Monday, January 7, 2013

Dear Johnny

Dear Johnny,

I know this is a little late in coming. We're nearly one month past your 3rd birthday and I feel awful for not doing this on time. I keep trying to remind myself that three weeks late is better than never and it's not like it will matter in the grand scheme of things. When you go back to read these one day, three weeks will seem like a trivial amount of time. At least I hope so. And if not... well, there's nothing I can do about it now anyway.

You are 3 years old, now, kid. Kid! You are definitely a kid now. Gone is my baby with the gurgling noises and spindly legs. Gone is my toddler on unsteady feet, barreling through space head first, usually into the ground. And now here you are, a child with your own personality and preferences and opinions.

You have always been independent, but this last year has been an even bigger exhibit of that on-my-own attitude than the previous two. On one hand, I love that you can enjoy your own company and have no problem filling your alone time. It has been vastly useful to me since I often have to leave you to your own devices to deal with Hank for nap time or bed time or to do something pressing like put groceries away. I'll tell you what I'm going to do and that I'll see you in a few minutes and you will nod and traipse off to the play room or your bedroom to spell words or play games that only you understand.

On the other hand, it's been hard to watch you grow away from me. You need me for so much less now than you did last year. You take your clothes off by yourself (whenever you want), you open your own snack containers (whenever you want) and can buckle yourself into your car seat (whenever you want, even if I'm in a hurry). It seems so silly because I want you to learn to do things on your own; I want you to be self-sufficient and learn to put on and take off your clothes and get your own snacks and operate safety devices. I want you to learn to cook one day and read on your own and ride a bike. But I also want you to need me. It's difficult to have such conflicting feelings about your growing independence. I'm so proud of you when I see you reading words from a book that you recently learned, but I also realize that every word you learn for yourself is one less word I will get to read to you in the future. Such is the burden of being a mother, I suppose.

To be honest, your independence and desire to be alone made me worry about you. A lot. Why do you want to spend all of your time in your room with the door closed when we host play dates? Why do you beg to leave when we're at someone else's home? Why don't you enjoy the company of other children your age? I wondered if something I was doing or not doing was making you antisocial, especially with so many people around me talking about sending their kids to day care or preschool a couple of days a week to "socialize" them. And then, snap! You made your first friend, Blake. I will never forget the day you retreated to your room, as usual, during a play date at our house for toddlers Hank's age. I was worried that you were going to go ballistic when Blake made to follow you up the stairs, but then I heard you say, "Do you want to go in my room, Blake?" And then you two went into your room and closed the door. When I checked on you, you were sharing sacred letters with your friend and reading books together. That was the day when I knew you were going to be okay. You were indeed social, but you were going to do things on your own terms.

And boy, do you do things on your own terms.

You have your own ideas about how to want to do things and where you want to go and for how long. I've learned not to touch any letters or numbers you're putting in order, not even to help. I've gotten over the fact that we're not going to see any animals at the zoo, but we are going to visit every guidance pole with a number at the top from 1 to 18. I've learned that at SeaWorld, you want to do the Bay of Play, lunch with the sea lions, and then running on the field, in that order. And when you say you want to go to the bumpy slide park, NO OTHER PARK WILL DO.

I've also learned, however, that while you prefer to stick with the familiar, you usually enjoy seeing something new, even though you won't ask for it. In fact, you usually fight with me about it. Like when I dragged you over to see Shamu underwater, you were not thrilled to be skipping out on the running in the field. But once we got there you were delighted by the killer whales and have asked to go there every time we've been back.

I hope that with time you will learn that I have your best interests at heart and will begin to trust me when I want you to try something new.

But I also hope that you don't forget how to assert your own opinion. I want you to have a voice in how your days go and a decision on what things you decide to do. The last thing I want for you is do something just because someone else says it's important/cool/necessary and no other reason. I want you to be the judge of what is important.

I may or may not regret saying that later.

The point is, Johnny, I love who you are. You are sweet to your family (even Hank), good at compromising, incredibly smart, and so much fun. Yes, sometimes you can be stubborn and completely unreasonable, but most of us can be that way sometimes. It just means you're human. A little human that can make me laugh one second and erupt with frustration the next. But I wouldn't have it any other way. Well, maybe I could do with a little less frustration, but I'll take the good with the bad.

Happy birthday, Johnny! I love you.


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