A letter to my youngest son for his third birthday

Dear Solo,

You just turned three. (Deep breath.) This year, the year that you were two, was equal parts terrifying and gorgeous.

Your dad and I often wonder in what way you resemble us, because you are completely your own person, and in many ways it seems that you only resemble yourself. Recently your dad said, "It's like all the random genes that rarely exhibit themselves got mixed together and made Solo."

You are brilliant. You are scary.

The other day you needed to have a tooth removed. It was one of your two front ones, and removing it left this household bereft of anyone with a full set of baby teeth. About a year ago you banged your teeth on the floor, hard, when you slipped, and though neither fell out, one had recently started to turn gray. When we took you in to get it x-rayed, it showed an abscess around the detached root. The dentist told me I'd have to go to a pediatric dentist. 

"Can't you just take it out?" I asked, not wanting to make another appointment.

He looked at you, thinking it over. Noting you jumping around the dental office, he declined. Politely. He did NOT say, "Your son seems on the crazy side, I wouldn't get near his mouth with a ten-foot pole," but I bet he was thinking the Thai equivalent.

But then how can I describe it? The tuk tuk you and I tucked ourselves into, the drive through the rain, us in the middle of the tuk tuk seat, keeping each other dry. The way you felt, cuddled up against my side, the big boy attitude you acquire sometimes, when you're with me on your own.

The way you arranged yourself in the dentist chair so seriously, your big toddler-sized head resting there. Opening your mouth and biting down obediently. You politely requested a green balloon, when asked what color you wanted. You watched the Tom and Jerry cartoons. You nodded seriously when the dentist asked you if you were okay. You cried when they jabbed you in the gums twice with a needle. And then you calmed back down and settled your head back in the chair, opened your mouth, and peacefully had your tooth extracted.

I could have exploded with love. I could have melted.

When it was done you climbed down, collected your balloon, and held out your hand to me, ready to go. I couldn't have predicted it, appropriately, because if there's any word I would use to describe you, it's unpredictable. We just never know what you'll do next. (Although one time the term that Chinua chose was "mentally unstable." It was at the worst of your toddler stages, which lasted for about eight months.)

Lately you've taken to grabbing the hands of complete strangers. You'll walk up, touch their hands, smile at them. Maybe you'll play with the hem of their shirt, or stick your hand in their back pocket. It's a little, um, surprising for people. Other times, people will try to talk to you and you'll literally shriek in their face. In both instances, I am apologizing. Or smiling ruefully. Or shrugging and laughing awkwardly, like Ha! Kids! Who can tell what they'll do next!

With some kids it's not so. You really can tell what they'll do next. Your oldest brother, for example. Since he was born, his personality has been set. I just know what he'll do. I know that at least four times a day, he's come to me with a random scientific fact. I know that he likes comparing people to cosmology. I know his favorite funny things are always going to be about playing tricks and teasing people. I can always tell, for better or for worse.

But you we approach like lion tamers, four-legged stools in hand.

It's amazing, the effect you have on people, when you're trying to make friends. You walk up and smile at the ladies in the market (most likely hoping they'll give you candy, like they do in India) giving them your sweetest big-eyed face. You tell them some secret only you know. You pat them on the leg. They laugh and fall back in their chairs. They call to their friends. They examine your hair and you let them (though if people try to touch Leafy's hair you often push them away) and suddenly you have a group of people around you. People say things in other languages and laugh, and you shriek with laughter, joining in the joke, which only makes them laugh harder.

You're the best cuddler. You have the greatest laugh. You get so excited when you see a plane that you shudder yourself right out of your skin. You always ask if people are okay, after they get hurt. You are so enthusiastic, in every possible way.

Often, if we're out at a restaurant, you will get out of your chair to dance. It means so much to you that you have a special rule. You can only get up from the table to dance. If you're dancing, we let you be. The other night, you went and laid your face on a young cool guy's arm, like the two of you were the best of friends. Then we called you back.

But when you dance, every bit of you gets into it. You are a robot, you are a transformer, you are a dance star in the middle of the floor. You don't care that people are looking, you just don't care.

You're adorable, darling. I love you and love you and I hope you never lose your spirit, kiddo. Even if you're always equal parts terrifying and gorgeous.



(Thanks to my friend Leaf, for her use of the word 'gorgeous,' which so aptly describes our Little Solo.)