Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy 4th Birthday, Connor

Dear Connor,

You have reached the age of four years old and to mark the occasion, I made the requested "rainbow train cake with 100 cars". Except it didn't quite have 100 cars, but it seemed to satisfy the crowd that gathered to mark the occasion.

I am dancing with glee. I have promised your father that this is going to be a completely fabulous year. Because four? I have seen four before up close. About 30 times I have seen four, because that's the age the children in my preschool classes were when I taught preschool oh, so long ago. Long enough ago, in fact, that my first four-year old class is preparing to start grad school and my last class is preparing to start high school. And it most certainly doesn't feel like it has been 18 years since I graduated from high school and started teaching that first preschool class, but indeed, it has been exactly that long. And hopefully I'm not romanticizing my teaching time because wow do I remember those kids as being nothing short of incredible.

And why is it that I love four so much? At four, a child can really communicate complex thoughts, but has little idea when he or she should just shut up, so four year olds end up telling hilarious stories, and they make these incredibly true comments that adults and older kids just don't make, and they do it just because they noticed, not because they're being mean. For example, one day Josie said to me "Miss Elaine, are you aware that your pants do not match your shirt today?" and at that moment, I looked down, and I said "Josie, you have a much better sense of style than me. But are you aware that Mrs. Foster [my boss] called me 10 minutes ago to come and make sure you were being adequately cared for today because the regularly scheduled teacher called in sick? And I was so excited to come in, believe it or not, that I threw on the only clean shirt and pair of pants I had in my apartment just so I could see you? And up until this moment, I was not aware they did not match, but I am now. But if I had waited to come in until I had matching clothes, that wouldn't be until my regularly sheduled workday, and then we wouldn't be able to play today." And I am quite sure that Josie told her mom that night that Miss Elaine did not wear matching clothes to school but that it was all right because she didn't have time to do laundry before she came into work, or something like that.

From those same four year olds, I also heard stories about a parent drinking too much, yelling too loudly, or just not coming home last night. I heard about how cool a parent was when they did something totally outrageous - like fill up a whole roomful of balloons, or make every food item green that day because did you know it was green day, Miss Elaine? Even the pancakes were green, isn't that funny, Miss Elaine? I heard about staying up at night, reading books, and getting to go swimming on Saturday! I even heard about a few times when a mom called a dad a word that most parents of four year olds would not want to be repeated. I heard these and other stories as we played cooperatively on the playground - because four year olds can actually play together really well - as we painted during art time, and as we prepared for our daily rest. I heard them as we walked through the neighborhood, and sometimes I even heard them as a child with a fever curled up in my lap waiting for someone to come pick them up because they were too sick to be at school. You see besides being able to communicate really well and play, at four, kids are still really vulnerable and totally willing to sit and snuggle with a trusted adult, confident that if they snuggle in just a little tighter they will be "all better". I'm really looking forward to hearing about what stories you share with your teacher. You already bust your au pair any time she does anything out of the ordinary or isn't exactly following the rules.

Four years ago, Connor, you made me a mom. Prior to you entering my life I had never slept sitting up in bed with a baby on my chest so that the baby could sleep while fluid drained from their stuffy nose all night long. I never paced the floors, wishing some sort of comfort would come everyone's way for so long that I saw the sun rise. I never sat back and watched a too-small child will his way up a piece of playground equipment that was too big by himself because as a nanny, a babysitter, and teacher, I would've been hovering right behind him, because my first priority was making sure there were no scratches on my watch. But as a parent, I observed this struggle regularly these past few years because I'm more interested in seeing that look of accomplishment on your face and you relishing all the glory that is yours, and yours alone (even if it comes with a few bumps along the way) when you make it to the top all by yourself. We've been through a lot of unchartered territory together, and sometimes I'm sorry that I didn't know how to handle things better the first time around. Really sorry, in fact. But somehow, we muddled through together, and now you are four, and I am breathing a sigh of relief because for one glorious year of our lives together, I have some experience to draw on.

Over the course of these past few years I have learned you like the blue fork, you prefer your waffles not be cut, and the yellow straw is superior to every other. You are my right hand when it comes to putting things away around here, because you understand that it's hard to find toys that aren't put in their proper spot. On our recent vacation, you went upstairs to see my friend Lisa - our host - and asked her why everything wasn't put away. Lisa is not so obsessive as we are, Connor, and her reply was an appropro "Welcome to the dark side, Connor". You adapted to the situation pretty well. You seem to love reminding your father to put things away, and I appreciate all the help I can get.

You are aware enough to sense when it is appropriate to walk on eggshells. A couple of weeks ago, I had decided I was beyond annoyed at a few things around our house and your Dad dared ask what was wrong at the worst possible moment. I don't think I have ever chewed your dad out in front of you like I did that night for not turning lights off and leaving his crap all over the house, but at the end of my diatribe, when I turned to go upstairs to put Helen to bed, you told your dad that he better just read one book tonight and then you should go to sleep right away. I guess you knew he needed some time to get his act together.

You, of course, had a big month leading up to turning 4. For starters, you jumped off the diving board. Many times. In doing so, you scared the pants off of a lot of people (myself included).

You have excellent reasoning skills that you put to use often. For example, your dad and I have expressed to you that we don't really like waking up as early as you do, and you suggested, in return, that perhaps we ought to go to bed earlier. Right you are, my friend.

You still run everywhere you go, and still, your toddler gait is gone. Every time I see you start dashing, I look closely for that wobble but it is gone, gone, gone. So now I look at Helen's little wobble and hope it stays for a long time.

You also never shut up. Never. With your sister talking non-stop as well, the house sounds like a rock concert most days. I have a lot of headaches, but I am reminded almost daily about how great it is that you communicate so well. For the record, I could use a little quiet every now and then - especially when you're just repeating things you've already told me several times. I got it the first time, pal.

You really like to do your own thing, on occasion. I have no idea why, but while we were on vacation, after you finished the hayride with the other children, another child came running by and exclaimed "Connor is so awesome". Let's just say, your father and I were glad that was not followed up with a visit from the tractor driver letting us know you were not so awesome.

You are simultaneously wonderful and a jerk to your sister, which is fair because that's exactly how she treats you. Wonderful, because you regularly include her in your play. A jerk, because that play often comes with fairly restrictive rules about what she can and cannot do. But most of the time, I can leave the two of you alone and know that you are both entertained, and that's really nice. On your birthday, I went to playgroup with you and the two of you hopped on a two-seater tricycle and you pedaled your heart out as she rode on the backseat and it took a long time for the two of you to stop laughing.

So here we go, Connor. We're jumping with both feet into FOUR!



  1. Happy birthday Connor!! I love your disguise.

  2. Makes me excited for 4 too! Happy birthday to Connor and family...what a great team!