Happy Birthday Otto!

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A typical evening at home: pink toenails in the midst of chaos.

Today Otto turns two years old. In some ways the time has flown. In others it has been a long, chaotic two years. I thought I had this all worked out, this child-wrangling, multi-tasking game called parenting. In fact, I had it so worked out that I was going to do everything perfectly with a new baby. The girls had been my mothering guinea pigs. Otto would reap the benefits of learning from every mistake I made with them. I would be the picture of a calm, knowing, experienced parent. It would be textbook.

Right. So, as it turns out, you only have two hands. It is difficult to grab a third child with your foot or teeth. My sister watched me once trying to simultaneously deal with my beloved yet demanding children during dinner (Sit! No! No salt shaker! Oh grab that cup!! Me? No I’m not eating!) before aptly remarking, “Everyone I know who goes from 2 to 3 just seems to lose it. Lose it.” The girls loved their new baby but they were also intensely jealous. We were a family of 5, on the move, out and about, tearing up airports and living on the move. His sisters and their needs turned out to be wildly influential forces in his little life. Which means Otto sometimes got stashed in the corner of a classroom during a parent-teacher conference. He saw too much television. He had ketchup a whole lot early than I, as a professional, would recommend. Heck, we skipped baby food and went right to pizza. He has never taken a nap in his own bed but instead falls asleep the minute you strap him into a stroller. In other words, he’s a third child.

But oh that smile. Unless, of course, his hands are dirty. I have never met a child who is so particular about his hands. It took us weeks to get the kid to finger paint. I don’t know how many times I have told him to just “Lick them. Lick them! It’s chocolate!” My son lives and dies by the baby wipe. We go through cases of the things.

And then there is the broccoli issue. A good rule of thumb is that you may need to put a new food in front of a child at least 10 times before he will willingly put it in his mouth. I think he had his first piece of broccoli around 17 months ago. It was most decidedly rejected. But knowing what I know, I persevered. It only took me another year of twice weekly servings to get the boy to pick it up and put it in his mouth (after dipping it in ketchup, obviously). Now we’re working towards a 2nd vegetable.

I guess my point (other than to wax poetic on the birthday of this gorgeous boy) is that most of what we fret about when our babies are small really doesn’t matter. Keeping the healthy and safe is what matters. Loving them is what matters. So Otto sleeps once a day sometime between the hours of 11 and 2 in either a car seat or a stroller. So he insists on—and gets away with– either being barefoot or wearing sparkly princess shoes. So he doesn’t exactly like vegetation. And his vocabulary, while steadily growing, still consists largely of cartoon characters and condiments.

Who cares?

Because when he hugs me, it’s no holding back as he lays his cheek on my shoulder and pats his chubby little hand against my back. When it’s time to get his sisters off the bus, he runs to the door, banging on the wood until he can get outside (barefoot of course), then shrieks with joy when the big white bus rounds the corner. If his sisters are doing something, he’s right in there with him, painting his toenails with a giant smile on his face. And when he gets his hands on a box of Ritz crackers or anything chocolate, he makes sure to shove some into everyone else’s mouth too. He’s happy, he’s healthy and he’s loved. By a whole big bunch of people.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Otto. You may not have a life that springs from the pages of a parenting manual, but you certainly don’t seem to be suffering for it.