Letters to the O: Nine Years

Wow. So this is embarrassing. While I have made some halfassed effort to journal your sister’s growth in yearly increments, it appears that I have not written your yearly letter in four years. FOUR YEARS. What the hell have I been doing that kept me so busy that I could not sit down once a year and chronicle the amazing kid you have become? The answer is nothing. There is no excuse. I can only say I’m sorry. And that I was distracted. And for a good half of that time either pregnant, hormonal, sleep deprived or all three. And yet, inexcusable. Sorry, O man. I promise to do better. And here I am. Doing better.

The most monumental change in your life has been school. And your hellion of a sister. I guess it’s probably a toss up which has inflicted the most havoc these past few years in your life. You began your academic career in a brilliant blaze of glory, testing right out of kindergarten and into first grade. This was encouraging and devastating all at once. It was a bit like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. Sink or swim. I was confident you could swim, but it took you some time to find your rhythm. I had your sister soon after that, which complicated things emotionally for you. You had night terrors, frequent accidents at school and emotional meltdowns at the drop of a hat. And then we sold our house, the only home you had known since you were born, and moved across town into a huge rental home. After living there for about nine months, we transitioned again to a rental closer to Salt Lake City. In order to minimize the chaos of all this change, I made the decision to teach you second grade at home through an online charter school. This was a fabulous fit for you academically and as a natural hermit, I loved the flexibility and privacy. But it was a disaster in pretty much every other way. I spent a lot of time feeling like a drill sergeant with unreasonable expectations, half a foot in the schoolroom and the other in the kitchen, trying to make sure your sister didn’t consume anything poisonous. I remember once you told me tearfully that even if you had a birthday party, you didn’t have any friends to invite. It made my heart stick in my throat, literally sick with grief for you. So the following year, you tested into the gifted program at our local school district and I began transporting you there. You had a teacher that was a perfect cliche- a difficult, crabby older woman with an aversion to technology and a penchant for focusing on ridiculous details. All the kids already knew each other from previous classes. It was a struggle at first. But you stuck with it.

This year you are in fourth grade at the same school, in the same program with some of the same kids. And all that consistency has been like a miracle cure. When I pick you up, you are smiling. You finally have a group of four or five close friends. You started a comic book club and have talked about coding a website to support it. For Christmas, you and your best friend drew each other comic books complete with Play-Doh models of the main characters. It was adorable. Your teacher this year has been more relaxed and all that anxiety I used to see in your body language at the end of the day has simply melted away. Academically, you always excel. It’s rare to see you struggle with anything. And although you sometimes express boredom with the material presented at school, you are excited to study science this year. Your favorite subjects are recess, lunch, science, art and library. You hate group projects because they require you to work with other kids and to perhaps accept work that is not up to your standards. Your handwriting is still sloppy and you are obnoxiously lazy about it, but I’ve given up worrying about it. In the world you will inhabit, I’m pretty confident it’ll be a moot point. The last standardized testing you received placed your reading and comprehension levels at the middle school level.

You consume mysteries and graphic novels at a breathtaking rate. We spent the last year reading Harry Potter aloud and you became obsessed with the intricacies of the story. I still read to you a chapter from a classic novel every night. I’m reluctant to give it up because I enjoy it so much and as long as you’re willing to continue, we’ll keep at it. While you are an avid reader, you are perhaps a more avid gamer. After watching you finish MarioKart on Wii twice before the age of six, I kind of figured this would happen. You’ve moved onto Playstation now and have been playing Gran Turismo with Dad often since Christmas. And while you are still very much interested in playing matchbox cars and racing, you’ve really embraced building with Legos and essentially anything Star Wars in the last year. I am positive the thing you will remember the most about these years is how often we begged you to please stop already with the light saber noises. Enough already with the Star Wars noises. Please, God make the Star Wars noises stop.

In addition to video games, you are still really into board games. To the point that if no one else can be convinced to play, you’ll simply play yourself. I’m not sure where all the competitiveness comes from. It seems mostly innate. You are certainly not above throwing a tantrum if you lose. At anything. That frustration just oozes out of you in the form of moaning, snorting, tearful tantrums that end with you a blubbering puddle of child on the floor. Yep. All that has remained mostly unchanged despite our best efforts in the last few years. You are quick to get frustrated, impatient when challenged and defensive when criticized. I think it’s called being human. You just got an extra large dose of it genetically. You’re welcome.

And yet, you are still a very sweet kid. And very, very articulate and considerate. Goodness knows we don’t deserve it, but most of the time you can be trusted to be kind and polite. Especially to younger kids. When we take you to the park, you often end up watching the preschoolers and toddlers, organizing group games and helping them toddle about. You have a natural instinct as a caregiver that I hope we’ve encouraged. Your sister has certainly benefited from it. It has only been recently in the past year that you have decided her aggressive manipulations are no longer acceptable. Up until that point, that little girl had you wrapped right around her possessive little finger. You are still extremely close, but you bicker over toys and food frequently. Rarely does it devolve into physical altercations, but there sure is a lot of whining. And yelling, And grabbing. I knew this day would come, when I would feel like my primary role as parent was to referee. And I hope it goes. Really, really soon.

You’re in your fourth or fifth year of playing soccer. Just this past season I saw it finally click. All those practices, camps, games and hours coaching tumbled into place and you excelled on the field. Not the star of the team necessarily. But engaged, skilled and enthusiastic. It was a thing of beauty to watch. We’ve dabbled in other things- dance and swimming. But soccer seems to be the thing that has become a passion. And we’ll continue to encourage it as long as you’re interested. This year your coach is very, very serious and has you all doing pushups and laps and drills for an hour and a half twice a week in addition to games. You have never rejoiced about exercised. The mere suggestion of a walk can send you into apoplectic fits of despondency. So I was surprised when you began to look forward to all those vigorous practices, coming back to the car dripping with sweat and bare chested.

This year for your birthday I offered to throw you a party for you and your group of friends. I said you could invite as many people as you wanted. That I would do a Star Wars theme. That I would do anything you wanted. You turned me down flat and insisted all you wanted to do was take a road trip to Vegas to visit Grandma. You and I had done this last year on our way to a surprise trip to Disneyland, so I checked to ensure you understood there was no journey to Anaheim in your future. But you confirmed all you really wanted was to spend an inordinate amount of time in a close confined space with us and then a few days at Grandma’s house, basking in her cookies and penchant for spoiling you with new toys. Dad and I left Saffy with Grandma and took you to the strip one evening and stayed at a hotel, watching the Bellagio water show, eating sushi, and going to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I think you might be the only nine year old who requested to do Vegas for his ninth birthday. So kudos to you. Although I did not enjoy having to answer your questions about the cards with the naked women on them. Let’s spend less time watching where we’re walking next time. It’ll save us all from embarrassment.

As you’ve grown, I’ve become increasingly aware that I have very few years left if any when you’ll still consent to holding my hand in public. So every morning when Dad gets in the shower for work during the week, I slip next door into your bed and snuggle you for a few minutes. We’re both drowsy and warm and for a few moments, I’m reminded that you’re still my little boy. That you still need my approval and affection and the warm circle of my arms as much as you ever did. I hope that never changes. Happy Birthday, Owen. Here’s to hoping it won’t be another four years before I remember to chronicle the brilliant kid you have become. Owen6closeup

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Saffron’s Stories: Three Years

Black Balloon

A little over a week ago, we ushered in your third birthday with a party at our house. I’ll confess that while the festivities themselves were a success, I made rather a big mistake. I allowed you to pick the theme for your party by introducing you to Pinterest and letting you browse. This resulted in a candy festooned, frothy pink monstrosity that was frankly the stuff of my nightmares. Saffy’s Sweet Shoppe opened to rave reviews but I’m hopeful it will be replaced next year by something far less decadently feminine. Guests feasted on rainbow cake lined with frosted m&ms, homemade heart shaped marshmallows that looked like fluffy blue clouds, slabs of cookie dough fudge, animal cookie popcorn, homemade salted caramels and pink lemonade. After playing with koolaid tinted salt dough, everyone scoured the backyard for a candy hunt and then returned inside for the cake ceremony and gifts. You adored the new pink kitchen that your father and I built over the course of several evenings of tense assembly and you and your baby friend, Gavin rushed around it, slamming doors and brewing imaginary tea.

The day after your party, we began a journey we had been discussing for sometime- potty training. Despite various attempts involving extensive bribery all efforts to introduce you to the green plastic potty in the bathroom had been refused. In desperation I announced that upon turning three, diapers would disappear from your life. It was like Cinderella where your fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a carriage. One day the diapers would be there. And then, on the stroke of midnight, they would be gone. Poof! This is how life works for everyone, I bluffed. After you turn three, all bodily fluids belong in receptacles that are not attached to your body. The end.

This, as it turns out, was the beginning of a week long game of chicken. You seemed resigned to your fate. Since there would no longer be diapers, you would no longer be peeing or pooping. It seemed difficult, but you bore it with a cheerful attitude and the bladder control that would have been the envy of every parent. You once went almost ten hours without peeing. Without so much as a drop or a whimper escaping. Finally, after holding you down on the toilet and begging you to pee while we both cried, you gave in and let go. I will never forgot the look of humiliation and vulnerability in your eyes at that moment. I felt like a monster. Like I had taken a beautiful, wild thing and broken it. But ever since, you’ve been almost completely potty trained. You wear a diaper at night and while I still have to prompt you, you march to the bathroom and go, eager to exchange all that urine for sugary concoctions from your Halloween bucket.

In most ways, you are very much the same as you were at two. Just amplified. If that is even possible. All that intense passion has exploded into long, drawn out battles over every detail of your existence. Clothing, food, brushing teeth, TV, books, bedtime. Any of it at any moment can be the spark that lights that dynamite in your stubborn little body and sends you into violent orbits of resistance. I think the hardest part of all of this constant emotional scrimmage is that it is highly irrational. You may begin to throw a tantrum about having a piece of candy and by the end of a bout of yelling, tears and stomping, you’ll have convinced yourself that you hate me because I gave you said piece of candy. I have acknowledged, at least to myself, that there is no victory with you. There is only congratulating myself on not losing all of my shit and inserting my own frustration into our skirmish. And a lot of the time, I lose that battle as well.

Bagel raper

Your relationship with your brother has changed significantly. You still enjoy one another’s company, but all of the sweetness of that exchange has been tempered by incessant arguments. He’s begun hiding in his room simply to avoid you raiding his closet, stealing his stuff and hiding it around the house. Or beating him over the head with your tiny fists while laughing maniacally. You still comfort each other, but it takes some serious injury to coax sympathy from either of you. You are like distrustful little soldiers, convinced the enemy is only staging a ploy for your compassion to lure you into further conflict. But boy, can you make each other laugh. Digging tunnels under the covers of Owen’s bed, tickling and yelling and grunting indistinguishable things.

Our relationship remains much the same. You are abnormally attached to me and follow me from room to room, fussing at me and generally making a nuisance of yourself as much as possible. You rebuff Daddy’s advances except as they involve the playground, treats and car rides. My only explanation for this continued obsession is that you trust me and even when I do nothing to deserve that kind of reverence, you bestow it out of habit. I know I’m making you sound like a little tyrant, keeping us all hostage in our own home with your violent terrorism. But really, it kind of feels like that sometimes. In the best way that terrorism can feel, I’m sure.

While your articulation is not as perfect as your brother’s at this age, your vocabulary rivals his and you use your language like the powerful tool it is. To manipulate, cajole and endear. Every night, you ask Daddy and I to come to your bed and talk to you while you regal us. You can still be quiet and reserved in public, especially with strangers. But more and more I see you allowing your sense of humor and mischievous assertiveness to charm and entertain. I think you are beginning to understand that the strength of your personality is a force to be reckoned with and that adults find it disconcerting and amusing. And you should definitely use that to your advantage. Maybe someday, there might be college tuition money at stake.

Physically, it’s all the normal stuff. A little taller, a little bigger. Your eyes remain an indefinable shade that melds brown, blue and green and your hair has darkened slightly. It still looks like spun gold in the sunlight and you delight in swinging it back and forth and yelling- “Look, I can feel it on my butt!” You continue to insist that your hair remain unrestrained, often forming a curtain in front of your face that you perpetually push aside. I used to bemoan that hair curtain that separated the rest of the world from knowing the face that I love, but I’ve grown to appreciate it. The way it flies in all directions, messy and untamed. But so soft to the touch and fine, like liquid silk that slips through your fingers. It suits you.

saffy sunglasses2

This past year we have moved to a new house, hopefully our last migration. A beauty of a place with vaulted, open spaces and lots of sunlight. I know you won’t remember much of the other three houses we’ve lived in since your birth and I’m conscious that this is the place you’ll know as home, this is the room you’ll remember growing up in. There are lots of changes on the horizon for you this year. With certainty, you will begin preschool in some shape or form. I hope to be able to teach you to read. I think you’re capable of it. And this will open doors to worlds that I hope you can discover yourself and grow in for the rest of your life. But most of the big milestones of young childhood are past- walking, talking, potty training. You are more your own person than you have ever been and each day, I hope to do nothing more than to help you feel at home in your skin and to inhabit the world with energy, purpose and kindness. Namaste, little one. Namaste.

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