Dear Flynn and Jonah,
This was a big year for you boys, this year that we spent living in Falls Church, Virginia. Jonah, it was of course your first. Flynn, this was the year when you not only got a little brother, but also changed from a babbling toddler into a little person with a distinct personality. Just like I did when we left Benin, I’ve decided to put down for posterity some things I’d like you to know about this phase of your lives.
Flynn, you were just over two when you, me, and Abbey the dog flew by ourselves all the way from Cotonou to Paris and on to Washington, D.C. You were as good as any two-year-old boy could be expected to be on an airplane, until landing when you told me you felt a little funny. The next thing I knew, I was covered in throw up. You felt much better by the time you reunited with your dad in the arrivals hall. Although you’d seen him a few times in London, it had been almost six months since he’d been living with us. You gave him the biggest hug you maybe ever had. He got a bit more than he’d bargained for, though: despite being in a diaper, you somehow managed to pee all over him. I don’t envy the taxi driver who hauled us all home. I think we tipped him extra.
You were confused when we first arrived at the house we’d just bought, Flynn. As we strolled through the empty place, you kept asking somberly to go home. This made your dad and me so sad. But standing in your new bedroom we could see out to the backyard, which was filled with large, colorful, plastic toys that Grandma Jeanne had been collecting for you from garage sales. “All that for Flynn?” you asked with a hopeful tone in your voice. When you learned that it was, you seemed to decide that this new house might be alright after all. It turned out to be a wonderful home indeed. We decorated your bedroom with trains and airplanes, and we met lots of little friends for you out on walks around the neighborhood. Shortly after our arrival there was a neighborhood block party which you decided was being thrown in your honor; we didn’t correct you. For the rest of the year, every time we walked by the site of that party, you would ask, “Do you remember my party?” As luck would have it, this year’s version was held on our last week in town. You thought it was all for you, too.
Benin didn’t have parks or playgrounds, so for our first two months back stateside, Flynn, you and I made up for lost time. I wasn’t working, so together we went somewhere fun every day. We got to know the best playgrounds, water parks, and splash pads. We went to library story times. We saw puppet shows. We joined play groups. I took you to your first movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. (You were mostly interested in the popcorn, though occasionally you would point at a giant pancake flying across the screen.) At the end of every day we would head up the block to “find dad” on his walk home from work. “Daddy, daddy!” you would yell, and then take off running until he scooped you up in his arms. Despite all the fun, there were some struggles. You would cry and flail your limbs for hours as I tried to get you to take your afternoon nap. Nighttime was tough too. You would wake up crying five, six, or seven times a night. Change is hard, especially when you’re too little to understand it. And more change was coming.
Grandma Jeanne moved in on her birthday, and shortly thereafter your little brother arrived too. But these were changes you welcomed, Flynn. You walked so hesitantly into the hospital room, not sure exactly what you would find there, but you were so happy and sweet when you met Jonah. You were probably more excited to welcome Grandma to our home, though. While I looked after your brother, Grandma Jeanne took you out in the yard to play with all those toys. She let you paint and chalk and do all sorts of things your dad and I didn’t like to do.
Jonah, while Flynn was off having fun with Grandma Jeanne, you and I mostly just sat around. You were a needy little thing for a while. You came almost a full week early, before we had even gotten around to packing a hospital bag. And you came fast. I barely even made it to the hospital, and your dad had barely met me there from work, and then you were there! You were a cute little baby but looked nothing like your brother, which is funny because as time went on you changed so much that in photos now we sometimes can’t distinguish you from him. We usually figure it out based on the hair, though. At almost a year, you still have almost none. Jonah, for your first few months you wanted to be held at all moments, and the only person you’d let hold you was me. Even though we swore we’d never do it, we kept you in our bed with us because it was the only way to get you to sleep. Gradually you gained a bit of independence, moving into your our room and accepting the presence of other people. You became quite the smiley little guy. You’ll smile at anyone and everyone, but you save your biggest smiles and loudest laughs for Flynn.
We didn’t do any exotic travel this year, boys, but we did see many family members and friends. We drove back to Illinois for Aunt Bess and Uncle Ted’s wedding a bit before you were born, Jonah. Unfortunately we were rear-ended by a drunk driver on the Interstate somewhere in rural Maryland, and we spent two days trapped in the only motel that accepted dogs as we waited for any rental car within a 100 mile radius to become available. We ate meals from the one delivery restaurant in town and sometimes just from the motel vending machine, which was a new and exciting sight for you, Flynn. You called it “that monster that gives me candy.” Eventually we were on our way, and at the wedding you enjoyed seeing many family members, including your second cousin James who by complete accident was wearing the exact same outfit as you. We also visited your St. Louis friends for Thanksgiving, and you spent two separate weeks with Grandma Sherrie and Papa in Ohio. We were nervous you would get homesick, but they gave you enough Starbucks drinks that you were just fine. You boys traveled back to Ohio with your dad over Fourth of July, and many of your Midwestern family members and friends came out to see us.
Despite some photographs on Santa’s lap that suggest otherwise, you loved Christmas and even Santa, Flynn. But who you loved perhaps most of all this year was Mickey Mouse, which was why you were so excited to learn we’d be going to “Mickey’s house” and on “Mickey’s boat” with your cousins. You were so shy and sweet when you met Mickey in person. You told him you loved him. The glow on your face suggested you’d realized your greatest dream. Later you showed wisdom beyond your years when you asked me to stop taking photos of you with Mickey and your other character “friends,” because you just wanted to spend time with them.
After we got home from that trip I went back to work, and you started going to school. You cried the first two days I left you. It was so sad that I made Grandma Jeanne take you the third day. But you adjusted quickly and before long school was your very favorite place in the whole world. You came home with stories about a girl named Frankie, a boy named Karen, and a boy named Ali. We were sure you must be jumbling things up, but you weren’t. Your teachers said you were such a sweet little boy. You quickly learned to write all your letters and then focused on helping your friends learn too. You started in the “2 class,” as you liked to say, but were so proud when you were moved up to the 3s. “I live in the 3 class now,” you told us, and you wouldn’t believe us when we insisted you actually lived at home. You loved pajama day, and bike day, and dentist visit day. You once paced the house nervously for a full hour before show and tell day, trying to settle on the perfect thing to bring in. (Shark car it was!)
Jonah, while Flynn was off at school, you spent your days with Grandma Jeanne. Sometimes she would take you out to a playground or a Goodwill, but mostly she would chase you around the house and wonder how such a little thing could have so much energy. You sat, you crawled, you cruised. You sprouted teeth, and we have marks all over your crib to prove it. You love dropping food to Abbey. You took some clumsy first steps while we were packing up the house, but you truly learned to walk in the hotel where we’re staying until it’s time to go. You call everyone “dada” and you sometimes say, “hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii,” or “ohhhhhhhh.” Flynn loves to pick up “Jonah brother” or “Jonah pants,” as he calls you, and you’re getting big enough now that we sometimes let him.
Flynn, one weekend you and Mom took a special train trip up to New York City, where your favorite memories are the dozens of Mickeys in Times Square, the giant pretzel you got to eat while walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, and the fact that your new friend Andrew’s dad gave you a very big band-aid. You did lots of special things with Dad too. At the beginning of the year you were obsessed with trains, or “choo choos” as you called them, so he would take you out to ride a few stops on the Metro every Saturday morning. He took you to a minor league baseball game where you were very impressed by the player’s hats, and to a high school hockey game where you were very interested in the player’s socks.
By the time your third birthday was approaching, Flynn, Mickey was old news and dinosaurs were your new favorite thing. So we rented a dino shaped bounce house for the backyard and invited some of your little friends over for a party. You made sure they all knew the dinosaur was a friendly one. It rained before the party was over, but no matter. We got to keep the bounce house for another day, and so you had lots more fun before the friendly dinosaur had to go home.
Speaking of home, boys, this house we’ve been living in is yours. This goodbye isn’t as sad as the one we said in Benin, knowing that realistically it was unlikely we’d ever return. Another family is going to be living in our Falls Church house for a while, but we’ll be back. You can have your same rooms. Many of your friends will still be in the neighborhood. Many things will remain the same, except of course for the large addition we’re already planning. You boys are far too wild for 1,400 square feet. Though we’ll be coming back, there are still some goodbyes to be said. Flynn, you were so proud to tell us that when you’re four you’ll be in Miss Judy’s class, and so sad when we reminded you that when you’re four you’ll actually be in Mexico. You love your school, and though I’m sure we’ll find another one you’ll love just as much, it’s still going to be a very sad last day.
Luckily, there are lots of great experiences waiting to be had by you both in Mexico. Off we go.