Dear Penguin –

Ugh, I know. Nevertheless, the fact that I am able to return to writing these letters now must count for something, right? Like we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and Mama is able to reclaim a few moments to herself to be able to return to doing something she loves to do. It’s been nearly six months now since Owl joined the family and I remember one lady that Mama knows telling her that things really started to ease up and get better about 6 months into the new family life. And lookee here. That might just be happening. It would be great if we’ve crested or are just about to crest that hill. Mama’s body and mind could use the rest. Since there is so much to cover, maybe we should take it nice and slow. A month by month review.  Let’s jump in and see what comes of this.

January was rough. There is just no other way to put it. We all struggled. There were some nice moments, to be sure, but there were many not-so-nice moments, too. We had your third birthday party for you the first weekend in January. That was nice. It was really important to Mama and Daddy that we celebrate your birthday with a party since we wanted you to know that even though your brand spanking new brother was on the scene, you would not be lost in the shuffle. We had a nice gathering of friends and family. Everyone stayed for a few hours and ate cake, nibbled on snacks and played games with you. Unlike last year, when you were more interested in the presents than the people, this year, you charmingly flitted from guest to guest chatting about your things and being generally cute. You really enjoy having people come over because it gives you an opportunity to give the person a comprehensive tour of your belongings. You show the person all your favorite toys and then anything else that catches your attention. So at your party this year, you were a little miniature version of a proper party hostess. The rough parts? Oh, they are mostly all sleep-related. No one in the house slept much in January. No one.  You can well imagine what this does to the mood in the place. Everyone was just a little too short-tempered to be bearable to anyone else. Mama wasn’t sleeping because Owl was eating every 2-3 hours around the clock. Daddy wasn’t sleeping because he had to do everything, since Mama was recovering from surgery. You weren’t sleeping because everything was so different that you had a hard time settling back into place. And you went through a period when you were like, “Naps, schmaps. Bedtime, schmedtime. I’ll just scream at the top of my lungs every time you even think of putting me to bed. And I might race around the room wailing for good measure.” Who could blame you, really? You were looking for a little locus of control in a situation that had to feel completely out of your control. There you were, the only peanut in a house of adults and all of a sudden this little man comes along and huzzah – there are two of you now! So we attempted to be patient, understanding AND firm.  Except that sometimes that devolved into impatient and shouty. I’m sorry – from both of us. We were doing our best on the fumes of energy that we had left in us. Actually, we didn’t even have fumes. We were running on the pure memory of energy. Like, oh, this is normally where my body would feel that little electrical impulse that will help me to get up out of this chair, but that has long since been depleted, so I’ll just throw myself forward with whatever I have left in me and hope for the best.

February, however, was better in the sleep regard. Not totally great, but better. We were all still mercilessly tired, but we were dancing around the edges of a routine and I was mostly recovered from the worst parts of the c-section recovery. More relevant than the sleep deprivation was the fact that this was the month in which you seemed to realize that Owl was going to be staying with us for good. At first, you had a pleasantly noncommittal interest in your brother. He was cute and fairly quiet and slept most of the time. Sometime in February though, you seemed to realize that all the attention that Mama was giving to Owl was being taken away from you. And furthermore, that was not going to be changing any time soon. There were some frustrating moments when you wanted something right away and I could not deliver it. You would open your mouth widely and just scream. And I got it. I mean, I really did feel for you. I was tired and hormonal and in small amounts of residual abdomen pain, but I understood. You were the little flower growing in my sunshine. You were the beautiful green leaves tickling my tree trunk. You were my everything from the moment of your birth and all my attention and devotion was poured into you. Moreover, because I adored you beyond measure and adored being a mother, we worked hard to have another baby. Does that even make sense to a firstborn? I love you so much I want another one of you. To me, it makes perfect sense, but to the oldest child, maybe not so much. I always saw Owl as a gift to the family. I think – for a while there – you saw him as an interloper, and why wouldn’t you? The world revolved around you and then suddenly it did not. That is a bitter, heavy and difficult pill to swallow the first time you really try to get it down.  As a result, you seemed very angry with Mama for a few months there. We had always been an adventurous and loving pair – going on outings, cuddling, playing games and having a nice little laugh at each other’s silliness. After Owl was born, it was harder for me to get out with you one-on-one, but even if I was able to, you were resistant to the suggestion. It was an understandable hurt, but it did hurt. Tiny little daggers to my heart every time you refused to come by me to give me a hug or get ice cream with me at the ice cream store or stay home with me when Daddy ran an errand. I tell you this not to make you feel bad.  I tell you this because I think that siblings, even those that love each other very much, always feel rather chuffed when Mama cannot focus on one child solely to the complete detriment of the other’s attention. So know that it is not an easy job to be a Mama that has to share her attention with the two most amazingly wonderful little boys on the planet. I want to give my all to both of you all of the time and when I can’t, it distresses me as much as it distresses you.  There was only one day in February that I can remember you spending a lot of time with me. It was on Valentine’s Day, though the delightfulness of the story ends there. Let me put this as delicately as possible. You’ve always had tummy issues. In the wee hours of the morning on Valentine’s Day, you woke in a large amount of pain because you had not gone to the bathroom in a little while. I sat up with you, trying to comfort you by watching cartoons. You were in so much pain that you were crying to the point of sobs and you threw up. My poor little guy! I was sufficiently worried at that point, so I drove you to the emergency room all the way in the city. Damn that old insurance and its insistence on making me crazy with its rigidity. Anyways, we sat in the waiting room for a while together – you on my lap, me stroking your hair and hugging you. I was able to make an appointment with your doctor’s office later that afternoon, so we left the emergency room and went to that together. It was a totally useless visit, as we learned nothing new about your tocks, but the end result seemed to be that you started to slowly chip away at the anger that you were showing towards me. So it was a craptastic (no pun intended) Valentine’s Day in a million ways, but then again, it gave you an important reminder that Mama will ALWAYS be there for you when you need her most. And I think you needed to see that and believe that, so in a way I kind of want to say, “Thanks, constipation!” I mean, I never want you to feel that way again, but it allowed you to put down your little preschooler defenses and accept all my love and concern and caring for you that day. So it wasn’t a total crapshoot (pun intended).

March felt better somehow. You and Mama were able to get out more and do things together, which felt great. We’ve made fast friends with the Legoland center. It’s the perfect place to take an energetic, inquisitive three-year old boy. After you tire of the legos, you play on the indoor playground. Then a dip over into the lego bowls again. Rinse and repeat for two hours and you’ve got yourself a fine outing. We also spent a fair amount of time at the blue store because it is large and is conducive to running around when there is enough snow on the ground to startle a polar bear. Though, because you are now a mature man of three, you actually prefer to call it by its proper name. March was memorable not for any particular thing but because it was the start of what I like to call the “new normal.” You started to get back into a sleep routine for naps and bedtime, you started to eat better and much of the exhaustion-induced ennui permeating the house began to lessen throughout the month. I remember March as the month in which I started to notice the first shimmery strands of hope. Hope that we were all going to be ok. And more than that, hope that we were all going to really like this new life of ours. We weren’t there yet. You were still throwing tantrums like a drag queen throws shade, but we were all working on it. The thing is, I don’t know that all of that early difficulty was new baby-related. There is a great book about three-year olds out there that helps one to feel as though the temporary insanity is an expected, rational and necessary part of raising a little boy. This book got most things right, but one very important thing wrong. It posits that young children go through periods of organization and disorganization throughout the year. So they will spend the first part of the year relatively calm and collected, then blow this all to hell the second half of the year. In your case, the pattern is flipped. Always has been. You seem to struggle through the major developmental leaps from right after your birthday until about summer. Then, just as the flowers unfurl their silky petals in May, revealing the glory within, you seem to emerge a different, more complex and fascinating boy come June. So I think part of the struggle of January, February, March and even April was not just the new family situation, but that your massive spurt is generally timed to the exact months that we shook up your home world in an important way. It must have been like miniature earthquakes shaking the very foundation of your core every single day. And you know what? I’m sorry buddy. That must have been hard. Really. It is a testament to your budding character that you did what you did to get through with relatively minor damage to yourself, your brother, me or the apartment. I – and Owl – could do without your propensity to sorta kinda gently knock him on the head with your balled up fist when you are mad at something Owl or Mama-related, but we’re working on it. It’s getting much better.

April and May were the months that I started to slowly go back to work. A part of me wanted to go back, but then a greater part of me was just not ready. But as Daddy is not working, there was really no other option. And truthfully, it was good to get out of the house a little bit. I feel like I am a more attentive mother to you when I am out of the house some throughout the day. Gives me a little needed stimulation so that I can come home and throw myself into the game of taking a car (or some predetermined toy) and channeling my voice through it to hold conversations with the your toy. The thing that I miss most when I have to work is the lazy, pre-nap mornings. I love to lie in bed next to you as we slowly wake up. We might cuddle, or tell a joke and laugh or read a book. We might tell each other little stories or talk about something we liked the day before. We might talk about what we hope to do that day. Then I open up the blinds and let the sunshine in. Some mornings you yell at me and complain about the brightness of the sun. Other mornings you smile and tell me that it looks like it is going to be a beautiful day. Then we might get dressed. Or we might move out to the living room for a lazy breakfast of Cheerios and a cartoon or two (or four, depending on our energy level). Then we play a little something, wake up Daddy and hang with him until naptime. I love those mornings. I try to replicate these mornings with you on workdays as well, but there is just never enough time to do it with the deliciously leisurely pace that characterizes non-work days. As a result, the mornings are tinged with stress and longing as we both to our best to fit in all the things we love in a shorter period of time. When I have to work early and I miss the full morning routine or – worse – miss your waking up all together, I get pretty squirrely and pissy. Spending that time with you in the morning before work sets my day on the proper course and helps to set the tone for the rest of the day. Miss it and I am a testier than I would normally be. You are my little cup of coffee. The best part of waking up.  As it is, I have taken to sleeping next to you again in your room. I’ve been doing this again for a few weeks now. Maybe even a month. I hate being away from you during the day, a fact made doubly painful by also being away from you in a different room at night while you sleep. Therefore, you and your brother and I have been sharing a room. This has the dual benefit of letting Daddy get his uninterrupted sleep, a much-needed activity what with his ol’ ticker always acting the fool.  But really, I sleep in there because if I must be away from you during the day while I work, I am damn well going to be there for you in the evening while we sleep. We may not be conscious, but we know we are there together, sharing space and warmth and love.  The way it works out – I dunno. I think it is a good plan. Daddy has primary parenting duty for about 9 hours a day and I have it for another 9 hours in the middle of the night. We share the other 6 hours. Between the two of us, you have someone on hand to care for you in a pretty involved way 24 hours a day. Not too shabby, huh?

This brings us to June, the month that has just concluded. It feels like we’ve turned the corner in recent weeks. We’ve all been happier. More relaxed. More fun. Mama and Daddy are spending more time together at night. Your brother is sleeping well and follows a nice routine. And you and I have our great relationship back again. We do things together. We laugh and joke again. About the only thing I regret is that you’ve been upset to have me leave for work in the mornings as of late. It makes me feel bad to leave you when you say you don’t want me to go and that you’ll miss me. I miss you more than you can imagine when I am out of the apartment. I think about you all the time. I have pictures of you all over my office. Your picture is on my desktop computer and is the wallpaper on my cell phone. I have some of your toys on my desk and all the paintings and presents you give me specifically to take to work. I’ve been taping little videos of myself to send to you during the day and that seems to have helped a tiny bit. I am going to start bring a little item from home every day to feature in the video so that you know I am taping a new one for you every workday. I hope that in time you’ll see Mama working as an act of love no less important than a hug and a kiss. I work because we need food to eat and a place to live. I work to provide for you and for Daddy and Owl. It’s not because I don’t want to be with you. It’s because I want you to be warm, well fed and safe. You’ll see this clearly when you are older. So remember to read this part extra carefully in case you have any lingering resentment from those days when I simply had to walk away after the sixteenth hug and kiss because I was going to be inexcusably late for work (as opposed to just late) if I didn’t leave that very second.

Penguin, you are three and a half now. My word, you are so unbelievably interesting. Your vocabulary and the things you say amaze me on a daily basis. Thankfully, Daddy has been diligent in recording snippets of what you say every day, so I don’t have to tax my mind to think of them for this letter. Truthfully, I would not know where to begin. You are so chatty and your thoughts so advanced, it would be like attempting to recall whole conversations with adults. I can never do it. You’ve always been advanced in your abilities to communicate, but you’ve just concluded a major leap and you really talk and think like a little boy now. You get cause and effect, which is great because it makes “time out” punishments all the more effective. You are also working very hard on using your words to express your feelings, and that is great progress. Now, when and if you hit in frustration, you generally say, “I hit you because I am mad.” Alternatively, “I bit you because you did not get me a treat.” It is a promising start.

You still wear pull-ups. I don’t care. Really, I don’t. You have had so many tummy issues that it has been impossible to potty train you. We’ll work on it again soon. Your new doctor (love him!) isn’t all that worried and I’m not either. It’s all a part of growing up and you’ll get there when you get there.

A few weeks back, you were talking with Daddy and he was talking about all the things that big boys get to do. Going to the toilet was one of them, but Daddy provided a robust and interesting list as a means of making engaged small talk with you as he was changing your pull-up. I am paraphrasing here but you said, “But I don’t want to get big. I want to stay small.” You said some other things related to this concept, but the general idea was that you emphatically did NOT want to grow up. Oh hey, that sound? Cracked heart in my chest. Don’t mind me. I think it get it, Penguin. I mean, I think I get what you were trying to say. I *think* you were trying to say that growing up means growing away from Mama and Daddy. Out from underneath their constant watch and intense surveillance; their attentive and very hands-on care. Growing up means that Mama probably will not help you get dressed or rub lotion on your back and your legs every morning. It will be your job to do that for yourself, without Mama’s hands performing the task as an act of caring and love.  That stinks, does it not? How many times do we, as older children, as adolescents and adults, wish to be that little kid back in the safety and warmth of Mama or Daddy’s arms? Back when they could pick us up, carry us, hold us in their laps and wrap their arms completely around our little bodies. Penguin, I will carry you physically for as long as I can. But in my heart and my mind and my soul, I carry you always. I will carry your best days and your worst. I will carry your happiness and your sadness, your celebration and worry. I will stretch my arms as far and wide as they can go to embrace you even when you tower over me as a great, big lanky teenage boy. Or as a grown man. You can sit on my lap whenever you want. I will always be there. Always. You will never do anything alone as long as you have Mama by your side. You will never be in this alone. You will always be my son. You will always have my ear, my hands, my arms, my shoulder, my legs, my head – whatever you need, you got it.