Arlo and Elliott,
When I found a positive pregnancy test in my Christmas stocking more than five years ago, I knew I was going to be a dad, but that’s about it. Before you have kids, you have no clue what to expect. People think they know, but nothing can prepare you for the crazy world of being a parent.
If you ever have kids, the best advice I can give you is to not have unrealistic expectations for your first handful of years as a parent. When you were each born, this took me some time to digest. I would plan camping trips, or hikes, or to take you to the movies, but I would forget to plan around naps, how you both despise long car rides, and that although you love to watch movies, movie theaters freak you both out. Parenting is a non-stop exercise in setting realistic expectations.
Each holiday season I get excited to go pick out a Christmas tree and decorate it as a family, but I totally forget about the reality of this event. I forget that there is arguing over whose ornaments are whose, and who gets to put which ones on the tree. I forgot that only the lower third of the tree gets decorated due to your height restrictions and that you redecorate that space every morning. I also forget that I have to routinely remind you both that the watermelon Christmas ornament—which is made out of some weird fiberglass-ish styrofoam-like material—is in fact not a real piece of watermelon. To date, I think you’ve both tried to eat it on several occasions.
This year I walked into the living room and found you, Arlo, sitting by the tree, spitting something into your hand. You claimed it was nothing, but after noticing what looked like small strips of brown plastic in your hand, and then noticing the plastic gingerbread man ornament was laying nearby, I decided to investigate. Once I picked it up, it was immediately obvious it had recently been in someone’s mouth, not just from the slobber, but also the new bite marks from where you’d obviously tried to eat it.
This year we introduced a new tradition, The Elf on the Shelf, and just like most other aspects of parenting, it didn’t quite go the way we expected. The Elf comes with a book that explains each day the Elf watches your actions, then springs to life each night to go to the North Pole to report to Santa Claus. We named the Elf, Gus.
“Really?” Arlo asked in an incredibly serious tone. “Mom, he comes to life each night?”
“Yes,” your Mom responded, trying not to laugh at how serious you’d become.
You hoped off the couch and approached Gus as he sat on top of the fireplace.
“Really? He can really come to life?” Then talking to Gus, you called out, “Can you come to life now? PLEASE!? Really, can you really come to life now?!”
Each morning you’re supposed to wake up and go find where the Elf had stowed itself away for the day. Elliott, you’re currently an early riser, but Arlo, you tend to sleep in an hour or so longer. But with the addition of Gus, you were both waking up at 5 or 5:30, calling out first thing in the morning, “Where’s GUS?!” Then you would both run down the stairs to find him. And if that wasn’t enough, we’d hoped we could blackmail you into good behavior with the threat that Gus would tell Santa the dirt he’d collected on you, but that didn’t work either.
“GUS, close your eyes, Gus!” you would yell, Arlo, prompting Elliott to call out the same, as you both ran in circles chasing the dog with your shopping cart and baby stroller. “Don’t tell us on us, Gus, we want presents!”
Somehow you lured Gus to your side, and just like that, he was nothing more than a 5am wake-up call.
I took a week off around the holidays to spend time with you, but that time got off to a rocky start when Arlo got the stomach bug and then I spent the early hours of Christmas morning hunched over the toilet.
Christmas was still a lot of fun, but here’s some advice for when you have kids, have plenty of batteries and super glue on hand for Christmas morning. In fact, this is great advice for anytime you have young kids. If you can whip out a battery and bring something to life or back from the dead, or quickly superglue something back together, you’ll undoubtedly save yourself from listening to plenty of groans.
Speaking of groans, you both went through an unseasonably-whiney stage lately, as we encountered a very unseasonably cold winter, forcing us all to spend a lot of time together indoors. It got to the point where we put up, “Good Mood Party” signs when you come down the stairs. If you’re grumpy, we make you go back upstairs until you’re in a good mood.
Arlo, for awhile it got the point where I was starting to give myself time-outs instead of you, just to get a moment of calm. But, you’re getting a lot better as we’re learning what does and does not work in the grand scheme of threats, compromise, and working together for the collective sanity of our family. Since we’ve realized time outs don’t work that well, things have gotten much better, but sometimes it’s as simple as reminding ourselves to try and stay calmer than a 4-year-old and use our big-kid words to tell you how we feel. Surprisingly, this works incredibly well (for now at least).
Arlo, you’re such a sweet boy. Lately, it’s been so much fun to listen to you tell us all about your school. You explain all of the things you’ve learned about planets and animals and sing us songs. You also recently asked me if you could have a girl over for a playdate, and then asked me if you could marry her. We talked about how that was her choice, and you asked about proposals and showed me how people typically get down on one knee to do it. Sometimes I have no clue where you pick all of this up.
While there are always ups and downs, you currently love playing with your sister. You’ll be the Mom, and she’s the baby, and wheel her around the house in a baby stroller and play a game that appears to be nothing more than the two of you running errands to the grocery store, but it’s hilarious to hear you both impersonate me and your Mother. Your other favorite game is to play Princesses, where it’s Elliott’s coronation day, and Arlo, you appear to be her personal assistant who is in charge of getting her down for her naps and walking the dog. I’m not sure how any of those things are related, but you both seem to love it. One of my favorite things you’ve started to do in the morning is to have us all put our hands into a circle, and then we all say our dreams.
Elliott, you’ve been on quite a roll lately, too. You’ve been doing an amazing job with potty training, and haven’t had an accident in weeks (knock on wood). Thankfully, we are to a phase where we no longer have to remind you, because although you were a quick study, God help anyone who asked you if you have to go pee before you were ready to go. You would unleash a crazy scream, pout, and throw yourself down on the ground… It was quite the show, but luckily this has passed and now the only time we see this behavior is on random nights when it’s my turn to put you to bed. You love your Mama, and you absolutely prefer her tuck-in skills to mine.
You also freak out at night when it’s bedtime and we’re ready to put on your diaper. You scream and cry and tell me how itchy diapers are, and sometimes you’ll tell me, “You’re stupid and dumb, Dada!” But once the diaper is on and you have your pacie, you call a truce and crawl over to lay on me for story time. You often reach out and absent-mindedly scratch my beard while I read, then you push your cheek against mine and say, “I sorry Dada, you’re not stupid.”
Other times, in the middle of reading, you’ll quickly stand up and jump into the air, landing on my chest with both knees. Then you let out a villainous chuckle and grunt, “Again!” You’re a monster, but the sweetest kind.
With this cold weather, we got a big snow storm, which if very uncommon for Portland. On the first morning, we bundled you both up and took you out to play. Arlo, you couldn’t get enough of it and you played in the snow for hours. Elliott, you don’t like the cold at all!
“No, they make me freezing,” you screamed as I tried to pull on your snow pants to go out to play for the second time in one day. It didn’t dawn on me until a few days later, but then it hit me, you thought your snow pants were making you cold, not the snow. But, you eventually had fun playing outside, minus your snow pants, they did make you cold after all. You both took turns standing between my legs on my snowboard and we built some snow robots and forts.
So all in all, you both have been really well behaved lately, except when you aren’t… But that, I’ve come to learn, is the only thing I can expect from parenting. No matter what, I love you both so much.
Love you monsters,