A week ago, my big guy turned 4! In honor of his birthday, I wrote him this letter...Maybe you can relate?
It’s a big day for you. As far as you can see, your day is to be filled with cupcakes, presents, and, only because I love you (and apparently don’t care about my own sanity), dinner at Chuck E. Cheese. These are what four-year-old birthday dreams are made of, sweet boy. Soak it all in because your toddler days are coming to a close. But, for me, I can’t help but look beyond the traditional birthday hullabaloo and focus on this new season before us.
There is a newness that accompanies a birthday, anticipation of what lies ahead, and even you could feel it today. Sitting at breakfast, excited about the endless birthday celebrations to come, you asked me a simple question, “Mommy, what do four-year-olds do?”
You have a way with questions, little one. A way that often brings me to my knees, hoping beyond hope that I can speak just an ounce of truth into your soul. Praying I don’t waste an opportunity to encourage and disciple you. But, this simple question rendered me speechless. The reality is, dear child, that parenting you this past year has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. (If we’re being honest, you are genetically predisposed to be an obstinate three-year-old, since my parents still graciously tell stories of my epic tantrums and sassy backtalk. You are the flesh of my flesh, Britton, ain’t no denying it.)
To be fair, there were good days. Plenty of them. Like the day you asked, “Mommy, why did God forget your penis?” (Still not sure how to answer that one, mostly because I can’t stop laughing when I replay those words in my head.) Or, the day you insisted on wearing your snorkel for every waking moment, but then got incredibly frustrated when you couldn’t eat and hold the snorkel in your mouth at the same time. Or, the moments you would snuggle up next to me just to whisper, “I love you, Mommy”. And my favorite, as if all stars were perfectly aligned, the night you sat down for supper and said, “Wow, Mommy, this is a lovely dinner you made.” I nearly fell out of my chair.
But, as I’ve heard from mom after mom, guiding, instructing, and disciplining three-year-olds is not for the faint of heart. It is constant, it is grueling, and it is often without reward. The past year has been beautifully frustrating in more ways than I can recall. Beautiful as you began to take on the world with all of the humanness you could muster and frustrating because you started taking on the world with all of the humanness you could muster. We are broken creatures, made in God’s image with conflicting desires for things of this world, and that opposing combination exposes itself so vividly in a toddler. Every parenting moment lives in the balance, wavering between gracious obedience and passionate defiance. Your compassion can turn into rebellion in the time it takes me to pour milk into a sippy cup. (Because, of course, I poured it into the purple cup and I forgot that you hate all things purple. My bad.)
And so, as I pondered this simple, yet provocative question, my head began to spin. Selfishly, I wanted to say, “Four-year-olds clean up their toys and actually hit the toilet when they pee”, but I knew there was more wisdom to be imparted here. My other gut response was to respond with things that four-year-olds DON’T do such as, “four-year-olds don’t hit” and “four-year-olds don’t spit” and “four-year-olds don’t talk back to their mamas”. But alas, before I could even make sense of the words coming out of my mouth, I muttered, “Four-year-olds teach their brothers the right things to do.” Simple. To the point. But, somehow I was left unsatisfied with my answer, and this question has been stirring in my heart all day.
The truth of the matter is that God made you, Britton. He made you fiery and strong-willed and determined and physical and spirited. But, over the last year, those same God-given gifts have been the source of my frustration in parenting. First, let me apologize. You must know that I wouldn’t take a single one of those qualities away from you (even though I’ve tried). Britton without his strong will is simply not Britton. A passive Britton is no Britton of mine. Rather than trying to stifle those qualities, I want them to shine from you like God intended. So, when you think about what four-year-olds (or more importantly what 14- or 40- year-olds) do, you can let this list be your guide.
When you blew out your candles this evening, I couldn’t help but exhale, letting go all of my anxieties and concerns from parenting a three-year-old. As I took the next breath with you, I breathed in hope for this next year. Hope that I can encourage you to use your gifts for good. Hope that I can help you navigate this treacherous mortal world. Hope that we will laugh more than we cry. Hope that on this day next year I can say, “Four was the best year yet!” You are so, so loved, dear one, and I pray you know that with every fiber of your body. Happy Birthday, Britton! Here’s to the Fantastic Fours!
But, just to be clear, four-year-olds DO have to wear pants to the dinner table. It’s not that kind of party.
All my love,
I am a lover of people, a child of God, and a laugher at jokes. I write words, cry tears and smile at strangers.