Happy Birthday, Buddy!

Today is my son’s first birthday!

While no one can predict the future, I don’t have any plans to have any more kids (I’m blessed with three, and I think we’re at capacity!), so that means this is likely the last 1st birthday I’ll be directly involved in for a while. At least until the grandkids start showing up, which is probably a ways off yet.

Buddy is a smiling, happy, active boy. He stomps little happy feet all the time, and laughs easily and often, even for a baby. He eats like a horse. He absolutely adores music, especially when his grandfather plays the banjo. He can beat on the bongo drums pretty well himself.

Before I had kids, I massively underestimated them. I had no idea a one-year-old could have so much personality; I sort of assumed they were all pretty generic until at least kindergarten. I certainly had no idea that a two-year-old could express complex ideas or be intentionally funny. And I couldn’t have dreamed that a seven-year-old could be the most interesting, fun and brave person I knew.

Added all together with the extra months, I’ve raised about 11 years’ worth of kids, given that their current ages are 1, 2.5 and 7.5 respectively. Sometimes it feels like about a hundred years.

Sometimes it feels like a few days. A blink.

I couldn’t possibly list everything I’ve learned about being a parent, every mistake I’ve made, every victory. But here are some big, big takeaways about parenting while I’m thinking about them:

  1. Kids want to be good. They just want to be active. Don’t spend your precious time trying to prevent them from doing bad stuff. Point them in a positive direction and let them run. Put all your effort into rewarding and encouraging good behavior, and you’ll almost never have to punish bad. I can’t remember more than a dozen times I’ve had to actually punish a kid with a time out or something – instead we spent a ton of time creating reward games for good behavior and heaping praise on kindness whenever we saw it. It’s worked so far.
  2. They are so, so, SO smart. You will never be prepared for how much smarter they are than you think they’ll be. They will figure you out fast. That also works both ways – they can perfectly understand you much younger than you think. By six months they’re not creatures of pure instinct any more, and you would be shocked at how much language they understand by then. You can just talk to them, and they’ll understand way before they’re actually able to talk back. They can also open everything you think they can’t open. At 7 months, Buddy unlocked a pin-protected phone. I mean, then the little “hacker” licked it, but still.
  3. You teach them literally 100% of their behavior. They don’t do anything you don’t teach them to do. If they bug you for snacks, it’s because at some point you gave them snacks when they did that. If they cry after you put them to bed, it’s because at some point you let that cry convince you to pick them back up. You can do whatever you feel comfortable with, but if you ever find yourself exasperated and asking “why do they DO that,” just remember it’s because you taught them to. That extends to a lot of behaviors as they get older – they’ll curse if you curse, smoke if you smoke, drink if you drink. You’ll never hide it from them. Use them as your reason for being better. More than anything, teach them to love.

I’ll miss having a little baby, but not nearly as much as I’ll enjoy the person he’ll grow into. Each of my children is more awesome today than they were yesterday; they become cooler people every day, and I love being there for it.

Happy Birthday Buddy, you entire meatloaf. I love you.

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