It also had a conflict and a resolution.” 

“Yes, Mommy, it did.” 

~August 2012

I love hearing your stories, your thoughts, and your opinions. I trust your judgement and often include you on family decisions. I want you to know that I value you, always.

It has been this year that I have seen you cross over from baby to boy, and this year that has challenged me the most as a parent. (So far.)

But it has been this year, my sweet boy, that I have delighted in your growth. As you continue to grow and branch out away from me, I want you to always know that I will never be too far away, standing in awe of wonderful YOU.

I love you forever and always, my sweet three-year-old baby boy.

Love,

Mommy

(meant to be published on your 3rd birthday, September 1st, 2012)

My sweet 3 year old boy

The First Birthday

As a countdown to my son’s third birthday party, I thought I would share the first two.

The first birthday was the hardest one for me. I was an emotional wreck with the realization that my son was turning one, and had an incredibly difficult time with the one year anniversary of my difficult birth experience.

To add to my emotional anxiety, we had also just moved to Richmond, VA when my son was 9 months old. As soon as I had unpacked boxes I was throwing a huge birthday party.

All of our family flew up from GA to celebrate the only grandchild on both sides’ first birthday. It was a huge milestone. My mom, brother, sister, and all of their significant others as well as my husband’s parents, two brothers, sister-in-law and grandmother were there. We piled 15 people into our newly bought house and admired our sweet little boy.

The grand celebration was a four-day affair of family visiting, but the actual celebration was taking place on the Saturday after he turned one. This turned out to be a very good thing since I spent most of the day of his actual birthday crying.

We enjoyed the company of family and suffered minimal drama, though there always seems to be some at large family gatherings.

And then on the morning of the day of his party, my little boy started having trouble breathing. My husband and I weren’t terribly worried, but as the day progressed and his condition didn’t, we decided to head to the emergency room.

While we endured our first emergency room visit with our little boy, a scary experience that resulted in a diagnosis of croup, a steroid shot, and a nebulizer treatment, our family used their nervous energy to decorate the house for the party. My father-in-law even mowed the lawn. It was incredibly sweet, and when we got home from the hospital we had a party celebrating the first year of our little boy’s life.

The Significance of a Yellow Birthday Party

Sometime in April or May, my son started asking me for a “yellow birthday party.” Initially, this kind of intimidated me. I wasn’t exactly sure what a yellow birthday party was. So I asked him what he would like at his yellow birthday party.

“Um, ye-whoa cake and ye-whoa cupcakes and ye-whoa candles, and ye-whoa baboons.”

With these instructions in mind, I did what any one would do in this time of creative crisis; I searched Pinterest. And then I got excited because people have actually thrown yellow parties before and they were adorable! So I gathered all of these ideas together and made my own Pinterest Board: Noah’s 3rd Birthday Inspiration Board.

And then, I got SUPER excited because think of all the yellow food! Bananas, pineapple, cheese, Goldfish crackers, and lemonade. And then I got even MORE super excited because those are all perfect toddler foods! My son has come up with the BEST toddler themed birthday party ever!

So I made my Pinterest inspiration board and typed up a Word Document listing all needed party supplies, a guest list, food, and decorations. In May. (If you are trying to decide which part of that to make fun of; the part where I actually devoted a Word Document to my son’s party or the part where I did that in May, go ahead and know my family made fun of me for both.)

My son is so excited about this party. He has been telling people for months that he is having a “ye-whoa birthday party in Sep-ember.” And I have been planning the yellow birthday party in September since May.

For months, my son and I have slowly been gathering yellow things when we see them at the store, collecting them all carefully in the guest room closet. Throughout the summer I have slowly bought out most of the yellow things in the Richmond area. It’s like when you are pregnant and all of a sudden you notice all of the pregnant bellies and babies around you. But this time, I notice all things yellow.

I have also been preparing the house with diligent cleaning and yard work. Last week I re-organized the master closet, the linen closet, the guest bathroom closet, and thoroughly cleaned the entire house. I arranged for people to come and power wash the deck, re-mulch the back yard, and spray for mosquitoes this week before the big day, September 1st.

And then last Wednesday, after a particularly long day at home with the toddler, I went to the grocery store by myself when my husband got home. It was as much for my own sanity as it was for our need of milk.

While I was there, I decided to go ahead and order the cupcakes and balloons.

And that was it. Those were the last items on my list. After months of planning, all of the steps are done. Now, we just have to wait and have the party. Which means that my son is turning three.

The reality of that hit me as I began my drive home from the store, and found myself sobbing at a red light. My tears continued to fall as I wiped them away and drove the familiar route from the grocery store to my house. My baby is turning three.

September 1st is hard for me. It is the anniversary of one of the worst days of my life; a difficult birth experience I still have not mustered the courage or words to share.

But it is also the birthday of my son, the center of my world, my sweet boy that has changed my life in so many amazing ways. And this year, my baby will be three.

It’s amazing to see him now in all his three-ness, and at the same time see him at all of his life stages; his newborn helplessness, his baby coos, his beginning words, his toddling steps, his ever expanding world view.

Is this what being a parent is always like? Having the ability to see not only the person before you but also the child that they grew from? Knowing them not only for who they are now, but for who they were and for who they have always been? Having a love for them that is so intense it sometimes threatens to overpower you?

September 1st seems to sneak up on me every year with an overwhelming surge of mixed emotions. An anniversary of a hardship blended with the birthday of my greatest gift. And this year, the emotional pondering of my mixed blessings of motherhood are wrapped up in the intricate details of an extensively planned yellow birthday party.

Sleepless in Seattle

We don’t really live in Seattle, we live in Richmond, VA, but I love alliteration so I just went with it.

Location withholding, we really are having sleep trouble. And by “we” I mean the toddler and I. The hubs pretty much sleeps whenever he’s not at work.

Of all the parenting things; feeding, potty-training, motor skills, social skills, etc., sleeping has always been the biggest challenge.

It might be because I did attachment parenting, so my son has always co-slept with us. It might be because I breastfed until he was two years old, so he nursed throughout the night for so long that night waking is normal to him. It might be because he is a very sweaty sleeper. Or it might just be that sleeping is not his thing.

I once read somewhere that young children should get an average of 12 to 14 hours of sleep within a 24 hour period. And I have actually known people who say their child has done/does this. But whenever God was handing out babies, he gave me the non-sleeping version.

Which is fine, really. Because not sleeping is a parenting challenge I can handle. Or at least I used to, when my son still took naps.

The naps are gone, you guys. And it is draining me.

I took a daily nap with my son for the first two and a half years of his life. I needed it in order to be a good mother to him. And he needed them in order to function. It worked for us. I always cherished that mid-afternoon slumber. And then, just like that, he dropped them.

Nap time has been gone at my house since May. This entire summer has consisted of long days. Very, very, long days.

There are some days when we both just can not take it anymore and we relinquish ourselves to a nap. But the problem is, if he takes a nap, he is up until eleven or midnight. The other problem is, if he does not take a nap, he is absolutely miserable from 4pm to bedtime at 7pm. The dinner, bath, bed routine is started at 6, but those hours from 4 to 7 of a screaming, irrational toddler drain me every time.

Like other parenting obstacles I have faced I know that this will just be a phase. I know that nap time is over and that some day the hours of 4PM to 7PM will once again return to be just regular hours.

But while we wait this phase out, I would love to hear your toddler sleeping advice. Because the current trend? Makes me want to hire a bedtime sitter. (Is that a thing? That should be a thing.)

Thank you in advance for your help. I’ll just be over here drinking lots of caffeine until we figure this out.

All Birds Go To Heaven

“Oh no, Mommy, look!”

I turned in his direction and I followed his gaze down to the bird with flies buzzing around its head. I pulled him away quickly.

“Oh no, don’t touch. It’s a dead bird.”

“Uh oh, Mommy. Now it can not go to his family.”

“No, he can not go to his family.”

“But why, Mommy?”

“The bird is hurt. It looks like a kitty cat or a ruff ruff got him.”

Our feet pattered on the concrete as we continued walking down the road.

Should I tell him? Are we ready for these conversations?

“Now the bird is in heaven with God.”

“With God?”

“Yes.”

But why Mommy?”

“When things die, they go up to heaven to live with God.”

A long pause filled our conversation as we both pondered the validity of my statement. Can we talk about this yet?

“Mommy’s Daddy lives in heaven.”

Gentle feet pad on the cement. I look down at the top of his head. I can see his eyelashes and his brow slightly furrow as he grips the flowers he has collected tighter.

“Does your Daddy take care of the birds, Mommy?”

Surprised tears threaten my eyes as I smile and reply, “Why, yes, I guess he does.”

Chirping birds and a distant train combine with the sound of our shoes on the ground as the background track to our poignant conversation.

We observe fallen branches and white lines painted on the road. They were meant for traffic but they make a perfect balance beam for my son to follow as I walk beside him. His concentration is on the line; the steadying of his feet one in front of the other.

My concentration is on him.

As the line fades and we near the next cross street he says, “Mommy? And your Daddy will say, no no kitties and ruff ruffs we do not hurt birds.”

“Yes,” I realize and speak out loud, “that is probably something he would say.”

The rest of our walk is speckled in conversation about looking both ways and not throwing trash on the ground. We stop to admire flowers and bugs and I watch as he delights in walking down into a shallow ditch and climbing back out.

As we near our house, he breaks into a big grin and runs to the driveway. “That was a good walk, Mommy. Now I am thirsty.”

It was a good walk, love. A very good walk.

Goodnight Words

Sleepy kisses were handed out as we all adjusted covers and nuzzled into pillows.

The toddler still sleeps here snuggled in the middle most nights, even though we all know babyhood has past.

My little boy is at peace here with Mommy and Daddy and though we do the sleep-in-your-own-bed thing, we really like him here, too.

Darkness surrounds us but we gaze at a battery-powered stars and moon that cast a sky on our ceiling.

“Goodnight little family,” I say.

“I love you,” says my husband.

“Mommy, Daddy?”  questions the toddler.

“Yes, sweet boy?” we respond.

“You guys are taking good care of me.”

It is dark, but I could still feel my husband and I lock eyes. I can feel his heart swell in rhythm with mine and make out the dimples of his smile in the moonlight as it mirrors my emotion.

“That’s such a nice thing to say, buddy,” says my husband with a smile.

“Thank you so much. You are such a sweet boy. I love you,” I reply, struggling to find words to convey my emotion.

“I love you too, guys,” says our sweet boy as he cuddled his Curious George lovey close and snuggled in to sleep.

And so we drifted into slumber, falling asleep to lullabies of sleepy breathing and toddler validation. Goodnight husband, goodnight little boy, goodnight words that have warmed my heart and filled my soul.

Goodnight.

Baby to Boy and Mommy to Chair

Today was my son’s last day of his two day a week two-year-old class at preschool. Next year he will be moving up to three day three’s. I have been so pleased with his first school experience, and so amazed at his transformations this year.

When he started school in September he had just weaned from nursing and was still exclusively in our bed. He was still in diapers. He had a very limited vocabulary and had never been in anyone’s care besides my husband and I and very limited time with grandparents. He was still my baby.

As this school year ends, I see all of the changes he’s gone through this year. He is a very good eater with a large palate. His favorite food is broccoli. (That’s weird, right?) He is fully potty trained, even at night. We have been totally out of diapers and pull ups since February. He has a big boy bed, and now divides his time between his room and ours. It will not be too long until he’s sleeping in his big boy room all alone. His vocabulary is extensive and he is very verbal and articulate. His verbal skills are his greatest asset and his teachers say he is “advanced.” He is now comfortable under other’s care, and has thrived in the school setting, at a local play place, and has even had a babysitter come to the house and watch him. He is a boy.

The year between birth and age one is significant with so many fast changes. The year from age one to two was challenging for me in terms of his behavior; he hit his terrible twos early. This year, between age two and age three has been the most striking in terms of his development. It is amazing to see the transformation from baby to child in just one year.

Things have changed for me, too. I started his school year as a nervous first time parent. I was the room mother and attended parent council meetings, and developed some acquaintances. Through his transformation I have found my own, and have become a more confident and balanced parent. (Those two mornings alone a week have allowed me to regain some sanity.) Today, I was asked by the director of the pre-school to be the chair of parent council for next year. Apparently the current chairman, in coordination with my son’s teachers, recommended me.

I said yes. I’m honored to be thought of and to be establishing a community for myself as we all navigate our places in Richmond. I may be writing about how overwhelmed I am in the fall, but for right now I’m pretty excited about it.

So here I am being the mommy that I always wanted to be; the one that gets to stay home with her little boy and do things like bake cookies and have play dates at the playground and serve as chair of the parent council. It’s exciting.

But we all know (if you’ve read this blog at all) that my life is far from perfect. Being a stay at home mom who chairs the parent council won’t make it perfect, either. But it is the fulfillment of an image of what my mommy life could be like.

I can’t wait to see what happens during this next year of transformation.

(Also? I promise not to turn into one of those crazy parent council chair moms. I’ll try to be a cool one. And I’ll totally bake you some cookies.)

Take Time to Watch The Butterflies Dance

I caught a glimpse of them today.

I watched as they fluttered outside my window, creating delicate flight patterns as they circled around each other.

I watched the fragile wings open and close and create a blur of color and beauty.

The butterflies moved in and out of my line of sight through the window as they encompassed each other and danced from the flowers to the sky.

“Mommy! My butterflies!” my toddler exclaimed as we watched them dance. I was delighted at his excitement.

And it was then I finally realized none of the rest of this matters.

Over the past two days I have been inundated with the grown up world. I have been dealing with the insurance company and bills and phone calls. And of course, I saw the Time cover.

In my already stressful world, the initiation of a mommy controversy is not something I want to be a part of. But it riled me none the less.

I have been in an unshakeable bad mood since yesterday. But then this afternoon, I turned off the computer. I put down my phone. And I watched the butterflies dance with my son.

It doesn’t matter how you fed your baby or how long you breastfed. It doesn’t matter if you did attachment parenting or not. It doesn’t matter where your baby slept or whether you used slings or strollers.  This cover is clearly meant to illicit a response, not give an accurate depiction of breastfeeding or attachment parenting. It is also clearly meant to insult ALL mothers, posing the question, “Are you mom enough?” Mom enough for what, exactly?

There will always be decisions to make in parenting. There will always be opportunities for you to question your parenting choices.

But that takes away time from the things that really matter.

What really matters is that you love your child, in the best way that you know how, and in the way that works for you and your family.

And that you take the time to stop and treasure the moments with your children as they marvel at the wonders of the world.

I’d rather spend my time as a mother loving my son and delighting in his excitement over the beauty of butterflies dancing. After all, aren’t these the moments of motherhood that make it magical?

*These are my favorite blogger responses to the Time cover. Please take a moment to read their eloquently written words.

http://themomalog.com/2012/05/10/are-you-mom-enough/

http://practicalkatie.com/2012/05/11/every-mom-is-mom-enough/

http://www.sisterhoodofthesensiblemoms.com/2012/05/are-you-mom-enough-not-to-take-the-bait/

http://www.farewellstranger.com/2012/05/11/lets-talk-about-something-else/

Life Lessons From The Toddler

He sat in the swing at the new park and I pushed him back and forth, back and forth.

“Mommy! Up sky!”

I pushed him higher.

“Mommy, I see pretty trees, and a swide, and birds, and a baby!”

“Yes,” I answered, “this park has a lot of things to look at. I see a sandbox over there.”

“And Mommy? I will tell you some-ing. I see ladies and some mans!”

“Yes, there are ladies and men here and children just like you.”

“Uh-huh Mommy,” he nods in agreement before refocusing on the feel of the swing going back and forth.

“And Mommy? I will tell you some-ing one more time. Mans have penises but ladies do not have penises. But I have a penis! And Daddy has a penis!”

I nod my head. I’m pretty sure this conversation is audible to the penis-less ladies swinging their children beside us.

“And Mommy? You are a lady. But I am a boy. But you are a gul. So you not have a penis. But guls have bottoms. And boys have a penis AND a bottom!”

I nod my head again. The other moms have decided to go play at the sandbox away from the swings. It’s probably a coincidence.

“And Mommy? Mommy, are you listening?”

“Yes sweet boy, I’m listening.”

“But it’s ok, Mommy, if you not have a penis. We can get one at the store for you.”

Pause.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I reply as I continue to search for the correct way to respond.

Pause.

“Yes, Mommy,” says my toddler with a defining nod.

“Would you like to get out of the swing now?” I ask.

After pondering my question, he says, “Ummmm no. You can just push me.”

There was silence now as I pushed him higher and higher. We felt the breeze blow and heard birds chirping. Sounds of children’s laughter drifted up into the air and I felt a sense of calm and relaxation.

“And Mommy? You ‘member I peed in the ice cream? And I peed in the potty? And I peed in the floor? You ‘member Mommy?”

“Yes, I do remember that. You pee in a lot of places.”

“Yes Mommy.”

“And Mommy, you ‘member that one day I was a baby?”

“Yes, you were a baby but now you are a big boy.”

“Yes, that’s right! And Mommy…”

“Look! Your friend is here! Would you like to get out of the swing and play?”

“Oh yes Mommy yes yes!”

As I help him get down from the swing and watch him run off, he turns to me as says, “Mommy, I am going away. You stay right here, Mommy.”

And so began our morning at the park. Luckily, this exchange was followed by a visit with a Mommy friend and coffee. Who doesn’t love starting their day with a play date, gorgeous weather, and a conversation about penises?

A Whole New World

The music floated up and drifted over onto our side of the fence. Cars began to line the street and people starting flocking to our neighbor’s house. It was time for the party.

Our neighbor had been planning a surprise birthday party for her husband for months. We had spent the day grooming our yard so we wouldn’t be those neighbors with the embarrassing yard in anticipation of the event. Our excitement was comparable to our neighbor’s. A surprise party! For a grown up! A night out of the house mingling with other adults! It was a novelty.

Of course, we had to bring the toddler. The party was right next door and we figured we wouldn’t be there terribly long. Plus our toddler loves our neighbors.

We walked across the yard and made our appearance. The awkwardness set in as it often does in new social scenarios with new people. We quickly conquered our fears with some adult beverages and by engaging the toddler in a round of let’s-eat-a-hot-dog-with-ketchup. Ketchup is the best thing in the world (if you’re two.) We met up with our neighbors, got some introductions, and found our social groove. We had fun. We interacted in adult conversations and drank adult beverages. We enjoyed a social scene we rarely get to be a part of.

The toddler found wonder in the croquet set, the hammock, and the multi-colored lights strung from the trees. He delighted in the grilled hot dogs and was elated by the birthday cake production. He enjoyed sitting by the fire pit and watching it’s blaze while Mommy and Daddy talked and laughed with other grown ups.

As the night began to wane, I found myself drawing away from the adultness. I enjoyed the weight and the closeness of my toddler in my lap while watching the flames dance in a fire pit as much as I enjoyed the conversations. I enjoyed his amazement at the sparking fireworks even more than the adult beverages. And I loved watching him dance to the music and spinning him around in circles even more than I enjoyed being out of the house.

At one point, I overheard someone say, “Is the child still here?” Her tone implied that his presence was ruining her evening, even though he had been well-behaved all night. I knew then that it was time to leave.

For you see, as much as I enjoyed the novelty of a grown up party, that’s really no longer my world. This group was a mix of people who were single and people who were students, couples who were engaged or married, people who worked in professional careers or had their own businesses, but we were the only people there with a child.

I remember those stages of life. The school work and the professors. The talk of a dating scene and nights at bars. The wedding planning and future dreaming. The married before children bits. The pressures of a job. But no one else in this group knows about my whole new world.

They don’t yet know about sleep deprived nights and birth stories and whether or not to breastfeed. They don’t yet know about the land of sippy cups and legos and sleepy cuddles and slobbery kisses. They don’t yet know about the world that I am immersed in.

The hubs was enjoying himself. He didn’t want to leave the party and go home to parenthood.

So as the night continued to ease into late, the hubs stayed at a grown up party and drank grown up drinks and talked about grown up things. But I took my little boy home, changed him into pajamas, and snuggled him on the couch as we settled in to watch an episode of Caillou before we went to bed. And I realized as I snuggled my sweet little boy, that there was nowhere else I would rather be.

As much fun as it was to dip my toes back into the grown up waters for a few hours, I feel much more at ease in comfy clothes chasing butterflies or cuddling on the couch with my little one. Despite my previous roles of student and single, teacher and professional, engaged and married, I have finally found the role I was always meant to play. I am most myself here, in this exhilarating world of motherhood.