Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Almost Four

 Dear Finny,

You’re almost four.  Four in four days.  And today after lunch you told me you wanted to be five.

“No, no, no…” I shook my head at you.

“Why not five?”

“Not yet.  That’s too fast,” I said, “For now, you’re just going to be four.  And you’re still three.”

Three, almost four.  I remember this age from when I was there.  I remember that when I was six, I told people I was four.  Still wanted to be four, because in my mind, four was the last age that the grown-ups thought you were cute.  It was the last age you could be before they would ship you off to school every day.  Four meant being home with Mommy.  Sitting on laps.  Soft, cute, little.  Something after four seemed to mean that you were no longer cute, you were no longer a baby—you were a kid and things would be expected of you.  Unconditionally loved, but no longer unconditionally adorable.

And now here I am, about to be the mom of a four-year-old and I find myself in a familiar place, but on the other side.

As I tucked you in for nap today, I asked you, as I always do if you wanted me to lay with you, and for the first time in a year and a half, you said, “No.”

“You don’t?” I asked, trying to hide my surprise, as I slid off my shoes.

“No, Mommy.  I’m going to be four soon and so I should learn to go to sleep by myself,” I heard myself echoed back to me in tiny resoluteness. 

“Okay, you’re right,” I said.  Relieved because I could sneak off and get something done without having all energy drained from me.  Sad because I love laying beside you, snuggled up with my baby as you pester me with nose kisses and plans for playing Tarzan after nap.

As I started to walk out the door, you called your own bluff.  “No, I want you to lay with me.”

And I did and you kissed my nose and planned out the Tarzan game while I gently told you to close your eyes…and your mouth.

And since you actually fell asleep today, now I get to sit down and record this for you, so that you remember who you were at three, almost four, and who I am right now as your mommy.

Finny, you talk incessantly, almost without stopping, which is why, despite what the child psychologists say, we sometimes watch shows.  It gives us a break while you refuel your imagination with more “games” to play.

And you are a Master Gamemaker.  “Mommy, I have a new game for you.  It’s called Lion Eats the Mouse.  Mommy, I have a new game for you.  It’s called Tornado Verses Volcano.  Mommy, I have a new game for you.  It’s called Baby Charlie.  I’ll be Baby Charlie and you be Baby Charlie’s Mommy.”

You name it, we’ve played it:  Rapunzel, Tarzan, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Peter Pan, Jungle Book, Finding Nemo, Aladdin, Snow White, Pinocchio, Mona and Ruby (the names of our neighbor girls), Clifford, Wordgirl, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Superheroes, Lady and the Tramp, Berenstain Bears.  Etc, etc, etc.

Any book we check out at the library, any movie or show that ever flashes across the screen, for you, Finn, immediately becomes a game we’re going to play, characters we’re going to be.

It’s a good thing I picked up that acting minor in college.  Being your mom has truly been the greatest role of my career.  I have never had so many opportunities to play dog, cat, princess and volcano all in one day.  You’ve landed me the best roles, right beside you.

Your imagination is bright and colorful and brilliant and fun, but it takes you dark places too.  To bad dreams and worries and tales of how you’re going to drop off all your friends in the dark, dark wood or drop them in the deep, deep sea or how you think we should leave Charlie outside for the wolf.

I’m discovering that three, almost four = feelings and emotions.  You get angry now in a way I never saw before, and you’re not quite sure what to do about it.  So we talk about it.  We work on it.  We try to find a language for it that doesn’t involve saying “hate” and “kill.”  You’re a sweet boy.  Sweet boys should sound sweet.  I’m fighting hard against a violent culture to keep the violent culture out.

And most of the time, you are the sweetest. 

When we were walking to the park the other day after the library, to show your appreciation for a trip to the park, you said, “Thank you, Mommy!  Mommy, I think I’m falling in love with you.”

The best.

I am delighted by how you and Charlie laugh and giggle and speak the unspoken language of brothers.  Charlie lives to entertain you.  And I love that when all the attention is on Charlie as it tends to be when a one and a half year old is around being all cute and little, you are rarely jealous.  You just join in on the laughs, encouraging him to be funny, egging him on.

I can’t capture all that you are to me right now in a letter.  Your cute, boney knees.  Your contagious laugh.  Your sweet, practical matter-of-fact way of negotiating the plan for the afternoon right down to the apple juice, the cheese and crackers and the route we will take to the park.

But I can tell you, I love this time with you.  There are of course days when the whining and the chatting and the roughhousing and the no-napping send me straight through the roof or the Pinot Noir Cabinet.  But most days, I love just being with you.  Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner beside you.  Watching you play in the sand by the lake.  Hanging from the bar above the slide.  Finding new playground equipment you are brave enough and big enough to climb.  I love watching you slide the library books under the scanner all-by-yourself.  When you grab the pen off the kitchen counter and declare that you are going to write your name as you scribble circles round and round.  When you tell me you and Charlie are playing naked, as I walk in and find your butt in the air and Charlie’s arm out of one sleeve.  When you negotiate the number of yogurt pretzels you’d like.  When you tell me you want to walk.  When you kneel beside me at night and thank God for the day and ask Him to help you listen.  When you show up in our bed at 4 a.m., even though we have a sticker chart to try to keep you out.  When you ask me to sing Baby Mine and hold you like a baby.

And I hope you know, Finn, that that’s what you are.  Always will be.  Three or four or five or thirty-five.  My baby.  Tell your wife I’m sorry.  Still my baby.

Precious.  Precocious.  Perfect.  Finny…three, almost four.

I love you, Finn.


Monday, September 10, 2012

The Sleep Won't Come

I cling to it with white knuckles.  I grip it hard and wrestle with it.  I snake charm it into submission.  I beg for it in hard, fist-clenching, head-pressed-to knuckle prayer. 

The nap.

For a tired mom of little ones, the coffee and cookie in a quiet house at nap time is life-blood.  It’s survival.

And now, after three days of no nap, I sigh, sad, grieving, fearful—Is the nap gone? 

Every time I brag to another momma about my almost four-year-old son who still naps, I look for wood to knock on.  Three hours.  I say.  Three hours!  Every day.  And I watch a sad, distant memory cross their faces as they remember a lover they have lost. 

I don’t really mean to brag, of course.  It’s more like a counting of the blessings.  But I still like to watch their faces to remember how lucky I’ve been.  Finny still naps.  Alleluia.

I’ve been called militant.  I’ve been told I run a tight ship.  But the nap, I sink my teeth into it every afternoon and let its sweet, quiet nectar run down my face.  I snuggle in deep and let its salvation fill me up.  I.  Love.  It.

I drink coffee.  I read a book.  I write.  I pay bills.  I answer emails.  I prep dinner.  I clean…occasionally.  I sleep.  But most of all, I think complete, uninterrupted thoughts for a couple hours every day, and find that by the end, I am ready to adore my children once again.

So for three days now, I’ve witnessed first-hand, the tell-tale signs of the nap fighting back.  Finny still awake in his room after an hour, an hour and a half.  And I contemplate how long I can make him stay in his room and try, try, try hard to fall asleep before it’s just not nice anymore.

“Mommy, I’m AWAKE!”

“Mommy, can I get out now?”

“Mommy, the sleep won’t come.”

On a couple of the no-nap days, he’s come downstairs and we do a puzzle together and have a snack or we read a book or he just kind of plays while I work at paying some bills or checking some email.  And he’s older now, so it’s kind of fun.  He’s almost four now, so we can start to sort-of hang-out together like human beings.  Last Wednesday, he helped me shuck corn on the back porch and we talked about all the parts.  The silks.  The husk.  The corn.  The kernels.  We talked about popcorn and syrup and…I’m no farmer so that’s about as far as we got.  And he’s no great shucker so I did most of the work.  But still, we had time for a little lesson, just he and I, no interruptions from Charlie.  And it was nice to just sit and be with him.

But it’s also been nice to lay with him all these sweet and tender baby, toddler, preschool years, to watch his chest go up and down, to just have a quiet moment to stare in wonder at him.  At his cheeks.  His eyelashes.  His little red lips.  Heaven-sent.

But alas, if the sleep won’t come, then the sleep won’t come.  And I can’t hold her here against her will when she has other places to be, other heads to fill with slumber.

And as much as I beg and plead with it, as much as I wrestle and sing and lullaby it, I have no spells strong enough to stop my little boy from growing up.

And so, I begin the work of trying to embrace it.  This change.  The altering of the entire day we’ve known for four years.  My Finny who takes long naps.  My Finny who snuggles down deep, who cozy-wozies, who succumbs easily to a hand brushed across his forehead, a good back-scratching, a soft lullaby.  My Finny who gave away his Tissa and still held onto his long, afternoon snooze.  My Finny who naps tells me now that the sleep won’t come.  And he’s awake.  And what will we do with even more hours in the day?

We’ll grow.  Together.  Him, filling his brain with more and more new and fun things to learn with extra hours in his afternoon.  And me, filling my bag of tricks with more new and fun things to teach him.

So rather than grieve over the lost nap, I’ll embrace the extra hours I’ll have with him.  In three short years, someone else will be his teacher all day long.  For now, the privilege is mine.

That being said, that being decided, that I will glass-half-full it when the nap has officially made her exit, I still do have some fight left in me.

Which is why I sit here now.  He fought and kicked and cried in his bed this afternoon, but I pressed on with the forehead rub, with the back scratch, with the lullaby.  The sleep would come today.  I knew it with every tear of protest that streamed down his face.  She would come today.  Not yesterday.  Maybe not tomorrow.  But today we’ll all have rest and I’ll drink it down with a cookie on the porch and a breeze and a quiet, quiet house, full of napping babies, big and small.