To My First Born on His Fourth Birthday

You’re four years old now, so I think it’s time I finally leveled with you. I don’t really remember that much from the first year or two of your existence. To be totally honest, I feel like at any given moment I have a decent handle on the last two or three weeks, but anything beyond that is a bit of a crap shoot. It seems like all the new stuff just crowds out the old stuff. I know you so well right now, but I can hardly remember what you sounded like when you were two. It’s best that you learn this now, because barring the advent of an age-reversing revolution that I’m still hoping is just around the corner, this will likely only get worse for me.

I know it’s your birthday and all and it’s supposed to be about you, but while I have your attention, let me complain for a moment. Do you have the time to listen to me whine? I’m going to assume that you do, so here we go. It really annoys me that I don’t have a better memory!

I mean, I don’t know if you know this yet, but I’ve kind of arranged my whole life to maximize time spent with you and your brother during your early years. A lot of parents, often out of necessity, don’t get to spend so much time with their children. I’m eternally grateful for the time we have together. The first words, the first steps, the trips to the park, the long days when you were sick with a fever and it was just me there holding you, wishing I could make you feel better. I was there making those memories that I held onto tightly...for about a week.

And I loved it, except when I didn’t. Because, make no mistake, it was hard. How can I put this delicately? You sucked sometimes. I hope you don’t take that wrong, because it’s nothing personal. It’s just part of being one or two or three years old. Or thirty-four years old for that matter. All humans suck sometimes. For example, I remember when we were driving to Titusville and you were mad at me for not getting you a cookie at Starbucks. You cried and yelled “Cookie!!” every few minutes for the entire fifty-minute drive. Except, that is, for the four minutes that Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men, came on the radio. Somehow, you magically turned off your agony and said, “Oh. I love this song. I love the part where they say ‘Hey!’” Of course, after nailing the last “Hey!” with gusto you picked right back up with “Cookie!” 

Alas. But we, as parents, put up with the suckiness because of the richness you bring to our lives. That’s really cliché, but it’s true. There is nothing in my life that’s given me more purpose and focus than being a parent.

But, the only problem is, I wish I had more to show for all the time spent. That sounds bad, I know. But all I mean is that I wish I actually remembered more things. When I look at old pictures of you or us, my usual reaction is, “Wow…I don’t remember that at all.” I’ve thought about ways I could remedy this unfortunate situation. I’ve thought about journaling more. Just writing everything down each night. But that wouldn’t really fix anything. Just because I write it down doesn’t mean I’ll remember it. Years later, it would be just like reading a record of my life written by someone else. Plus, that much writing sounds like a real chore. Ugh.

Anyway, maybe it doesn’t matter. Is life about the remembering or the living? Maybe it’s the living. Hopefully, it’s the living. Feeling and existing in the moment is better than treating life as a game in which collecting memories is the ultimate goal. Right?

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I know I love you and I know I love being your dad even though I can’t remember all the little details about how we got to where we are today. I know I miss you when you’re not with me. I know that when we’re not together and I see something that you would love, I can’t wait to tell you about it. I know that I’m never happier than when we get up early in the morning and you compliment my blanket tent making skills.

But back to the matter at hand. It’s your birthday. You’re turning four. Pretty soon we’re going to be spending less time together. In the mish mash that is the last four years of our lives, here are a few things I do remember.

I remember one November morning your mom and I waking up. She said something really understated like, “I think the baby is coming now.” In case you haven’t figured it out yet, your mom likes to undersell big news because she thinks it’s funny. She did the same thing the day your brother was born. We had to drive an hour to get to the hospital, not because that’s just the way things were back in our day––we didn’t have to drive on dirt roads or stop every couple miles to let the car rest––but because we always liked to live as far away as possible from everything to maximize our time spent driving. I remember being strangely calm about the whole situation though. I’m not sure why some men get so worked up about childbirth. Women, on the other hand, that I understand.

I vaguely remember staying up late every night when you were very little, waiting for you to wake up and eat. I kind of liked that actually. It gave me an excuse to stay up late and watch random basketball games or crappy late night TV.

I remember how when you were a baby you seemed to always get fevers. You were so hot and so lethargic, it was really sad. You had one the day of your first birthday party. We drugged you up though and you battled through like a real trooper. After all, we weren’t going to cancel your party just because you were sick.

I remember that you were always weirdly good at feeding yourself. Like, really good at using a fork and spoon even when you were really little. That came as a great relief to me because my biggest parenting fear was that ubiquitous TV commercial scenario where the toddler dumps a bowl of spaghetti over his head. Thank you for not being that guy. Those commercials always make me feel like vomiting.

I remember how consistently lucky (or brilliant?) you were at fair games. You won the pick-up duck game when you were one and the Plinko game when you were two. The one where you drop a golf ball on the board with pegs on it and it rolls down into the slots on the bottom. And I mean you legit won that Plinko game. The real prize, a stuffed monkey, not the shoddy consolation prizes. Your golf ball dropping skills were no joke.

I remember playing “I Spy” in the car in the dark on our long drives home from Titusville. (Full disclosure: I’m kind of cheating on this one because this only happened a couple days ago. But, I’ve already explained how this memory thing works.) 

You: “I spy something that starts with D.”

Me: “Is it a dog?”

You: “What? Where is it?”

Me: “Where is what?”

You: “The dog.”

Me: “I didn’t see one, I was just guessing. Because it starts with D.”

You: “What starts with D?”

Me: “Dog.”

You: “It’s not a dog.”

Me: “What is it then?”

You: “You tell me.”

Me: “I don’t know.”

You: “You’re supposed to tell me. That’s how you play.”

Me: “Right. But I don’t know. I give up.”

You: “I don’t know either.”

Me: “….”

Hmmm. That’s about all I can think of right now. I warned you this would be very random, fragmented, and incomplete. 

Oh yeah, one more thing. Bedtime. While I don’t remember all the bedtime iterations and routines that have evolved over time, I do remember it always being one of my favorite parts of the day. And not just because you were finally going to sleep. I remember holding and rocking you, walking you around while you fell asleep on my shoulder, lying with you on the bed, watching the iPad. And once you were able, every night you would tell me good night and I love you. And every night, my heart was full. That counts as a memory, right?

Happy Birthday, buddy.