Happy birthday, my little love bug. You are going to wake up and fling your door open and yell, ‘TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY!’ I know this because for the past four mornings you’ve given the morning countdown broadcast, waking your sister and your dad; your enthusiasm can’t be stifled. This intensity of feeling is something you’ve come by honestly—Aunt Hannah and I used to talk about our summer birthdays late into the night beginning just after Christmas.
Today, at age four, you have officially closed the door on your toddler self. It has been a quick change, in the last few months, but you have all of sudden turned into this sort of complete little person. You have every word and you form sentences perfectly. You have a sense of humor. You know all the words to songs we love by Taylor Swift, Adele, The Killers and Needtobreathe. You can operate the television without assistance, deal with all your personal bathroom needs, get dressed, take care of Mae, get your own snack and sit quietly for long periods of time looking at books.
You can almost read, and you have taught yourself. You’ve started adding and subtracting figures in your head without instruction. You’re so smart it’s freaking me out.
Last week you were in the living room watching Planet Earth II, probably the one where the leopard gets the alligator, and Mae was asleep for the night. Dad and I were in the kitchen having a conversation that made me start to cry. I was not crying very loud, but somehow (I don’t know how, because when you watch these nature shows you’re usually locked in) you heard me. You paused the TV and wandered into the kitchen. You asked me why I was crying. I told you sometimes there are just hard, overwhelming things in life that make me cry. You hugged me so tight and said, ‘I love you, mom.’ Jack, how did you already figure out that this is the best thing to do when someone is crying?! You didn’t panic, you didn’t try to fix my situation or get all the details or run away because seeing me cry was uncomfortable. You dove right in. I believe this is evidence of your kindness and your sense of compassion.
You have always been really easy to have around because you’re agreeable and a little introspective and funny and curious and comfortable with everyone. I took that for granted I guess, because this year when more sides of your personality began to shine through, I was taken off guard. You have a strong reaction when something isn’t fair, and I’m trying to teach you that in life there will be a thousand things that don’t balance out but that, at the end of the game, what matters is the people and not the result. However, I am so thankful that you desire justice with such resolve. I hope you always, always maintain this conviction.
You also test me with your mind, trying to out-smart me and find ways around my parameters. It’s so tricky! I am having a hard time helping you grasp the concept of ‘truth’ and why it is the most important thing that can exist between us. This, in particular, makes my heart ache because my biggest biggest hope is that we can we can trust each other. I know we both have to earn each others’ trust, and I can’t make you perform, I can only do my best to be honest with you.
The last thing I want to tell you is how proud I am of your courage. You used to be more timid, but then Santa brought you that scooter and son, you’re a maniac! I would never take a hill that steep at that speed, not in a hundred million years. You are fearless.
I used to say ‘I love you,’ and you would smile. Sometime in the last several months you started saying, ‘I love you too, mom.’ Thank you for this, and for the millions of other ways you consider my feelings even though I’m the mom and your the kid.
Still, every night, I sneak into your room and lay beside you on your bed so I can watch you sleep. In sleep you are peaceful and your face looks the most like it used to when you were just a baby. I usually whisper I’m sorrys to you when you’re asleep because it’s then, in the quiet dark, when I can see you for what you are – a little boy – that I realize the ways I’ve been too hard on you or put myself first. Usually when I whisper to you, you roll into me and press your nose into my arm.
Jack, I love you as big as the ocean. Happy fourth birthday.