It’s almost exactly two years since you came into the world and made me the father of a son. It has been a whirlwind two years for both of us, so let’s look at how far we’ve come.
Unlike your older sister, you came in like a lion–constantly playing the drums while in utero, instantly screaming your head off to announce your arrival upon birth, and intently trying to pick your head up to look around the delivery room rather than resting serenely on Mommy’s chest after your magnificent voyage. In the two years that followed, you have continued to grow into your role of the consummate little brother and for the last two months have been transitioning into the much-ballyhooed position of middle child.
You will not be contained. You will not be forgotten. You will be sure you get your due. Upon your birth, I started tagging social media posts about you with #CharlesInCharge, and rarely has there been a more fitting hashtag.
While Maddie is the sensitive and thoughtful one, you are a child of intense emotion and physicality. You want to explore. You want to play. You want to wrestle. You want to do all three of those things again and you want to do them all at once.
Being home with you during this pandemic has been one of the most rewarding and all-encompassing experiences of my life. I have realized that you are truly the Calvin to my Hobbes.1 My authority, superior knowledge and diverse life experiences are of no consequence to you. All that matters is that you get to talk to me and play with me while we do what you want. In most cases, it has to be Daddy.
And I love that.
I sometimes think about what the world must look like to you right now. You wake up in your crib muttering or singing to yourself, read some of the Elmo books you keep in your bed, get tired of that and start calling for me or yelling “Hey Maddie!” in the direction of your sleeping sister’s bed. Sometimes you unzip your jammies and take them halfway off. On special mornings, you get them fully off and start to work on your oversaturated diaper, too.
As long as you are my charge, I have no need for an alarm clock and will never sleep in again. You are up at 7 every morning and ready to greet the day. And what does that day hold for you? You greet me with a giant grin, popping up in your crib and yelling, “DADDY!” I have previously outlined our quarantine schedule, which is the only life I can honestly remember with you right now, but suffice to say that you always have thoughts about what should be done next and there is never a dull moment.
The latest obsession is to “pway supah-hewoes, Daddy?”, with your usual use of my name as punctuation to every request/command. We have an array of small superhero figurines–Batman, Superman, Robin, The Flash, Night Hawk, Aquaman, the Joker, the Riddler, Lex Luthor, even Super Dog–and you have mastered all of their names in the three weeks since they entered your universe. But the only two that really matter to you are Superman and Batman2 and we spend the game with you switching which of those two we are each controlling throughout the game. You also request that the Superman March be played on our Google Home while we try to figure out what to do with the superheroes when you haven’t quite developed enough for our games to have, um, plots. We fly them around, make them bounce on balls, and–best of all–make every last one of them slide down the secret passage (“slide!”) in Maddie’s Rapunzel tower playset.
But soon enough it’s time to play something else, as the Little Tykes basketball hoop has caught your eye again. I can’t wait to see if you are an athlete because you have mastered any physical challenge that comes your way. You are the Michael Jordan of the basement basketball court and you’ve got mad hops for a newly-two-year-old. You learned to catch and throw months ago, and you scale ladders on our swingset like you’ve been doing it for years. You have an almost scary ambition to do everything yourself–getting angry with me when I extend a hand to help you scale the side of my bed or another American Ninja Toddler Warrior-level obstacle, screaming “I do it myself, Daddy!” as you push yourself back to the floor.
You also have an unprecedented awareness of your surroundings and your own personal safety. It’s almost like you know when you’re near an edge and liable to fall, so your safety training kicks in and you find a handle or deign to ask for help. You seem to somehow recognize your limits even as you continue to push them. It’s kind of reassuring, actually.
And for being such an adventurous National Geographic Exporer, you are also desperately and somewhat hilariously afraid of heights. This usually manifests itself when I lift you up to what you deem an uncomfortable height, like sitting on the bathroom sink to brush your teeth. Your fingers sink into my arm as you exclaim, “I fall, Daddy!”
And that’s another side of you that I adore–the love, admiration and dependence that you have for/on me. Your consummate physicality extends into your affection. You climb on me. You hug me. You demand to sit in my lap for stories. You even demand that I pick you up and dance with you when you see me do it with Maddie. I have to be the one who gives you your bottle for bedtime and naptime. If you’re wearing your “Buzz-Woody” baseball hat, I have to wear a baseball hat, too.
When something hurts, you want me to comfort you and fix it. When you’re doing something that you deem noteworthy, you yell, “Watch this, Daddy!” You’ve started to get my attention so that you can tell me your version of a joke, which is to make gibberish words or silly sounds. When you see that I’m not paying attention to you, you break my heart by saying, “Shut off phone, Daddy?” When I’m in my basement office and you want to play, you break my heart again by running into the room and asking, “All done with meeting, Daddy?” Sometimes you’ll approach and simply say, “Whatcha doin’, Daddy?” I’m here to be your daddy, buddy. Let’s play.
You are barely embarking on your boyhood and I can already see all the fatherly seams where I can screw this up royally. I peruse a lot of self-improvement content in books and on the Interwebs, and so much of it revolves around men having core wounds affecting them into adulthood that are delivered at the hands of their fathers, often without the father even realizing he has done (or not done, as the case may be) anything.
I live in not-constant-but-sufficiently-nagging awareness of this fact as we begin to muddle into discipline and you begin to dabble in defiance. I have already thrown you into your bed for timeout more times than I can count. In a hilariously unexpected twist, you are like a bad suspect on a crime show. When I threaten to put you in timeout, you start trying to change the subject, pointing at your chest and saying “Monkey jammies, Daddy!”, as if I might halt the arrest in order to marvel with you at the glory of your pajamas.3 I will never forget the time that you were already under arrest and being carried up to your room from the basement. When you noticed that Mommy was upstairs on our way to your room, you started yelling some matter-of-fact distraction to her, as if she could save you. You’re hilarious, my friend.
And your intellect doesn’t stop just at being a criminal mastermind. You give your brainiac sister a run for her money. There was the time when Maddie and I were doing push-ups and counting them, when suddenly you joined in and successfully counted to 14 when we had never even tried that with you before. Last week, you grabbed a Batman book, opened it, and said “One day, Batman…”, just as Maddie does when she pretends to read a story. At bedtime, you can sing along in toddler-speak to most of the words of “Any Dream Will Do” from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”4 Brains and brawn. You might just grow up to be Batman.
And whether or not you do, I know that right now you consider me your Robin, and it’s a role I will gladly embrace–except when you need a timeout for trying to jump on Maddie again. That said, I know my days in the cape and tights are numbered. Now that Sam is here, you have a new Robin waiting in the wings for you. You’re already so interested in him–every day when you see him for the first time it’s immediately “I hold the baby Sammy?”–and you’re about as gentle as we could hope for, given your natural instincts. I’m excited for you to grow up with a two-years-younger partner in crime the same way I did, and I’m hoping he will become your best friend, biggest competition and favorite wingman the same way mine did. You also have the added bonus of an older sister to avoid/protect/love, who loves you more than you know and is already almost as entertained by your shenanigans as I am.
We have crammed so much life into these past two years–especially when the past two months have felt like years themselves–and it’s hard to believe just how much life you have ahead of you. To quote the title of a Calvin and Hobbes compilation, the days are just packed.
You’re a cool kid, Charlie Brown. Already. And I can’t wait to see where your adventures will take you, and how you will pack your days when they move beyond yogurt in the morning, milk at night and seemingly endless playtime in-between. I will always treasure the friendship we built this year. It’s a true pleasure having Charles in charge of me.
- We actually almost named you Calvin. It was on the short list, and I still call you that when the situation warrants it.
- Even a two-year-old can tell which superheroes are the best without any prompting
- And you are obsessed with your pajamas. When we have to decide which ones to wear, you grab all of them out of your jammies drawer and we have to name each one and settle on three different ones before I am able to sufficiently hide enough from view so you can narrow it down to a final choice. “I have all the jammies! Dinosaurs-and-football-and-basketball-and-doggies!” You also lament when one of them is thrown into the wash and out of commission. “Basketball jammies wet, Daddy.”
- the musical that has somehow become the kid-pleasing anthem of our quarantine time, while that track has been designated official lullaby