Three-year-old

Dear Isaac,

Pretty much every other morning for the past year, I have woken up well before 7 AM to the sound of your voice. Sometimes, if it’s really early, I can cajole you into cuddling with me for a little while, but we always eventually end up downstairs in the kitchen, because you’re hungry, and you want your breakfast.

And, pretty much every other morning for the past year, I have fixed precisely the same thing for you, in quantities that would make a trucker blanch: oatmeal with cinnamon and yogurt and applesauce and — this is key — brown sugar on top. I don’t know how many conversations we’ve had in the past year about brown sugar, but I will say this: you’re very passionate about the subject. You’re generally a little bit anxious each day that I might somehow forget the brown sugar, and you take great pains to remind me, and increasingly higher pitches, not to forget it. In fact, you’d like to put it on your oatmeal yourself. And then you very carefully carry your brimful bowl to the table, and demolish it in about 30 seconds flat. Sometimes, you have seconds.

And then, generally, it’s hit or miss as to whether you eat anything else for the rest of the day until snack time before bed, when you put back more yogurt and applesauce.

Lately, however, you’ve been eating lots: big breakfasts, followed by genuine lunches and dinners to boot. Which can only mean one thing: you’re going to grow. Maybe by the end of the summer you’ll break 30 pounds. I suppose this is a calculated effort on the part of time and nature to ensure that Rachel and I stop carrying you around so much. Because we do. Because you’re just so little, and so light, and so sweet up there in our arms with your sooky thumb and your blankie. More often than not, I just swing you up onto my hip and tote you downstairs, or down the street, or to the car, when you could easily walk on your own two feet — and we both know it. But I pick you up anyway, because I like how you feel in my arms, because I can.

But not for long. You may not weigh much, but you get longer, lankier, by the minute. Your tastes (thumb and blanket aside) are morphing into those of a little kid, not those of a baby. For your third birthday, for example, your other mommy and I plan to get you a flashlight. And maybe a Swiffer. If we cared nothing for your personal safety — not to mention the windows — we would get you a full-sized hammer, because hammers are your favourite things in the entire world. You sneak into my office and check out my tool box, cadging open the latches like a lovesick fool, and I have to pry hammers and screwdrivers and drills out of your passionate little hands while you screech and flail. Rachel recently — and possibly unwisely — purchased a child-sized croquet set for the backyard, and you have misappropriated the mallets for use as hammers. You like to whack the top of the turtle sandbox, the deck stairs, the fence, the swing set, the windows, and each time you whack something I say your name until, tired of giving warnings, I eventually confiscate the mallets, and you tell me that I am mean. I will be in the middle of telling you a story, or discussing what everyone did today around the kitchen table, and you will interject, “And there was a hammer...” Your favourite song is “I’ve been working on the railroad,” but, occasionally, you will ask me to substitute the word “hammer,” repeated over and over, for the regular lyrics. And then you gaze at me, eyes shining, as I do.

Perhaps as a foil to your hammer obsession, or perhaps merely as a complement to it, you also enjoy a good session of “playing princesses,” revelling in a twirly-skirted velvet dress that we picked up at a thrift store. For your birthday, you have already received from your Rob a princess hat and sparkly shoes, which you insisted on wearing to bed, even thought they cut off circulation to your feet. Aside from the occasional kid on the playground, no one has ever told you that boys “don’t wear dresses,” and, if I have my way, no one will for as long as possible.

You have a new-to-you purple bike with training wheels, and a new helmet, and you tell pretty much everyone you meet about them. You’re still figuring out the art of pedalling; I manipulate your tiny feet and ankles so that you get the hang of forward propulsion, and although you’re quickly improving, you’re still impatient, swatting my hands away from the handlebars when I attempt to correct your steering, keep you on the sidewalk.

After you tell people about your bike, you like to tell them your two favourite jokes. “Hello,” you say: “my nose is on fire.” And then you say, “Banana split!” You also like to tell long, complex stories, generally involving lions biting you and robots throwing things out the window. And hammers. When you are unhappy with me, you tell me that you are going to throw me out the window. Or into the garbage. Lately, after six months or so of these threats, I have taken to responding, “Okay, pick me up and throw me out the window. Pick me up and throw me in the garbage.” To which you respond, “I can’t pick you up.” And I say, “I see,” and you say, “I not talking to you any more.” And I can tell you that very little is as heartbreaking as the snub of an almost three-year-old sprite of a boy, but the good news is that your snubs never last long. Apropos of nothing, you will suddenly announce, “Mommy, if you are stuck in a machine I will pull you out.” “Mommy,” you say, “if you fall out of your bed tonight you can come and sleep in my bed with me and I will keep you safe.” “Mommy,” you say, “when I am big and you are little, you can ride my bike.” And I say, “Thank you.”

You are (mostly) in love with your brother, and the feeling is (mostly) mutual. You seek each other out, literally fall upon each other, and Rachel and I are still learning to back off, to watch you wrestle and tussle and laugh and occasionally go too far with each other — often, if we stay out of things, you figure them out on your own. Rowan, nearly double your size, generally has the upper hand physically, but you make up for your stature in scrappiness and perseverance. He is occasionally indulgent with you, lying spreadeagled on your bed and giggling as you body slam him over and over, with a zeal that forces me to turn my head away. Later in the evening, the two of you will snuggle up again in your bed as he reads stories to you before you hug and kiss goodnight. Those times are some of the most enchanted of my life.

People adore you. Everywhere you go, you talk to people, telling them your jokes, about your bike, the lions. Your babysitter takes you regularly to visit an assisted-living facility, and little old ladies hobble out of their rooms to say hello to you as you trundle by. You have a “lady friend” there, a one legged woman in a wheelchair who, unbidden, buys you presents: books, stuffed dogs, a sparkly reindeer. “Please,” we have said to the lady friend via the babysitter, “you don’t need to buy him things.” And she has responded that you are the highlight of her life and she will spend her own money how she pleases.

People adore you, and you adore people. A few nights ago, before bed, you came to me, then Rachel, then Rowan, for “a hug and a kiss.” And then you wrapped your arms tight around your own self and kissed your right shoulder before tumbling up the stairs to your bedroom. And I wished for you to always have exactly what you had in that moment.

And, as much as I wish that I could keep you exactly as you are, as you were in that moment, the truth is right there in those uber-bowls of oatmeal: you’re growing. You’re changing. “He’s leaving me,” I wail to Rachel, and she nods sagely. You’re leaving me, but, mostly, you’re coming into your own.

Happy third birthday, little guy.