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To Calvin, who is four years old today

Four years old. I asked you this morning what is different now that you are four, or what can you do now that you are four that you couldn't when you were only three? "Well, I can play the piano" you answered, and then you proceeded alternately to ponder and to list all the new things about your life; you can reach the bathroom sinks and the washer with the short stool, you can write you're name and Gram's name, you can feed the pets without any help, you sleep in bed with no guard rail, and now your car seat is facing forward in the car. This was your short summary of the past year of your life—your sum of your own accomplishments—but the conversation itself was the measuring stick I really wanted. A year ago you were already an articulate and ready speaker, and the year of development has only strengthened that trait in you so that our conversation this morning was a real treat, as are our conversations most any time.

It was especially interesting to me the items with which you chose to mark your progress—the things that allow you more personal freedom, and the things that feel like real grown-up accomplishments to you, but none of the more general milestones, like running longer distances (almost a mile!), being able to kick and throw balls well, or finally being able to climb the bars at the park on your own. I figure that some of your filtering was temporal; it's not likely you remember that it was a month after you turned three when you (of your own choice and volition) swore off wearing diapers, but since we only just turned your car seat around last week it's that which stands out vividly in your mind. Perhaps you don't remember that you once drew and painted only in scribbles and blobs, and then one day last December I found real faces with stick bodies,which you promptly identified as ("of course") garbage men, hiding in one of your pictures. And I'm absolutely certain that it seems to you as though you've always sung on key, though it was just over the past year that you have developed the ability so that others agree with you much of the time.

These are some of the things with which I choose to mark your year of growth and maturing, but none of them is so precious to me as your new forms of communicating love; It is only in the past year that you have begun to say "I love you" or to throw your arms around one of us or kiss us with your own spontaneity true feeling. Nor are any of your milestones as rewarding to us as parents as your ever burgeoning interest in exploring and discovering both the physical and the metaphysical world. It was two years ago that "why?" first entered your vocabulary in a rather demanding way, and you have exercised that question with increasing insistence ever since. In response to your questioning attitude we have tried to expand your horizons and the world you have to explore; we have added books to your collection, allowed some very limited computer or TV time (you love building train tracks on the computer or watching the Plant Earth documentary on TV), taken you to new places (this week we embark on your first memorable cross country visit) and offered new entertainments, and expanded our own theories of the proper amount of information to include in any answer we give you.

Over the past year you have pushed us to expand our own horizons and constantly reassess our previously immoveable views on parenting. Your exploration has not been limited to the outside world, but also includes your own position in our family and your role there; you have never been prone to tantrums or to physical outbursts, but over the past year you have evolved an ability to push limits, question actions, and force us to take new, clearer stands. I have come to expect no less from you than a discussion, albeit not always a calm one, about not new requests, but old requisites. We do our utmost best to always give you a choice by which you can create your own outcome, but you have already begun to see through this and to actually question the validity of the options ("I don't want to do either of those, I want to..."). Your opinions are often clear, though, as is your ability to decide for yourself, if not always what is best then instead what is most desirable, and that is a sign to me of your growing individuality, another sign we take as a reward.

Our life with you continues to be a joy. We have grown comfortable, if not always at ease, with our roles as parents and with the dynamics of our immediate community—our family—and plan to keep it at this size. We greet each new year with eager anticipation and only brief nostalgic looks at the past. The whole world opens before you, and us, with years of learning, traveling, exploring, developing, experimenting. We look forward to it all, and we love you.

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