To My Son on Turning Three

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Dear Son,

Just a few days ago, we celebrated your third birthday. You are no longer a baby and will be leaving toddlerdom behind soon. You became a big brother a few months ago, will be attending preschool in the fall, and just went to your first day of summer camp. I think both of us are feeling a bit bittersweet these days.

First, the sweet. I love you so much and always will.

I adore your kindness and sense of responsibility. I smile as I see you share your toys with friends. I love that you want to pick up garbage on the playground and throw it in the trash, even though I really wish you’d let me do it. (Ew.) Your love for your brother overflows, as you constantly want to touch and kiss him.

I love watching you grow and mature, constantly exploring new concepts and ideas. While I may sound exasperated at the twenthieth repeat of “Wanna say that” (I want you to say that) as you point to every car in the neighborhood, I value your inquisitive nature. You trust that I know what things are and will be willing to explain them to you.

Your sense of humor is becoming more individual, as you play with words and relationships between them. Even though I don’t want you to say it outside the house, I can’t help but laugh when you say I’m “boobing” your brother instead of nursing him.

I’m impressed by your newfound physical abilities and skill at judging risk. These days, you can climb nearly every piece of playground equipment without needing me to spot you. Last week, you even scootched onto the big kid swing by yourself and created a bit of back-and-forth motion.

And yet, I have a twinge of melancholy as I watch you. So often, I’m watching you from a distance. Gone are the days when you needed to be right by my or daddy’s side at all times. I didn’t even get to see you off to summer camp – it was my first week back in the office after maternity leave. At the park, I’m tied to your brother, whether nursing him or not wanting to push the stroller over grass while he sleeps. When you climbed on the swing, I was peering under the big play structure on the other side of the playground. Later, I watched you talk to a couple of older kids on the path, seeing all of you smile without hearing what was said.

At your birthday party, your daddy worried there wouldn’t be enough kids, blaming himself for not providing enough social interaction. Of course, he shouldn’t have felt guilty. But soon he’ll soon no longer be responsible for most of the time you spend with other kids. In preschool, you’ll meet children without us there to mediate, free to make friends without our facilitation. For the first time, there will be parts of your life that your dad and I are simply not a part of.

I rejoiced the transition from baby to toddler, never terribly fond of infants’ constant physical need. But now, I find myself both proud and sad, smiling with a lump in my throat. I know that even as I stay here with my arms open, maintaining a safe harbor for you, that we’ll never have the same intimacy and closeness as we once did.

I see that shift in you too. In your rejection of me since your brother was born. In the mix of your emotions coming home from summer camp – the excitement as you recalled painting with other kids and the sadness when you realized that Daddy wasn’t there. In the wails you cried about having to take a bath, upset for reasons you didn’t quite understand. All of these big, conflicting emotions overwhelming and confusing you.

As you grow and find your own independence, I want you to remember that we love you no matter what. Our love is something that will never fade and only grow stronger. As you explore further and further out in this big, beautiful, terrifying world, we will always be here for you to come home to and to leave once again.