Holy shit, you’re almost four. In less than two weeks, you’ll officially be a little boy. Sometimes I still see traces of the baby I once bounced and rocked, but your body is already shaping up a lot like your dad’s – tall and lanky. You’re stretching out like a caterpillar before my very eyes, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do, but can you try not to do it in such a hurry?
We’ve come a long way, kid. I don’t often realize how far until a new mom mentions problems with breastfeeding, colic, or sleepless nights – I suddenly flash back to your first months and remember how unbelievably lost I felt. I still feel that way much of the time, only now I’m used to it. My lack of knowledge and understanding is as comfortable as old friend. And I trust myself more, not necessarily because I know I will always make the right decision, but because I trust that any wrong decision is made with your best interest at heart, which means it will likely all play out okay in the end.
And because you’re incredible. You’re equally protective of, and aggressive toward, your sister. I’m so glad that someone’s around to punch her occasionally, because I’m not allowed to, and we both know she needs it. You’re such a wonderful blend of easy going and painfully controlling (in other words, a good mix of your father and me). You’re handsome and funny, a lot like your Uncle Joey. Although you nor I had the pleasure of knowing him, I know that he was loved by everyone he met, and I like to think he watches over you, making sure you get into just the right amount of trouble.
Already I can see glimpses of your sweet, sensitive heart when you bristle at the thought of someone laughing at you, instead of with you; when you offer an extra long hug every once in awhile; when I overhear you asking your sister if you can kiss her knee after she scrapes it at the park. Already, I agonize over the thought of anyone (especially me) unwittingly crushing your sensitive spirit, forcing it into hiding. But, you are also tougher than I give you credit for and I’ve learned by now that I control no part of this show.
You were on your own life journey from the moment it all started, and my role is to simply to guide and support.
On that note, I thought this might be a good time for me to make some promises and apologies where necessary. After all, there is no rulebook for this parenting job, and I know I don’t get it exactly right much of the time. So, just like many couples renew their vows on big anniversaries, this seems as good a time as any to renew my vows as your mom, to remind you of my intentions and of what I hope for our journey together the next 365 days.
I pledge to care more about who you are than what you do (or don’t do). Far too often, I let my own pride and self-consciousness affect my behavior toward you. That time in the grocery store when I grabbed your arm a little too hard, because you threw a tantrum and everybody was looking at me. Sometimes, my fear of being seen as a horrible mom who has no control of her children overrides my ability to be calm and forgiving. I’m sorry and I’ll try harder in that department.
I pledge to let you help me cook, bake and clean. Even though it drives me up the wall to watch you make a total mess of my kitchen, I will try to remember that sending you out into the world with the ability to take care of yourself (and maybe someday, your partner) trumps any desire I have for spotless counters.
I pledge to be the bad guy. To continue harping on you to “cover your mouth when you cough,” and to annoy the shit out of you by insisting you say “please” and “thank you.” I want you to have good friends by being a good friend, which means playing nice with others and not being an asshole. Manners are part of that.
But, I also pledge to baby you more. You’re often asked to be the brave, strong big brother while your sister is mostly coddled to death. I hear that’s part of the deal when you have a little sister, but I grew up an only child, so I can’t confirm that fact. Just know that I do recognize the different expectations I set for you and your sister, and that I’m working toward being more even-handed, not only because you’re still very much a little boy who deserves to be babied every now and again, but because I want your sister to be tough as hell, too.
I pledge to make more time for curiosity and exploration. When you want to wander through the grocery store aisles at a snail’s pace, or when you insist on stomping in every puddle between the car and the daycare drop-off, I will try my best to explore with you. I never want you to lose that overwhelming sense of curiosity that propels you to taste, touch, smell and destroy.
Finally, but most importantly, I pledge to let you go. For the next year, you’re going to be rocketed out of your comfort zone and the quiet privacy of your safe, familiar home. Your dad and I want to travel and show you the world, but I know that won’t always be as fun as it sounds. I know that you get homesick easily, so this next year will be rather trying for you. My hope is that this parent-imposed journey also stretches you in the best ways and brings us closer as a family. Through it all, I will try my best to quiet my own need to control everything and to give you tastes of independence and autonomy, even when every bone in my body screams to do everything for you, or shield you from every discomfort. You’ll never learn how brave and strong you are unless I let you.
This year will be a big one for all of us. Leaving the states and trying to establish ourselves in a foreign place will be difficult, I’m sure. I wonder sometimes if the experience will affect you positively or negatively – will you resent us for yanking you away from the world you’ve come to know, or will you look back and feel grateful that you got to experience a wide panorama of landscapes? Every once in awhile, I have to remind myself that I have no control over the outcome.
I don’t know which decisions of ours will turn out to be “mistakes” or “successes.” I’m not sure any decision is 100 percent one or the other.
All I know for absolute certain is how very proud I am of you, and how grateful for this opportunity to help shape your life in any meaningful way. Raising a human being is a horrifying proposition and an unimaginably enormous task, and the fact that I get to do this is kind of insane. This road is 8 percent gut-wrenching fear, 92 percent love and awe. I hope that this year, you feel from me mostly the latter.
I love you forever, my son.