We talked about you before you were even here, you know.
Every single night, and in a thousand spaces in between,
while the spark of light & stardust & high fives that was you quietly flipped and swirled just under my ribcage,
slightly south of my heartbeat,
in the tiny-infinite space between us and you.
What we knew then was as much as you can know about someone who’s with you every day, every moment, but who you’ve never met:
That you liked 10-p.m. dance parties and snacks every two hours,
walks in the morning, not the maternity jeans with the stupid band at the top,
and always, always pizza.
What we didn’t know yet was that it’d be possible to simultaneously love someone so much and also be sobbing from exhaustion because of them;
how you’d sleep just like your mama, your top leg bent out and up like a perpetual dream-hurdler;
how, suddenly, every single line of our lives “before” would blur in a way that felt like you’d been here always;
how you’d love-weave this entire world together, starting with the first thread of your first breath on your first morning here.
We still talk about you all the time, you know.
Every single night and in the thousand spaces in between,
the beautifulchaos of three-and-an-almost half settling around us in the form of grass-stained 3T jeans and a landscape of Nerf darts,
your red Cozy Coupe (which, depending on the day, is also a fire car, a police car, and occasionally the Spider-Car) parked in the living room, a trail of snacks and Hot Wheels foreverin your wake.
What we know now is you’re absolutely the raddest adventure we’ve ever chosen;
that you still like snacks every two hours, adventure walks as often as you can get them—
and still, of course, always, pizza.
– The way you pronounce “oatmeal” as “OIT-meal”
– “You blew ‘dem to PIECES!” – Your dramatic reaction to a wayward bullet straight to the junk, courtesy of daddy’s Nerf gun
– “Mmmm! This tastes like beers!” – thoughts on a root beer sucker
– “I think this is terrible.” – Initial thoughts upon hearing a cover of Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling in Love
– (midway through pooping) “… hmm. It stopped. My poop must be sleeping.”
– “‘dat is ‘skusting… can I have some more?” – Thoughts on my impressive fail of a Pinterest strawberry bar recipe
– “Well, first we need to get some rices. And ‘den cheese, to make it really stretchy.” – Your plans for making Rice Krispy treats
On April 7th, you rode your very first bike for the very first time.
This was one of Those Moments, man.
There you were, just pedaling away in all your little dudedom, and suddenly, we were right in the middle of it:
A rad little milestone we’d talked about for years, watching families pedal by us at the park as you snuggle-napped against my chest, or even just passing by the tiny-sized bikes at the store.
Every time, your daddy and I would look at each other and be like, “Dude, we get to teach OUR kid to ride his bike someday“—
and then there we were,
watching your little legs pedalpedalpedal their way down the sidewalk,
the two of us looking at each other and barely even believing we were already here.
Prior to catching your first fish, as your daddy tells it,
you joyously invited every single someone you saw—
from the cashier at the store, to random strangers in line nearby—
to join you, your daddy, and your new fishing pole at the lake later that day.
When I got home, you were busily casting with your new pole in the front yard.
“I’m practicin’ my skills, mama,” you explained, barely looking up before expertly launching the tiny plastic fish on one end of your line well into the middle of the yard next door.
Not too long later, we were setting up our spot on a sun-warmed dock, swapping out your plastic fish for a hook, some bait, and a red-and-white bobber.
Then, as you tell it,
“Well, I was bein’ patient. And ‘den, the fish was hungry, and it smelled my bait, and it bited it, so my bobber went down, and ‘den, I caught the fish!”
My absolute favorite part of this picture, my love, is that I can’t tell who’s prouder or more excited:
You, or your daddy.
A room away from where I’m writing to you, you’re dreaming in Spider-Man jams—
tucked in with a crown of forehead kisses, wrapped in the cozygood of weekend-clean sheets.
Earlier, as we were snuggling down together, I marveled at the way the landscape of your little face has changed so much since you were new, and yet, there’s places that still look the same—
the sweet curves of your forehead and nose,
the squish of your cheeks,
the lines and rounds of you I’ve read over and over since your first day here.
That’s what makes being three such an adventure, I think:
The balance forever shifting between “there’s my baby” and “there’s my boy,”
every day bringing us just a little bit closer to the moment it shifts in favor of the latter.
It’s never been a wilder or more wonderful time to be your mama, my dude.
By definition, a comma indicates a pause between parts of a sentence;
a sweet, simple little curve with such an effortless way of tucking itself in cozy.
I think of this definition often at night—
your tiny bare feet curve-cuddled against my hip,
sleepy towhead snuggled against my chest.
I think of it, too, when we’re reading;
the way you always find the snug-space under my arm that fits you just right,
burrowing in, comma-curled, against my side.
Not surprisingly, the moments these comparisons come to mind are the same moments when we’re IN that very pause;
the breathing spaces within the bigger sentences that are our days.
And although you, my love, are by far more of an exclamation mark than a comma—
you will forever be my favorite moment for pause.
my dearest little dude-man—
At some point in the not-so-very-distant past, we referred to you as “the baby” for the last time.
in between the sounds of your Hot Wheels doing laps around the inner perimeter of the bathtub, and the minutes spent carefully choosing your books to read at bedtime;
between the fifth and 500th time we listened to “Thunder” in the car;
in between slow-sunshine mornings and adventure-walk afternoons—
somewhere along the way, you went full dude on us.
And in that moment, whenever it happened, we didn’t feel a cataclysmic shift;
no invisible marker added itself to the timeline of you;
nothing gave us any reason to pause and remember that time as the last time, because we had no idea it would be.
Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a mourning thing, like, WHERE DID MY BABY GOOOO, because I know exactly where he is:
He’s making up songs about tooting, and asking important questions like where do yogurt raisins come from, and every night, he makes sweet, satisfied little lip-smacking noises after he falls asleep, the same way he’s done since he was less than 24 hours old.
He giggles up against my chest in the kitchen while I sing, “I love you, a bushel and a peck” into his ear, and he asks me which car is my favorite of the two he brings to bed every night, so he can be sure to sleep with that one.
See, when it comes to last ANYthings, I like to see them as a marker;
for a chance to pause and process what was, and what’s to come.
And I guess that‘s what this particular “last” is about, really;
that moment of pause and peace.
You’re it for us, my dude;
our first, last, and only, and every single wonderful thing we could’ve hoped for.
Here’s to loving all the “every times” as wholly and purposefully as if they’re the last times—
because sometimes, they really are.
– (walking past the entrance to the gym at the mall): “It’s the lifting store! Moms and daddies go in there, and they get some’fing, and then, they lift it!”
– Mama, whispering: What do you want to dream about tonight, buddy?
Nixon, also whispering: ‘dat chicken we had earlier.
– (11PM, while sitting in the tub, post-puke): “Oh, cwap cwap.”
– (immediately after farting): “There is a horn in my butt.”
– Waitress, to Nixon: “And for you, sir?”
Nixon: “I hafta’ poop.”
– (in a public bathroom): “Are the other friends in here to go pee and poop, too? Should we ask ‘dem?”
– (also in public bathroom): “Think dada can hear us next to him? …. DADA. DADA! WHAT DO PLANES SOUND LIKE”
– (while passing me the butter knife): “You hafta’ be nimble and skilled. Knifes is DANGEROUS. So miss Jeri says you hafta’ be nimble and skilled.”
As a parent, nothing is quite as startling as the realization that your child knows your first name.
The other night, we were sitting at dinner, and you casually informed us that my name was Ashley, and daddy’s name was Gus, and we both just looked at each other like WTF OMG WHO TOLD YOU
Like… it’s not as though we have kept our identities a secret from you these past three years; people have obviously referred to us by our actual names in your company… but the solid fact that you were just like, oh hey, here is this fact that I know, totally threw us off.
As of lately, you’re solidly in the center of that little kid thing where you ask “why” about pretty much everything, and/or you’ll take any answer we give you in response, and rephrase it back into a question.
It’s sort of like dark toddler magic.
In typical Nixon form, most of your questions wrap around concepts so much larger than anything I ever imagined your little brain could grasp.
For example, the other day, you simply asked, “Why fire?”
Not “where does it come from“, not “why is it in this particular location“… just simply “why” in relation to its entire existence.
…. needless to say, I’m going to learn so freaking much being your mama.
Sitting at a friend’s baby shower last month, three years’ worth of little dude in my lap, I thought back to our baby shower;
when it was me and my little basketball-sized bump in the chair at the front of the room, buried in a color-crinkled forest of tissue paper.
It was the weirdest, most surreal feeling, opening gifts and not having half a damn clue what some of them were even FOR;
opening gifts for a person who wasn’t even here yet, but who owned more pants than I did.
I remember the solid undercurrent of fear that ran immediately beneath the joy—
what if I sucked? what if I wasn’t ready?—
those prickles of “holy crap this is really happening” that settle in just before the biggest parts of your life.
Back then, inching week by week toward the greatest unknown, we had no idea what we were in for.
No clue I’d be so excited you were here that I wouldn’t sleep for the first solid 24 hours of your life.
No idea of what was coming at all.
And you know what, my love?
I’m so very glad it was you.
From the earliest parts of the beginning of you,
I remember seeing “13” in my head, and knowing that day was destined to be yours—
so when I woke up on that sunny winter Sunday, December 13th, there was no doubt in my mind I was going to have my baby that day.
I never knew how proud I could be of anything I’d ever done until I saw you into this world on a rush of adrenaline and measured breaths;
until the moment I felt your energy burst into that winter-lit room with us;
until you were in my arms and I got to kiss your sweet, dimple-dappled nose for the first time.
We loved you immensely,
in a way we never saw coming but knew all along.
Your presence in our lives, even in those early seconds, has always felt so deliberate and magical—
as though your existence is a song to which we’ve always known the lyrics by heart.
At three, you take pictures that give us the most delightful glimpses into life at three feet high.
There’s a shot of your bedroom—
glossy “good vibes only” vinyl above the crib-turned-toddler-bed you’ve slept in for maybe six hours, total, in your entire existence;
aerial views of your Little People fire truck, and the digger with the built-in music you dance to with enthusiastic air-fists;
half-blurred captures of your daddy and me at various stages in the day, pouring 7-a.m.-cold-brew in one, making faces at you from across the lamp-lit living room in another.
Your camera roll tells the sweetest little stories about what what you seek out to snap as you travel around the house;
what stands out to you as a piece of the day you need to capture and carry with you.
At three, you are equal parts sunshine and lightning bolts.
Just like when you were small, you still poke out your “thinking tongue” any time you get immersed in what you’re doing;
you rarely leave the house without at least one, but usually two, Hot Wheels in hand;
you say “barf” in the cutest, sweetest way I’ve ever heard.
You live for Chobani Flip yogurts, chocolate milk, crunchy cereals, steamed broccoli, rice, and “Chick-Fuh-Flay“;
you inform us, “I have all of my energies!” when you’re done eating, then demonstrate by making a dramatic exit from the table and launching yourself across the room.
Snacks are your life.
This year, when we went to wave at Santa during Christmas, you projectile-hurled (for reasons entirely NOT related to Santa) by the mall-bound Santa house so hard that, as we turned to bail, Santa shot us all a very encouraging and enthusiastic thumbs-up.
At three, you refer to sledding as “goin’ sleigh-ing“;
you whisper-wake me at middle-of-the-night-o’clock to sleepily request, “mama, I ‘nuggle you,” before burrowing into the snugglespace on the right side of my chest;
you ball up your fists and shake with joy when you feel really, really extra-excited.
Every night at bedtime, we ask you, “What’s one thing that made you happy today?“
and the answers run the gamut from “I no WANT to tell you,” to “playin’ wiff my fwends,” to oddly specific heart-melters from our day that neither daddy or I even realize you held on to.
You are surprise high fives at the table;
forever disheveled towhead;
eternally enchanted by spaces that echo (including, and especially, public bathrooms).
Three is our era of 5:50 a.m. wake-ups, marked by a joyous announcement of, “Woo-hoo! We can talk now!”;
of barefoot kitchen-table breakfasts featuring crunchy cereal and a cup of milk “WIFF a ‘traw in it, pease“;
of sleepily dancing to the morning soundtrack songs that strike us.
If I’ve learned anything so far as your mama, my light, it’s that all of these moments—
in as much as they feel like they’re going to last for the rest of our lives—
these moments are never here as long as they feel they are.
Three years in forever and a blink.
It’s all the more reason to make these moments beautiful;
to make a point to be present for them;
to do what we can to make them matter.
And so, at three, we’re up before the sun—
with the Hot Wheels,
the crunchy cereal,
the leftover minutes from last night still darkening the sky.
We’re here for Play-Doh and Hot Wheels,
the endless snacks and the sweetest snugs,
meltdowns and memories and fluffy little jams with dinosaur prints…
because this era,
and these moments,
are our greatest work.
And so, my love, are you.
I love you so much, little dude.
It’s 15 minutes to midnight and I’m awake—
from a combination of spooky dreams and a stuffy nose.
It’s been years—2 of them, in fact—
since I’ve been awake for this feeling;
that sense of late-night calm that comes from feeling like you’re the only one awake in the world;
the only one present for the sensation of walking the tightrope between night and day;
for the bleary quiet that doesn’t quite belong to either side.
A swaying snuggle, a rolled-up towel tucked in under your pillow,
a few forehead kisses wrapped up with a murmured “I love you, sweet boy“—
that was the magic trick that helped you find sleep this time.
Your heavy lashes casting dreamshadows over your cheeks;
your flannel-ruffled hair from rolling away from bad dreams for the early half of your night.
It’s a startling honor, the moment you fully realize your own Mama Magic;
that unique and astounding superpower to infuse tuck-ins with good dreams,
be the keeper of their special song about being a towel burrito;
rock away a bad dream and seal it with a forehead kiss.
I love that I get to have this super power for him;
I love that I get to have this super power because of him.
this is you,
moments out of a mud puddle:
You, in our late-summer-lit yard,
punctuated by scattered flecks of mud and sprinkle-sparkles of puddle water.
You backed up your PowerWheel to the muddy banks, sinking in its plastic wheels just enough to stabilize it so you could leap off the back and land smack-dab in the puddle’s center.
By the time you finally emerged—
splash boots bogged down under the weight of half-a-puddle’s-worth of water,
mud-dots dashed to the very tips of your eyelashes—
there was barely a piece of your three-foot-tall existence that didn’t tell the story of where you’d just been.
The summer of two was bare feet on the concrete,
sitting on the sun-warmed porch steps,
watching you and the neighbor kiddos race down the sidewalk and across the yards between Miles’ house, Ya-Ya’s house, and Betty and Gary’s immaculate grass next door.
It was basement Nerf gun wars and front-porch bubble blowing.
It was the sound of roughed-up plastic Big Wheels racing around the parking lot up the street;
of your whispered, “Mama, can we get up now?” at 5:57 on the dot, when you pop up in bed like sunshine toast;
of your deep-belly giggles on the swings at the park.
It was the first season you dove in deep to make-believe and the power of conjuring up whole worlds in your tiny mind—
giving us a front-row seat to the daily specials of your restaurant (complete with a casual, one-elbow lean through the window of your play kitchen, inviting us in to play by asking, “Hi, what you want?”),
dashing through the house to employ your “SUPAH’ GECKO MUSCLES,”
or “shooping” elk in the bathtub.
We end-of-summer road-tripped, you and I,
reading our way through six hours of interstate while daddy was up hunting (or, as you told everyone, “hiking to shoop elk”) in the mountains.
After discovering the exceptional acoustic qualities of a McDonalds bathroom in North Platte, you serenaded the entire restaurant with your rendition of Imagine Dragons’ “Believer.”
With fall stretching out and settling in, I’m already excited for what this next season has in store—
the solid joy of stomping through a sidewalk’s worth of crunchy leaves;
the simple magic of catching snowflakes twirling down from the sky;
the moments of stopping to marvel at autumn-bedecked branches in shades of crimson and gold.
As my brilliant friend Kate put it recently:
“Entire lifetimes are built around these moments and here we are, right in the middle of it all.”
At two years, nine months old, you are a walking highlight reel.
- The first day this summer you successfully rocked big-boy undies all day at toddler work, you could barely contain your joy. I’d barely crossed the threshold to pick you up before you ran over to tell me the news, and after I’d appropriately reacted with much gushing & high-pitched joy, you turned to Ms. Jeri and earnestly commented, “She SO excited.“
- –Me, while snuggling you in for the night: “I am so happy to be your mama.”
Nixon: “I am so happy to be your buddy.”
And then, in the dark just above our faces, I see you raise a sleepy fist—which explodes with a whispered “pewwww” as soon as my knuckles meet yours.
- Any time you toot loud enough for anyone else to hear, you’ll follow it up with a reassuring, “It not poop! Just fah-ts!“
- Me, whispering: “You’re my favorite boy.”
Nixon, also whispering: “Can I fly my airplane inside your sleeve.”
- Your current favorite jams: “‘Dat Feeling in My Pocket song” (Can’t Stop the Feeling – Justin Timberlake); “Pick me up, pick me up, bwee-ber” (Believer – Imagine Dragons); “Glitter and Gold” by Barns Courtney; and a rekindling of a longtime favorite, “Born on This Mountain” (the Benjamin Tod cover), which you request as, “Can we yiss-en to ‘da, ‘I was born on ‘dis mountain a ‘yong time ago, ‘fore ‘dey knock down ‘da timber and strip-mine ‘da hole’ song?”
- Me, just after you’ve woken up from a nap: “Hi, baby! How was your nap? What’d you dream about?”
Nixon: (shrugging) “Fruit snacks.”
- Nixon: “I like your air.”
Me: “Thanks, buddy! What does that mean?”
Nixon: “You smell nice in here.”
When the doctor at urgent care asked how you got the popcorn kernel in your ear canal, you shrugged and replied, “With mine fingers.”
40 minutes of search-and-rescue later—
including five unsuccessful attempts to flush it out with water,
three failed passes with an ear loop,
and one final try involving glue on the end of an otoscope—
the kernel you’d ever so carefully planted in your ear during nap time at toddler work dramatically popped loose.
Taking a big, deep breath, you happily exclaimed,
“It feels SO good to be a brave boy!”
That you are, my brave, sweet love.
That you are.
Here’s my promise to you,
from right this second until forever:
I will always leave room for mud puddles and explorations in “shallow wah-tah.”
There will always be time for adventure walks.
As often as it’s possible, I’ll choose to say “yes“—
whatever that looks like.
I will do all I can,
all the time,
to be part of creating magic with you.