A Letter To My Son On His Second Birthday
You’re 2 years old today. This year, you experienced a lot of firsts. First words, first school, first surgery, first passport photo (one for the ages, you — red-faced and screaming), first plane ride.
The other day we went on our first bike ride together.
We used to go on family bike rides every evening when I was pregnant with your sister, over six months ago. You sat on the back of Papa’s bike and I rode alongside the two of you. We glided along with the warm/cool North Carolina air in our faces and looked at all the houses in our neighborhood decorated for Halloween, and then Christmas. I waved to you, and you smiled and waved back.
Papa recently had a seat installed on the front of my bike. I asked if you wanted to go for a ride and you said, “Da.” (That means yes.) It was a little awkward to get on my bike with you on the front, and I had to flail my knees outward a tiny bit to ride smoothly, but once we got moving it was easy.
You babbled and pointed at birds and cars and trees and who knows what else, and we both soaked it all in. We rode for 40 blissful minutes.
I was completely aware that it was a special moment.
Not all our special moments are new experiences. Some happen every day, like reading at bedtime. There’s one book we read together that makes me laugh so hard every time we read it: Press Here by Herve Tullet.
In it, the book directs the reader to do things like, “Rub the dot on the left,” “Five taps on the red,” “Try shaking the book.” On each page, I read the instructions out loud and you respond. It always makes me chuckle with how deliberate you are, even though you respond differently each time. Like when I say, “Press the yellow dot,” you tap it once and hard, like you want to quickly move to the next page. Or you tap it nine times. Either way, it’s always intentional and you know exactly what you’re doing. On some pages you react the same way every time. Like when it says, “Clap once,” you clap once. And when it says, “More!” you make the sign for “more” by closing your fingers and thumbs and tapping them together, just like you do when you want more to eat.
But there’s one page that just kills me every time. There’s some build up to it with the previous pages. First it says, “Clap once,” then, “Clap twice,” then, “More!” and finally, when you turn the page, it reads, “Uh-oh, too loud! Quick, press the white dot.”
When I get to this page, all I can get out is “Uh-” before you — faster than lightning — tap the white dot (or at least tap somewhere on the page) as forcefully as you can and make a noise that I can’t describe but it’s like you feel so much urgency that you have to stop whatever is happening as soon as possible.
I can’t even breathe because the laughter is caught in my throat and I stop to kiss you on the cheek because you’re so funny and I can’t believe how funny a 2-year-old can be. I wonder if you feel very strongly about this page or if you just know how much joy it brings me. Either way, it makes my night.
Aside from all the special firsts and all the special moments of this past year, there’s also been some special people.
I’m compelled to mention our new nanny, Rebecca. She’s only with us for two short months before she moves across the country to Oregon, so I’m a little surprised I’m writing about her in this letter, but in less than two weeks she’s already had a huge impact on our family.
Rebecca talks to you like you’re a person. It’s more than just not using baby talk. She gives you the same thoughtfulness and consideration that she gives me and Sam. She doesn’t budge on certain things — like putting on sunscreen before you go outside or washing your hands before you eat — but it never turns into a meltdown on your end, as it sometimes does when you’re with me. Where I have wrestled you to the ground in order to apply sunscreen, Rebecca patiently gives you options like, “Where should we start?” And then you can choose either arm, either leg, your neck, or your face.
When you get to make decisions, you enjoy the process and become a willing participant. You just want some say in the matter. As you should.
The other day you bit Rebecca. Like, really hard.
The one time you bit me really hard I got angry. I yelled out in pain. I plopped you down on the ground and told you it hurt me. You continued to flail around in frustration as I forcefully changed your diaper.
Rebecca, on the other hand, did not get angry. She did tell you that you hurt her, but she said it in a tone that was hurt and sad, not angry. How did you respond? You bit your own hand and started to cry.
I’m not sure if you were curious to know what it felt like, or if you felt bad and wanted to do it to yourself, or if it was something else entirely, but whatever you thought, it seemed like you understood that you hurt Rebecca.
I hate that I’ve been angry with you. Anger solves nothing. I know this, and yet it’s still a struggle because anger has been my go-to emotion for most things for most of my life. Rebecca has shown me what it looks like to be empathetic and understanding, and how that is the best [only] way to reach you and connect with you.
You, George, are my stubborn, strong-willed, independent, funny, sweet, sweet boy with the big, brown eyes who I can’t get enough of. Just as you continue to learn how to manage your emotions and find healthy ways of expressing yourself, so do I.
I love you. Happy 2nd birthday. Let’s go to the aquarium!