Today you turn forty-four months old. One morning early this month you woke up, took a look around your bed and suddenly realized that it was not, in fact, barricaded by an electrically-charged barbwire fence. And I guess you were overcome by the enormous fortune of that, maybe you sat there for a few minutes figuring out the mathematics of what it meant, and then you got out of bed without calling for us first. This has never happened before, not once, and thinking that I was hearing the pitter-patter of the dog’s paws on the carpet as he came to greet us that morning, I turned over in bed only to be greeted by your very white, very human face. For a brief moment I thought something terrible had happened to the dog, some freak chemical experiment that I had not heard during the night, and for several seconds I lay there screaming because it was early and my vision was blurry. I seriously thought the dog’s head had suddenly ballooned to twice its size and had grown a mask of human skin. You just go ahead and picture waking up to an image like that and see if you can maintain control of your bowels.
That particular discovery plus several nights spent in a strange hotel in San Francisco have turned you into a bit of a midnight roamer, and there hasn’t been a single night in the last three weeks that we haven’t had to get up and walk you back to your bed, three or four times a night. You’re always complaining about how dark it is, or how you need a drink of water, or how it’s cold in your room, always searching for some excuse to be up and out of your room at three o’clock in the morning. Listen, you are going to spend so many late nights of your life cramming for exams or finishing up an English paper or, let’s be honest, trying to figure out exactly where you are and how you got there, chances are that it started with the Jägermeister, so why not get some rest now? There is nothing going on that early in the morning, no party, no buffet, no meet-and-greet with Dora, so GO TO BED. Besides, three o’clock is a great time to be asleep, just think about all the fabulous things you could be dreaming about at that hour, like a swimming pool full of chocolate ice cream, or Jake Gyllenhaal dressed in nothing but a corn tortilla. See what I mean?
So something happened this month, and all of a sudden you’re obsessed with gory things. Weird gory things, like crushed insects and bleeding wounds. If either your father or I stub our toe or cut our finger, your first response is not, hey there, are you okay? It’s I WANNA SEE, and you won’t let us bandage the wound until you have thoroughly inspected it and determined that it is, indeed, very gross. I can’t even throw away a piece of moldy cheese until you’ve examined it, and the other night when I was changing into my pajamas in our closet, trying to hurry so that your father wouldnâ€™t see my half-naked body tucked behind the wall of hanging belts and think PARTY IN THE CLOSET, you were clinging to my leg, barraging me with questions, pointing to the tiny alcove at the back of the closet we use to store Christmas decorations, and I stupidly told you, no, you canâ€™t go in there because of all the spiders on the floor. I might as well have said BEHIND THAT CURTAIN ARE A MILLION M&Mâ€™S. Because you will not stop talking about the spiders, can you see them? Can you see them now? Is there an appointment book where I can schedule you in to see them? And because I now have this leverage, you better believe I’m going to wield it every chance I get. Wanna see the spiders? THEN FIX ME A HOT DOG.
Recently your obsession with junk has become almost unmanageable, and on any given day our living room looks like a landfill. You collect everything — straws, napkins, junk mail, bubble gum wrappers — and many times I have sat down on the couch only to hear something crunch underneath my butt. And there behind the cushion is a piece of paper I had thrown away, INTO THE GARBAGE CAN, several days earlier. You call it “my stuff,” and you like to take piles of it and shove it into various purses given to you by the Avon World Sales Leader. I’m not even lying, you’ve got thirty or forty different purses filled with trash, all of them scattered in different corners of the house, and the worst part about it is you remember exactly what trash is in which purse. So when I go and do the logical thing, like I don’t know, GET RID OF IT, we have to listen to you scream for days about how you can’t find THE BUTTERFLY! THE BUTTERFLY! And we’re all, the butterfly? And then you stop breathing, and we have to call the paramedics, and when they show up and ask what happened, I have to explain that your esophagus closed up because I THREW AWAY A POSTCARD FROM THE DENTIST.
Preschool could not be going better, although there are mornings when I have to dissuade you from packing some of “your stuff” into the school bag. I think your teacher really likes you because she’s always got a story for us when we come to pick you up. Just today she looked up from a group of kids to say hello to you in the morning, and when you waved hello back to her she told us that you are always polite, always saying thank you and asking please in the right circumstances, always eager to share and acknowledge her when she asks you to do something. This is great news because your father and I have worked very hard to teach you these manners, and we think that one of the most important things you can carry with you in your life is the ability to recognize that you’re sharing the Earth with other people. It’s something my parents were careful to teach me, and my father always made sure to show me how to give up a seat on the bus for someone who needs it more, or to look a stranger in the eye and ask them how their day is going. This advice always proved wise, at least until I went to England for a semester in college, and a stranger actually spit at me when I tried to make a joke about the weather. I guess some people need their Guinness before you’re allowed to be nice to them.
So you’re polite and friendly, and yet stubborn and unrelentingly difficult, this explosive combination that wears us out and makes us pull our hair. You are a fire we spend our day containing, and sometimes when we collapse on the floor next to the bed at night because we didn’t have the energy to walk that extra foot, we think, okay, tomorrow we’re going to figure this out, and then we giggle because we know that you will not be solved by a simple Google search. Sometimes our days are really, really hard, like that one time you lost that Cheerio, remember that? Your father and I will not ever forget that, and that night like most other nights we lay in bed laughing until we cried about how you stood there screaming as Chuck licked it off the floor. This is life with a three-year-old, the kicking and screaming, the tackling and falling to pieces, all of it. It is a thrilling, exhausting ride with the most vibrant human being I’ve ever known, and my memories of this time are so colorful, so vivid and full of texture. My only sadness is that your memories of this time will not be as clear, so I want you to know that here, now, after a day of tripping over piles of sacred trash you have left in the middle of the floor, the three of us together, we’re having a blast.