Four Months

Dear Abigail –

The other day, when your nanny was sick so we stayed home together, and you helped me get some work done (Thanks, by the way. You’re a natural Facebook community manager, by golly.), we took a break to play with your foam blocks and sit in your Bumbo. I noticed that Sesame Street was on so I turned the channel from the news to PBS.

And you froze. With your block in both hands, you just froze. In awe. And with that, I spontaneously erupted into a wash of tears. Some of it was nostalgia. I’m 35 years old, but I remember watching Sesame Street on the regular, and here you were, seeing it for the first time, enchanted by what you saw. Some of it was wonder. The song the monsters were singing was all about counting, and so far your favorite songs involve counting and the alphabet, and clearly the marriage of puppets and numbers was like some baby magic that left you gleeful in a way that had nothing to do with me or your Daddy or Glinny. You are learning what you like, I suppose is my point, and to watch you navigate your own tastes is amazing.

It’s the amuse bouche for what’s to come, and for as much as I enjoy every bit of it, oh it makes me hungry for more.

All that said, every day it seems to be something new. Something else about you that is making you, you. You still remain headstrong and curious, but you’re growing a bit more patient, which has translated into your attention being occupied for longer spans of time. Toys, rattles, Glinny, all of these things you demand to grab with both hands to examine at length. You are my girl with gusto and strength, as there is nothing gentle about how you set about investigating the world around you. You take your world head on, Abigail, and don’t fear a damn bit of it. Someday, at some point, something will happen to make you question if this approach is the way to go. To that I say: IT IS. You don’t need to second-guess what you know to be true, and it’ll be as true for the decisions you make when you’re 25 as it is now when you furiously try and try and try to get your arms around the little stuffed space monkey hanging from your play mat.

You’ve discovered a lot this month: everyone’s glasses, your feet, my headbands and sitting upright by yourself. Now when you’re lying flat on your back, and we grab your hands, immediately your body tenses up, you steady yourself at the neck and shoulders, and start making your way upright. You need our help, but holy cow not by much! Then, as soon as you get yourself up, you immediately start putting weight on your feet to start standing up. Which you do pretty easily and comfortably, which means your Dad and I are screwed. We are big believers in that you need to crawl before you walk, so we’ve all been actively making sure you’re working on that a bit more aggressively, despite your hatred for it. That said? You’re flipping over from your back to your tummy with relative ease these days, and immediately set out to grab things and get your feet kicking.

I am convinced that in your head are the words, “I’m blowing this pop stand as soon as I can. Who wants to buy me a car so I can take off?

Even when you’re done with a bottle, you’ve started sitting up from the waist in our arms and it freaks us out. How are you sitting up on your own like this? Who are you? Why do you want to leave us so quickly?!

You’re still pretty obsessed with your hands and fingers. You’re a thumbsucker, without a doubt, and holy hell do you get ticked off when you can’t get your thumb in your mouth. Thursday after I got home from work, you were not interested in our regular routine – time outside with Glinny, talking about our day, a little dinner prep and then Bumbo time while I get your bottle and bath ready – so into the crib you went with your little Neptune soother and stuffed monkey. Oh the wailing and the crying! The humanity of it all to not be given what you want immediately! I don’t know how you put up with it sometimes! Eventually, though, you found your thumb and hung out on your own. You’re quicker to find it these days, but I have a hunch you’d rather try and test the waters, see if the crying and wailing will get you what you want, before you have to resort to figuring it out on your own.

I don’t blame you kid. Sometimes, though, you just have to suck it up.

There was an article in The Atlantic about how parental obsession with making their kids happy is a deterrent to them actually being happy. I’m not going to lie: I AGREE. I’ve said before, it’s not my job to make you happy, but rather to teach you how to make yourself happy. When they say that parenting is hard? THIS IS WHAT THEY MEAN. And it starts now, not when you’re two. As I was getting dinner ready the other night, and I put you in your little lamb seat with a rattle Nana gave you, I noticed you struggling with it. You could get it in one hand, but grabbing it with both hands and sending it straight to your mouth was all you wanted. The huffing! The grunting! I went to lean over and help you but then?

I stopped. I left you to try and work it out for yourself. Eventually you got both hands on that rattle and your eyes bugged out so big, and you looked up at me with amazement. And, probably, a little exhaustion. I later told your Papa that this instance felt rather emblematic of what I need to remind myself as you encounter challenges in your life: Keep your hands off the rattle, Mom.

I see people all of the time who can’t handle disappointment. Who are completely flummoxed by adversity and have no idea how to manage when it comes their way. Much of this may be wishful thinking on my part, but I like to think the moments where I’m telling you to figure it out for yourself will serve you well so you’re not that person who people don’t rely on, walk around as if on eggshells and wonder why she’s still willingly living with her parents.

(This won’t be an option, by the way. The clock is already ticking on your stay here, and for as much as it will break my heart when the day comes, these accommodations aren’t meant to be permanent ones. We’re not paying your rent, either, when you’re a grown-ass woman, nor are we buying you a car. Generations before you did without if they couldn’t pay for it. Yours will too.)

What I want you to know, without having to say “It’s for your own good,” is that there is pride and joy that comes from overcoming. And the feeling that comes from knowing you can do anything, that you can triumph, will come in much handier than if your Dad and I made it so you wouldn’t have to feel pain or know hardship. Hard work will make you happy. It will.

Besides, you are half Shea. There is probably no way you’ll be able to go through life without making every molehill you encounter into a mountain, anyway. We Sheas solve no small problems. Only large ones. If they’re small to begin with, we’ll make them large, by God, so they’re worthy of our efforts and all of the chest-puffing we’ll do upon conclusion. This is the stock you’re from.

Your Dad on Father’s Day wrote about being a Dad, about how really every day of our marriage is about a commitment to that day, and getting it right. You are, for us, the fruit of those labors in so many ways. Had we not worked hard, every day, at our relationship, made a commitment to our family, you might not have been here. I like to believe, though, that God had a hand in things, and that for as much as your Dad and I think we had something to do with all of this, really we were just those little kids sitting in the backseat with a toy wheel in front of us, thinking we’re the ones driving, when all along the control was in the hands of someone else who knows better.

But I also believe that same God expects us to meet Him halfway.

I make it difficult some days. There are times when I have dug my heels in so firmly that I’m stunned I’ve been able to move from one place to the next. But in the times when the house is still, when the excitement of that day’s happenings settle in the nooks and crannies of the bookshelves, the carpet, the blankets and even in the early evening sunbeam that blasts through the window in the upstairs bathroom, and bathes us in its warmth as we rock together in the glider in the landing just outside it, I am equally moved by how far I’ve come.

My lips brush the downy ends of your hair on top of your head, and the only noises in the room are the final, sleepy gulps you take from your bedtime bottle and the birds outside. We sigh, we settle in, we fret about nothing. I could sit there, with your soft, dozing little body tucked into mine, for forever and let the rest of the world have its busy business outside.

I am with my daughter. There is no more important place for me to be.