Before my boys were born I wrote them letters in hopes that someday when they were older they could read them and maybe understand their dad a little better. Now, Max is 2 years old and Dodge will be 6 months in less than a week. Today is another letter for them to read when they are older:
Dear Max & Dodge,
These are frustrating and rewarding times in my life as well as your mother’s. This past week we moved you (Max) into your “big boy” room which you seem both excited and scared of. We moved you (Dodge) into the nursery, and while you sleep better when not disturbed you are clearly having some separation anxiety when you wake…and you wake often as you are teething. The fall semester of school started last week and your mother has resumed teaching which means Thursday nights are “guys night!” Right now that means managing chaos and getting you two to bed…but I see the forest through the trees and know one day we’ll be renting movies together, going to events, and eating unhealthy food and not telling Mom. Seriously…don’t tell Mom. We wouldn’t be in trouble for eating greasy food…just in trouble if we didn’t save some for her. She doesn’t like to feel like she’s missed out on something. Nobody does.
Dodge, I’ve felt like I was missing out on your baby days the same way I felt when Max was a baby. You are so attached to Mom right now (as you should be) since she is your food source, source of comfort, etc. I’m just the goofy guy in the background who holds you from time to time. Then…last night happened. Max, you’ve been feeling jealous of Dodge because he has gotten almost all of Mom’s attention. Dodge is a baby and needs Mom’s attention and you are a toddler who doesn’t understand why you are not getting attention. It is rough to see you want to spend time with her and not be able to…I know I’m not Mama, but because of the new sleeping arrangements you and I have been having awesome bedtime tuck-tucks once you accept that I’m the one who’s going to read the books. Sometimes when Mom can read the books you won’t go to bed till I come up and kiss you goodnight…you have no idea how much this request from you and the gesture itself means to me. It makes me feel included. Last night you (Max) were exhausted from swimming in the pool and were melting down. I told Mom, “Go ahead, I’ll take Dodge till he needs you.” So you got your wish…Mom read the books. Dodge, you started fussing almost immediately. No joke, you have started crying immediately when you see me because you know you are going to be away from Mommy. I came over to comfort you and you starting wailing…I mean wailing! It broke my heart. It broke my heart to know I couldn’t comfort you, that I couldn’t help Mom more, and that Max wouldn’t get the time with Mommy he seemed so desperately to need. Then it happened…I sang to you just like I used to when you were still in Mommy’s tummy.
At first, you (Dodge) didn’t know what to think of my singing. In the past it had pissed you off…one more sign you were not getting Mommy right away. I added in some rocking and started doing laps around the house slowly. Family room, back hallway, kitchen, dining room, front hallway, family room…repeat. Your little eyes moved back and forth with concern and curiosity till you stopped looking at where we were going and started listening to the sound of my voice. You see, Dada live by a simple mantra nowadays. Focusing on the past is depression, the future is fantasy (anxiety)…so all we can do is focus on what is happening right now in the present. You focused on me…right there in that moment and I was focusing on you. You know what you did? You fell asleep right there in my arms. Something you have not done in months. It has been Mom’s privilege to experience that recently and I forgot how amazing it is. You gave me a moment to hang onto in my brain and remember forever. You were perfect. Mom came downstairs and was in shock to see you asleep in my arms. You don’t go to bed easily so you were either exhausted or I still have the baby-whisperer magic touch. Maybe both. Either way, I carefully handed you off to Mom for your bedtime feeding and you fell right back to sleep.
As I handed you off, Dodge, I heard your brother Max calling me from his new room. I came in and found you (Max) sitting up in bed waiting for me like a prairie dog. I crawled in next to you and asked, “Did you hear what Dada was doing?” You nodded and replied, “Singing.” I smiled and said, “That’s right, do you know who I was singing to?” You proudly answered, “Dodge.” You hugged me tight…you held me longer than usual so I whispered in your ear, “Do you want me to sing to you?” The smile on your face grew rapidly and you placed a request, “Could you sing Chocolate Jesus.” You’ve been a sucker for Tom Waits since you were teeny tiny…its your favorite. I happily obliged. You rolled over, hugged your stuffed rabbit “Muffin,” and I sang while gently rubbing your back, brushing your hair away from your face, and kissing your cheeks. You know what you did? You fell asleep in my arms. Right there…in my arms…just like you used to when you were a baby like Dodge. You are a very affectionate little dude but usually you’re moving too fast to get a real hug or a snuggle. Your mom and I think you might be a shark because sharks will die if they stop moving…but you are not a shark. You’re my baby boy.
Max, in the two and a half years I have known you…you have opened my heart in ways I had no idea was possible. You have frustrated me to the brink of my sanity and represent the redefining element of my adult life. You have caused me to take pause and ponder things…you’ve opened understandings to my father, my mother, and what formed them into the people (and parents) I know them as. Dodge, in the 6 months I have known you…you have opened my heart further and tested my frustration even more. I can’t wait to find out what you’ll be like as you get older. You, Dodge, have caused me to take pause and ponder things as well. You’ve provided clarity into myself, my relationship with the world, and my relationship to those around me. You are the youngest of two…just like me, and there is so much I understand now. Max, you are my first-born and will forever test the waters for Dodge…who will always be vying for your attention and will constantly compete to better you. You both will constantly yen for my attention, your mother’s, and of course…our love. I have learned that it is impossible to love your children equally…rather, I love you differently. Parents say they love their kids equally because they don’t have a favorite and because if you don’t say “equally,” it implies you love one less. It’s the polite thing to say. I don’t love one of you less or more…I just love you differently because you are two different people who will forever be part of my life.
There are many more of these letters to come and perhaps these are better things for me to leave publicly behind on the internet than my other ramblings as a parent…which you will be able to read some day. Hopefully what you’ll garner from all this is simple: Dad loves you very much. That’s the moral to the story kids. I’m not perfect, I make mistakes every day, and I’m still growing up too. We grow till the day we die. I’m not the same person I was when I started this project called “So Long Freedom” and I won’t be the same person I am today when you read this later in life. In my life, I have found that the things that are awesome are more awesome when you have someone to share it with. I thought that was Mom…Kate. Mom is my best friend, but I have come to realize I want to experience all the awesomeness with you two as well. We are all on a team. Someday you’ll hate the things I say, you’ll fear for your life when I drive a car, and you’ll mock your mother and I behind our backs. I know…because that’s the evolution of things. However, as your parent I am still somebody else’s kid…and no matter how old I am I will always be their kid and you will always be mine. Its comforting to know someone’s got my and Mommy’s backs…just like we’ve got yours. Whatever age you are when you read this…close your eyes. Listen with your memory. I’m still singing you to sleep.
I love you both…differently. Always and forever and as big as you can imagine,
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