When I was your age …

Dear Love Bug,

The weather these past few days has been phenomenal. Yesterday, after a day that went like this–blueberry pancakes, Nonna and Opa’s pool, three-hour nap, Rita’s, PerSmart (one of your favorite places)–we cleaned off the deck table and hauled up the market umbrella and had an incredibly civilized dinner on the deck. Daddy grilled up bacon cheeseburgers. You had already bathed and were in pajamas and wearing flip-flops and you sat in one of the folding deck chairs like a big boy. You plowed through the watermelon feta salad and asked for more. 

I took a look around and realized how charming that moment was. There was no yelling or throwing of food, no crying or whining. We were sitting outside with nothing to see but the tops of the trees that line our backyard. There were cold drinks in bottles and delicious food. It doesn’t happen often, but boy, when it happens, I feel like I can accomplish anything. It was nearly perfect. 

While we were sitting there, you were having a conversation with Daddy about Star Wars, and you said, “Dad, when I was your age, we didn’t even have Star Destroyers.” I nearly choked on my delicious burger.

It all went so well that we decided to try it again this evening. This time we had Trader Joe’s pizza, and you gobbled it up and asked for more. You talked about your day at camp; it sounded awful. You got to wear PJs all day and make your own pineapple pizza for lunch. You were bummed you didn’t get to play in the “wrecker” room, but you spent a lot of time on the playground, and you wanted to give me a tour of it before we headed home. At a certain point, you said, “I love you, Mom and Dad.” Daddy and I both turned into big puddles of mush. 

You’ve been so sweet and so kind lately, sharing your toys and your food, thanking us, saying you love us–I’m not sure what to make of it. But instead of spending my time trying to figure it out, I think I’ll just enjoy it. 

Love you like crazy, kiddo,

Mamma

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I love your hair!

Dear Love Bug,

You actually said this to me today. Along with “I love your shirt!” and many unprompted “I love you!”s. 

Every time you pay me a compliment (which is amazing, by the way), I pay you one back. I want to teach you that it’s nice to do that, and I rather enjoy our mutual admiration society. 

When we got home from the library this afternoon (we’re working on your “library voice,” which you haven’t yet mastered), Daddy was eating chips and offered you one. And you said, “Thanks for sharing with me, Daddy.”

Who is this child? Can this possibly be the effects of two days at camp? What are they feeding you? 

Of course, it didn’t stop the total meltdown before bed over having to use the potty. I’ll save that for another post. 

Love you like crazy, kiddo,

Mamma

Rockstar Woes

Dear Love Bug,

It started first thing this morning when you climbed into bed with us at 10 to 7 (damn this room and all its natural light) and lay absolutely still sandwiched between us for more than an hour. 

Then, when I took you to the bathroom for our ritual morning Pull-up removal, I realized you were dry for the second night in a row! Woohoo! When you were perched on your step stool, you looked down at your PJs and said “Look at my cool blast-off shirt!” I said “Your PJs are cool! Wish I had a pair.” And you said “I’ll buy you some.”

Down in the living room, playing with Nonna and me, you offered both of us your coveted Paw Patrol stickers just ’cause you like us (I think). 

At the farmer’s market, there was a local artist playing a ukulele and singing. At one point, a little girl had joined her for a halting rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and you were intrigued. When they finished, you said “Is it my turn?” and clambered up on stage, where you absolutely belted out the same song (way better than the little girl, IMHO) to the accompanying ukulele, one hand on the mic like a rockstar. 

I thought I might burst with pride. You are something else. 

Then it all went downhill. You spent the rest of the day acting like a lunatic and exhausting all of us. You even had a mini tantrum on our walk down Main Street on the way to the Island Creamery, of all places, because you didn’t want to hold anyone’s hand. 

Daddy and I think we have it figured out. Whenever you seem to be going through a cognitive leap, which seems to be the case with your behavior this morning, your behavior turns terrible. We think it has to do with cerebral connections being made or perhaps synapses firing. Whatever it is, it’s both awesome and terrible. 

Love you like crazy, kiddo,

Mamma

Terrible. And not. 

25 months

We’re headed home from a blissful long weekend in the mountains of Western Maryland that was everything I hoped it would be: relaxing, wholesome, full of fresh air and chilly nights that are good for sleeping, exhausting in the way that only hours spent hiking trails can be. It was our first time away together since I started my new job, and it was so necessary for me–a pause in the breakneck pace of our new normal, uninterrupted time to make up for the distractions of a role that requires so much attention, even when I’m at home. Not having reliable cell service was a blessing. 

We spent most of the weekend with good friends who share our love for the outdoors and for good food, so that made it even sweeter. And they have an 8-year-old girl who’s tolerant of and generous with you. You adore her consistently with how you adore all the older girls in your life, including your cousin. You chase them around with such glee and want to do everything they do. And you miss them when they’re gone.

Yesterday evening, after our friends had left (we stayed an extra evening), you looked around, seemingly just noticing they had gone, and said, “Where is everybody?” We explained that Claire and Ollie (their dog) had gone home with their mommy and daddy. We asked you if you missed your home, and you said “My home is here.” I don’t know if that meant you liked the huge, beautiful, rustic cabin we’d rented so much, you’d prefer to stay there (wouldn’t blame you) or if your home is wherever you’re with us. Either way, it was sweet. 

We were unsure of how the weekend would go, as your behavior has been erratic lately. Or rather, it’s been predictably unpredictable. The more I read about 2-year-olds, the more I discover you’re pretty much a case study: sweet as sugar one minute, full of absolute irrational rage the next. And if you’re not wild with the hottest, burning fury birthed in the deepest pit of hell, you’re doing something to evoke just such emotion in Daddy and me. Usually something we’ve either told you not to do no fewer than 1,000 times or something we’ve told you not to do about 30 seconds earlier. And you do it with a lunatic grin on your face. It. Is. Infuriating. Almost unbearably so. But we’re trying different techniques to help us get through this rough patch and all we can hope is it’s short lived. 

People have said, probably to make us feel less like the most incompetent parents ever, that your behavior is a byproduct of your intelligence. It’s because you’re so clever–they say–that you’ve figured out so many ways to push our buttons. (And for the most part, they’re just ours, as your reports from daycare are overwhelmingly glowing.) But if that’s the case, I keep wondering why you aren’t learning from the constant lessons we’re trying to impart by taking things away, taking you away from the things you want, timeouts, discussions, distractions, offering choices and every other accountability measure we can think of. Why is being told “no” about a million times not sinking in? Anyone?

And then, once the tears and the wailing have ended, you are the kid everyone wants around. You can have full conversations with adults about what you did last weekend; you can explain why you want to play with a particular toy or read a particular book; you point out things that interest you in your sweet, sing-songy little voice: “Look, Mamma!” You can entertain yourself for a good chunk of time; you rarely fuss in the car; you’ve started cleaning up (if motivated) even without us asking. You eat like a champ, you ask for more broccoli, you sit quietly in restaurants and color or play with stickers until your food comes. You say “please,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry,” often without prompting. 

On our lengthy trail hikes this past weekend, you sat contentedly in your backpack, commenting on the leaves and the trees, taking in the world around you. You are completely unfazed by changes in your environment; you go to sleep happily in your Pack N Play in a room that isn’t yours in a house that isn’t yours. You have no problems making yourself at home wherever you might be. 

You are a study in contrasts. A beautiful, bold, frustrating, funny enigma. It may take the entire rest of my life to figure you out. 

I’ve heard from some that three is worse than two, and I wonder how that can possibly be the case. Perhaps their two wasn’t as bad? Maybe you’re precocious and we’ll get this over sooner and begin to move on more quickly? 

We can only hope. In the meantime, we’ll continue weathering this storm and praying we don’t wind up worse for wear. Your bads may be pretty terrible, but your goods are so good (your creativity, your compassion, your sweet gentleness with animals, your generosity, your humor), I have to think we’re doing something right. 


two

Blink. Just like that we’ve traveled once more around the sun.

As I strapped you into your car seat this afternoon–your legs somehow gone from chubby to gangly, all tucked up against the seat back–I took a good, hard look at your face and decided you are most certainly a little boy. There’s no more baby left there, I don’t think. Your features are so defined, so you. You’ve got little boy hair that’s always tousled. You’ve got little boy mannerisms and little boy expressions, and you run and climb and jump and ask for more anything that will flip you upside down or launch you into space. I try to rejoice in the little human you’ve become to keep myself from being just a tad heartbroken over not being able to go back.

And I really, really like you, little human. I would choose to be friends with you. You’re funny–really, you crack yourself up–and loyal and quick to forgive. You keep us, and yourself, company with your constant chatter. You like giving (and sometimes even getting) hugs and kisses. You ask us to “hang out.” And you’ve got verve.

I mean really, you’re fierce.

You are knock-down-drag-out willful, nearly 30 pounds of it. You fight for what you believe in (at least that’s how I interpret those tantrums that have begun to crop up), and you’ve got a brassy edge to you. I like you that way, although you have certainly brought me to tears, and I’m sure it will happen again. And again.

While this past year has been about us setting limits as your world has expanded, I have a feeling this next year is going to be about you testing those limits. As it should be. I just hope Daddy and I are ready for it. You have no problems advocating for what you want or making it known when you don’t agree with us. And you do it in full sentences and at full volume, often surprising us with the complexity of your thoughts and your syntax.

I’m not sure what I imagined when you were brewing in my belly two-plus years ago, but I never imagined a 2-year-old who could outsmart me. Daddy and I have taken to spelling words to each other, and on more than one occasion we have stopped dead in our jaw-dropped tracks. You seem somehow to be able to spell. You will repeat what we say verbatim, often tattling on one or the other of us. “Mamma said that,” you’ll say to Daddy, and when he looks over at me, I must sheepishly admit that you’re right.

And in this past year, you’ve gone from a relatively stationary object to a blur, half-tornado, half-hurricane, all ninja. You. Never. Sit. Still. You can climb onto the back of the couch in about two seconds flat, balancing on that top edge above the pillows so you can check out what’s going on in front of the house. You can maneuver monkey bars and climbing nets like nobody’s business. (Although you’ve fallen off of the rickety bridge at the playground and knocked the wind out of yourself at least twice. You cry for maybe 30 seconds.) Interestingly, you’re kind of lukewarm about slides and swings. Or maybe you just have to be in the right mood.

When you do slow down, you flop yourself down on your tummy to work on puzzles–you’re beginning to get pretty good at matching up more complicated pieces–or you pull books off of your shelves and flip through them. You love throwing balls (you’ve got a pretty good arm), playing with Little People (you’ve started to play pretend with them), making your trains go round their track and coloring. You also have an affinity for stickers, markers, magnets, flashlights, sticks of any kind (you call them “pew pew pews”) and all sports equipment (especially baseball bats and basketball hoops).

And you work up quite an appetite. We’re lucky that we’ve never had to battle you over food, and you often eat us under the table. Especially when it comes to pancakes. When you don’t eat, we know something’s wrong immediately. In fact, that was the first sign of your disastrous discomfort nearly two months ago when you suffered through an awful bout of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, which I can easily say was, hands down, your worst sickness out of a pretty sickness-ridden year (that also included Roseola, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and more). Your favorite foods are hot dogs, the aforementioned pancakes, peanut butter and jelly, quesadillas and pasta. You love using chopsticks. You adore fruits of all kinds (but berries and grapes trump all), and you’ll willingly eat broccoli and string beans.

You are entirely your parents’ child with your sweet tooth. Or maybe teeth. You’re a fiend for cookies, ice cream, donuts and cake, and you’ll ask for them at the most absurd times. You don’t even really seem to care that you can’t have them. You just like talking about them. You’re pretty excited about the impending goodies that we’ve been promising you for your birthday, and when we talk about it, you say you’re going to “blow out the candles.”

When I think about where we were two years ago today, two years ago tonight (my water broken, hooked up to a fetal monitor waiting for labor that hadn’t begun), I realize how incomplete our lives were, and we really had no idea. You’ve filled spaces we didn’t know had to be filled. You’ve grown love we didn’t know needed to grow. And you’ve turned us into people we weren’t before, developing in us patience, empathy and a fierce sense of family. You’ve brought Daddy and me closer than ever. We have so much to thank you for, and you don’t even know what you’ve done.

Happy Two Years in this crazy place, Little Human. Happy Two Years to us, as we’re the lucky ones. May this year shine even brighter than the last and pass maybe a bit more slowly, ‘k? I love you SO big!

slippery slopes

18 months

A year and a half in and deep, deep in the toddler weeds. I love this age except for when you’re exerting your healthy will (pretty much always) to the point of frustrating all three of us.

I have come to the realization that I’m not a baby person, meaning I’m not a baby-baby person. I’m not nostalgic for your infancy nor do I feel driven to have another baby so I can relive those newborn months that pass so quickly. I mean, I loved the cuddles. I loved (mostly) that you stayed where I put you. I loved that you needed me desperately. But the rest of it didn’t necessarily enthrall me.

What I love now is that you are you. You’ve become your own person with your own preferences and desires; you know what you like and what you don’t, and you can express that. I love that we can play, sing and dance together. I love that you can make believe, and you take me with you. I love that I can ask you questions and you respond. And I love that every day, you surprise me with something new that you can say or do.

You’re beginning to string words together into short sentences, and you’re able to use words and phrases absolutely appropriately. You’ve learned that if you say please (“peas”), you get what you want much more quickly. You’ve recently started saying “you’re welcome” when we say “thank you.” You do funny things like mimic Darth Vader and say “pew pew pew” (as in what a shooting laser sounds like) whenever you pick up any sort of stick. You’re getting really good at certain gross-motor things like getting on and off your push toys, walking up and down stairs, balancing precariously on the arm of your armchair (I wish you wouldn’t do that) and going down slides by yourself.

You’re also terribly possessive, incredibly stubborn and given to bursting into tears at the slightest hint of the word “no.” If we try to take something away from you that you shouldn’t have, it’s like your world is coming to an end. Daddy read to me tonight from the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ Caring for Your Baby and Young Child about toddler behavior, and it could have been written about you: Doesn’t play well with others. Doesn’t share. Offers things to others only to snatch them back. It said we shouldn’t expect anything different.

And that’s the fine line we’ve been walking. We feel like we have to set boundaries and to begin teaching you what’s right and wrong. But sometimes we feel like we’re saying “no” more than anything else. And if you’re incapable–like actually cognitively incapable–of processing the limits we’re setting, how do we even begin? Sometimes, I’ll admit, I give you a cookie just to keep you from harassing me. And that is not the only one of my parenting vices.

I try to remind myself, during these particularly trying moments, that it’s really, really hard to be a toddler. You’re not in control of anything: not your emotions, not your environment, not your schedule, not what you eat or who you play with or where you go. You can express yourself only in limited terms. (I think about how I felt when I first moved to Italy and couldn’t really communicate with people on any sort of adult level–frustrating!) Sometimes, it’s enough to make you cry. I get that.

So we’ll continue to bumble through this, which is, I suppose, what everyone does, perhaps some more gracefully than others. I’m going to work really hard on not getting frustrated, and I hope you can, too.

This is all compounded, of course, when you’re not feeling well. And we’ve all had some sort of upper-respiratory/sinus infection for what seems like months. You were out of daycare all last week because you were running a consistently high fever (up to 104!), and Daddy and I were struggling with all sorts of congestion and other nasty cold symptoms. Finally, finally, we were all feeling better this weekend only for me to come down with a case of pinkeye (of all things!). I’m terrorized by the idea of you getting it, too. I’ve been avoiding snuggles to keep you healthy, and it makes me sad. Also, you’re teething–one of those first molars on the top–and it’s making you cranky.

But through it all, we’ve been having some pretty exceptional adventures together, the kind that are so awesome they immediately become a memory. Two weekends ago, we went up to State College to be with your Aunt Becky and Uncle Greg, cousin Olivia and Mimi and Beebee. We had so much fun! On Sunday, Daddy, Beebee and I hauled you up to Tussey Mountain and got you on skis for the first time for a whopping 30 seconds. The rest of the time you played in the snow and giddily watched Daddy ride the ski lift. It made me so excited for winters to come when (hopefully) we can all hit the slopes together, slippery as they may be.