On the cusp of your fourth birthday, that’s the name I most often call you. You have only yourself to blame for that … you went through a brief phase where you would pretend to put me to sleep. You’d hand me a stuffed animal, tuck me in, kiss my cheek and say, “Goodnight, sweets!” It stuck, as insanely cute things like that tend to do.
Part of me is shocked you’re turning four, while the other part of me can’t believe you’ve been here for what is really such a brief time. It’s hard to remember how life felt before you, how it was to live without the intense joy, love and fear of raising such a smart and charming little boy.
Oh lord, how charming you are. Your charm is my weakness and you know it. If you act out, throw a fit and earn yourself a timeout, oftentimes you’ll take a quick breath, smile sweetly and say, “I’m calm now, Mommy. See? I’m caaaaalm. I promise to be good. I PROMISE to be a good boy.” I’ll be honest — it almost works. Outwardly, I’m still stern and send you to timeout; inwardly, I’m grinning and applauding you for a solid try. (Alright fine, once in a while, it works.)
This is the year you really came out of your bashful little shell. You used to be the kid who stood on the sidelines of the playground, watching and waiting until you had the lay of the land and felt truly, deeply comfortable (by which point, it was practically time to leave). You’d smile shyly at other kids, maybe you’d follow them around a bit, but you’d never initiate conversation. This year, you run to the playground searching for new friends. Just the other day, you were elated to find another little boy your age. You ran to him and asked his name. When he responded, you said, “I can’t hear you. Can you say it louder?” “I’m Aiden,” he said. “Aiden? I love that name! That’s a great name! Wanna play with me?”
You’ve become so brave in your fourth year. In new situations, around new people and – very notably – around water. At the shore last year, it took you five full days to gain the courage to let the ocean splash your feet. This year, you ran straight for it with no hesitation. It’s so fulfilling for me as your mom to see you feel so … free.
You are so, so, so full of energy. If I could pad every surface in our house, I would, so that you could safely bounce off the walls, the floor, the furniture, the everything. You even bounce off me, kiddo. Multiple, multiple times a day. You know you’re not supposed to, but you can’t seem to help it. I am constantly trying to figure out ways to help you get some of that energy out, but the truth is that it appears to be endless. Honestly, I hope it never runs out.
You are so curious. You ask a million questions a day about the whens and hows and whys of absolutely everything. As soon as you ask a question, I know that no matter what my answer is, you will have no less than five follow-up questions. (Can’t blame you for that; journalism’s in your blood, after all.)
There’s something else about you that I love — you’re a story-teller. You study characters and story lines in books and on television, and you reenact them. The other day, you were watching a Curious George episode. A character on the show made a gesture as he said the line, “You’re pretty smart, for a city kid.” You acted out that line and gesture at least a dozen times, trying to get it just right. You’re not the sort of kid who zones out in front of the TV, which is why I tend to let you watch more than you should. You pay attention, you study, you memorize, and you participate.
It’s not just that, though. You also sometimes narrate your own life. I took you to the Dollar Store two weeks ago to shop for presents and decorations for your Daddy’s birthday. Afterward, as we walked hand-in-hand across the parking lot, I could just barely hear you narrating under your breath – in third-person – what we had just done. And so it is that I will make my first official career prediction: I think you will work in entertainment. You will write scripts or you will act or you will direct or you will produce something.
(Just so you know, I’ll be the one in the front row, cheering like a maniac through whatever it is.)
You’re emotionally intense, Ry. You’re calm and happy one second and furious the next. It’s often hard to judge at the end of the day whether you had a “good” day or a “bad” day because you can fly across the emotional spectrum and back quicker than I can say “sticker chart.” It’s really something to see. But you also have a wisdom about you in the way you communicate with people. You can read people. You know how to get a rise out of someone and how to win them over. And you can do both within the span of a minute.
Bub, you are a challenge. The biggest, best challenge of my life. But the challenge is never in trying to change you; it’s always in figuring out ways to help you claim your full potential. Because your potential is off the charts, kid.
I tell you this constantly, but I’m going to keep saying it forever: I love you all the time.
Happy fourth birthday, my sweets.
P.S. Slow down that growing a bit, would ya? I can just barely heave you up into my arms these days … I need that for a little bit longer, ok?
Previous birthday letters to Ryan: