A Letter to My Son on His Twelfth Birthday

Hey Baby,

I call you “baby” because that’s who you are to me. My sweet baby boy with the enormous eyes like Oreo cookies.

Happy Birthday, Baby. You’re changing fast. Two weeks ago you weren’t taller than me.boy-with-birthday-cake-and-confetti Now you’re taller than me. You have an adorable faint mustache, and your voice is in its Peter Brady phase. You used to have baby fat, but now you’re lean like a library ladder. It’s almost like you’ve become a different person overnight.

But you will always be my baby.

You were born into this family as the little brother. Your big brother loved you like crazy. You followed him everywhere. You climbed on his lap and the two of you stared at the little DS screen together while he played his games, and you cheered him on. He protected you from icky bugs, made sure you learned “parking lot rules” and taught you about Pokemon. You shared sushi, toys, a room and a deep love for each other.  Many nights I’d find you asleep holding hands across the empty space between your beds.

The role of little brother fit you perfectly. You were a silly goofball, carefree and happy.

Then your brother got sick with brain cancer. You were left frequently with your Aunt. You were confused. Things changed. Your brother changed. He looked different. He was in a wheelchair and spent months in the hospital, but all you wanted was to be near him, hug him, talk about Pokemon and make up scenarios for your “guys” with the hundred stuffed animals you both owned. He put his arm around you when you climbed into his hospital bed to watch Nick Jr. You fell asleep holding onto him.

You were an only child for a few years, and this role didn’t suit you. You were anxious and lonely. You never wanted to leave my side (and I didn’t want you to, anyway).

Then you became a big brother to a little sister who thinks you hung the moon.  You thrive in this role. You are an amazing big brother, and you say it’s because you learned from the best. You are protective and fun and funny. You teach her about Pokemon and sushi and “parking lot rules.” Now she’s the silly one and you’re the protector.

I am so amazed by you. Every day I am inspired by your resilience. I aspire to the level of kindness, compassion and curiosity you demonstrate naturally. You are my living example of how to be a good and strong person.

Did you know you saved my life? You were the reason I woke up and got out of bed the day after your brother died. Without you, well, I can’t imagine… You have transformative superpowers in your smile. I am helpless against your cuteness. You give me courage to face any challenge. Last year I wrote an entire screenplay about everything I learned from you.

You own my heart.

When you grow up you want to be a doctor/actor/comedian/research scientist/theoretical physicist — and I think you can make it. I believe in you.

You have a great friend group who accepts you with all your aspirations and antics, especially your bestie who is sunshine in boy form. You look out for each other like brothers — what more can you ask from a friend in Jr. High? What more can you ask from a friend in life?

But don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Stay immature and goofy a while longer. Stay silly. Stay innocent. And I know you will…

Recently, you said, “I know how babies are made. The man puts his ding-dong into the woman’s slipperslap, and then a baby comes out.” First of all, I don’t think I ever heard a better slang term. I’m the proud mom of a word inventor. Second of all, not quite. You really don’t know much at all, and that’s awesome. With all your excelling in academics, I’m relieved you lag behind the kids who ride the bus, go to sleep away camp or hang out behind the 7-11 when it comes to maturity.

I love that you’re a bit of a nerd. I love your dance moves and dry sense of humor. I even love our arguments (you’re so good at it!). You make me laugh every day. You make me happy. And you make me proud.

You make me look better at this job of being a mom than I actually am.

My birthday wish for you is to find your place in this big world. Do not to be overwhelmed by choices. Stay close to the people who love you. Keep a calm heart. Seek happiness, whatever that means to you — you deserve it. Your past doesn’t dictate your future.

Thank you for being mine. Promise me you’ll never be too old to snuggle and watch Saturday Night Live on the couch. And thank you in advance for letting me live in a tiny house in your backyard when I’m an old lady.

Stay cool, Baby. Have an amazing birthday!

I love you more,

Mom

 

Things My Daughter Says (With Exclamation Points)

  1. “You know how much me yuv pink!”
  2. “Me foosey!” (thirsty)
  3. “Me want a donut and Barbie!”
  4. “Where da skizzers an da sticky tape?!”
  5. “Me like lollipops tooooooo much!”
  6. “Me want all da toys me seen on TP yestehday!”
  7. “Me only ticklish everywhere!”
  8. “Tushies are stinky!”
  9. “Me want to win!”
  10. “Me want to be pretty yike a unicorn!”

Let’s Party Like It’s 1979

One day, for no particular reason my son said, “Mom, I think you were born at a good time. You know, before electricity. And then you got to have electricity.” I asked how old he thought I was. My son shrugged.

I was born before a lot of life changing things were ubiquitous — cell phones, the internet, video games, tv remotes, MTV (do they still have MTV?) But one thing I wasn’t born before is electricity. Thank gawd he didn’t say indoor plumbing or ask about my pet dinosaur.

My childhood took place in the 70s, I explained. NOT the 1870s. And we did things a little differently. Most notably, hours went by without my parents having any idea where I was, what I was doing or whom I was with. I had boundaries — the busy streets that bordered my neighborhood — but this left blocks and blocks of territory to roam. I was most likely riding my bike downhill with no hands and without wearing a helmet.

I ate garbage. Not literal garbage but ravioli from a can, cereal with the brightest colors and a lot of Jay’s chips. My mom had a crate of flavored pop delivered to our house once a week and I slurped down the orange ones. Now I won’t buy anything in a can (chemical liners), bright cereals (artificial colors) or pop (sugar).

There were only a handful of channels on our television, which was a giant wooden piece of furniture in the corner of the room, and no remote control. Sometimes my dad shouted from the window for me to come inside to switch shows for him. Today my son speaks into a remote that understands english and changes itself from among hundreds of channels.

boy-sitting-in-grass-clip-artEverything was simple. I don’t remember feeling overstimulated, stressed out or FOMO, which are things my son feels strongly. I often used my imagination rather than electronics to pass the time. I didn’t have expectations of being constantly entertained. A favorite pastime was to stare at the clouds and find animals. I filled a lot of afternoons doing nothing. Yet it was enough.

I don’t think my son feels the same way. He has anxiety from having too many choices and a surreal awareness of the ticking clock hanging over his childhood. He thinks about the choices he didn’t make, things he doesn’t have and the experiences he didn’t create. Nobody escapes this thought loop these days — I certainly don’t — but I don’t remember thinking like this as a kid.

board-game-pieces-clip-artI suggested to my son we have a 1970s day, which meant we eat food I ate at his age and play outside. This was met with little enthusiasm. Canned Italian food was declared “gross” (it is) and going outside was “not good for our skin” (kind of). The whole experiment fell apart after I dug up my old Merlin and showed him what hand-held computer games used to look like.

It’s a vastly different world, and pretending the fun I had in 1979 is relevant to my son now is silly. His life would seem crazy to eleven year-old me. He suffers through brutal amounts of homework that’s more complicated than mine ever was, and I can’t imagine the stress of living with social media during the awkward tween years. (Is tween a new word?) When I put myself in his shoes (which actually fit my feet) I realize I have no idea how he does it. How is he growing up normal and sane with all these distractions? How is he not royally messed up from the pressure?

And when did my cute little baby boy become a tween with his childhood half over? I hate that he’s growing up so fast. It’s like somebody pressed fast-forward on our lives and then one day he woke up taller than me.

But he will always be my baby boy, who somehow thinks I did my homework by lantern light, yet knows too much about other more important things.

 

 

Even More Things I Say A Lot (With Exclamation Points)

  1. “Why are your clothes on backwards?!”
  2. “How many days have you been wearing that?!”
  3. “Five more minutes ended twenty minutes ago!”
  4. “It wasn’t really a question!”
  5. “Did you stick your head in the sink again?!”
  6. “Don’t touch my stuff!”
  7. “Pudding isn’t breakfast!”
  8. “Put the couch cushions back on!”
  9. “You have ice cream in your hair!”
  10. “Don’t feed the dog your banana!”

Butterfly: My Daughter’s “Diffwent Mom”

I’ve written previously in “Like Space Mother, Like Daughter” about how my little girl surprised me with her claim she had a “diffwent mom” before me. I have since learned more details.

pretty-butterflyHer name is Butterfly, she has purple hair and wears skirts. She is married to Brian and they live somewhere cold (I asked her to show me on a map and she pointed to Alaska). Her siblings are baby twin sisters named Bella and Rosy, and a baby brother named Junior. Brian likes to fish and they eat what he brings home. My daughter says she was seven years old when she lived with them. She doesn’t know why she had to leave and live with me. She claims to love me and Butterfly the same.

I find it fascinating that Diffwent Mom’s name is Butterfly. The spiritual and symbolic significance impresses me, as many people believe butterflies represent the soul, and are a powerful symbol of endurance, change, transformation and resilience. The journey from caterpillar to butterfly is one of confusion and struggle before the creature emerges from the isolation of its chrysalis a more beautiful, enlightened, and less fearful version of itself.butterfly-chrysalis

The butterfly is a good allegory for recovery of any kind — from loss, grief or illness — all of which I know too well. You probably do too. A lot of people know what it’s like to go through a process of self-isolation and emerge braver and stronger.

I feel badly for Butterfly, if she truly exists somewhere she’s mourning her loss. She doesn’t know how much our little girl is loved and adored. She can’t see that she’s happy and glowing. I relate to her struggle, because I wonder about my deceased son every day. I wonder if his soul was returned somewhere in the world, being loved while he talks about his Diffwent Mom with brown hair who likes to wear flannels, whom he slightly remembers and hopefully misses. If this scenario is possible, I’d wish he’d still love me the same as his present mom.

I want Butterfly to know that I understand, and she doesn’t have to worry because I’m loving our girl enough for both of us. If I could write Butterfly a letter, I’d tell her she did a good job fostering our girl’s exuberant and silly soul which arrived intact, along with her big personality and feelings. She came with an overflowing capacity to charm and spread love, which fills my heart with joy every day.

My daughter talks about Diffwent Mom and “baby bwaddah and sistahs” several times a day. I think she was a protective and doting big sister because now she frequently wants to give them her leftover food, outgrown clothes and baby toys. She talks about their favorite foods, activities and colors. I’m fascinated by her stories, especially the details, like Junior won’t eat macaroni and cheese but her sisters love it. Her sisters have brown hair but Junior has no hair (“but him still cute”).

purple-butterfly-transparentI’m oddly comforted when she talks about life with Butterfly. It gives me hope that maybe our souls, no matter where they travel in the world, never forget love. If that’s true, then my son will never forget me. My daughter’s fantastic tale about a possible past life makes me believe my deceased son could still remember me. His Butterfly.

My Daughter’s Pants are on Fire

“What’s behind your back?” My toddler daughter stood next to my bed with a strange look on her face and both hands behind her. I knew she was hiding something. I just hoped it wasn’t a kitchen knife.

She shook her head, “Me not want to tell you.”

I approached her carefully. Surprisingly, she didn’t run away. Behind her back I found a half eaten candy bar. The other half, I presumed, was in her tummy. This happened after I told her flat out no more candy before dinner. I asked, “Did you eat candy after I told you not to?”

“No,” she answered. Then my daughter stood there all smiley and cute.

My baby lied to me. She lied like she invented it. She did it quickly, convincingly, and with minimal remorse. All I could think of was how much bigger her lies would get, and how much better she’s going to be at lying when she becomes a teenager. I thought, this one is going to be trouble.

Is she showing me her true colors? Is my cute-little-sweet-squishy baby girl a born liar?

It got me wondering — is lying an innate skill or a learned one? And what does this really say about my baby? Surprisingly, Dr. Google says toddlers who tell lies may have advanced cognitive skills, like a diabolical criminal mastermind (I added that last part). Apparently lying is a complicated skill. It’s a sign of early intelligence and requires my cute-little-sweet-squishy baby girl to know how to pander to her audience, namely me, and tell me what she thinks I want to hear, not dissimilar to a master showman who runs for high office. Some psychologists suggest toddlers lie because they can’t distinguish between reality and fantasy, again an asset along with her tiny hands which may propel her to high office.

So, I guess I’m raising the first woman president?

The advice is for parents not to put their toddler on the spot, so of course the first thing I said was, “Did you just lie to your mommy?” My tiny Punky-Cutester blinked her adorable baby blues and answered, “No.”

blond-girlShe lied again. She ran away. I chased her into the kitchen and got there in time to see her throw the half eaten candy bar into the junk food basket on the counter (which is right next to the fruit bowl, btw). She giggled the whole time. I asked, “What are you doing?”

“Nuh-fing,” she answered. Then tried to look all innocent but it only came across as adorable.

I’m pretty certain the Candy Bar Lie (yes, I’ve named the incident) is my daughter’s gateway lie. It will be a slippery slope toward a lifetime of far-fetched cover-ups and shirking responsibility.

There’s a common misconception that kids don’t lie. Hahahahahaha. Of course they do! Anyone who has kids knows this. They lie to get things, they lie to get out of things, they lie to please us, they lie because it’s Tuesday and other ridiculous reasons. Dr. Google says it’s a completely normal developmental process. I just don’t want my baby to lie to me. Ever.

My sister is an early childhood expert and she explained I shouldn’t worry about my daughter telling lies unless she shows no remorse. Uh oh. I looked at my daughter after flinging the candy bar into the basket, I swear, she looked proud of herself.

I’m not used to living with a good liar. My sons were both bad liars. My middle one likes to tell people my husband and I once left him and his brother home alone while we went to a wedding. Of course this never happened. I advised him if he’s going to lie it should at least be rooted in reality. For all his smarts he never learned this fundamental truth about lying, which is why another time, after staying at my sister’s house, he told me his Aunt washed his hair with poo. Upon further grilling he recanted and to save face insisted he meant to say “shampoo.” I once asked my older son what was the worst lie he ever told me. He responded, “That I brushed my teeth when I didn’t.” See, bad liars.

But the girl child impresses me with her natural ability.

Back in the 80s I was allowed to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert because I told my father he was a Jewish rock star. Maybe I repressed all the other lies I’ve told my parents, but that’s the only one I remember. I’m sure I lied about drinking and covered my tracks when I was actually doing stupid things with my friends, but the specifics evade my memory. The world has changed so much I can’t bear the thought of someday being on the receiving end of my daughter’s lies about her whereabouts.

I have to nip this in the bud. But how?

Dr. Google says there’s not much I can or should do. Lying is a developmental milestone and should be celebrated (I added that last part).

So I guess I’ll tell you I’m proud my baby girl fibbed to my face…but that would be a lie.