Recently in Dear River Category

Four years, eleven months

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Dear River,

This morning when we discussed the date, I pointed out that you only get to be four for one more month and then you will be five. You don't really understand dates beyond the point where you can see, but you were thrilled to know that soon it will be your birthday. You feel like your birthday is last because you are younger than the bulk of your friends. Always asking, "When will I turn 5?" and "Is it almost December yet?" Now that we have a month to go, with Thanksgiving right smack in the middle like a bomb, I have plans to start your birthday preparations this weekend. We have things to crafts and supplies to order that can't be found in local stores. We have party decorations to shop for together and mommy needs to sneak off and buy your gifts and wrapping paper. Should we try a game this year or a craft? I lean towards, no. I think it is enough to feed a gaggle of children and watch the trash the house I just cleaned. Trashing our home with your friends is probably right on for what you want for your birthday anyway. Crazy boys and their crazy energy driving me crazy!

I wish I remembered to write down the wild things you say and the elaborate stories you make up, but despite my best efforts--life will not slow down. Instead it runs faster and faster. Chores, errands and work piles behind just making it through the day. I'm almost always exhausted. So today I tried to slow down. Oscar couldn't make it to school, so I just did my plans with you and Sage. Afterwards, we sat down to lunch and then we went skating and bike riding outside. I know we are in desperate need of groceries. I know I have lots of things I could be doing, but I also know that nothing makes us all happier than rolling around on the floor in a pile of limbs and to the sounds of giggles. Letting go is hard for me. In this, I should take the advice of you children. Play more, work less.

This month you decided you did not want to do kung-fu anymore. You cried in class and ran over to me. I let you calm down and told you that we do not give up and I wanted you back out there. You went out, but would not do anything. You walked slowly with the group and would not kick or punch. You didn't earn a stripe that day. I told Daddy to let me handle it. Slowly, I talked to you about it. I laid down the law but also listened. The next time, you did everything and now you like going again. Last night, you got up in front of the entire studio--all your peers, teachers, and the parents and did your form and broke two boards with a heel kick. In many ways, you are unsure because you haven't been in a formal preschool or day care. Listening in a large group is new to you as are many of the group games. But you are bright and quick to learn. Not only am I learning with you, but I am learning how to be your mother. Or what it means to be a mother to an older child. I am a guide but I can't win your battles for you. I can encourage and support, but I can't always hold your hand. It's been difficult to watch your tears and see you uncomfortable, but building confidence and trying new things is never easy. Not at first. I think there is great value in giving you an safe outlet to define yourself and other adults to be your guides and teachers. 

One of my favorite moments this month was during Sage's nap. I was so tired but I didn't want to leave you watching still more cartoons. After a round of whining, I convinced you to lay by me and tell me a story. As always, cuddles warms through your sulky moments when communication breaks down with you complaining and me being angry. We lay under the blanket and you told me a long involved story filled with colorful bursts of vocabulary and excitement in your voice, "and then he thundered up the ramp and shot through the sky!" 


This month a lot of things are coming together in school. You have begun writing long strings of letters on your own and asking me to read it.  You draw looping sprawls and tell me it is in cursive. Today you wrote your first sounded out sentence with punctuation and everything. In math you can solve simple addition problem by counting on your fingers or using objects. Today I felt my first pang of regret that you'll be away five days a week next year in kindergarten. At the same time, I look forward to having more individual time with Sage. Yes, I can feel both things at once. I can then well up with happy tears at the thought of five years with you as my almost constant companion. I can be nostalgic for our early years when it was just you and I and excited for our future years and the ways you will change and the exciting things you will do. 

To me, these five years feel defining -tattooed into my skin. I've been changed in ways that should show on my face. The way I see the world is entirely different. When people say, "Wait till you are a parent..." the saying is spot on--true. You can't know this life until you are living it. You can't understand the power of this love, the exhaustion or stress of this job, the way life shrinks down into the family core, or how a parent can let a child run around like a monkey in public (children aren't easy to control and sometimes its more you non-parents not understanding that kids are kids and not little adults). These past five years have aged me more than the twenty five that went before it, they have also made me far more wise. 


I remember watching you sleep in the quite of midday. Watching the stillness of you and the peace. Trying to carve it into my memory so it couldn't be forgotten. These moments are smaller, but remain. A warm glow of love when you speak at the table and I, across from you, watch the color of your eyes change in the light through the doors. I see hints of green through the warm brown towards the edges of your iris. I look out further and see your baby face within your child face. I imagine seeing you as a man, but that thought is sore as a bruise and as impossible to conceive as seeing your newborn self before you were born. 

I realize these letters have changed. From records of you to my rambling thoughts, but so have we changed in this time. I always consider how my mother's father died when she was only four and wonder how little of me would remain in your memory if I was removed from your life this soon. Of course, there isn't a sliver of me that wants that to happen. I want to see you old and grey with crow's feet around your eyes. I want to see your children and your children's children. But I can't control life, and while this thought often terrifies me, I have to accept. So I write you these monthly letters as a testament of my love for you. I can't perfectly preserve your sleeping face in my memory, so I take pictures. I can articulate my love, but the words are erased by time and buried under our daily life. So, my dear boy, I write you hoping these words will be there to cushion you if I am not. To let you know that the first arms that held your body wanted you more than you will ever understand-- until the day when you might hold your own child in your arms. And if you have that moment, the next time you see me--you'll understand that despite our rocky times, you are and always have been the keystone of my soul. 


I love you even when you make me angry (which happens so often!)



Four years, ten months

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Dear River,

We've come to a place of balance, you and I. From August until the end of September we were having a lot of issues. Me loosing my temper and you not listening at all, arguing, and throwing tantrums. I think, as always, you and I have a reciprocal relationship. I throw you out of alignment and you do the same to me. We're very similar in some ways. New routines can be hard--with school starting. Now we've settled into a groove again. We're a team and communicating well. I miss that. It seems like that month lasted forever and I woke up and didn't want to face another day of feeling stressed, tired and arguing with you. I'm so glad that's over, for now. In almost five full years, we've consistently moved in and out of those tough times and we always will. I suppose it is just part of parenting. Really, it is part of any relationship. When you truly love someone, you will work at correcting that balance instead of throwing in the towel. If you love someone as much as I love you, throwing in the towel will never be an option. And so, forward we go.


Preschool has brought a lot of changes this year. You now love to draw. Last year  you would refuse. You would say, I don't know how. You wouldn't even try. Now you draw everything. People are my personal favorite. Your muscle men and iron man suits. Honestly, I was afraid you would never like to draw. It's just never interested you. Then something clicked in your development. You never drew the people that are circles with arms and legs coming off them. You instantly just started drawing people with torsos, heads,  arms, legs, feet, hands, rocket blasters, unibeams, etc. Drawing becomes a foundation for your stories. Everything become exaggerated, fantastical, detailed. You are my little writer in the making. The boy who produces entire story arches on the spot with a beginning, middle and end and a clear conflict and resolution. You think in a narrative and your imagination is wild and intense. I look into your amber eyes, this warm, goldenish shade of brown, and see you lost in your own exciting worlds. I see myself at that age. Pretend wasn't just pretend with me. Pretend was the best possible way to play. It had story lines and plots and developed characters. So when you burst out with some off-topic, imaginative piece of thought (like asking your friend what he thought if there was a bridge that stretched between his house and yours in the middle of a game)--I know, River. I know, exactly where it came from. It came from a mind that never stops piecing together words. A mind that dreams up stories. That's my mind too. 


As a side not you have begun being able to take off the prefix of a word and add a new letter and then tell me what the word is! Reading, River. READING! I screamed when you did it. I got up and fanced around. You also are writing. One and two word journal entries. The amount of progress from only fifteen days of preschool is amazing. I can't wait to see what you can do at the end of the year!


For you, social interaction is like crack. You start conversations with strangers. You don't have the wisdom yet to see the body language of leave 'me alone kid' or 'I don't really care'. You will just stand close and talk about your favorite cartoons, your favorite books, the dreams you had. You are relentless in making friends. You play with much older children and much younger. Being without a friend is so boring to you. I know because I can see it in you but  also because I was the same way. You want to live at the neighbor's house. I was the child that never missed home. That would go for a string of sleep-overs and weeks of camp. I loved being around people, meeting new people, being away from home.  My little boy that would cry and bang the door if I so seldom left him--has grown into a confident and friendly child. I have no worries at the thought of you in school. I know I am not enough to satisfy your need for people. I never can be. You are a person who craves others.


For many reasons, but mainly your energy and need for social interaction besides your mother, we started you in martial arts. You are a combination of sullen looks and shy in class. But quick to open up with a bit of joking. I spend my time peeping out of the little kid room, watching you slowly warm to this new situation, worrying that you won't like it. But you came out last time and said, "I was shy at first but I had fun."


You give me attitude now and can imitate your father's often heard sarcasm. We have a lot of talks about being rude and polite and fine-tuning behavior. Still, you have a hard time tuning in to listen, thinking before you act, staying still when it is time to listen. Your main concerns are friends and thoughts running through your own head. Let me tell you a secret. I still have trouble with all these things. In social situations I don't really think at all, I just act. I often am guilty of putting my foot in my mouth, but I'm also so seldom intentionally cruel. I think you are the same way. Shocked when someone snaps at you, but you really didn't hear us. Not because you physically couldn't or were purposefully being rude, but because you were so caught in the situation and in your enjoyment of it. I also have trouble listening. My thoughts wander, I burst out with something that seems totally unconnected from the current topic. Ah, River. I will always understand but that doesn't mean I will always be kind. It's hard to deal with someone like us, I think. Flighty and dreamy and absentminded, distracted and silly. I often say you are my divine revenge.  I say it with a smile. You allow me to see myself from other's points of view. It doesn't mean I will change, but it does me I understand. I understand how frustrating I can be from you. But I'm so very, very glad you have a head full of tumbling words and stories. I can't wait to see what amazing things you do with the gift we've both been given!



Four years, nine months

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Dear River,

We have our good times and our bad times like any relationship. Ours seem to go in clusters. If you are off or I am off, we are irritable and argue. When we are both good, we get a long very well. What I seem to forget is that, though you have the vocabulary of a much older child and are excellent at articulating your thoughts, you are still a very young child. A child who is still learning right from wrong and discovering empathy. A child who is needy, though mostly independent, who is outgoing, but has his timid moments, a child who is overall easy, but asserting himself in sudden and intense ways. I recently started watching a little girl I've known since she was two. She's a year older than you and it has been enlightening. She lies. You lie. She goes dramatic. So do you. Boys, when thrown together, are a puppy pile of lumps, throw and yelling. It is hard to assess your emotions or find a way to compare your drama to theirs. You are all too joyful being physically rambunctious. But with this five year old girl, I begin to understand your moods aren't something being wrong with you or some failing in my parenting, your moods are your age, your developing brain, of interacting and making sense of ideas, concepts, and realities I long ago internalization. And it is also me learning from you, because I don't know how to parent a four years, ten month old you. It's all figuring out what works as I go along. The same thing you are doing.

(And can I interrupt to say that you and this five year old girl, fight like a married couple. Quarrel and tease and once spent a good ten minutes singing insults at each other as if you were in a musical. It's hilarious and a preview of good 'ol elementary flirting. Sigh...)

And so, sometimes we argue. Actually, we argue quite a bit. Sometimes you yell. Sometimes I yell. I try to talk to you about it afterwards. To discuss why I yelled or you yelled, what we can work on and stress that apologies are like band-aids we put over the boo-boos we cause others with our anger. I don't like that I yell. So this is something I want to work on. I am proud of how calm I remain when you yell. It doesn't make me angry. It makes me thoughtful. I know I won't always make the best choices or respond in the best way, but I promise to think about my choices afterwards and to come to you with my thoughts. I hope, by doing these things, I can teach you to do the same. One of my favorite life lessons is that we can not control the things that happen to us, but we can control how we respond. We'll keep working at it, River. That I can promise. 

I've written down a few silly and memorable things from this past month. We finally cut off your curls. I got tired of you having to shove them out of your eyes. When you first saw yourself afterwards, you said "It doesn't look very good. I look like an elf!" I am not sure what you meant by this. Maybe it was the fact that you could suddenly see your ears. Another River-ism this month: "I try to remember my good dreams, but then the bad dreams come walking and pushing them away." The personification of "bad dreams" is so creative. We were at the library one day and you said, "Watch me do this puppet show." They have little puppet show stage and a few bug themed puppets out. You made you the following story with the puppets, "Once upon a time there was a cricket and then a bee came along and stung the cricket. He fell down. But there was another cricket and he beat the bee. Then he lived happily ever after." I was so proud of this moment. I saw a lot of myself in the easy way you pieced this story together and in the ease that you communicate and throw in big vocabulary words. For example, when Daddy was in the kitchen cooking, he dropped something while singing a song. You looked up from your coloring and said, "It's apparently hard to sing while you're doing something." I don't think this is the way a typical four year old talks! Of course, sometimes you get it wrong "These balloons lost their hymillium," you explained when Sage's birthday balloons stopped floating. 

You love to be tickled, kissed and cuddled. Your filter is not in place yet. You will announce potentially embarrassing things out loud in public. "Mommy, you tickled me so much, you made a little pee come out." I won't share some of the others. They are much worse and I'm pretty sure it won't take too many more years before you realize they can be embarrassing! But how funny it is now! You were eating an orange at the table, when Daddy noticed you weren't spitting out any seeds. "River, you're not eating those seeds, are you?" he asked. You said you were. Daddy called to me when you interrupted and said, "I know what you are going to say." "What?," Daddy asked you. You raised your voice and shouted, "Your son is eating orange seeds!" We laughed so hard. A random bit of weird, you were pretending something and said out loud with great sadness, "It's just not the same without my old body." Such an imagination. You want to wear Iron Man armor and we've been saving cardboard boxes to build some. Now you want to learn Martial Arts. So if you can behave this month in preschool we said we'd look for a school to send you to. 

The funniest moment this month happened when I snapped at Sage for playing with my earrings while she nursed and I was reading to you. I was aggravated already and ready for the day to end. You said, "Don't yell at her." I explained why I did, but agreed I should not yell. You made me ashamed of myself but also proud that you were standing up for your little sister. Then you went on the explain, "If you yell at her, she might cry." Wow, I then feel really bad. Like horrible bad. You are so right. Man, I have to control this yelling. "And if she cries," you went on to explain, "I can't hear my book." I think I froze then, caught between laughter and the oblivious selfishness of young children. Which reminds me of our fight earlier this month, my talk about apologizing and your heartfelt, "Mommy?" "Yes, River?" I asked ready for it. Ready for you to apologize and say you love me. To show empathy and remorse. "Mommy, I just." your voice thick with emotion. "I just love Josh (your friend) so much." Or when I started crying because I hated arguing with you, I hugged you, you hugged me and then seeing my tears you gave me a "What the fuck?" look, rolled your eyes and said, "Can we go outside now or something?" What a little man you are, River and boy do you have a lot to learn about women!

Our days are filled with these little moments. "Way to go, River!" you cheered to yourself throwing your arms up in the air. I hope you always love yourself as much as you do now. That you continue to take pride in your accomplishments, but that--as your grow--your learn to be a bit more sensitive to other's feelings. I have every faith that you will. For now, I'll try not to laugh as you say something callous or talk about how you may or may not have shit in your pants a little while in the dollar store while everyone was listening in. Did I just write about that? Why, yes I did. I'll let that one slid since you told three different groups of people about it after the fact. You truly are a little piece of me: no filter and reading while at the park. 




Four years, eight months

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Dear River, 

This has been a great month with you. You loved vacationing at the beach and couldn't get enough of playing in the water. You'd get knocked over, salt water in your mouth and eyes, and then you'd plunge right back in. The sun has bleached streaks of auburn and blond into your curls. Your back is very tan. You look like a little surfer kid with half your hair in a ponytail and the other half hanging in your face. One day you ran ahead of us on the beach, back to the blanket, growing smaller and smaller and never pausing. You are so fast! You are also, often, without a shirt. Even in the house. When my neighbor was watching you one afternoon, you told her, "Sometimes I leave my shirt off at home so I can admire my muscles."

When we play, you come up with complicated rules. "No, mommy. You have to wait until I am ready." or "You can't get me on the bed. There is electric all over. You will get electrocuted." Your imagination is so strong that if I pretend to be a scary monster, you start to get scared. As if I actually turned into a monster. You told me this morning that you had a nightmare that your cup of water froze and then frozen water was going everywhere. This, honestly, scared you. I forget how scary it was to be little. I often had nightmares myself--my imagination getting the better of me. So when you caught me looking at photos of frozen dead people after reading a book about climbing Mt. Everest, you asked me, "What is that?" and I said, "It's frozen dead people." Then went on to explain how they climbed the mountain and died. That night you had a nightmare about frozen dead people. I felt terrible. 

I savor being honest. Daddy tries to explain that you are too little to be honest with. Maybe he has a point. When the cats caught a bug, I got it away and put it outside. "Why isn't it moving anymore?" you asked. "It probably died." I replied. "We tried our best to save it." and then your eyes fill with tears for the poor dead moth the cats killed. Maybe I should have said it was sleeping. I'm on the fence over how much I should protect you from the realities of life. I want death to be something we talk about. I don't want to lie to you and tell you young people do not die or that life is fair and everyone lives happily ever after. I try to answer your questions with questions. "Well, why do you think that is?" and that seems to work better than my brutal honesty. I do remember what it was like to be little and saddened by so much, before I grew callous or accepting or wiser, whatever it might be. I suppose the only thing I can really do is assure you that I will try my best, that I understand and that it is okay to be afraid or saddened by things in life and that "Yes, I could be wrong. Maybe the moth is sleeping" and maybe when you weren't looking, I flung it over the balcony railing and told you, "Yes, maybe it did fly away."

I spat out one day that I was going to "Kill Daddy." for something. Maybe it was his collection of dirty spoons on his desk. You said, "Mommy, you aren't really going to kill Daddy. You are just going to put him in jail, right? Or can we just put him in a box with tape?" I almost died laughing. The box bit, I understand. When Sage is particularly challenging I ask you if it would be okay to box her up and mail her to Grandma or another family who wants a little girl. You always tell me, no. That isn't okay.  When I leave Sage at the foot of the stairs, again, because she refused to walk up herself while my arms were full of shopping bags, you always run out first proclaiming, "I will watch her!". If there is one thing I recall as an amazing benefit of having a sibling, it is that your sib has your back when your mom (or Dad) looses their mind. That when push comes to shove, your sibling will stand up for you, protect you and nurture you when the parent drops the ball. To see you do that for Sage makes me both proud and confident. I am okay with you helping me. I am more than okay with it. I am so, so thankful that you two have each other.

Your speech often surprises us with big words and I always tell you, "That's a good word right there" or "I'm surprised you used that one!" A good example was you watching a two years old do "ballet" and you said, "That's pathetic." Not kind, no, but an accurate use of a big word! You are fascinated by other fonts now. You will scribble and say, "These letters are in a different accent." I see where you got the idea, but not accurate. Cute, though. Cute. You inquire about new words, "What does emerge mean?" And then you create your own words: nose-breath. When cuddling with me you asked, "Ugh, that's what you always do when I lay with you." 

"What?" I asked. 

I could tell you were trying to think of a nice way to say something you understood could be potentially hurtful. What you have yet to understand is that your mother is very okay with physical talk. I don't get offended when you say my booty is squishy. I don't think I ever will. 

"You breathe your nose breath on me," you finally explained.

"What is my nose breath like?" I asked, guessing where you were going with this.

"It stinks!"

Your father and I laughed and laughed and laughed. Now we make our own jokes about my rank "nose-breath."


I was listening to a song that said Jupiter in it. I looked at you and said, "You know. If you were a girl, I was going to name you Jupiter."

You practically rolled your eyes at me, but then smiled fondly. A smile that said, o, mom aren't you just cute. Then you explained, "Jupiter is a boy name, Mom. Saturn is a girl name."

Well, excuse me Mr. Know It All! 


With all the talk about gay marriage going on in the media, I decieded it was a good idea to explain about same-sex couples. I just said, "You know that sometimes boys marry boys and girls marry girls, right?"

You said, "No."

"Well, yeah. So some kids have two mommies and some have two Daddies."


"So you can either marry a boy or a girl when you grow up. I don't care what you do. Up to you."

"I'm going to marry a boy," you said. 

Your father looked at me over your head and said, "Thanks a lot."


The point is, River, that I want you to be happy and healthy. I will never judge you on who you pick to love as long as you are happy and healthy. Your life is yours to live. At times this expansive, intense love and grace settles over me. I find you in your room, I hug you close, press a kiss into your cheek and tell you, "I love you, River-boy" and you lean into me and say, "Thank you, Mom. I love you too." I realize that life can be as simple as that moment.



Four years, seven months

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Dear River,

We are, once again, at an awesome place with you. You are funny and full of energy, but still very affectionate. You want to climb into my lap. Almost every morning when you wake, you crawl over to my side of the bed and cuddle against the side where Sage isn't. You and I have a special relationship. Partly from you being my first and having all that solo attention for almost three years. Part of it is the similarities in our personalities. And part, I think, is all the upheaval in our lives those years when it was just you and I. I needed you to make me strong and I used your joy as fuel during grieving. 

You are full of clever and endearing little turns of phrase. This is an old one I forgot to pop in a prior letter, but so very good. Daddy had been pretending he was a robot. About a week later, you came out with this: "Daddy you're not a robot because I can see you have blood in your veins. Right?" You'd been considering that for days. Pondering if your father was or was not really a robot. I'm glad Daddy is around to rough house with you. Like most boys, you are still very physical. You love Power Rangers and come out with these ridiculous looking moves that you think are awesome. You are convinced you are really kicking fictional ass. When, truly, you are flailing awkwardly around, curls bouncing, a strange twisted look of concentration on your face. "Did you see that?" you will ask, mock panting from your fight. You love to wrestle with Daddy. If he picks me up and I shriek, you bound up from whatever you were doing and attack him. You want to be a pokemon trainer when you grow up, an inventor like Tony Stark, and a Power Ranger (red or gold). In fact, you will not stop talking about building iron man armor. So much so that I had to snap at you to cut it out. You were driving me crazy talking about it and my suggestions that you drawl up blueprints was not working. I always feel badly when I burst your imaginative bubble with "You know I can't really build you real working iron man armor, right?" I wouldn't even if I could River because you do things like trip randomly and crumble to the carpet. Do you know how much shit you would destroy in an invincible iron man suit? 

Every meat is chicken to you. My picky eater is a whole lot less picky now. You will try most foods and have broadened what you will actually eat. You still have an intense love of fruit though. I don't recall eating a lot of fresh fruit myself. I can remember my first plum at a hippie festival where it rained for days and we had little to eat. I was probably around 11 and that plum was amazing. Times change, I suppose and we are fortunate to have the funds to commit to healthy eating. You don't like any milk that doesn't come out of a glass jar now. The best blueberries, you know, come from bushes that we picked from ourselves dripping sweat under the summer sun. You like books about where maple syrup comes from and recently told me you wanted to go tap trees as a family. 

This is the first year you really have been able to help. There is something so rewarding about being able to share chores with you. You are often resistant, but you are becoming less so. More willing to shoulder a light bag, hold a door for me, help clean up a mess, or put your used dish in the sink. We're doing well with the positive reinforcement over here. I'm learning to relax and enjoy you kids more again. It isn't my natural inclination to relax but when I force myself, I'm better to be around. One day I admire the spring of your curls and the bright shine of your eyes. The next day I'm all about nuzzling on Sage's cheek until she laughs. Instead of stop and smell the roses, its stop and love on the children. Not worry about laundry, errands, tasks, the future. Just living in the moment. It's hard for me, but I'm always working at it. 

You learned to swim this month. An awkward looking doggy paddle, but at the start of the summer you wouldn't even go in the big pool without a life vest. Now you jump in, swim under water, and swim to and from the stairs. You also love to have your nails painted. We go to Target and each pick out a color. Your first choice was pink and then you picked out sparkles. You claim to love every color, even pink and tell this to other boys who get on you about having pink toe nails. You have also begun to buckle your own seat belt. Every time you fight me to try something new until you finally do it: often on your own (just like I always did). Then you radiate with pride in yourself. Earlier this month we were going to make a family book. We each draw a page and staple them all together. You were crying and crying that you couldn't draw and I was getting annoyed. Daddy was very understanding. He offered to let you color his page. Well, you were left at the table quietly coloring and then you came to show us the picture. It was colored so very well. Every color exact and in the lines. You were extremely proud. I was extremely thankful that Daddy was the kind parent and helped you be successful. 

Some more River-isms this past month are a random, crazy statement like: "I'm just a dream. I'm really a giant." Which I aptly translated to, "So you are a giant, sleeping and pretending to be a little boy in your dreams?" You may have just gotten the writer gene! You call sparklers, "sparks". You built a fort out of pillows and blankets and were piling toys inside explaining out loud that they were "gagets" and you were "a one man business". You hurried your sister inside and made her a part of your bright imagination. Sadly, you need to be neglected just to get to play like this. You will whine for a video game, cartoons, a book read and I will have to repeat no, no and no until you finally look to yourself and Sage for play. But when you do, I listen and am amazed by the worlds you create. My favorite game, ever, when I was little was pretend. It's really no surprise I am a writer. Let's see what you do with your imagination. 

Reverse aging maybe. Today you proclaimed that you did not want another little brother or sister and that "By the time Sage is 80, I'm going to be 61!" You asked me, "How old are your mommy?" and I responded "29". You considered, "That isn't old. You are still young." Then you asked me in the car, "When I'm a baby again, will you nurse me?" because you believe in reincarnation. You want me to always come back as your mommy. Though once, you asked if I would come back as a little girl so we could play together. You cried when the cats killed a moth. It makes me see how calloused I've become to life. I was the little girl dumping water on the fish my father caught and lay out to die on the hot slats of our back porch. 

I often worry. Am I doing a good enough job with you? I'm afraid of passing on bad habits or memories unintentionally through some dent or flaw in my own personalty. I know all this worry doesn't do any good as I wallow in guilt if I've lost my temper. Then the other day you lost your temper. Screaming, tantrum, yelling about a video game as we calmly told you to relax and calm down. I picked up your writhing body off the floor to put you on the couch. I offered comfort, you didn't want it. You anger doesn't hurt me. In this, I win a mother gold award. Later that night, you told Daddy you had something to tell him. You apologized for loosing your temper and explained that you should have calmed down and you were grateful for being able to play the game. It echoed the way I apologize to you for yelling. I guess I'm doing something right. More than something, I'm doing a pretty damn good job with you and your sister. I hope that we can both still agree this is so when you are a teenager. But at least you will have these letters when we are angry, when we are far apart, and when I am gone to remind you that you were precious to me and loved in a way you can not comprehend until you hold your own babies in your arms. If or when you do, you will see yourself looking back from their eyes as you feel me in the shape of your arms cradling their bodies. Just as I see myself in your explorations and feel my own mother in my mother's love for you. In this way, we are part of a chain and united. So even when I'm not here, you will have me with you and every other mother and father who went before me doing this amazing thing of raising children, loving children, giving of ourselves for our children. 

I thought I wouldn't be able to continue these letters, but I am finding that these have become silent conversations with you. I want you to know me as a person and not just your mother. I want you to feel our connection as people. I had an amazing professor once who insisted we focus on our connectivity and similarities. When we do so, other things can be forgiven. We learn empathy, compassion, and feel less alone in this world. Perhapes this is one of the greatest gifts children give their parents: the chance to be as selfless as possible. To care so deeply about another's life that you truly do try to walk in their shoes. 

So, yes I am often too hard on myself. You may be too. The reality is, I am not perfect, River. Nor were my own parents, but I never have doubted they loved me and you must never doubt that I love you. 

Never doubt. 


Four years, six months

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Dear River,

Four and a half already! It's hard to even remember you as a little baby in my arms. You are a little person with a wide, variable range of emotions. With good moods and bad moods, lying and making up stories, endearing moments of kindness and moments of temper. You are needy one day and independent the next. I told you that you had one more year until Kindergarten and you told me, "Does that mean I go to college after that?" When riding bikes we were cheering on your friend for taking the lead and setting our pace. Behind me you asked, "What does rooting mean?". When you get angry, your face squints up, you bare you teeth, fist you hands and spit out, "That doesn't make sense!" and then sometimes you run crying to your room, slamming the door, and lay in your bed until you calm down. 


Overall though, you are a chipper child. Quick to forgive and essentially still very kind. I say this even though you have begun teasing and bulling with your friends. Not major things. For example, hiding another friend's favorite toy and plotting about where else to hide it with someone else. While I don't condone this behavior, I think it is natural. But then you have moments of kindness--bring a crying child a balloon, rocking the car seat of a crying baby, or being the first one to go to your sister when she wakes in the morning.  Other women have commented about how good you are you younger children and babies. Your friends could care less about the babies but you always take a moment to rub a baby's cheek, to let him hold your hand, and to talk to him. 

Daddy and I often tease one another, but I forget how impressionable you are. Now you have begun to disrespect your father. If he is joking around and rough housing with me, you jump up from whatever you are doing to "come to my aid" and will pull him, push him or swing your fists. Which was cute and funny at first, but I realize I was undermining Daddy with all my teasing. Now you tell him that you don't have to listen to him. If he tells you no to something you ask, you run to me. You tell Daddy things like, "Mommy is the boss. I don't have to listen to you." Or you accuse him of being lazy because he sits at his computer all day instead of taking you to the pool. I have begun to explain that he isn't lazy. That he works all day and comes home tired. But mostly, Daddy and I need to stop joking around and sassing each other in play--because we aren't being good respectful role models! Just like it took me awhile to drop cuss words from my speech when you began to talk, it will take me awhile to learn to be more polite to Daddy, to drop our mocking and sarcasm, as you have become so in tuned to the what we say to each other. 

Our biggest issues around here is that you are always taking it too far. You want to be chased and its funny for a bit but not so funny when you start ripping pillows and blanket off the bed and throwing them around. Or when you dart out of bed laughing and hide from us when it is time to go to sleep. You can't tell when we are mock serious or seriously serious. Though you are better at telling with me than Daddy. Maybe because I have a mean, scary mommy face that I pull out when needed. 

I have fantasies of dragging out a blanket, going outside in the evening and reading book after book to you. Sage tears books out of my hand, violently turns pages and tried to block me bodily when I read to you. I miss our long interrupted story times filled with cuddles. So one of these nights, when I don't have Yoga and we find time in the rush of dinner, cleaning, bedtime I need to get outside with you, away from your demanding tamtruming sister, and enjoy some time just with my boy. You are, honestly, a sweet child but Sage is in a very challenging place right now and her noise, anger and fighting me on everything puts my temper on edge--so when you do something minor, I sometimes explode. You see, it is easier to be hard on you because you understand me and can communicate. It's hard to get angry at Sage for the exact opposite reason. Sometimes I fear that having Sage ruined our relationship--took away this beautiful lovely thing we had going when you were my world and I was your world. I know we had hard days, but it was easy to be patience and kind when my entire focus was on you. I watch you fall asleep alone in your bed, always curling on your left side before you finally give in to sleep and my entire body aches to lay beside you, hold you close. But Sage is younger and won't stay put in her bed. Rarely, she falls asleep first and I go to cuddle with you. I remember you as a baby in my arms and a part of me, especially on hard days, longs for that simpler time. Then I do manage to take you somewhere alone and you hate leaving Sage behind. It seems the more we have to our family, the more drama, the more work, the more stress but also more to love. I may not have as much time just for you, my free spirit doing so much alone these days, but my love for you has only grown. Memories of your baby days are so sweet. They give me the strength to get through the rough patches since you are still my child, older and infinitely more complex, but still keeper of my love of you. Even when you get dramatically angry at me. 


We can't freeze time, so let's keep moving forward together.



Four years, five months

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Dear River,

Overall this past month you've been an angel. You have finally really gotten the connection that behaving gets you rewards. In awe you said something along the lines of, "If I listen to you, I get to do fun things!" This is where I mimed slapping my palm against my forehead and a dramatic fall to the ground. It's been four years and change and you finally get it! And maybe this connection, maybe not, has gotten you to finally spend most nights in your bed. You finished your sticker cart and by doing so earned a toy of your choice: a pokemon that reverses into a poke ball. Now you are earning a razor scooter by doing chores. Some days you are extremely helpful. You especially like helping me take out the recycling. You also clear the table after dinner and pick up your toys to earn a sticker a day. 

You are also far more helpful with Sage. I catch you noticing she wants a drink before I can help her. You take out her water, open the top and hand it to her. You try to help her get her shoes on. You hold her hand for me and usually are very good about sharing with her. When we took you out to see a movie without Sage, you were insistent that she should go too and that she wanted to be with you. She idolizes you. Doing or trying everything you do. This includes pooping in the toilet. I am considering having you potty train her. Why not? I think if she had to choose between us, she would rather listen to you anyway.

This past month you had a 24 hour stomach bug and woke up to vomit. Then you vomited again in the toilet. This made me crack up when Daddy told me. I can remember your Uncle Bryan's inability to ever make it to the toilet and Grandma screaming at him for vomiting on the floor instead of even trying to run for the toilet. And here you are, first stomach bug, and you vomited in the toilet. Daddy told me the following: when you saw the vomit "It looks like poop! What's wrong with me? Why am I pooping from my mouth?" 

You've had a lot of questions about God and what other people believe and what happens when you die. I am never sure what to tell you or how much is too much. I don't want to hammer my beliefs down your throat nor do I want you to feel confused about the major world religions. Still, you are very young. So, I decied that I will teach you my views through storytelling. I began by drawing a ying/yang and explaining how men and woman are different but that together they make a whole circle. That each man has some woman in him and each woman some man. Then you had great fun coloring your own yin and yang pictures. Then I explained that most people think God is a boy but that God, like the circle, was a bit of each. How God is in everything, including us, but that we can not see God. That when we die, the part in our heads that makes us who we are, will not. That this part will return to God and our body will become part of the earth, trees, and world around us. 


"Why can't I see God?, you asked.

"Can you see love?" I questioned you holding out my hands. "Can you see my love for you here in my hands?"

"No!" you said laughing.

"Well, God is love. That is why you can't see him."

"Him/Her mommy. God is both."

And I smiled. Because even though I slip up and say He (conditioned as I am), I want you to think differently. Whatever the divine is or where it dwells--that is your journey to discover on your own, but as long as I can instill an equal reverence of the female and the male sides of divinity--I will consider my job well done.

You want to be baptized. Or so you expressed when you heard me talking about it to a friend. I imagine taking you out in nature to a stream and baptizing you with my own hands. Not to wash away sins, but to wash the beauty of the world into you. I imagine saying something along the lines of, "This is water--and all life needs it. You are a part of that life. Live in it consciously, kindly, with an endless thirst for knowledge. Live from your heart and do good in this world. When you do wrong, learn from it and move forward. I have faith in the divinity that lives within you. As your mother, daughter of the great mother who holds us all--I give you to the world." 

And maybe, some day, I will. But not yet River, for now you are firmly in my world and I savor every moment sharing these days with you.



Four years, four months

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Dear River,

We've once again come to a balance. You are still full of energy to the point of my insanity, but you will listen. I have to make you look at me, touch you and ask if you understand before things sink in--but you are usually very well behaved. The one I rely on to help me. When I first began implementing chores, you complained, "Why do I have to do this?" but then we made a chore chart--a sticker per day for daily chores completed and a prize at the end. Since then, you have been very willing to help. Now, this feels like bribery. I hate that. You should help because you made the mess and live here. But I so want to buy you a scooter like the neighbor kids have but I can't see just putting out the money, when money is tight, for a pricey gift for you that you don't need. So, you have to earn it. I look forward to seeing you scooting along with the other kids instead of running forlornly beside them and occasionally, through his mother's demands, attempting to ride your friends' scooter now and then (usually while he cries because you are on his toy). 

You occasionally use really bizarre words that sound strange coming out of your little boy mouth. "Mommy there is a bad guy following you around, but don't worry. I can defeat him. I have defeated him before." and "I peered inside the cup and saw some ice cream in there." How about--- "When I see the little play station, I can't resist wanting to play."  There are so many examples of your amazing vocabulary. Sometimes, I sit back on my heels and blink. "Did you just say--?" When you repeat the word again, properly in a sentence, usually with a snide, "Yeah, what do you think?" tagged at the end, I respond with-- "That's a good word." Then there might be another snide, "Of course." Maybe an eye roll. The attitude, you have it. The back talk, it happens sometimes. We even got into our first true argument the other day. 
You were whining about wanting to watch something over and over. I got tired of telling you no. I even turned it around a few times and asked when you usually got to watch cartoons (while Sage napped) and was it that time now (no)? Finally, when the whining had built up inside me to the point of explosion, I raised my voice and snapped "No!" interrupting your current bide for cartoons via your method of broken, whiny, record. You began to raise your own voice. Something about me not listening and you not talking about cartoons. "I wanted to watch something else!" "No," I snapped. "Be quite! Stop talking about this! How many times do I have to tell you no?!" "You're not listening to me!," You yelled back your face scrunched in anger and tears beginning to brim in your eyes. This back and forth went on. The argument was dropped and started again two different times. Eventually you said you just wanted to ask if you could watch toys. I swear, in the silence of my disbelief, you could hear crickets (quite literally from the tarantula's cage). Even though I know I should have played the adult and dropped the subject, I was so annoyed by this excuse, that I accused you of lying (and you so were, you do it all the time) and got us bickering all over again. "You don't need permission to watch toys! Why would you even ask that?! You're just lying so you can win the argument!" As if to further support your bullshit argument, you periodically asked me if you could "watch your toys" off and on throughout the day. Four words for you, River: pain, in, the, ass.

I thought kids got less nasty as they got older, but I guess that isn't true. I catch you with your fingers in your nose or in your pants all the time. In public even. The other day, I caught you licking your hand at the dinner table and asked you to stop. Of course, you didn't. Or stop only lasted about two minutes until you were back to favoring your hand with a layer of spit again. "Really, River. Stop doing that. It's gross to do that at the dinner table. It's making me sick to look at you." "Don't look at me then," you responded. Not a hint of rudeness. Just matter of fact. When my initial thought was discipline, my second one was to nod. "While that does make sense, it is rude to say something like that. Now stop licking you hand or you are going in time out. I also won't see you there."

I broke a glass the other day. Every time you fall outside, tearing out the knees of another pair of pants, I think of how clumsy I am. With the broken glass in my hands, I sighed. I said, "I used my clumsy super power again." You popped into the kitchen, all excited. "What kind of power is that, mommy?!" It's a kind you don't want, but you have. You fall twice as much as the average child. This weekend, you hit your boy bits for the first time when you didn't break your bike going downhill, despite the fact that I has warned you where to break beforehand and was yelling "BREAK! BREAK!" as your barreled off the sidewalk, into the dirt, tipped over, and injured yourself. Hand in your pants, you cried twitching over the oddness and agony of your injury. Afterwards, you bragged that you went off roading. Now, I'm pretty sure you did it all on purpose. 

Asking if you wanted to get washed up before me one morning, you responded, "You get washed up first because you smell bad." Mentioning your need to lay off so many oranges because of the effects on your bowel movements, you explained, "It wasn't the oranges, I had diarrhea because I'm super strong". At Easter dinner, you wouldn't eat your food until we explained how each food gave you a different super power. At one point, and I can't even remember what it was now (probably something to do with poop or farts) we were both laughing. You are old enough to joke with now. You know when we are teasing. 

The reward for the drama of your age is your easy words. Your "I love you so much, Mommy. I love you so much, Daddy." Your hugs and kisses. Or just the sight of your long, lean body trotting ahead of us on our family walks. 



Four years, three months

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Dear River,

Usually I go on and on about how fast time is going, but writing this--it feels like you've been four far longer than three months. Maybe it is because you are so different than Sage. When I sit on the couch and see the photo of you as a newborn in my arms hanging on the wall, I feel like that baby was a dream. How could you have ever been so small? This big four year old child who now argues with me and willfully ignores what I say. Do you ever argue. You get angry because you feel like I am not listening to you and I get angry because I feel you aren't listening to me. We agree to try to listen to each other better and then the next day we are butting heads again. But the wonder of an older child is that you can be reasoned with. We can argue but we can come to agreements. Meanwhile Sage is throwing a tantrum on the floor and we are looking at each other over her writhing body and both saying, "That baby...sheesh." 


You are now really into Pokemon. I was working out while you watched your daily cartoon ration during Sage's nap. You ran up crying and hysterical sobbing something about Pikachu and how Ash was leaving him. I had to come out and hold you while you sobbed. I continued to hold you as you finished watching your cartoon until we saw that it would all turn out okay. You really want to be a Pokemon trainer and I don't really have it in me to tell you that it is just pretend. I remember how my imagination let me think the pretend things I really loved were real somewhere. How I would daydream and hope. Your imagination fires my own. I can almost taste that feeling in my mouth. How it felt to be a child. It's haunting. It's magic. It's the imagination of children where magic lives. It's what I touch whenever I actually find time to write. It's the fading feeling of nighttime dreams. I watch you living in it. It's powerful stuff and I often forget how afire the minds of young children are. And here I am brow beating your youth out of you. Leading you to adult thinking and adult acting and the adult world. I think this interaction between us is normal but it still makes me sad. A part of me longs to recapture the way you think so I can join you in your perceptions. Sometimes, for brief moments, I can play and pretend. At the same time, I model for you how to be grown, what is expected of you--a guide of sorts, for now. 

You have begun a subtle form of bulling your sister. Things like hugging her when she doesn't want you to. She will be crying and trying to get away but you just snuggle her more. Then when I snap at you, you explain, "I was just hugging her." The same happened when you kept touching her cheek. Calmly you watched her get more and more enraged.  When I scolded you, you became very offended. "I was just touching her cheek to see if she was hot!" you yelled at me. "I wasn't trying to take it off!". 

You have also begun talking like a baby. "River no like." or "River milk" It is so annoying. I guess this is all an attempt to get more attention as you watch us celebrate Sage's new words. Other quirks are calling me by my name when your friend is around. Your friend also does it to his mother so it must be "a thing". Probably the effects of having your teacher from preschool also be your mother who refers to herself by her name to all your friends. 


You are still my sweet affectionate child. The one that is ready to kiss, hug and tell me you love me (unlike you sister that has been a miser with kisses from day one). I find I rely on you for help and give you many small responsibilities like keeping an eye on your sister or getting me this or that. 

I can't help but think how much easier parenting was when you were a baby and toddler. Things get increasingly more complicated. Sometimes I lay beside your father and wonder if I am doing it right. I worry about what I might have done wrong. I plan how I will do better. I lament over how hard, how fucking hard, being a mother is. Sometimes it is scary. Sometimes I am taken aback by the things you say. I know I can't be perfect. I know sometimes I am caught in the rut of my own habits and pet peeves and experiences. But I do always apologize. I do slather on the love. I think you know I am not perfect already because I tell you I'm not. The fact is, you don't care. Your love is clean and good and full of forgiveness. You are beyond lingering guilt and anxiety. You live in the present and at face value. I never used to worry about the future with you, but now I wonder if I am ready for this. All this messy parenting business and you my first--teaching me as we go along how to do this. So I sit in front the picture of you as a newborn in my arms, gazing up at me with complete faith as I gaze at you, enraptured. If I can just hold onto that image of us together, I know we'll get through it. Because first and foremost I love you. All the other stuff comes after. 



Four years, two months

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Dear River,

A friend of mine has a daughter a couple years older than you. She seems so grown up. Her feet, so large. Her eyes, wise. I can't believe that is my near future. When I was pregnant with you and when you were an infant, a baby, a toddler--I couldn't see very far ahead. Each day passed slowly and I had time to savor you. Now I can feel kindergarten approaching. Yes, we have a year and a half--but it's coming. Just thinking about you climbing onto a school bus with you huge backpack over your narrow shoulders and thumping along against her skinny bottom... It makes me feel soooo incredibly old--ancient even. And I know, from those parents with nearly grown and grown children--that I will always have this sense of disbelief that you have grown so much and so much time has passed. Somewhere in my mind, time has frozen around this imagine of you as a screaming newborn placed on my chest. On the moment I became a mother. 

You still love books. You bring one with you everywhere. Into the bathroom, the car, the store, to bed. I often loose my temper when you are trying to put on shoes or your coat with a book in one hand. "You have two hands for a reason! Put the book down!" The rule is often that you must leave books in the car when we go out. Well, we were on a school field trip and I look down twenty minutes in--you have a book. The entire time you are running and playing with you friends--holding a book. I took it away at one point and you just asked for it back ten minutes later. Books are your security blanket or favorite stuffed animal. When I made this comparison (that you had no favorite stuffed animal to sleep with and showed you my stuffed lion I still keep by my bed) you lamented that we never let you sleep with a book. Could you please sleep with a book? So I let you keep it under your pillow. Often, in the morning, I find you naked reading a book. You got your pajamas off, but stopped to read before getting dressed. I waver between pride that you love books as much as I do (maybe more--since I dress before reading) and screaming in frustration. Especially on mornings when we are running late. There is a home video of my family where we are taking a walk down to a stream. I, about age ten, am reading a new book for the entire walk. My mom asks me something and I look up over the book and glare. While we were skyping with Grandma, you would not stop looking at a book. Your face, your glare, your body was me. I call you my divine retribution. You are karma. You are everything I sent out into the universe, brought back to me as you.

You are clumsy. All the knees of your jeans or worn out or torn because you fall so much. You are oblivious to what goes on around you--knocking into things, knocking things over, bumping into others, talking into conversations from the middle of your thoughts,  totally not noticing me buying you Valentine chocolates when you were right there with me, sensitive, friendly, kind, and easily forgiving. In all ways, so much like me that it sometimes hurts when I loose my temper with you and remember what it felt like when my mother lost her temper at me. You always have good intentions and I know this--that doesn't mean you aren't incredibly frustrating. 

You have become helpful lately. I ask you to help me in little ways. Throw this dirty dish towel in the hamper, pick that up, hold your sister's hand, carry this bag of groceries. Usually, you are quite willing. You have also become far more independent and often tell me-- "let me do that myself".

pretending to be Ash from Pokemon

You are a wild man on your bike going fast down hills, wavering and almost falling, and if you fall--getting up again without tears. We've really been working on your writing and math skills. You prefer the former oh so much more and get frustrated easily with math. Your reading comprehension is right on. You can summarize stories back at me, answer my questions during reading, and make great inferences. During preschool, instead of playing midway through after snack--you stole a book from my school pile and started flipping through it. I had to threaten you with a red card to get you to give the book back and come sit in the circle to continue. 

You are very gentle with Sage most of the time. You often whine and tattle rather than hurt her. Which is good although sometimes the whining drives me to a temper tantrum of my own. Sometimes Sage climbs on your back while you lay looking at books, so you give her a ride around. You hate when she touches your books and will pile them in places she can't reach. But then you begin games of chase with her. She plays with you in just the same ways she plays with me. She's such a lucky girl to have you.

Last night was Daddy's night to stay with you kids as you fell asleep. Before I left, I lay with you in bed and pushed back your curls. The ones that still spring, corkscrew tight at your hairline. The rest has gone mostly straight. I recited the poem you are named after and told you the story about how I knew that would be your name before you were ever made. Then you wanted to know about my name, so I told you that story. Then Daddy's, so I told you that story. I marveled at the places you look like me in your face and the places you look like Daddy. How all together it is just you--always changing, growing, but familiar and adored. Your eyes are so warm. They are a homecoming. When I look into them, I feel content. I feel so thankful that my eyes fill with tears. I think, "I made him. I grew him inside me. I get to be with him." 

In this life, so often filled with horrors, I understand that the love for and from my family are precious. 

I often wonder over how I have been so blessed in this life. 

You are one of those blessings.




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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Dear River category.

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