Today you turn three, and though you are still so small in the world, it seems like such a big number to me. I play games in my head and think of how fast the past three years have gone and then project forward three more years to when you will be six and in school and it grips my stomach. I am nowhere near ready for you to leave this nest yet. But slowly and surely, you are taking your little steps toward independence.
It’s been such a big year for you, and while I usually write these letters for the purpose of recounting our year together, I’m having a hard time listing the many ways you’ve changed. You are growing into yourself. That’s really the best way I can describe it. Everyday you are learning and growing and developing an understanding of your place in the world and who you want to be. And it’s a part of parenthood that I wasn’t really prepared for because in those first few months and years, you are really just who I want you to be. Most of your opinions were mirrored from my own. But now it’s a whole new way of being together, and it’s been hard to swallow at moments, but we are settling in to ourselves, you and I. Redefining our relationship as the weeks roll by. Learning new things everyday about each other and about ourselves. It’s a journey we’ll still be completing decades from now, I think. Changing in ways and learning to give and take.
This year has brought even more change for you with the introduction of a new person who completely reframed your world. I worried so much in the first weeks with her that you were not getting the one-on-one attention you deserved and that you’d resent your sister for it. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and you are the perfect big brother, and I know there will be days when you don’t believe me, but she is my greatest gift to you. You will grow together and share secrets and commiserate about how crazy your family is, and everyone needs someone who understands where you come from. She is that someone for you, and I hope you keep the bond I already see between the two of you.
And maybe having a newborn in the house is partially responsible for this, but you just seem so big these days. You speak to me clearly so that I know exactly what you mean, and your interests are shifting to that of a little boy, no longer a baby. I’ve read once that imagination is the work of childhood, and I see it all the time as I observe you. Your toy dinosaurs talk to each other. Your train table hosts a full busy scene. You guide your legos to specific formations to create just what you had in mind. It’s a gift to me and a reminder that play and creativity are important for all of us. When I get a little weepy about how old you are and the baby days we are leaving behind, I just think about the fun years in front of us as you’re really entering such a precious time. So much play and imagination lie ahead in these next few years.
And like any normal three-year-old boy, all this play and creativity leaves little time for things like brushing your teeth or washing your hands or eating politely or any other boring tasks that adults find important. This age has its difficulties, no doubt, and though I love you, you frustrate me to no end. We’ve had some rough patches in these past few months, but growing pains are necessary to come out a bigger and better person on the other end, and I feel like you and I have both come out of those moments to find new capabilities we didn’t have before. Parenting is growing, too. One day you will see. And when I consider how much you’ve changed, you handle these challenges pretty well I guess, when all is said and done. We’ve taken you around the world and back this year, and you adapt and roll with us in a way that makes me proud to be your mama.
There are a million things about your three-year-old self I want to remember. Your love of food and wide palette are my pride and joy, and the way you ask, “Mama, what – ah- you cooking?” when you offer to lend a hand in the kitchen makes me smile. Your ability to hug like you mean it has made you famous already among our friends and family, and your little sense of humor surprises me already. I know your charming mispronunciations will fade soon, and I’ll miss them. Your ability to get lost in concentration is one that will serve you well in school and in life, and it’s my favorite thing to do, to watch you focus so intently and so quietly on a particular task. You love to read books, and while you sometimes manipulate me a bit by knowing that mama will never deny a request to read, I hope you keep that interest and passion. You know it’s my life’s work, as a former English teacher, to raise little readers. Your curiosity guides so many moments of our day, and though you don’t fully understand it yet, you’ve seen quite a bit of the world around you. I pray you keep that love of travel and remember there is a big wide world of people to meet and food to eat and places to see. Most of all, your joy is contagious, and you put a smile on my face every single day, Jude. You are going to get some scrapes and callouses along the way in the years ahead; I know that. But keep an open heart and the smile that resides in you. It brightens the perspective of so many of us who know and love you.
Three is a big number for a little boy. You’ve come so far from the days when I first brought you home from the hospital wrapped up in a sleepy little blanket. You’ve changed me in too many ways to count, and that list just keeps getting longer as you teach me more about who I really am and what I’m capable of. Thank you for those lessons, Jude. It’s a privilege to be your mama and to watch you become this amazing little person.
Happy birthday, boy! Keep smiling. Keep learning. Keep playing.