You’re three and a half years old.
I just don’t understand how that has already happened.
It’s been a bit of a rough month. You’re in a phase where about half the time, you are experiencing a dramatic crisis. You’re using fake crying, whining, and temper tantrums to try to get your way, and we’re trying to make sure you understand there are better and more effective ways to communicate.
But your routine has been broken up a bit. Pre-school is on summer break, and you really, really want to go back. I was gone for a week to the ComedySportz World Championships, and so I wasn’t there to put you to bed or to play with you and ask how your day went. (Some days, you behaved for Mommy better than others.)
And now I’m scared.
The longest I’ve ever been apart from you is, I think, a little less than two weeks. But that’s about to change.
I got a promotion at work. That’s a good thing. I’ve been battling for a promotion for nearly five years, and I’ve been getting very burned out at work, and sometimes that leaks over to home. There are days I have been impatient with you and Mommy; days when I snapped at you instead of sharing your joy. I’m not proud of those days. I want to do better. And I think that changing my job focus will help with that, for many reasons.
But this promotion requires relocation.
We’re moving, surprisingly, to the city where I grew up: Syracuse, New York.
This will take you away from Grandma Carol and Papa Darrell. It will take you away from your pre-school friends and teachers. It will take you away from Uncle Brad and Aunt Ashlie and your cousin Raven. It will take you away from Pastor Gale and your other friends at church.
Lots of people go through these changes. And it’s not like we’ll be strangers; we’ll come back as often as we can, to see as many of our loved ones as we can. And, to be blunt, you’re “only” three and a half; your memories are very plastic right now, and this transition won’t be nearly as hard on you as it would be if we were doing this, say, ten years from now.
But I’m also scared because the logistics of this are tough. I have to move first.
The next letter I write to you will probably be the last one I write in Indiana — at least for a while. Then I’ll be in Syracuse, and you and Mommy will be here. Mommy will be working hard to train a replacement for her job at her parents’ business, and trying to sell our house so we can find a place of our own in Syracuse. In the meantime, I’ll be living with relatives (we’re not 100% sure which ones, yet — we have options). I’m taking the dog, Chelle, with me. Mommy will be, temporarily, a de facto single mom, which is hard, hard work. Especially if you are in a tantrum phase.
I’ve solicited promises from a number of people that say they’re going to help out, but to be honest I’m not completely sure how much help will be given. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I know hundreds of people who intend to truly help, but only a scarce few who actually put in the effort. I know that sounds kind of terrible, but learning this has made me want to do my best to be the kind of friend I want to have.
You don’t always like talking on the phone. We’ll have video chat programs we can use, so that will help… but I’m going to miss you and your mother so much.
I worry that the next few months are going to be so hard on all of us, and while I know I made the right decision and that eventually we’ll settle into a new version of normal, right now I worry that all of us will be sad for a while, and we don’t know exactly how long that might be.
Getting back to you: you’re in a story-telling phase right now, too. You want to tell us stories that you saw on television while at daycare, or stories that you’re making up in your head, or stories that are a combination of the two. Your favorite question right now is “But what if…?” which is usually applied when we tell you that something can’t happen, won’t happen, isn’t happening, or some other negative.
“I don’t like da thundah. I’m a little bit afwaid of it.”
“Don’t worry, Sage; thunder can’t hurt us.”
“But what if it could?”
“No, Sage, you can’t have coffee.”
“But what if I did?”
It occurred to me the other day that this isn’t (always) about you arguing; it’s about you trying to imagine. Any time I’ve been asked to speak about creative writing, I’ve pointed out that the secret is “What if?” (The second half of that is, “And what else is the result?”)
I’m going to try hard to help you prod that imagination the next time you ask me “what if?” by asking you what you think would happen, and trying not to tell you that you’re wrong unless it seems like there’s an actual, important lesson to learn. Like if you tell me that you’d have to chase the coffee with dishwashing soap to get the taste out of your mouth, I’ll definitely advise against that.
Right now, a lot of your “what if” questions seem to revolve around things that you’re starting to become scared of. What if there were monsters? What if they ate up Mommy and Daddy and you were left all alone? What if you were left alone forever? — But what if you were? But what if, Daddy? What if?
I get that. I’m dealing with that too, right now. What if I end up hating this job? What if the weather in Syracuse is stronger than my anti-depressant and I end up miserable during the long, gray winter? What if the house in Indianapolis doesn’t sell for months and I barely get to see you between now and when you’re four? Can I deal with that? What if?
Three things are helping me through this.
One: I know how much you and Mommy love me, and I know how much I love you. That alone is a massive defense against any struggle.
Two: Improv training isn’t just about performance, but about philosophy. If you think too far ahead, you miss what’s going on now, and you get frustrated that you can’t make it fit into your preconceived notion of how things are supposed to go. That’s true for goofy comedy and it’s true for life. Improv is helping me remember that I need to work with now before I can work with even the next minute.
Three: God. I have Christian friends who don’t think I am a “true Christian” because of some of my social beliefs (especially when it comes to homosexuality, but for many other reasons as well). I also have atheist friends who quietly but firmly think I’m stupid for believing in a supernatural being. Well, whatever. I do believe, and I know what I believe, and I believe that God has had a hand in this move. I’ve nearly received promotions that would have taken us to California, or Florida, or Washington. Each time, something fell through. Twice, promotions that would have kept us here fell through. This time, a solid offer was made, and it’s right smack in the middle of a major support network — my family.
I have worries, but my faith and my patience and my love will help see me through.
You’re going to see your Daddy cry a few times in the next few weeks. I don’t know if that memory will be big enough to stick with you or not. But just know that when I do, I’m okay. It’s hard, but it’s okay.
My advice for this month (of course, BE WHO YOU ARE — when you can do it, it’s so rewarding!) is this:
Don’t let fear of getting hurt make you lose out on the daily joy of love that you already have.
Re-read it again, slowly.
Think about the love you have today. What are you doing because of fear? What are you not doing because of fear?
Focus on the love. Go that direction. It’s waiting for you.
I love you so much, Sage! Your mother and I both do. More than it seems possible.