Sam. Sammy. Samuel. Samwise. Sam-bone. Sam the Sham. Sam I Am. Salmon. Samson. Sammy Claus. Uncle Sam. Play It Again Sam.
He’s a man of many nicknames, but today the only one that matters is Birthday Boy!1 It’s been a full year since Samuel Peregrine graced us with his presence in the middle of the night–too late to be an Ash Wednesday baby and too early to be a Leap Day baby–but just in time to add an exciting new wrinkle to our family life at a time when the world was about to change around us.
Being born one month before a global pandemic locked down the United States, this Covid Kid has had the most unique first year of any of our children.2
You might think that being forced to shelter in place with three children under four–one of whom is a newborn–would be difficult. And you’d be correct in that assumption.
But God once again proved that He will never give you more than you can handle, blessing us with little Samwise the Brave, perhaps the closest any infant has ever come to being the model baby.
Aside from being so stinking cute, he just…went with the flow. There are unavoidably hard parts about newborn life, but beyond those givens, Sammy was often the least of our parental worries.
As COVID-19 continued its deadly march through people’s lives and independence, Sam remained a game competitor in the Stay-At-Home Olympics. He learned to smile almost immediately and gladly gave them away without even being coaxed, as if he knew the world needed some extra baby smiles just then.
He consented to long rides in minivans, strollers, bike trailers and swaddle carriers, often without so much as a whimper and frequently with a wide-awake calm that boggled the mind given his age.
Beyond our “bubble” of my immediate family in Chicago and a couple trips to spend time with my in-laws down south, Sammy remains an International Man of Mystery to almost everyone in our social circle. Everyone heard we had a baby, but we weren’t even out of the “keeping our distance with a brand-new newborn” stage before we entered the “keeping our social distance from everyone” stage. On the one hand, he’s met no one and been nowhere. By this time in her life, Maddie had been on an airplane trip to Washington, D.C., was a frequent diner at numerous restaurants and was a regular at hotspots around town.3
On the other hand, Sammy has probably logged more local miles in his first year than most kids do in their first five. He’s trekked through miles and miles of local forest preserves. He’s been strolled up and down our block and through our neighborhood literally hundreds of times. He joined us for more meals on our back patio in his first year than our whole family did in all the previous years since we put the table up out there.
Best of all, he gave us something to do to escape the sometimes hum-drum slog of our Groundhog Day lives. Seeing our older kids interact with him in the first year of his life was at various times hysterical, death-defying, infuriating, heart-melting or just plain fun. On the whole, Maddie and Charlie absolutely adore Sammy4 and often write their own fan fiction about what it will be like when he’s old enough to be even more on their level–playing their games, riding bikes together, and eating foods that they always prematurely and inappropriately want to share with him now.5
That said, it’s also already difficult to remember the multiple stages of the past year of our lives, so I’m thankful for all the photos we’ve taken to jog my memory. Lord knows there hasn’t been enough blog post documentation. Sorry, Sammy!
If I had to sum Sam up in one characteristic, it would be a fitting one for a baby born in the difficult times of a pandemic: dogged determination. Maybe it’s having two older siblings to contend with, but Sam knows what he wants and is willing to go to any measure to get it. Usually, what he wants is the TV remote, my phone or that tiny half of a goldfish cracker he found on the floor. If he obtains said item and you remove it from his grasp, that is a sure way to unleash his otherwise unseen temper. He will well up with tears and scream as if you have just slapped him across the face, rather than having just saved his life by taking away the choking-worthy bead he found that his craft-making older sister accidentally left on the floor.
He began army crawling several months ago and has honed his skills and strength to achieve Roadrunner-like speeds. His greatest ambition in life is to army crawl through the bathroom and stand up to peer into the bathtub or the toilet.
He has also long had a seemingly innate knowledge of right and wrong. I’ll never forget the time when he threw food on the floor and I told him rather forcefully not to do so. Every time since then, he has stared me in the face from his high chair, a smile creeping across his lips, as he stretches out his hand over the floor, loosely holding a rejected noodle or piece of peanut butter-slathered bread.6 He stares me down and I say, “Sammy. No. Don’t do it, Sam.” The smile grows wider and a giggle erupts as he opens his hand and the noodle plunges to its five-second-rule death. How am I supposed to keep a straight face at that?
To add insult to injury, he will sometimes army crawl over to the dining room after dinner and pick up one of his projectiles to consume as a quick dessert.
Sammy is interested in everything–he’s not afraid of a vacuum cleaner and often crawls toward it to get a closer look. He sees me playing catch with a ball or rolling cars with his siblings and he comes over to try it himself. His excitement is contagious when he’s making a car go vroom on the floor or when I roll a ball between his seated legs and he reaches down to clutch it and actually tries to throw it back. When the kids and I engage in a post-toy cleanup wrestling match on the carpet in the basement, Sam will drop whatever he’s doing, crawl over to me with a big smile on his face and climb up on top of me to join the fray.
After playing with all the kids in the morning, they each grab a yogurt and I cut up a banana for Sammy while a PBS Kids show educates us. When the PBS Kids logo comes on the screen, Sam gets so excited and physically animated that Maddie and Charlie noticed it themselves and now watch intently for his reaction.
Like all of our kids, he loves music and he loves to dance. When you even say the word “Alexa,” he immediately turns to the spot in the room where the device lives and starts pre-dancing in anticipation. He somehow adopted the same exact “shaking his head no” dance move to the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” that was first made famous by Charlie, and he was obsessed with hearing this song that we played throughout Christmas and rewrote as “Hey, Skinny Sammy.”7
In recent days, he has started conversing with me more regularly, yelling “A-DAA!” in a call and response when I repeat it back to him. He has mastered the sign language motions for “more please” and “all done.” He pulls himself up on any object or furniture with any vertical height and is now flirting with danger by trying to let go and just stand. His favorite position, however, is a hilarious kneeling pose. I’ve never seen a baby lean back on his knees to play with a toy or just sit and watch his surroundings the way Sam does.
I feel like I’ve grown closest to Sammy in the last three weeks, however, as we have been weaning him and I’ve taken over feedings almost exclusively. We made the decision when he was born that I would be mostly responsible for Maddie and Charlie’s care and feeding during the difficult newborn stages of overnight feedings. I would sleep so that I would be refreshed for the older kids, while Theresa would handle the night shift. This method worked really well, but in hindsight prevented me from a lot of the bonding time that I had with the first two in terms of putting them to bed or even having them sleep on my chest for a post-feeding nap.
Having these moments alone with Samwise now has clearly bonded him closer to me and I feel like I know the little man far better than I did for the majority of this first year. It’s crazy what a little oxytocin-inducing quality time will do!
As he begins his second trip around the sun, I’m so excited to watch the silent movie, slow reveal of his personality transform into the fully formed little boy who will be throwing his weight around to get his due amidst his siblings and adding even more joy to our family life through his infectious smile and near-constant good mood.
As parents, there is a growing sense that we successfully steered Sammy (and Maddie and Charlie and ourselves, frankly) through one of the roughest years of anyone’s life, and there’s a whole lot of hope and promise on the horizon.
Happy birthday, Sam I Am! Play it again.
- I also call him Charlie about 80 percent of the time…
- And honestly unique among most kids. He’s living through history in his first year of life!
- The Library, Sunday Mass, friend play dates, etc.
- sometimes too much and too physically
- Sorry, Sam, you’re not old enough for M&Ms yet.
- Yeah, right, he’d never reject that.
- By the way, this entire J.D. McPherson album is fantastic. Do yourself a favor and bookmark it for next Christmas.