Dear J,

Happy birthday! You blew out the candle yourself: “fff ffff ppppnp fffff” Yay! Your brother offered to help but he didn’t have to.

Mmm cake

Mama made cupcakes

Whose birthday is it?

Whose birthday does it look like it is?

Grandma/grandpa gave you a water table

You’d think that I’d try to be nice to you on your birthday. Mama asked me to watch you while you were sleeping. I said yes but didn’t pay attention. Then I heard a DING! You rolled off the bed and hit your head on the base of our metal lamp. I ran over and picked you off your back. You cursed and didn’t want to look at me. I tried to comfort you but you pushed me away and looked around the room for mama. You will come to me to play or walk but when you are hurt mama is the only person in the world who can make you feel better. Your brother also helps sing your favorite songs when you cry (Twinkle twinkle, ABC, Ring around the rosy). He’s good at making you smile. He’s so good that sometimes he tries to keep you from falling asleep just so he can see you laugh.

I felt like shit of course. Guilty that I was not watching you more closely. All kinds of thoughts came up. Like maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a dad. Who was I kidding? Then off your brother went with 1000 questions… asking me what happened to her sister. Why did she fall? Why did she roll off the bed? Why did she hit her head? Why weren’t you watching her? Geez kid. I know I screwed up. Give me a break. I carried you over to see your sister. I wanted to show you that we check on each other if we think someone got hurt and make sure we’re ok. Not just sit in our rooms and hide. You tried to sing to make her feel better. Then we tied 3 pool noodles together to make a barrier.

Then came the night terrors. At least I think that’s what they are. Who knows. You suddenly started screaming and crying. Nothing mama did worked. I asked if she tried nursing and she said she started screaming while nursing. Strange. I asked if your eyes were open. We turned on a light. They were closed. I remembered J having these and it was like he was stuck in a dream. So I tried something that worked for him before. I tried to snap you out of it. I started talking, using words that I knew you loved:

“Apple.” You paused for a few seconds, but went back to crying. I had a feeling this was going to work.
“Bubble.” No pause. “Bubble.” Continued crying.
“Would you like an Apple?” A pause. Then back to crying.
“Plane! Where’s the plane?” You stopped crying. I imagined how it’d be like at the park.
“Plane! That’s a plane!” You opened your eyes, sat up and looked around for a plane.
We cheered. I laughed. I was happy to see you.
“Hey Julie! Hi! You were having a dream.” You sat up and blinked.
“You’re okay. You’re in bed with mama, daddy and your brother.”
You looked at us. Then something almost made you cry again but mama hugged you.
Then you found your brother sleeping. You crawled over to pat his back.
Then you started pulling his hair like you were trying to wake him up.
It was amazing that he slept through all that crying. And soon you were asleep too.

You’re losing your baby smell. I finally can’t remember what baby smell smells like. You’re bigger and stronger now. I don’t have to worry about crushing you in bed as much. You walk more than you crawl. You not only babble, you’re trying to communicate with us. Like you’d point at the fruit basket and say “APOL.” You’ll reach your hands up and say “BEYBEY.” You’ll look at the sky and say “PLEN.” You’ll reach for a bottle and say, “AGO” (agua). And when you’re hurt you’ll call for your “MEH-MEH.” Sometimes you call me “DADDY.” And when you do that, you call mama Daddy too. You mix us up sometimes.

Even though you can walk on your own, you still ask for my hand. Sometimes you lead me and sometimes I’ll lead you. Sometimes I get tired and lay on my back. Sometimes you crawl over and turn around to snuggle your back against me. Then you throw your head on my chest and smile. You crinkle your nose when you smile.

It was also mother’s day. You made a card for her at school. The teachers took your picture in front of a whiteboard. And for the whiteboard they asked you, “Why do you love mommy?” Your said, “I love my mommy because I play with her.”

Happy Mother's Day

Your teachers said that you were the only one who said so much they didn’t have enough space for everything you said. You kept going on and on.

I know why watching your kids grow up is torture. I don’t know if this was useful evolutionary design. But basically, it’s torture because every time you remember your kids when they were younger, you experience a loss. And we know that the losses hurt us more than gains. And every time you remember them younger is every time you see them. Because they grow so fast that they’re never the same each time you look. Each time you look, you miss the child they once were. You are surprised at how big she is. That she doesn’t fit into the same clothes. You remember how little she used to be. You think of how you lost that little girl forever, and you feel guilty wondering if you did all you could.

Like how we left you, J, at infants’ daycare when you were one. We thought we’d just go back to work. That’s what everyone else did, right? You couldn’t talk yet but you understood. When I dropped you off you would look at me. Tears would well up. I tried to explain. You understood the words but you didn’t understand. You tried to cling to me but the teachers were stronger. The scream was unbearable. And the feeling of your little fingers clawing at my clothes and screaming Daddy. It sounded like “WHY?” Why do you have to leave? Why can’t I stay with you? Why don’t you love me? In the parking lot I see other parents doing it too. I thought to myself, “This isn’t right.” You want to see a sad place, go to a daycare at drop off time and stand outside the infants’ room. But we did it because everyone else did it.

At least now we realized how stupid that is. Mama has been with you this whole time and you’re one now. We chose “none of the above” and we’ll make it work, even if it’s not what everyone else is doing. Good news is your brother is in Bing now. And that means you’ll get in when you turn two.

Speaking of Bing, we visited their Children’s Fair. This is your new school’s backyard:



Julie liked it too

Julie liked it too

And this was the playground next to your school. We arrived early so we played here til the fair started:

Saying goodbye to your old school

Goodbye, old school

You are the Earth and I am the Sun You held my hand at the edge of the sidewalk. You balanced on the curb. You said, “I am pulling you with my gravity.” I said I’m pulling you too. Everything has gravity. I thought this was a good chance, so I said, You know, bigger things have stronger gravity. What’s bigger than daddy?”

“Elephant.” Ok. What’s bigger than an elephant? “A lion!” What’s bigger than a lion? “Earth!” What’s bigger than Earth? “Sun!”

I said the Earth pulls all of us on it. That’s why we are stuck to the ground and we don’t fly into the sky. And the Sun pulls all the planets around like Ring Around the Rosie.

You thought about it for a while, then concluded, “I am the Earth and you are the Sun.”

Grandpa was unconscious for 30 minutes.I got a text from my brother at 4am. Grandma thought he was gone. Then he woke up. Ambulance took him to the ER. Minor fractures, aching muscles everywhere. His body behaved like it survived a drowning. It was probably sleep apnea. But it turns out that sleep apnea is not covered by their insurance, so they’re just claiming the bills for the emergency. Of course, the insurance company doesn’t want to pay because they think the tests are unnecessary. And of course the price of the tests is ridiculous because hospitals jack it up because they’re used to insurance companies not paying. They jack everything up in hopes that they’ll pay something. But grandma was grandma. She was the one who kept the family business afloat with sound finances and by keeping my dad grounded. Insurance wanted her to pick up the bill and “reimburse” later, but she wasn’t falling for that. She beat the insurance company rep into submission and got them to approve more tests. I called them and got my dad to agree to stop being stubborn and get his sleep apnea checked. And mom said she had to go — she had many things to take care of around the hospital.

Meanwhile, mama and her sister noticed Abu repeating the same things to both of them. Alzheimer runs in the family. They haven’t brought it up with her yet. They’re just collecting data for now. Mama is worried because her stress puts her at higher risk. I started worrying about mama because if it runs in the family, mama is at risk too. The last years of our lives might end up being like the ending of The Notebook.

Be fearless. This is my hope for you before you turn 20. I hope you find some success once, before you start to see many dreams die, and you’re too afraid to dream. I had many dreams when I was younger. and I was never afraid of the consequences of trying. When you dream without fear, you think about the possibilities first, rather than all the reasons why it cannot be done.

So what I wish for you is the fearlessness of youth. The fearlessness that comes from not bearing the burden of a lifetime of failures. You are filled with wonder and not yet jaded. You don’t know you can’t fly. When you live to the expanse of your imagination, rather than shrink to the size of your fears. And as you grow older, I wish you will protect your youthful mind. I don’t know how we can help you do that as parents, but we will try.

This week in pictures

Cornstarch + water = Oobleck


Mama bought tomatoes to make salad. Our salad didn't have tomatoes in it.

Mama bought tomatoes to make salad. Our salad didn’t have tomatoes in it.

Our biggest project/puzzle/challenge yet. We made a robot that uncle D gave us when he visited. (Read the next letter to find out who he is.) It was at the limit of your attention span and motor/mental ability. But you were really excited to build it so you powered through.

Then we took a break. You lost interest and I didn't want to push it.

Then we took a break. You lost interest and I didn’t want to push it.

I didn’t mention it all day the next day. I wanted you to initiate it. Just before bed, you said, “Daddy, I want to make the robot.” And you finished strong:

Even after just one day, I noticed many changes. You took charge more. On the first day, you asked me to do many things. The 2nd day, you said, “No, I will do it.” And you took it in your hands. You could visualize the 3-D picture better. You were hunting for pieces and solving the puzzle.

You were so proud when you finished. First thing you said was, “I want to show mama.”

Fixing something

Fixing something

Explaining the process

Explaining the process

You weren't the only one who was proud

You weren’t the only one who was proud

His name is N-E-N-E. NeNe. Mama said," You know, nene means boy."

His name is N-E-N-E. NeNe. Mama said,” You know, nene means boy.”

By the way, I think the biggest benefit of writing to you two is it keeps me in check.

If I wrote it for myself, the tone would be different. It’d quickly become pages and pages of toxic rage and whining and bitching, because I’m not a naturally cheerful person. And soon I’d run out of steam because I’d drown under the stench of my own shit.

But because I write for my kids, when I’m done ranting, sure I’m happy to get it off my chest. But then I think OK, that’s no good. So I ask, what can my kids learn from this? How can I turn this into something valuable? So by trying to find the moral or the silver lining, or a way of thinking of things, overcoming a challenge or solving a problem for my kids, it becomes something that makes me a better person too.

I think kids do that in general. When you cry Kimi howls. In the beginning, I’ve tossed her out of the house a few times in a rage. But now you’re old enough to notice me doing it and you asked what I’m doing. So I had to learn to keep myself in check, and resolve the situation differently. It forces me to behave how I want you to learn to be.

I guess my point is it always helps to write to someone you care about. Or at least imagine that you are.



P.S. J2, you stare at my nipples. They’re not weird, okay? You stare at them as if you’re thinking, “Those are not boobs. I know what boobs are. I like you but I don’t like what you look like underneath.”