Throughout Charleston’s first year, I posted monthly letters to him documenting every change, milestone, and highlight. I still write him monthly letters in the pages of my journal (totally crazy, I know, but I can’t quit it), and each year on his birthday I like to share a public letter to my boy. I know that not everyone will appreciate these intensely personal posts, and that’s fine; I am infinitely fascinated by everything to do with my son, but can’t expect all of my readers to feel the same way. If this post feels too personal or too over-the-top for you, you may skip it with my blessing. But, if you’re like me, you enjoy the occasional snooping into the relationships of other moms and their children; if that’s the case, you may snoop to your heart’s content within this post.

Charleston, if a future version of you (a version who is now able to read and navigate the internet on his own) is reading this, I pray you will receive it in the spirit of love with which it was written. I would never want to publicize something that could hurt or embarrass you, and everything I share here comes from a heart that is bursting with love and pride. Thank you for entrusting me with your journey and allowing me to share a small piece of it here.

Dear Charleston Michael,

Four years ago today you made your grand entrance into this world. You arrived a full three weeks before your due date and I wasn’t at all prepared. Yet you were determined to come in your own way, and at your own time. As you slipped from my body and into your daddy’s hands, you shattered all of my plans and expectations, but fulfilled every one of my dreams. You were placed into my arms and I gazed upon your face, in total awe of this tiny, perfect child I had helped to create. I watched you breathe your very first breaths, and the miracle of YOU took my own breath away.

How have four years gone by since that momentous day? You have grown and changed so much, transforming from a beautiful (slightly colicky) newborn to a curious baby, then an active and talkative toddler. And now you are my fun-loving, adventure-seeking, question-asking, idea-filled four-year-old!

You are observant, insightful, and inquisitive, asking questions and proposing ideas I wouldn’t expect to hear from a child two or three times your age, let alone a preschooler. You are logical and detail-oriented, but are also comfortable dwelling within the realm of possibility; I love your imagination, optimism, and eagerness to dream big dreams.

You are articulate (though you still have trouble with your r’s, th’s, and l’s), with a broad vocabulary and an enthusiasm for a wide variety of conversational topics (God, movies, and each day’s plans top the list). You are a complete chatterbox and talk all day long—narrating your own play, asking questions, and (your favorite) telling me what to do. You love to learn, but on your terms, not mine (which means you refuse to practice letter recognition or work through a workbook, but enjoy educational games and “reading” books based on sight words you’re able to identify).

Your favorite at-home activities include doing mazes (you are pretty obsessed with them), cutting with scissors, piecing together jigsaw puzzles, building with Legos (especially when you can follow instructions within a set), playing with a beach ball, engaging in imaginative play with trucks and stuffed animals, and creating elaborate tracks with your various train sets.

You never tire of being read to, and you especially enjoy interactive books (such as I Spy and Flip the Flap books), as well as books with humor, a predictable pattern, or a song. While you do play well independently, you always prefer when Daddy or I play with you—whether that’s playing hide-and-seek, chasing each other up and down the hallways, or playing a board game together.

You love to help me clean and sort laundry, or help Daddy fix things around the house. You also really love making plans, negotiating deals, and telling US what to do. Our family is important to you, and you always want to do things as a team.

You have a hilarious fashion sense and enjoy dressing up with all of your accessories. You can rarely be seen without a hoodie or a hat of some kind. Your favorite thing to wear is footy pajamas, and you would wear your jammies (along with a beanie and slippers) all day, every day, if I’d let you.

You continue to be an incredibly active kid. You are always making up dances and running, jumping, or doing somersaults around the house, and you love riding your tricycle and scooter outside. You’re constantly asking to try out a new playground or play place, and have mastered every slide, jungle gym, and climbing wall you’ve come across. You keep us on our toes with your daredevil antics; only loud noises frighten you—in the face of everything else, you are fearless.

You excelled in your swimming lessons over the summer and have thrived in your gymnastics classes this year, recently moving up to a new level where you enjoy learning new “tricky tricks” each week. You like to play basketball and catch, create your own dance moves, and climb all over anything you come in contact with (including people).

You’ve also shown a great affinity for music—you sing and bob your head along to songs on the radio, make up your own tunes, and enjoy improvising air guitar solos and playing on Daddy’s drum set. (It’s possible you just like the drum sticks, one of which we makes an appearance in many of these pictures!) We just started you in a musical theater class, and I am so excited to see you grow in this area. You are a ham in front of the camera and can really turn on the charm when you want to, so I have a feeling you’ll be a star on stage.

You are not quite as social as you were when you were younger. Once you get to know someone, you become chatty and outgoing, but it can take you a while to warm up. You tend to get along better with adults than kids. You really love the idea of other kids (especially older and younger kids—you are great with your baby cousin), but you frequently butt heads with your peers. However, when you find a friend you get along with, you tend to play really well; you especially love games of chase and anything that involves physical contact. You are comfortable being either the kid in charge, or the one willing to take directions, depending on who you’re playing with.

You talk about wanting a little sister ALL THE TIME, and while you’re still waiting for a baby, you’ve gotten a taste of sibling-hood through being a brother to Arlo. You are affectionate with him and enjoy helping feed and play with him, but you are also bossy, a tattletale, and occasionally jealous.

One side effect of your being an only child (and also small for your age) is that it’s easy for your dad and I to baby you. However, we’re working on building your independence and you’ve handled the challenges well. In the last few months you’ve started to dress and undress yourself, brush your own teeth, go to the bathroom without any assistance, get yourself in and out of your car seat, go down for a nap all on your own, and get all of your own toys cleaned up and put away.

I’m not quite sure how to describe your personality other than to say that this year, the Threenager stage hit us hard. You have been much more surly, defiant, whiney, and contradictory, and you hate being told what to do or how to think or act. You are generally well-behaved and easygoing, but that changes the minute you feel your agency has been threatened.

You love acting silly, and you have a great sense of humor; you are often telling jokes, or simply laughing because you are happy or find yourself amusing. But your emotions are dynamic: you can be laughing hysterically one minute, then having an unprompted and completely irrational meltdown the next. (I’ll admit, you likely get this from me.) Your tantrums are fierce and frustrating for all parties, and we haven’t completely figured out how to navigate them. (Bribes, threats, and punishments don’t work, but a loose schedule with well-defined expectations and lots of options do seem to help.)

That said, you are kind-hearted, sensitive to others’ feelings and needs, and incredibly affectionate. At four years old, you still shower me with hugs and kisses, take every opportunity to snuggle or sit in my lap, love being held and carried around, and whisper “I just love you” into my ear about a dozen times per day. I love seeing your smile, and it makes its appearance often—you are fun-loving, easily excited, and always eager to find (and enjoy) the best the world has to offer.

A few nights ago, I tucked you into bed with Daddy (because you still sleep with us at night) and headed back into your room to put a few things away. When I turned around, I was startled to see you’d snuck back into your room behind me and were sitting in your rocker, holding a book and asking me to read it to you. We’d already read four bedtime stories that night, but instead of sending you back to bed, I took you onto my lap and we read one final book together. Then we set the book down and you asked me to snuggle.

We turned off the light and I rocked you in my arms, just as I did when you were a baby. I sang to you and held you tight until your breathing slowed and you fell asleep. Then I sat there, in the dark, for nearly an hour, holding you in my embrace and savoring that moment. I could feel your heart beating in your chest that was pressed up against my own. I stroked your unruly hair, thinking back on all the times I’ve rubbed that soft head of yours. I squinted through the darkness to see the face that is still precious, but no longer that of a baby.

You are growing up before my eyes, and shepherding you through these first four years has been the joy of my life. Some of my life’s most challenging moments have been spent with you, but nearly all the richest, happiest, most fulfilling ones have been because of you, too. You are my favorite companion, my best playmate, and the source of so much laughter, insight, and awe. Within your first moments of life, you proved you would never be the child I expected—but you are so much more. I love you with all of my heart and soul and thank God each and every day for the miracle that is you. Happiest birthday, my sweet boy!

Love Always and Forever,

Your Mama (even though you call me Mom now, I will never stop being your mama)

Q&A With Charleston

Because I’m no longer the most loquacious member of our family, it’s only fitting that Charleston gets to say some words of his own for this birthday post. Below are his answers to a fun little Q&A session we had last week; I enjoyed seeing how his answers changed (or didn’t) since our last Q&A six months ago. I recored his answers as he gave them, though I did add my own input on a few because the Enneagram 1 in me couldn’t let some of his answers stand as they were.

What is your name?

Charleston. I forgot my last name and my middle name.

What is your favorite color?

Blue. Orange. Every color!

What is your favorite thing to eat?

Well, hot dogs are my favorite. Hot dogs are most EVERYONE’S favorites, Mom! Mmm, and meatballs. (Mom’s Take: Charleston also loves fruit snacks, ice cream, cookies, fish crackers, mandarin oranges, smoothies, bars, apples, cheese, oatmeal, yogurt, and taquitos.)

What is your favorite thing to do?

I don’t know. Everything is my favorite thing to do. Just toys and games. (Mom’s Take: I would say that doing mazes and playing on playgrounds top his list right now.)

What is your favorite thing to play with?

Basketball. Whooaaa, did you see that? (Because he was playing basketball with our indoor hoop while I asked these questions, and he’d just scored a basket.) My train track is my other favorite thing.

Where is your favorite place to go?

Bill’s Burgers ‘cause there’s a claw machine. And to Thomas the Train. (Referring to the Thomas Festival he went to with his grandparents in the fall.) (Mom’s Take: The places he asks to go to most often are Urban Air and playgrounds.)

What shows do you like to watch?

Thomas and PJ Masks and Daniel Tiger.

What is your favorite movie?

What’s that movie called? Oh, Toy Story is my favorite movie, Mom. Toy Story! (Mom’s Take: He really likes any Disney or Pixar movie. At Christmas he watched both Rudolf and Elf about a dozen times.)

What is your favorite book?

I like Snuggle Puppy and . . . what’s that book called? I forgot but it’s one of my favorites. Oh, it’s Rock-a-bye-baby. (Me: Hmm, do you mean Love You Forever?) Yeah, Love You Forever, that’s what I said! (Begins singing the song.) (Mom’s Take: He also likes all of the Mo Willems books, fairytales like The Three Pigs, and Look and Find books.)

Who is your best friend?

Um. . . you! (That’s when my heart melted.)

What do you like to do with your family?

Go to surprises. (Mom’s Take: Everything becomes more fun for Charleston when I frame it as a surprise.)

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A doctor. ‘Cause doctors look cool and help people. (Mom’s Take: He also has been telling me he wants to be a singer when he grows up.)

What makes you happy?

Umm, kisses and hugs.

What makes you sad?

Like, when I get hurt. And everything that I don’t get to do when my mom and dad don’t get to tell me I can do fun things. And when bad guys hurt me . . . which I’ve never cried for that reason. Are bad guys real, Mama?

What makes you feel scared?

The darkness because it feels like it’s gonna end and we have to go out the same way and there’s bad guys in there. (Mom’s Take: The only thing that seems to frighten Charleston is loud noises, like motorcycles or flushing toilets or fireworks.)

What do you think about before you go to sleep?

Playing with my train track. Mom, I have a question for YOU. What dreams do you think about when you’re sleeping? I dream about how much the world loves. One time I dreamed about how you were pulling me out from Dad’s back from going sideways and a bad guy was pulling my head. And then it became the bad guy’s house and then there was a gun that shooted out balls and made me sneak into the balls all around me. Hahahaha! It was my scary dream. I thought about it and it became a scary dream. I mean, it wasn’t a dream.

What do you wonder about?

How much I love you.

What is love?

Hugging. Kissing. Hearts.

What is your favorite thing about your birthday?

Cakes! I don’t know what kind of cakes.

What is something you want to do this year, while you are four?

Play with new toys. I’m thinking how many days until I can go into the pool again.

As we were wrapping up: Hey mom, every time you keep saying “one more question,” it keeps not being one more question, so you don’t need to keep saying that, hahahahaha! And since that day, he’s repeatedly asked, “What’s your next question for me today?”

Miscellaneous Info (For My Own Records):

Notes on Sleep: Charleston naps from around 12:30 until 2:30 most days. He goes to sleep around 9 (give or take half an hour) and wakes up around 7:30 (also give or take about half an hour). He naps in his own bed, but still won’t go to sleep by himself at night, so he’s in our bed for nighttime.

Notes on Skills: Charleston can count to 30 and identify his numbers to 12. He can recite the alphabet and identify about half of his letters, but can’t write them yet. He recognizes a few sight words, can rhyme and count syllables, and is beginning to copy drawings and color within the lines of a coloring page. He can cut along a line, finish a maze or puzzle on his own, and work through several levels of logic puzzles (like Monument Valley) on the iPad.

Notes on Eating: Charleston is still not a picky eater (he will try, and usually likes, most foods) but is finicky and his preferences change by the day. He always eats a solid breakfast and a few big snacks, but picks at his lunch and dinner. He prefers fluids (like smoothies) and snack foods (like bars and nuts) to meals.

Notes on Size: Clothing Size: 3T // Shoe Size: 8 // Weight: 29 pounds (2nd percentile) // Height: 38 inches (8th percentile)

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