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Happy 4th birthday, sweet boy!

January 29th, 2014

It’s time for another letter to Cullen, just a tad late this time. Happy 4th birthday to my sweet, sweet boy!

Dear Cullen,

Today you are FOUR years old, my sweet boy! We celebrated with cupcakes in your classroom and dinner at your restaurant of choice (followed by cake!). You were so excited to have us visit in the cafe with cupcakes, and you enjoyed when your friends gathered around you to sing happy birthday. It was a special moment for you (and for Mommy and Daddy!). For dinner, you chose to eat at Zoe’s Kitchen or, as you call it, “the place with the kid roll ups.” You like to have the chicken “kid roll ups” which are basically rolled up chicken quesadillas. We hadn’t been there in a while, so that was a good choice!

Your official birthday party will be in a few weeks when we take a couple of your friends to the movies to see The Lego Movie. You wanted a Ninjago party, and that was our compromise since Ninjago is Lego, after all. You and Maddie didn’t want to combine parties this year, so we were going for a smaller, low key party.

The Ninjago obsession is something that we have introduced since your last letter! You are all about spinning around like crazy and using anything you can find as a ninja weapon (one day, it was a toilet brush). You frequently steal the spatulas and large plastic spoons. You learned about Ninjago from your best friend from school. It’s so wonderful to see you forming your own friendships outside of your sister, and you and Austin are like two peas in a pod. Even better, his older sister Elizabeth and Maddie get along quite well. We have gotten together with their family a few times and hope to have more play dates and dinner dates in the future.

Since Austin introduced you to Ninjago, you have gotten quite into it! You received many Ninjago items for Christmas including many Ninjago spinners (it’s basically a top-spinning game where you try to knock over the opponent’s Lego minifigure), several Ninjago Lego sets, several books (including the Ninjago encyclopedia which you love to read at bedtime), and the first two seasons on DVD. Some of the Lego sets are a bit too complicated for you to put together by yourself, but I love to see how you play with the sets once they are completed. Your ninjas join not only characters from Ninjago but characters from other universes like Star Wars and Lego City and even Maddie’s Lego Friends. You make up battles and dialogue for your minifigures. I love your imagination! One day, I overheard you talking about a castle that you and Maddie built out of Legos. You called it “The Castle of Doom.” You said, “And inside, there are ghostess. They are black and spooky, spooky, spooky. That’s how spooky they are. And their eyes are RED and they GLOW IN THE DARK. You can only see the eyes. And their only friends are the DRAGONS, also in the castle.” You can be quite dramatic.

Maddie has recently started to enjoy your Ninjago obsession. She likes watching the show, and she plays with the Legos with you. You two have learned how to play together with compromise and merging of your interests. You love each other so much. Have I mentioned before that people ask constantly if you two are twins? Since you’ve been catching up in height, I can understand why people think you might be twins. It always baffled me when you were only 1 and she was 3, but it makes more sense now. You are a tall boy! At your yearly check up, you were 42 inches tall (85th percentile) and 34.8 pounds (41st percentile). Of course, you were wearing your winter clothing, so the weight may be a little inflated.

Lately, your favorite books to read at night are mostly Ninjago and Chima stories. Sometimes, you want to “read” through the Ninjago encyclopedia and name the various minifigures. You can even “read” the monthly Lego catalog for hours. You also like Superhero comic books. Knuffle Bunny continues to be a favorite. You like Dr. Seuss style books like Cat in the Hat and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (we read that a lot in the days leading up to Christmas). You went through a phase where you wanted to find goldbug in Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. On one of our trips to a bookstore, you picked out some new Clifford books. You also like Dragons Love Tacos, a funny new book that you got for Christmas.

Leading up to Christmas, you and Maddie each had a Lego Advent calendar. You had so much fun waking up each morning and putting together your new pieces. We’ll have to add that as a new tradition. We visited Santa super early this year, before Thanksgiving! Nana and Papa were visiting while Daddy was out of town, and we visited Santa at the mall. You didn’t tell Santa what you wanted, but we got the message to him about Ninjago and Legos. You had fun riding the carousel and train in the mall, too. You saw Santa at one of our dinner dates with Austin and Blaise. He just happened to be visiting the restaurant, so you got your photo taken by yourself and with your friends.

I love all of our little holiday traditions. We have been reading The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve each year, and this year we added The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. We had a nice time reading the books together, and then you and Maddie had a slumber party in her room. We weren’t sure how well that would go, but you were both asleep fairly quickly.

We had a wonderful Christmas. As I mentioned, you received quite a few Ninjago items. In addition to those, you got more Lego sets and minifigures, Star Wars DVDs, a race track for matchbox cars, books, games for the DS, and board games. Nana, Papa, Kristin and Chad came to celebrate the weekend before Christmas. Grandma and Grandpa spent a few days with us after Christmas. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent with just the four of us. We made and decorated sugar cookies, made Chex mix, and did some crafts. On Christmas morning, we had red and green pancakes and lounged around in our pajamas all day. You and Maddie were very excited about decorating the Christmas tree. I love bringing out our special ornaments and talking about each one. Every year, we receive new ornaments and label them with who gave them to which person. We learned that you and Maddie may still be a little young to put the breakable ornaments on the tree. We had a couple of ornament mishaps this year. Oops!

We put the tree up this year the day after Thanksgiving. We decorated gingerbread houses that weekend, too. Usually, we spend Thanksgiving week in Kentucky, but this year we stayed home and went to see Kristin and Chad for the day. We finally were able to see Kristin and Chad’s farm animals. They are living with Chad’s parents until their house is finished. We were able to see where the house was going to be built. Kristin surprised you and Maddie with Lego sets, and we started to put them together while we were visiting. We had a fun day!

We went to Cincinnati and Kentucky over Labor Day weekend this year. We thought it might be nice to visit when we can see a baseball game and when the weather is a bit warmer. We started in Cincinnati where we spent time with Grandpa T, Aunt Jessica, Uncle Jack, and cousin Ava. We met them for lunch, explored EnterTRAINment Junction, and then went for ice cream. We had a great visit (and you pointed out that Papa would love the trains). Hopefully, we can see them again before too long.

That evening, we decided at the last minute to go to the waterfront after dinner for the Labor Day Weekend fireworks. You and Maddie had just played in the fountain at fountain square, which you both LOVED. You especially loved to be able to take off your shoes and socks and put your feet in the water. We visited the fountain twice while we were there, and both times you and Maddie danced and played and had a good time. The waterfront was quite crowded, but we found a spot where we could see the fireworks. You and Maddie both got “light sabers” from a street vendor and were excited about the show. You sat on my lap and enjoyed about half the show before falling asleep in my lap. You were one tired boy! We had many blocks to walk back to the hotel, which was made more challenging by carrying you most of the way.

Grandma and Grandpa joined us the next day at the Reds game. The Reds won against Grandpa’s team, the Cardinals. You paid attention to most of the game, and I remember the last few innings quite fondly. You sat on my lap, and I explained all the action to you. You were so excited when the game ended and the Reds were victorious. Anytime you would see a sporting event on TV for months afterward, you would ask, “which team is the stinky Cardinals?” “The Stinky Cardinals” became synonymous with “the other team.” Grandpa was a good sport about losing the game.

Grandma spent the night with us in the hotel. Speaking of the hotel, just prior to this trip you had been having quite a few accidents at night. You have been wearing underwear at night for a while, but we thought that we should use pull ups in the hotel. We didn’t want to have to deal with an accident in the middle of the night! Unfortunately, we had to stop using the pull ups after the first few days. It was causing you to have accidents during the day when you’d been accident free for so long! Fortunately, those few days were your last regression. You have been fairly accident free at night, too, but you have accidents here and there. Overall, you’ve come a long way with potty success!

Grandma joined us for a tour of Carew Towers where we were treated to views of Cincinnati. We also did a little touring in our historic hotel, the Hilton Netherland Plaza. On our way to Kentucky, Daddy and Grandma took a trip down memory lane. We saw the places that Daddy lived as well as other places around the county that he remembered.

We then spent several days in Lexington where we visited with Grandma, Grandpa, Heidi, and Dylan. We went with Grandma to see the Kentucky Horse Park. That was really nice, and you had the opportunity to pet some horses and watch them perform in a show. They hosted the World Equestrian Games a few years ago, so many of the attractions have had recent renovations. We had bubble tea at their shop, celebrated Heidi’s birthday with cake, and visited the Children’s Garden at the Arboretum. Grandma and Grandpa were excited to share that park with us. We had a wonderful trip!

You said several funny things while we were on the trip. You strutted into the horse park, and you declared, “I’m walking in like a man!” You also informed us that the old horse shoe that you got from the farrier used to be on a horse but had to be taken off because now the horse is a statue. On the way home, you entertained us with an elaborate chant about lightning and thunder after telling us that your whole body was an angry cloud and your hands could shoot storms. I’m so glad that Daddy took a video of this. You get very animated with your face and hands when you are telling a story. At some point while we were visiting, Grandpa was teasing you while you were trying to play the iPad. He kept tapping the screen. You looked up at him sternly and said, “Grandpa, that may be funny to you but it is NOT funny to me!”

You and Maddie continue to be great travelers, which is good because we like to take trips! Next month, we are going to be going on our first Disney cruise! I am probably more excited than anyone. Grandma and Grandpa will be joining us. This will be your second cruise, and we’re going to two of the same ports (St. Maarten and St. Thomas). The third stop is Disney’s private beach, Castaway Cay. I’m really looking forward to that one! I’m excited about meeting characters, going to shows, and the special dining experiences. I am not sure you really know what we’re about to experience as I don’t think you remember the first cruise at all! I don’t think you even remember our last Disney trip a little over a year ago. I think you’re going to love everything.

That reminds me that we’ll probably have a lot of desserts, which could be trouble! We have determined that you have some kind of sensitivity to chocolate. Chocolate just makes you go crazy! We have witnessed it so many times and finally figured out the culprit was specifically chocolate (instead of just sugar). We try to limit your chocolate intake, especially in the evenings. We haven’t banned you from it just yet. I think you have some other food sensitivities that cause red, rashy cheeks and a rash around your mouth. We haven’t figured out everything that triggers this, but we have started to realize that one of those foods is strawberries. Hopefully, none of these sensitivities will become more serious.

Halloween is another tricky time, but you and Maddie don’t end up eating much of your candy. You each choose ten pieces of candy to keep, and the rest gets traded to the Halloween Witch who brings a small gift. This year, she brought Legos. Then, we limit your candy consumption to one at a time. Usually, you only end up eating two or three pieces before you forget that it existed. This is probably a good thing considering that you don’t need that much chocolate!

This year for Halloween, you wanted to be a Stormtrooper. You were the cutest little Stormtrooper! This was the first year that you and Maddie didn’t coordinate your costumes. Maddie was Sofia the First, the new Disney Junior princess (and the first princess she’s gotten into). You had the opportunity to wear your costume four times this year. We had a festival at my work, a Halloween themed book club, your fall parade at school, and Halloween itself. You and Maddie have dressed up in your costumes around the house as well. I like getting extra use out of a costume! In addition to dressing up in old Halloween costumes, we have a fireman outfit and a chef’s outfit. You also allow Maddie to dress you in her dresses, skirts, and tutus. You pretend to be Princess Sofia’s older sister, Amber.

We had a few other fun fall events. We managed to make it to both the Pumpkin Patch and the State Fair this year. At the pumpkin patch, you had a blast jumping on the giant pillow, sliding down the giant slide, jumping in hay, and playing in the corn box. We also enjoyed a hay ride and a train ride. You and I saw the pig races which involved a few other animals as well, including a baby goat race and a duck race. I thought it was hilarious, and you seemed entertained as well. We picked out two pumpkins to carve and two smaller pumpkins. We almost didn’t carve the pumpkins this year, but at the last minute you and Maddie designed your own jack-o-lantern faces. I love how they turned out!

Our family went to the state fair with Sophie and her mommy. This was both Daddy’s and your first time at the fair. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to convince Daddy to go again! I’ll have to be honest and say it’s not my favorite place either, so I doubt that we’ll be going every year. You and Maddie had a good time before the crowds became unbearable. We went early on a Sunday this year, so that we could all go now that Maddie is in school. It wasn’t terribly crowded at first, but by the time we left, it was difficult to walk to the exit. We were first in line for the Ferris wheel in the kid section, which was a helpful tip from Sophie’s Mommy! By the time we finished with our ride on the Ferris wheel, the line for it was probably at least an hour long. We rode a little rollercoaster, went down a big slide, and rode the carousel. Your favorite part was the giant slide. We snacked on ice cream, funnel cake, and maple cotton candy. We had a fun morning!

You’ve had a few more school events. You had your second bike day, and you were so proud to ride your “big boy bike.” You handled it superbly! We were quite proud of you, too. You still have the training wheels for now. You participated in your first holiday concert at Children’s House. You sang most of the songs to us in the days leading up to the concert, and you seemed to sing along to most of the songs during the performance. The TODAY show was even there filming. They spent a few days on campus to film a segment about what it is like at one of the best companies in the world. You didn’t make your National TV debut, but we did have friends who had their few seconds of fame! You were so excited to have us in your classroom for both of the parties, after the fall parade and after the holiday concert. We haven’t taken you to lunch in the cafe as often as we would like, but we still have a lot of opportunity in your next year and a half.

I love hearing about your day, but you aren’t always big on the details. Apparently, I ask the same questions too often. One day, I asked, “who did you play with today?” and you answered, “Austin. Always Austin, so you don’t have to ask me that anymore.” I love your little friendship with him! One day, when you first started talking about Austin you told me a little story about your day. You said, “I was running out on the playground, and Austin came up to me and said, ‘oh, HEY!’ and I said, ‘oh, YEAH!’ and then I thought to myself, ‘there’s my little friend who always likes to play with me!’” Another day, you told me this, “I told C that his art wasn’t pretty. C is my friend, but his art just isn’t pretty. A and J said the same thing. He thinks his art is pretty, but it’s not.” We had a little talk about how art is subjective, but I think you felt it was important that he know the ‘facts.”

You really never know what you’re going to say. You are quite entertaining. One day in the car, you said to Maddie, “Maddie, I love picking boogers. Do you know why? Everyone asks if I’m digging for treasure!” Daddy made two trips to Kentucky without us in the fall, and during one of those times I was putting you to bed. About 10 minutes later, you appeared downstairs and tried to climb into my bed. I told you that you needed to get back to your room. You said, “no, I’m scared.” I said there was no reason to be scared and that you need to go to your bed. You replied, “but I think there’s something scary in my room!” “Cullen, there’s nothing scary in your room, I was just there, and everything is fine.” “I think there’s a long-necked animal under my covers!” “Um, you think there’s a giraffe in your bed??” I went up to check for giraffes and tuck you back into bed. When I declared the bed to be giraffe free, you said, “Maybe I didn’t actually see it. Maybe I just used my imagination.”

Recently, I had you dictate to me your thank you notes. I probably should have scanned them and saved them as they were hilarious. One of my favorites was when you thanked Nana and Papa for the Lego Yoda ornament. “I like Yoda because he’s a crazy guy. The crazy thing about him is his head.” Also in that note, “Thank you for the sticker book. Stickers are my favorite thing to put on paper.” and “I love watching Mommy and Daddy play Pikmin. I like Pikmin because the big boss guys always lose.” Another note said, “Thank you for the Ninjago spinner. I like Kruncha because he crunches the bad guys. And then he gets dead. The ninjas crunch him.” Your “pictures” that you drew on each one were entertaining as well, including one that was filled with menorahs. I think that learning the art of writing thank you notes is very important, but getting an almost 4 year old to dictate their note is priceless. I’m pretty good about scanning or taking a picture of all kinds of artwork and notes, but for whatever reason I didn’t save these. It’s only been a few days, and I already regret it. I think they will be appreciated by our friends and family!

You are obsessed with playing Daddy’s iPad. We have had to limit the amount of time that we let you play at times. You ask first thing in the morning if you can play Daddy’s iPad, and you ask as soon as you get home. Your favorite game is the Ninjago game modeled after the spinner game. You’re getting pretty good at many of the iPad games. You’ve also started getting better at the Nintendo Wii U. The other day, I really enjoyed watching you and Daddy play Mario 3D Worlds together. You were doing quite well! I predict a good dose of family video game playing in the near future!

You and Maddie seemed to have the same love of games as your parents. You love any opportunity for electronic games on the Wii, DS, LeapPad, or Daddy’s iPad. You are also interested in playing board games. Recently, we have been playing Robot Turtles. We have a few other new games that we’ve tried: Max, Too Many Monkeys, and Goblet Gobblers. We have started getting into the habit of playing board games after dinner when we have time. I hope that your love of games continues! We have regular games nights with our friends about once every 6 weeks. The youngest kids don’t tend to play too many games, but eventually you’ll be joining in on that fun. You have a great time playing with your friends and running around the house like crazy nuts. We always have a New Year’s Eve games night. This year, we let you and Maddie stay up as late as you wanted. You made it to about 11:30pm when you agreed that you’d like to lay down in our bed. You fell promptly asleep! We have finally gotten to a point where Daddy and I can both play games while you and Maddie play with your friends. I look forward to when you’re playing more of the board games!

We have had a few bad phases with trying to get you to sleep at night. You made quite a habit of sneaking downstairs and crawling into our bed. Of course, we usually know when you’re sneaking into our room, but sometimes we’ll go to bed and you’ll surprise us. Since you almost always fall asleep easily when in our bed, we just let you do it. A few times, you’ve decided that the room is too dark and end up falling asleep in the hallway or in the master bathroom. We were both sick a couple weeks ago, and I found it much easier to just lay with you and read stories in our bed. Then you fall asleep pretty quickly. I have done this a few more times since then. Daddy might even say we’ve made a habit of it. It sure is nice to snuggle with you in our bed, and I know you won’t always be my little snuggler!

For a while, we had to be careful about the snacks that we left within your reach. You often wake up before the rest of the house. You learned long ago to just entertain yourself because if you come to our room too early, we will send you back to bed. You will help yourself to crackers, chips, or pretzels in the pantry. We solved that by putting them on top of the fridge or on a high shelf in the pantry. After a while, that wasn’t enough because you’d find a step stool to reach the snacks. An unopened package didn’t deter you. You will find scissors and break into the packaging. You’re very clever and resourceful, little man! Fortunately, you haven’t done as much of this sneaking around lately.

Last night, you and I had a dinner date together. You are wonderful company, especially when we go out together as just the two of us. We get some of those moments when Maddie has other activities or appointments right after school. You have discovered a love of lo mein, so we enjoy going to PF Chang’s, Tasu, and Pei Wei. A few weeks ago, we went to our first Lego Minibuild where you built a snowplow. The Lego Minibuild is a free guided Lego build once a month in the Lego store. We had a good time! I think we’ll be doing more of those. I just love spending one on one time with you. You are my sweet, sweet boy.

I will say that you aren’t always sweet. You can have a temper! You went through a very emotional phase within the last six months. You still have your outbursts sometimes when things don’t go your way, but you’re improving now. Some of this coincided with you completely giving up your nap at home. We get reports that you don’t always nap at school, either. You’re at the point where you definitely need that nap, but you don’t always get it. That can result in a very difficult evening!

You were quite healthy for most of the last six months until the last month or so. You had two stomach bugs just before Christmas and a lingering cold and cough. You had a high fever with me a couple of weeks ago. While we were in Kentucky, we noticed you had a rash that wasn’t going away. We originally assumed that it was related to your bed wetting and accidents, but it continued to get worse after you stopped having accidents. You were diagnosed with a strep rash! It started around your private areas, but it started to spread to your torso and legs. I had no idea that strep could manifest in that way without a fever or sore throat. I’m constantly learning new things with you and Maddie! You had a bloody nose that scared me when I saw the blood all over your face. You and Maddie had a fight while Daddy was out of town, and I was on the phone for less than 5 minutes. Once I got you all cleaned up, everything looked much better. You still wanted me to take you to the doctor and looked up at my pitifully.

We still do “good/bad” at dinner, though we now have added the “thankful game.” I love hearing what you and Maddie have to say about your days! I hope that it is a good tradition that we can keep up. You have gotten much better at “good/bad.” For the longest time, you would say the same thing every day. “Good about my day is this tasty dinner” was one statement that you almost always would say. Now, you have more variety and manage to tell us things that happened at school. It’s also a good way for us to discuss our frustrations with our day. We started the “thankful game” back in November, leading up to Thanksgiving. We each say one thing that nobody else has said and go around the table until we all decide we’re finished with the game. It’s good to have more than one of these games to mix it up a little. We’ll have to come up with a few other creative ways of discussing our day to keep our responses fresh. You and Maddie frequently request to play good/bad or the thankful game. It cracked me up the first time you said, “I’m thankful that Daddy is going to let me play his iPad after dinner.” Nice wishful thinking, little man!

We went back to taking some sports lessons at the same place that you and Maddie had sessions of rollerblading. We signed you up for beginner soccer, without parents. You enjoyed it so much and did so well that we signed you up for another session of soccer. This one is an intermediate class, and you are loving it. You have a few more lessons in this session. We wanted to sign you up again, but the schedule may not work out for the next set. You even made a friend in each session. It’s great to see you finding buddies with all the things you do!

You are now a full member of the kids’ book club with Maddie. You participated in the Halloween themed one (where you got to wear your Storm Trooper costume) and the snow themed one. We are having so much fun with book club. Not everyone was interested in the Magic Tree House books, so now we are picking a theme each month. You each get to pick a book within the theme to read (or have it read to you). At our meetings, we have crafts, science experiments, and other activities related to the theme. Next weekend, we’re even going to a play.

You and Maddie still love doing art projects and crafts. Nana and Papa gave you two another year of Kiwi crate crafts. The arrival of that little green box in our mail brings excitement to both of you. I love that the crafts usually end up being something you can play with afterward, whether it be a puppet, kite, stuffed animal, board game, or costume. With the last crate, we made polar bear mittens and ears. Not only did they make a little costume, but it was a cute catching game with a velcro covered ball. In addition to these, we have an abundance of art supplies around the house. We also did a clay sculpture class at my work where you made two adorable clay dinosaurs. It’s fun to do these things together!

We have been to quite a few plays and shows in the past six months. Daddy was out of town for Dora the Explorer Live, another play in the Storybook Theater series. I went with you and Maddie, and Daddy was lucky to have missed that one. It wasn’t my favorite of the series, though you guys enjoyed it well enough. You and Maddie aren’t big fans of Dora overall, though. Frosty the Snowman was the last play of the year in the Storybook Theater series, and Daddy and I thought it was the best one of the year! It was very different from the story that you were used to, but we all enjoyed it. We also saw Disney Junior Live on Stage featuring Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Sofia the First. You and Maddie were excited about that one, and it was a good experience. We saw Disney on Ice in December, too. You often end up snuggled on my lap by the end of all of these, which is one of the highlights for me. You did this for your first hockey game two days ago. Unfortunately, the “bad guys” won, but we had fun watching the Carolina Hurricanes play. You seemed to be taking it all in and paid attention to the game almost the entire time.

You are pretty easy to take places these days! As long as you’re reasonably rested and fed, you’re generally a happy boy. I enjoy seeing your big smiles. I love your thing where you say, “Mommy, don’t look, this is a secret thing.” I close my eyes, and you give me the sweetest little kiss. You love Daddy and Maddie big bunches, but I can tell that you have a super special place in your heart for me. The other day, you said, “Mommy, when I grow up like a mommy, I want to have hair like yours.” and then “No, wait, I want to be just like you. Then there would be two Kerrys!” Moments like these make me laugh and melt my heart. I never knew how wonderful it would be to have a son, and I can’t imagine a better son than you. As you say to me, I love you to the moon and all the planets and even the stars and back. Life with you is wonderful.

Love,
Mommy

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