Dear AG –
YOU ARE TWO. Well, as of this writing, two and three days. As seems to be the case lately, I’m running a bit behind.
I just spent the past twenty minutes, wasting perfectly good writing time as you sleep, looking at a collection of pictures I took throughout this year. Only one thought is clear:
By Fall, you were really and truly no longer a baby.
I don’t know if it was that you shot up a bit – still only 58th percentile for your age, of course, but that’s sort of a given considering your parents are vertically challenged – or that you finally grew some hair but damn-near in an instance that face that had been staring back at me for months and months was all of a sudden a little less round, a little more filled with teeth and expressions and, more often than not, a bump, scrape or bruise, thanks to your daredevil-ish ways.
And maybe that’s the big thing – your personality just began to shine through in ways that, like all parents, we were generally unprepared for. For so long, really, this human being in your life was about you. In some ways at this stage, I suppose it still is, but whether we all like it or not, you’re YOU, not us.
Life this year was still about your milestones – the first time you were able to eat on your own, look at a book, climb a chair, get on and off the bed – but looking back it was primarily about getting those first glimpses of who you are.
You are joyful. All kids, God willing and the creek don’t rise, are joyful, but you seem blessedly so. My wish for you is never happiness, but rather joy. Life is predictably filled with pockets of unhappiness. So, if you’ve known joy, you’ll find navigating those unhappy places a bit less fraught with anxiety. While this state of being is clearly you, I’d like to think me and your Dad are doing something right in providing you a space in this world to express that sort of unmitigated awesome.
You are bold. Lately you have two favorite phrases, “I got it!” and “I did it!” If I ask you if you need help, you respond with one of those two sentences. This development isn’t particularly rare in toddlers; I suspect a part of that joy on display is the direct result of what happens when a human being realizes she has agency over her own appendages and whatnot. But I’ll tell you this much: your Dad and I welcome and embrace this to the nth degree.
Charting your own course, working hard on it and then accomplishing something – whether that’s finishing a book, a term paper or climbing the set of stairs in our house – is life-defining. The world is littered with examples of the sort of people who were coddled and pampered and doted upon, and typically they’re the ones woefully unsatisfied and woefully unprepared for the realities of life. I suspect this need we have for you to figure things out for yourself will find us at loggerheads the older you get and the bigger your problems become, but know this: I have faith in you.
Whenever you think you can’t, I’m here to tell you: you can. Since you were a toddler, you’ve been proving it so. I’ll still be here, though, in case you need to bounce some ideas off of someone.
You are smart. Look, the thing about this age is that kids are still generally on the same playing field. So it isn’t so much that you are “smarter than any other,” but just that you’re clearly showing signs that you’ve got quite a brain developing in there.
You know all of your letters, your colors and you can count to three. You’re grasping concepts – “This is heavy!” “This is hot!” “My shoes are tight!” – and understand things in context. Just days before you turned two, you read you own name, said it aloud and, for good measure, read the word “pig” and did the same thing, without prompting. Two days ago you read the word, “Pooh.”
The other night, as we conducted our nightly – and now somewhat lengthy
but-I-don’t-care – ritual of getting ready for bed, you did something amazing: you started singing with me. For as blown away as I was by your ability to read a couple of words, hearing you sing “You Are My Sunshine” back at me, and realize that that’s what was happening, left me in tears.
You are a good kid. I agree with the researchers who say that to tell a child that they are “good” sets up dangerous emotional precedents in kids. Everyone screws up, everyone makes mistakes. Oftentimes when “being good” is assigned such high value on a kid, they freak out and lose hope in themselves when they do something that seems counter to that identification. Plus, “being good” is a slippery slope to “being perfect” which is an even slippier slope to “being loved,” and I never in a million years would want you to think that pissing me off now and again will mean I don’t love you.
All that said? I am a fan of the well-behaved kid. To a pathological degree, and for that you can blame your Papa. He also has no patience for bratty children.
I do not subscribe to the “children should be seen and not heard” way of thinking. But I do subscribe to the “children should be parented to the degree that when they’re doing something they’re not supposed to they listen” way of thinking. All that said? Sometimes that’s not an option. Kids are human beings, after all, and filled with id and undeveloped frontal lobes. But there is a marked difference between a good-natured kid and one who thinks he’s the center of the universe. I worry daily that with you being an only child we might be setting you up to be an asshole. So far, you understand that when I sternly bark, “Abigail Grace,” you need to course-correct whatever it is you clearly should not be doing. You apologize to Glinny – finally – for running into her or shoving her nose away from you with too much gusto. You smile and are sweet toward those in our lives. Don’t think you need to always be sweet, especially if you don’t genuinely feel that now and again.
This was a tough year for your health. By summer, you were sick once a month with a cold or a fever. Twice we’ve ended up in the ER. None of those cases were ever particularly serious – though holy shit I could do without having to lie on top of you as a catheter is administered – but the monthly colds and fevers are causing us to take notice.
You probably have a visit to an ENT in your future, or so says your pediatrician. I hope you didn’t inherit my sinus structure, but maybe it’s something we can examine and manage now, rather than something you’ll have to battle until you’re 36 like I did.
They say illness brings out a person’s true personality. If that is the case, you are not to be trifled with. I am not going to lie: we gauge just how sick you actually are by how hot-tempered you seem to be.
What’s amazing to me is how easily calmed you are by two things: some episodes of Daniel Tiger and my embrace. There are many things that can turn a person into a mother, to be sure, but for me nothing has done that quite like your insistence on being with “Mama,” or “Mommy” as the case has become lately. I’m hard-pressed to call you “A Mommy’s Girl,” or some such foolish nonsense, but I feel safe saying that I’m your port when life gets stormy. When I hear reports that you’re asking when I get home, or want to look at pictures of me, or even when you’re upset and rush to me first, the feeling is simultaneously heavy and light. And while I still felt that responsibility last year, this year it’s been filled with a whole new intention. Of course, as I said, you’re also as impressed with watching the same episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood over and over again, on the same day, so it’s probably best I not get too chuffed with myself.
This year you “learned to swim,” and if you could you’d jump in and out, in and out of the pool for forever in and a day. You love to run, now that you can, and while you’re in mid-run, you yell out, “I’m running! I’m fast!” You can put on your own socks, your own pants, sometimes a shirt, but never all in one shot. You didn’t get a haircut until about a month ago, and I don’t suppose we’ll be getting you another one until you turn three. You’re still – gratefully – no fan of junk food, and whenever you come across any of it you can’t really be bothered. I still try to find the balance between not making french fries and chocolate taboo and helping you develop a healthy relationship with unhealthy food.
You can navigate any iPad or iPhone, and you probably play with both more than “better” parents would allow. Every night when I come home from work, we watch an episode of Elmo together on it, mostly so I can decompress a little while also feeding you dinner and getting you ready for bed, though now we’re often cuddled up on the couch, me with a book, you with an app, giggling and reading and counting and spelling together.
We find out time together, and showing up is what most of this is all about.
You’ve learned how to pray, somewhat, and we do so together every night. We pray for everyone we know, and then some, especially those nights you ask for “more.” People you are especially fond of that day get a big grin out of you, and you squish your shoulders up to your ears in glee. Your Aunt Kate – “AhNa” – and your nanny remain your favorite people, aside from your Daddy and me.
We started learning to make the sign of the cross, and while you’re still nowhere near nailing it, you do like yelling out, “…and the SON!” with a particular emphasis on the “o,” and at the end you fold your hands and fingers together in a tight ball and yell out, “AMEN!”
It’s pretty funny in church when you do this since, more often than not, it’s largely pin-drop quiet. Nothing like a toddler’s extemporaneous exaltation in a silent church.
I always thought I might be the sort of parent who’d want to shush and silence her kid if she was always clapping and squealing and cheering inappropriately. Always figured that I’d be embarrassed. Like so many things pertaining to the business of raising a human being, I’ve got no time for the luxury of such emotions.
Plus? Everything about you gives me reason for an “Amen.” A million times over, Amen. Amen. Amen.