I’m writing this letter to you because I recently realized that you will remember almost nothing of your life so far. This is a particular cause for alarm because the most recent year of your life has not only been interesting from a historical perspective (like it or not, you’re part of Generation COVID now), but also because you have firmly established your place in the current configuration of our family. You are such a hilarious, interesting kid that I can’t believe you won’t remember much of any of this. And I’m really curious to know what you will remember.
When the pandemic began, you were my best friend. While we’re still pretty tight, the torch has been definitively and somewhat unexpectedly handed over to your older sister. Maddie is your constant companion. Your co-developer of schemes. Your sometimes fall-girl. Your mentor. Your punching bag. Your instigator. Your accomplice. Your dictionary. Your conscience. Your duet partner. Your dance partner. Your competition.
You wake her up in the morning by calling across the room to interrupt her final vestiges of sleep. “Maddie, it’s daytime!” You can’t bear to face the day without her by your side. If your parents are not yet awake, the two of you embark on your own early morning adventures, usually orchestrated by Maddie but always guided by your strong opinions. You loudly make a picnic out of play food on the floor of your room. Or you head to the basement to play the first round of superheroes and enlist Maddie’s help to crank up the Superman theme for the first of its 12 daily plays. “Hey Google, play Main Title March by John Williams.”
Maddie helps you turn the sleeves right-side-out on your Superman costume and adjusts the placement of your velcro cape. You run around the open play area of the basement carving circles into the carpet to the tune of Maestro Williams’ epic score until the song crescendoes and you hit the deck with a dizzy smile on your face.
One morning I woke up because I heard the sound of water running. I came into the kitchen to find you both up to your elbows in soapy bubbles in the kitchen sink, where you had filled up a giant plastic bowl with water and added some dish soap. “Sesame Street told us to put soap in water and play in it,” Maddie explained, logically. That means you also turned Sesame Street on for yourselves.
When I join you for morning playtime before work, it’s always superhero mini-figurines. You are Superman and I am Batman–and there are at least three figurines of each to choose from. Our choices are only limited by which figures you have lost this week by “putting them in jail” during the course of a game, which usually means you stashed them in some random crevice you found in the basement and then completely forgot their location by the time of the next game. We currently don’t know the whereabouts of the Joker, Lex Luthor and 2 of the 6 Batman and Superman figurines that are a part of your rotation.
You pride yourself on “being a good big brother for Sam.” Sometimes this looks like you actually being one and getting him a toy when he’s crying or playing nicely with him on the living room floor while everyone else finishes their dinner. Other times your love for him manifests itself in a “tickle” of his hand or chest that gradually grows in pressure until we have to reel you back. You also like to dump things on his head. That’s not being a good big brother for Sam.
You are a hilarious little boy. You love to sing songs and to make jokes by replacing lyrics or inserting names into the songs you sing. I never would have thought a nearly three-year-old would be capable of this.
These days, you and Maddie are always plotting a scheme of some sort. You finish your lunch and half-whisper in a sing-songy voice that I hope I can always recall, “Maddie, do you want to go play in the basement?” You’ll disappear together, sometimes for almost a half hour at a time, playing who knows what down there.
Recently one of your games involved you wanting Maddie’s Barbie dolls to take off all their clothes and take a bath. When Maddie suggested that any of the male dolls join them, you steadfastly refused to allow it. I guess this is another thing that I wasn’t expecting at age nearly three.
Now that Maddie is going to school three days a week, you take every opportunity to remind us that you will be joining her there in the fall, just as we told you. “First it will be spring, then it will be summer, then it will be fall and I will go to Maddie’s SCHOOOOOL!” you yell. I’m not sure how we’ll break it to you that you won’t actually be in her class.
You join me, Maddie and Sam on the morning walk to the nearby school, and you even lay out your clothes for the journey the night before, just as Maddie chooses her outfit. You’re always awake before her on school day mornings, opening the door with your new clothes and a fresh diaper in hand, asking me to “change your butt” so you can get an early start on your day.
Your wardrobe consisted of pajamas-all-day for the majority of the pandemic, and the outgrowing of each beloved pair is cause for such a funeral that we usually try to have an alternative set with the same intellectual property waiting in the wings. Toy Story is required. Dinosaurs are essential.
When we forced you to start changing into actual clothes for waking hours, the selection of your daily attire became equally important. You have taken a page out of your sister’s book with your newfound love for costume changes. You also love to match and often ask me if we can both wear our Toy Story shirts or our Cubs shirts on a given day. Maddie is only to happy to join us in this clothes-matching madness, and you are both keenly aware of who is wearing the same color at any time.
You are obsessed with the old PBS Kids show “Super Why,” and you know the elements of the show by heart. You sing along with the theme song and participate passionately whenever the show asks for your interaction by identifying letters on the screen, saying your name or putting your hand up for a high five with the show’s characters. I’m quite sure that this 1980s power ballad of a theme song will continue to fire some endorphins in both of our brains for years to come.
You have a sweet tooth that rivals your old man’s, and you love it when we go to the new neighborhood ice cream shop, “Twiple Skyooped!” (Triple Scoop’d) Once a manic tricyclist around the neighborhood–I often referred to you as “the Mayor” for the self-confident way in which you owned the sidewalks–you have now graduated to a two-wheeler with training wheels and, after only a couple outings, you have nearly mastered it.
You master most everything physical. As the world has reopened to us and we have once again started frequenting playgrounds, you have become a cautious daredevil, heading face-first down slides you wouldn’t have considered even traditionally attempting just a year ago. Your prowess with a tee, a ball and a bat is nothing short of Ruthian, and you love to echo my Pat Hughes call of your hits: “This ball’s a chance….GONE!”
When evening falls, you always let me know. “It’s getting dark, Daddy. It’s almost time for bed. And I’ll get a bottle!” Breaking all stereotypes, you will frequently ask to receive your tiny bottle of milk that marks the start of bedtime, heading over to the drawer yourself to assemble the pieces so I can fill it up. Then you guide us through the various other stages of bedtime with your usual level of intensity: jammies! brush teeth! push-ups! prayers!
This brief glimpse into our daily life together is not nearly enough, but you won’t remember any of it and I won’t remember most of it, so it’s all we’ll have someday when this time I am currently taking for granted imperceptibly evolves into the next act of your childhood, which I will also surely start taking for granted.
That last sentence often reads like a tragedy to me, as I want so desperately to save every minute in the internal hard drive of my memory as well as the external hard drive of my photos and videos. But then I think back to how much I’ve already forgotten and how utterly happy I am in the present moment, with or without those specific memories and photos.
Three kids in, I have learned that parenthood is a constant balancing act of simultaneously surviving and savoring the moment. It’s fun to look back, but it’s even more fun to look down in wonder at these little knuckleheads as they are right now–the sum of the experiences we have had together.
And Charlie, if the first nearly three years are any indication, we’ve got a wild ride ahead of us.
Hold on to your cape.