At some point last year one of my dear friends scolded me for my gush gap. I gush about Khaya. I gush about Alakhe. But I don’t gush about Vukile.
“I don’t?!” I asked.
“No!” she replied, exasperated, “and he’s my favourite!”
She is also a middle child. You are also pretty much everybody’s favourite.
You might doubt it sometimes. I mean, I am writing you your ‘annual’ letter on the 224th day of your 3rd year and (notably) two days before your brother’s first birthday.
Khaya is my first-born and she’s a girl; I am sensitive to the narratives aimed at her and to the importance of building her up. Alakhe is an adorable squishy baby, and my last born, and I just kinda want to drink up every single second of him. You, everything about you screams ‘I don’t need gushing’. Well, you are usually screaming something, that’s for sure.
Make no mistake about it, you are worthy of plenty of gushing. You are hilarious, brave, clever, creative, resilient, determined and bursting with love. You fill each of our days with fun and imagination and you are utterly delicious.
This morning I told you to put your shoes on; when I returned one minute later you were trying to stand (shoeless) on a wobbly wooden stool you had stacked on your bed. This afternoon you challenged your sister and I to a race to the picnic blanket from the playground only to take off and run a wide arc in the complete opposite direction, without an ounce of concern on your face. I still wonder where you would be now had I not given chase. This evening you told me “God put a coin in my underpants” and asked me to help you retrieve it.
These are your truest Vukile moments. They happen all the time. I often stop myself mid-day to silently repeat something you say or do as a means of searing it into my memory forever. I cannot get enough of you. It just feels so much more natural to do all of this with humour than it does with adulation.
You are also difficult.
Often, you are difficult for sport; you seem to like the challenge. I have spent much of the last year trying to figure out how to effectively parent you. Most often I am left guessing what goes through your mind or how to get your attention. You walk to the beat of your own drum, are unconcerned with approval and can be completely unresponsive to the soundest of parenting techniques. You are constantly challenging and changing the limits.
This Christmas we went to Canada to spend time with family and to give you your first white Christmas. Specifically, I wanted to teach you guys to ski. I had been waiting for this my entire life. The first few sessions went predictably – Khaya did exactly as told and picked it up immediately while you looked right through me and your G-Ma as if we were transparent. You caught on to the sport quite quickly but were not interested in listening. You wanted to go up the chair lift, you wanted go all by yourself, you wanted a snack, you needed to pee.
On Day 3 of Perseverance, your Dad and sister – both also beginners – were now doing well enough to go up the ‘big’ magic carpet together, just the two of them. You lost your dang mind. The whole ski hill heard about it. I had Alakhe in my arms and your Dad was not a strong enough skier yet to handle you and Khaya alone. To quiet you down and rescue the rest of the day for all of us, we all went together to the ‘little’ magic carpet. There, you pronounced, “I am going by myself”. And so you did; roughly twenty times, with a smile.
A few days later we went to Fernie with our good friends. You hit the magic carpet with Hank and Khaya – both older and more advanced. While they weaved their way through the turns on the course, you tagged along behind them bombing straight down. Eventually, they grew bored of the magic carpet and moved up to the ‘big’ lift. I had to tackle you to prevent you from following them – you could not go alone up the big hill without knowing how to turn properly. You tantrumed. Thinking it would be a whole day project; I promised you could join them once you had completed the entire course on the magic carpet. There was no evidence that you had even registered what the course was, nonetheless how to turn 6 times in order to finish it.
Just like that, you finished the whole course and we ran out of excuses not to let you go with the other kids.
I learned everything I need to know about you in these moments.
You are a pack animal. Nothing we could say or do could ever motivate you the way staying with your friends or family could. Realising this has turned a light on in my brain.
When we discipline or scold you, you look right through us. When we congratulate or celebrate you, you seem un-phased. When I leave you to go for a run, you are genuinely betrayed. When I take your sister to the grocery store without you, you are inconsolable. You come to all of Khaya’s lessons just to watch. You sneak your way into our bedroom every single night; I have woken up many times to you in the bottom corner of the bed cuddling my foot. Parenting a pre-schooler seemingly uninterested in pleasing people while simultaneously reacting to a time out with the utmost sense of injustice has been confusing. Looking back, I see that those were the times you felt ignored or left out. That hurts extra when you believe so hard in your pack.
The biggest reason I fail to gush about you is quite simply because you are so very much my son. At one point we thought you favoured your father. We were wrong. You are cut straight from your mother’s cloth.
I was a difficult middle child. I got kicked out of kindergarten and had my Grade 1 desk moved into the hallway. I was definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Yet I was blessed by a host of patient teachers and friends who saw the potential within, gritted their teeth and gave me space and tools to grow in to myself.
If I fail to avow you, it is because I am so very certain of all that are and all that you will do. I am equally sure that you will find the determination you need to thrive from within. So much so that I forget you need to hear it.
You are difficult and you are wonderful. These two things are not mutually exclusive. You are truly magnificent. Everything about you is pure fire and you make everyday fuller. You are a bright and engaging little boy. You hold no punches. You love without inhibitions. You are loyal. You laugh with your whole body and it is the very best sound in the world. When you curl up in my arms and cup your hands around my face, there is no place in the whole world I would rather be. You fill my life with laughter and my heart with love. Watching you grow up is the best adventure of my life. I cannot wait to see what unfolds or who you become. I have no clue what it will look like, but know I am beyond blessed to have front row seats.
I will try to do better at affirming you for all that you are and resisting the impulse to only capture your humour. I know very well what it is like to appear steely on the outside while feeling vulnerable on the inside. I also know what it is like to be born behind somebody who is good at everything they do. I will remind you as often as necessary that you do not need to be the best at everything, you will find your freedom and your self by being the very best you. You are more than enough.
Most importantly, I will always be your pack. I will always fight for you. With all that I am and all that I have. You are so very loved.