Dear Mr. Man,
It is your 4th birthday today. Right now you are downstairs with your Papa and grandparents wearing the crown of paper people of all the colors of the rainbow that your friends at school made for you. You also have on the T-Rex button with a blue ribbon that I got for you yesterday and your Spiderman shirt. Today, and every day, you are my superhero.
I am upstairs holding your sister as she naps. Otherwise I would be downstairs with you experiencing this instead of documenting it. Though, as you well know by now, I am an observer, a documenter. And my challenge in life is to be present as many moments as I can be because I live most of my time inside my own head. Nothing has made me realize this and the importance of showing up and truly living in the moment like being your mother.
You and I have a different relationship than most mothers and young children. You find more comfort with your dad. This realization seared me at first. Aren’t young children supposed to love their mothers most? Aren’t mothers supposed to be everything to their little ones? Aren’t kids supposed to wait to separate until later in life? Well, as I have learned, each child and each parent-child bond is unique.
We had a rough go at first – you and me. Breastfeeding didn’t work, you had colic, I had never been unsuccessful at something I had really tried at before, my work environment was terrible, and we lost our closest friends at the time (don’t worry, they’re still alive). It was a perfect a storm of a challenge that left me depressed and even more stuck in my own head than usual. Your father is far from perfect, as you will realize a little later, but I watched the two of you closely to see what the magic trick was, to see where the spark came from. Your dad shows up every day, every moment. He is not composing novels in his brain or overanalyzing an interaction that happened two days prior. He isn’t nearly as sensitive and so he doesn’t get caught up in the minutiae of each little moment.
I returned to meditation and over time was able to develop a presence that I wish had naturally been there. You will see that nearly every single one of the 2000+ photos taken during your first two years were taken by me. I was always there physically, but I spent so much time documenting, so much time worrying about this or that, so much time at a distance, that I understand why your attachment is stronger with your father.
That’s not to say that you and I haven’t had our beautiful moments. We have had tons. And, truthfully, when the chips are down, as your dad likes to say, you want mama. I have slept in your bed or on your floor as many – or more – nights as I have slept in my own. I can remember being 8 months pregnant, squished into that twin size bed with you, you putting your arms around my neck after you had a bad dream and snuggling your head in under my chin. Just a couple of days ago, you and your dad came home from preschool and you ran from the car straight into me, almost knocking me and the baby over, shouting, “Mama!” There is a galaxy of love between us.
There are times, though, when I take a backseat in terms of preference, despite my efforts at remaining present during our time together. I am the predictable, stable parent. I play bad cop a lot, not because I want to, but because you can’t have two fun parents (I swear I married Phil from Modern Family). Someone has to create the structure. Someone has to fight with you to ensure that the choices made are the ones in your best interest, not just the ones you want (popsicles are NOT a major source of nutrition). Someone has to be there to push against and remain firm. When you push and push and push against me, my steadfastness is not my own stubborness coming into play. It crushes me to fight with you. But my love for you allows me to stand strong in the face of the fairly terrible things you say to me, the hitting, the screaming, the railing away. This is our dance, sometimes. And while it may look awful from the outside, you and I both know it is a dance of love. It is you saying to me, “I need to know where this big wide world stops, where there is no chaos, where I am safe.” And I respond with, “Right here, with me. You are safe with me.” Our neighbors hear, “BUT I WANT A POPSICLE!” Me: “No, sweetie, not unless you eat your dinner.” You: “I DON’T LOVE YOU!” Me: “Well, that’s hurtful and unfortunate, but you still have to eat your dinner.” You: *sits down and eats dinner quietly* You and I, we both know what that’s really about.
Truth be told, you are a lot like me. You are highly sensitive, mercurial, and passionate. You sit back and watch others at first, but then, once you are comfortable, you are spirited and relaxed. You love attention, you are affectionate, and wildly creative.
You are also something I used to be, but lost along the way – you are fearless and free (in most respects). You will wear make-up, nail polish. and a tutu, even though people at school tease you for it. You sing louder than anyone else, you love impromptu dance parties, and I am fairly certain that if I let you, you would spend 24 hours a day naked. You jump off the diving board without any concern, you laugh at belly flops, and you run as fast as you can for as long as you can, never worrying about the “purpose” behind it all.
But, I do see some perfectionism issues creeping up and it’s excruciating to watch. If I could give you anything for your birthday it would be a Get Out of Jail Free card because perfectionism is a prison of paralysis. Perfect just can’t be achieved and the fear of things not being perfect will make you stand back even when you want to charge ahead, even when you should charge ahead. It will make you second-guess yourself, waste time on inconsequential tinkering with something, and it will take you out of your own life.
So, today, as you sit around with your friends, your dinosaur decorations, and your carrot cake (you asked for it), know that I have two gifts for you: one, I will show up every moment that I possibly can when I am with you and, two, I will pursue my passion without fear and will let you see me making mistakes big and small along the way so you know that it’s okay. Yes, they are gifts for me, too. Being with you and your sister is the greatest joy and living a life of passion and meaning is so much better than the alternative. So, I guess I am doing this for all of us. And that’s a gift, too. It’s important to live your own life, the life you want. And only you can do it for yourself.
Don’t worry, though, we’ve also gotten you a blow-up shark for the pool and a dinosaur floor puzzle.
I love you fiercely. Happy birthday, my little man.