You love the idea of being big. You’re always asking what you can do when you’re bigger. Can I have a nose ring like that man when I’m bigger? How old will I be to get FOUR books at night? How old will I be when I can drive? When I’m older can I have a purple eyebrow? There’s a lot of animals in this bed so it’s getting crowded so if I get much bigger, I might need a bigger bed, Mama.
And you’ve done it: now you’re big. You have cotton doggie underpants on your tushie, but you don’t have a diaper or pull-up. You get yourself dressed. You ask for napkins to pick up the food you drop on the floor. The hair we never thought you’d have stretches, if we pull it straight, nearly to your waist.
You love language but want to use it like a big person. You want to write your own name on anything that needs labeling. You see me typing and you ask to do letters, and I open Microsoft Word to caps lock and 48-point font. You can tell stories for hours and you love to sing. You speak in made-up sounds and when you hear foreign languages you try to mimic them. You love to read. You want everything read to you: the insurance bill I’m looking at, the street signs, the catalog copy. You love your books so much that when we come to the last page you often flip it to the front cover and ask for an encore. Your very favorites live in your purple purse, and your most very wonderfulest favorite gets snuggled by you in bed each night. You avoid diminutive word endings (except for on doggie or kitty): you dress yourself in your jams at night, not jammies; you tell us you have to use the pot, not the potty; and in the waking hours you often as not call me Mom. (In the middle of the night you still call me Mama and when you’re brain won’t slow down at bedtime and you have more ideas to discuss you call me Mommy, as in ohhh, Moooooommmmmmmyyyyyyy! Ohhhhh, Mommmyyyyy? Mommmyyyyy? Mommy, come here, I need you! Can you tell me what letters make Isabel’s name?)
I’ve been thinking about how big Three is for several weeks, since the day I had trouble with an errand. I had expiring store credit to use at Babies r Us. You’ve aged out of the contents of an entire store. I had trouble finding anything to buy. Their books and toys are too simple for you; you don’t need bottles or diapers or a new stroller or crib or burp cloths. I remembered similarly a few weeks before that when you’d accompanied me on a quick trip into Buy Buy Baby for something for your sister. You’d wanted me to get you something, too. We had a hard time finding anything. That day, you got Jelly Belly gummy bears from the parent-robbing displays near the cash register. In Babies r Us, I got you two pairs of jams (size 4, the biggest and last size they carry).
You have a very big heart, and if you weren’t naked most of the time you’d wear it matter-of-factly on your sleeve. You want me to unroll the car window to every panhandler. You hear me say “ouch” and you run over, asking if you can give me a kiss on my boo-boo. You rush to your sister’s side when she cries. You have appointed yourself her spokesperson and you ensure her needs are met, often in a creative way that benefits both of you. Your face fills with sunlight when she comes to you and if I ever doubt your abilities to be quiet or to be just for a minute not rambunctious, I need only watch your tenderness towards her. And your feelings: they’re enormous. Your happiness fills the atmosphere with unprovoked, tinkling laughter. Infectious, it makes me want to do anything to keep it coming. It softens the hardest edges at the end of a long day. But your upsets are just as big. You can bring a whole party to silence with your cries. My very biggest worry for you is that you will learn to ride your emotions through their currents without letting them control your navigation. You are so much like me, love. I think I’ve mostly learned this lesson, but I hope you learn it faster and more easily.
How can you be three? Of course you’re three. It’s not to say that you’ve grown too fast. You’ve grown perfectly, of course, all blue eyes and belly button laughs and curly tendrils and jumping bean interpretive dance. It’s just: how has it been three years already? These three years are the most memorable of my life, and not because they’re the most recent, but because you’ve filled them with the highest frequency of memorable moments.
In case somehow you ever forget, I want to tell you here about your favorite game we play, called “Laugher, No Laughing.” Even more than “Help me, I’m stuck with tape!” in which you contort yourself in the most unlikely positions and declare yourself adhered to the floor or the wall or my shoulder blade and one must cut you out with finger scissors to freedom, “Laugher, No Laughing” makes both of us giggle loudly enough that your father has more than once reminded us that people who wake your sister could get punishments. You say, Mama, you tickle me and I’ll laugh and you say, “No laughing!” And I do. I tell you we live in a no-laughing house and I don’t want any laughing and laughing Is Not Allowed and you laugh louder and louder and louder. And the best part isn’t your happiness, isn’t the music of your squeals, it’s that you, who are so particular with your body and your space, you want me to play with you at all.
You make me laugh along with you, love, but if this letter sounds a little sappy, it’s because whoa, kid, do you know also how to make me cry. You carry me right along your currents. And it’s so, so bumpy. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Happy, happy, happy third birthday.
I love you,