Dear 20-Years-From-Now Me,
I hope this letter finds you well. My apologies for the boring opening; I don't write a lot of letters, particularly letters to myself.
But enough with the formalities, I have some things I need to tell you and I don't have much time. M has taken the boys shopping, so I have a very brief window to get this done. I wonder if you remember what that urgency feels like? That pressure to take advantage of every precious minute of quiet when the kids are away. How down time is never truly relaxing, because your mind starts racing and calculating the second the kids are out the door. Exactly how much time do I have? Should I go to the grocery store or do laundry? I don't have enough time for both. If I squeeze in a 30-minute nap, because I was up with the baby three times last night, I'll still have maybe an hour left. Is that enough? Should I go for a run or write a letter to my future self? The permutations are endless, really.
I wonder what it's like now that the boys are grown. How do you fill your time now that you don't have to stand guard over the dog bowls 24 hours a day to intercept the army-crawling baby hell bent on baptizing himself in slobbery water as if that were his life's mission? Does sitting down by yourself for five minutes to sip a Starbucks latte and savor a few squares of dark chocolate, which I'm doing right now by the way, still feel like heaven?
I really have so many questions for you. Mostly about the boys. Do we still call them the boys now that they're grown men in their twenties? Do we still refer to them as J and B in text messages to save time? Is text messaging still a thing?
But I know you can't answer me, and anyway, all my questions will be answered in due time. So, I'm writing not in search of answers for myself. I'm writing to help you remember.
J just turned 3 a month or so ago. B is nine months old. A new year has just begun. J constantly amazes us with his sweet disposition, huge heart and developing imagination. B delights us with his smiles and laughter, outgoing nature, and boundless energy. Full disclosure -- that last one often perplexes and frustrates us as well. There are many sleepless nights and there are some long days filled with disagreements over what foods to eat, what clothes to wear and which types of tumbling stunts are and are not appropriate on the living room gymnasium (also known as the couch). You probably don't remember much of this, at least not with any level of detail. That might be a good thing in some ways, but there are some things I need you to remember.
In the past few months, J has taken to asking me, usually when he senses I am frustrated with him, "Daddy, are you happy?" It shocked me a little the first time he did it and it continues to gnaw at me. It's a question you expect from your therapist, not your 3-year-old son. There's no doubt it struck a chord with me because it's the type of question I ask myself a lot. I'm prone to my share of dark moments and self-doubts. You know that better than anyone. Parenting small children is hard work. It's tedious. It can be very boring at times. For some reason I can't quite pin down, happiness and sadness aren't feelings I associate with any of it. First off, I don't think they're mutually exclusive. They make up just a small part of a continuum of emotion upon which I float and oscillate as each day unfolds. There's happiness and sadness, but there's also equal parts frustration, exhilaration, self-doubt, guilt and nostalgia. And even more, I don't think big picture, abstract feelings are particularly important. It's the tangible and often seemingly insignificant little moments that matter most.
For example, I need you to remember how when I put J in his bed at night he arranges his stuffed animals -- two puppies, a bear, and Mickey Mouse -- and he lays his head down on his favorite blanket. I always say, "Good night, my sweet boy," and ruffle his hair. He looks up, says "Night night, Daddy," and blows me a kiss. I can't name the feeling I have every night when I close his bedroom door. It's a bit of everything. It's joy wrapped in a cloak of sadness with a bit of nostalgia thrown in. I feel nostalgia on your behalf. And for one-year-from now me. Because I know with kids everything changes so quickly. Nothing makes you appreciate (or fixate on) the passage of time like having small children does. Just this week, he's started insisting on having Mommy put him to bed. Maybe it's just a phase. But I know any night could be my very last goodnight kiss and "Night night, Daddy." Or maybe those are already a thing of the past and I don't even know it yet.
I also need you to remember J's quirky, wildly imaginative 3-year-old personality. How we make silly movies about our trips to the North Pole, which is conveniently located in the guest room closet. How he's always inventing scenarios for us to act out, like the one the other day starring a highly deviant Santa Claus with a penchant for stealing presents rather than delivering them. How he comes up with dialogue for us to recite to pass the time while we're driving in the car and makes us practice until I get it right, complete with the proper inflection, facial expression and delivery. Like one he made up the other day when we were going to the park.
J: "What's this car doing?"
J: "Noooo. Going to the park!"
Me: "Oh, right."
The first time we ran through it, I laughed. He said, "No! Don't smile." Eventually, though, I got it right and was able to deliver my lines with the gravitas they deserved. He rewarded me with a "Good job!"
And remember how bad J was at hide-and-seek? I mean, like all-time bad. He actually prefers to tell me where to hide, which is probably for the best, because otherwise, I could probably stay hidden for hours (hmm, that actually gives me an idea).
And I will always love how J ascribes feelings and personality to inanimate objects -- always making sure to say goodbye to trains passing by and the slide and swings when we leave the park. He has a huge heart.
And that heart really shines through when he interacts with his little brother. B just cracks up at everything J does. They love each other so much. The current dynamics of that relationship are certainly fleeting.
I could go on and on, really. There are so many things you need to remember. Why? Because I know the boys won't. And since they can't, you have to. I know you. I know you ask yourself sometimes if it was all worth it. Because there were sacrifices. Every parent makes them -- putting a career on hold, setting aside personal goals, giving up free time, or saying goodbye to sleep for a few years. The sacrifices are different for everyone, but they are real. And it's okay to call them what they are. Sacrifices. Ones made willingly, but sacrifices all the same.
For me, it's these moments and details that make everything okay. Because they let me know, through all the ups and downs, the long days and nights, the tantrums and meltdowns, that M and I are doing something right. No matter what words I might choose to describe my emotional state, my little boys are happy. Except, of course, for the times they hate us for not arranging the juice cup and cereal bowl in the right configuration. But overall, for the most part, in this finite moment in time, they are happy. And no matter what happens in the future, that's real and it's valuable.
So, enjoy your free time, buddy. You earned it. And try not to be too sad about your little boys being grown up. You were very lucky to get the chance to be with them so much in these first years. It's truly the best thing we've ever done.
Me (ver. 2015)