Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Letter to My Daughter: Two Years Old

20 months through 24 months (L to R, beginning on the top)
Dear Brennan,

Apparently when I wasn't looking, you thought it would be a good idea to turn two. Two!

It's been a few months since I last wrote, and a lot has happened in that time. One of the first notable events was your first time away from your parents. I had an opportunity to go to the Czech Republic in May with two of my sisters to visit our youngest sister. Before we bought my ticket, we had to get a couple questions answered first: 1) Did I still have a job if we remained in Indiana a year? and 2) Since Daddy would have finals and writing to do, could we find someone to care for you in my absence? I talked with my boss, who assured me they would gladly keep me on (hooray - now we could buy a ticket, even with uncertainties about fall funding!) and we spoke with Daddy's parents, who were more than happy to watch you.

Snuggling with Grandma

I prepared a photo album for you to take to your grandparents, filled with pictures of you with Mommy and Daddy (and a bonus one of you with Ella!) in case you got lonely and wanted to look at them. I gave this to you on the way to the airport, and at least then, you were very happy with it. I admit I got a little emotional with the thought of leaving you. I knew you would be in good hands, but I had never spent a night away from you, and suddenly we were going to be apart for a week and a half.

I suspect you missed your parents, but you were a sweetheart with Grandma and Grandpa. Rumor has it you only cried once, and that was at dinner one night when you were overtired; you were angry at what you were (or were not) being fed, and so they took you to your room, changed your diaper, and you were asleep before they could even close the door.

Trying on Grandpa's boots

It was sometimes hard to coordinate times to Skype with you; Aunt Charity kept us out from morning until late night, which left for a very short window when we could try to chat (11 PM CZ time was 4 PM Iowa time, when you might be out). But we still managed three video chats. You didn't like when you had to be confined to Grandma's lap, as you preferred to play in the vicinity and show me toys or snacks, but you were generous with your waves and kisses, and it just made me miss you all the more, even as I saw how happy you were. I was so glad you had that time with them; even now, you have a special relationship with them and light up when you see them.

I arrived back in the States on Mother's Day, and seeing your face light up was the best gift I could have hoped for.

While I was overseas, Daddy got a job offer that he accepted (and, um, also rented our house - guess I should be careful when leaving him home for lengths of time). That meant when I returned, the clock was already running. We needed to pack our home, find a place to live in Wisconsin, and say goodbye to many dear friends we had made.

Petting the kitties as they try to sleep

The one you miss the most is your best friend Ella. Fortunately, Ella is more than happy to have video chats with you, and a couple times a month or so, either I or Jess will text to schedule a time. Last time it was my turn to ask for a chat, as you were begging for three days in a row. She is pretty chatty and in her excited voice shouts, "Brennan!!" and gets all wound up that you're on. It is touching to see how early such strong affection develops. I admit I wouldn't have guessed before two you would have forged such a friendship, but you do love Ella.

When we went back home for Hope's wedding, Aunt Heather had some foam animal toys she let you play with. I was naming them off for you, and you gravitated to two of them, informing me that the penguin was "Ella" and the teddy bear was "Nnnn" (the best you can do with your name). Neighbors were holding a garage sale and had a shelf of stuffed animals, so I said you could pick one out. You were having trouble narrowing it down, and then suddenly you found two you had to have: a penguin and a teddy bear. I didn't have the heart to separate such good friends yet again, so I did let you get both. You were so sweet playing with them: you would make them hug and hold hands (or, rather, fins and paws, but I got the picture).

Ella on the left, Brennan on the right

It's funny to try to figure out what's going through your head. At the wedding reception, there was a dollar dance, so your daddy paid to dance with my sister. I was holding you at the time when you suddenly pushed against me so I put you down. As soon as I did, you took off for dad with tears welling in your eyes and the cutest pout. You forcibly separated him from my sister, as if you thought he no longer loved me and you wouldn't stand for it. The same thing happened when I danced with Casey - Daddy was able to keep you from noticing for a while, but when you saw, it was OVER.

You still are pretty mum when it comes to talking. It is clear the comprehension is certainly there, and you're adept at communicating what you want non-verbally. But one thing that you've started doing makes me feel like you've skipped a step.

Invisible Brennan is invisible

We have this set of alphabet magnetic tiles on our dishwasher. When you put a letter in the device, it sings out, "A says Ah, A says Ah. Every letter makes a sound! A says Ah," and so on. You have spent a lot of time playing with this over the months, especially if I'm working in the kitchen. The other day you brought me the B and started saying, "Bah, bah, bah." My jaw dropped. I went over to the letters with you and started quizzing you. You don't have them all down, but you have at least a third of the phonics sounds ingrained (and with the others, when I say the letter, you can make an educated guess). I feel like phonics sounds are what children learn when they're ready to start reading, but maybe you're just doing things out of order to keep it interesting.

Your second year of monthly photos with the giraffe
I have a theory that you're just being stubborn about not talking. I'll try to sound out words and get you to repeat them, and you just smile at me, maybe nod your head approvingly in an attitude of, "That's right, Mom! You know the right word! I was sure you knew what I was hinting at with my non-verbal communication!" I know you're "behind" in this area, but I'm not worried at the moment. I've had friends share about how their children were similar in behavior - refusing to speak much at all until they could fully communicate in complete sentences. We'll see what the next few months hold for you in the speech department, but I wouldn't be surprised if you went this route. As your comprehension and near mastery of phonics shows, you certainly have the ability to make the necessary sounds, you just appear to be choosing not to string them together into words (and you don't seem frustrated with your limited vocabulary). At the very least, you're filing many words away into your lexicon. You will examine a page after we've read it, having us name things over and over again, and as I ask you to find specific items on pages, you do so successfully. One surprise was tied to your shape sorter. We would often name the shape as you put it in, and one day, I said something about one of the shapes as an aside to myself (perhaps something to the effect of, "Where's the rhombus? Did we somehow lose it?"), and you picked it up and gave it to me. I listed them off one by one, and you knew every one, even without us having intentionally taught them. So hexagon, star, arc, pentagon, etc. are in your lexicon now.

Celebrating Mommy and Daddy's anniversary at your first movie

One thing you do that can be amusing (and, at times, taxing) is your insistence on things being a certain way. You liberally use the sign "All done" to communicate with us. At story time, as I tried to help you do the actions to a new song, you adamantly signed, "ALL DONE!" to signify that you would have no part in such trivial behavior. If I sing along to a familiar tune, I may see the Brennan monster emerge. One of your ways of coping, if we've messed everything up, is to do it ALL OVER. Perhaps I started singing to the Dora theme - you may insist on re-starting the episode. Perhaps I opened up a learning game for you on my iPad; you will close it out, just to open it right back up again. It can be a problem if I thought you wanted help and lend assistance (i.e., in a matching game), and you grow angry, wanting me to backtrack a step when that's not a solution. But all in all, this just encourages me to weigh the pros and cons as I decide when to offer praise or lend aid.

Crashing after a very early start to the day

For instance, you don't always want affirmation. If we're doing a traditional puzzle and I say, "Good job, B!" after you've inserted a tricky piece, you might take it all apart with a pointed glower my way. I sometimes let you play games on my iPod or iPad, and there's one puzzle game you love. At the conclusion, streamers come down and there's congratulatory music. You will set down the device to clap for yourself, but watch out if a parent tries to enter in! With the bedtime routine, you now like to turn on the noise machine and Violet, but if we mention these steps, or if we even look at you while you're doing them some days, you have to start it all over again. Same goes for getting in the carseat or booster seat, picking up toys, getting up or down from something, and any other number of activities in a day.

Coloring with Aunt Charity

Typically I think these are things that could be glimmers of the "terrible twos", but they mostly make me laugh and I tread lightly as I decide whether or not it's worth facing your ire. You're learning independence, and I tend to focus on that aspect instead of the alternative readings. I think you are stubborn and want to prove you can do these actions without our assistance, and our commenting on the action is interfering in or downplaying this accomplishment, so you grow frustrated and want to prove yourself all over again.

"Uh, Mom, what's wrong with my crib?!"

You transitioned better than we hoped to a new home. One big change for you was switching you from the crib to the toddler bed. The first night, you went to sleep like nothing was different...until you fell out of bed after being asleep an hour. We propped up the side of the mattress slightly and added a pillow to your bed to encourage you where you should lay your head, and there haven't been any incidents since (well, there was that one time you dropped a toy and went to retrieve it, finding yourself hanging over the edge with your head inches away from the ground, but Mommy rushed upstairs to set things right again and your terror receded).  And even though you're in a toddler bed, you stay settled, happily reading or playing, until Mommy or Daddy comes to get you.

Bedtime is pretty awesome at the moment. I took a video one night, just to have proof at how well it can go. This video takes place immediately after we brushed teeth/read Bible stories/said a little prayer.

Isn't that impressive?! I'm so humbled at how easy we often have it. Sometimes you'll mimic the routine by tucking in a cow (or, once, a keyboard) into your stuffed chair and then bestowing kisses on them all tucked in before we repeat the process with you in your bed. When you teethe, though, sleep is one of the first things to be disrupted, and we have seen some activity in that sphere in the last month or so (three of your canines have emerged since Labor Day, leaving the remaining count at one canine and four two-year molars). As there's no longer a recliner in your room, we have taken to letting you move your pillow (and your entire entourage) to the floor. We pony up our own pillow and blanket, and then you hold hands with Mommy (or Daddy, if it's early evening or a weekend) until you happily drift off. If all goes well, we can extract ourselves then. If you're especially restless, Mommy may be in for a long night and a stiff back.

When you turned one, we debated whether or not to have a party for you (outside of the three of us), and we didn't end up doing anything. Of course, now that you have friends and could participate more fully, we up and move a couple months beforehand. Lucky for us, your paternal grandparents were gracious enough to agree to throw you a party at their place so you could at least be around more family for a celebration.

They threw you a great party, including a Dora cake. Daddy assisted with the candles at that event, but on your actual birthday, I gave you a slice from my birthday cake. You blew those candles out SO quickly without any trouble!

On your actual birthday, we went to Bay Beach, a local attraction with free admission and tons of inexpensive rides (tickets are a quarter apiece, and the rides you were on ranged from one to two tickets). For under $15, we had lunch for three and went on about a dozen rides. You loved every moment of it. During many of the toddler rides, Eric and I joked that you were perfecting your everything-is-so-lame teenage look as you just stared off, bored.  But after every single ride, you'd turn to us and ask, "More?" We indulged repeat rides more than once.

Wondering why your parents are putting you through this

I mentioned above about the iPad, but I'll elaborate more on it here. In a proactive move, we bought one to replace the day-to-day uses of my failing laptop. I received great app recommendations from friends, and you have enjoyed spending time learning, drawing, and just playing. Starfall ABCs is a favorite (and it can be credited with teaching you the concept of the matching game in short order), as well as Tozzle (the puzzle game mentioned above). I try to limit your usage - after all, it was purchased with me in mind and I'd rather it remain a novelty for you - but I'm glad you're deriving some enjoyment from it. You have become all too savvy with it, though, even with limited usage. One of your favorite pasttimes on the iPod is cycling through all the pictures, since most star you, and you know there are a number that also have Ella in them.

Anything can be a drum

In traditional toys, you still enjoy books. At Easter, we gave you the Toddler's Bible. You instantly fell in love with the vivid illustrations and simple stories. We were easily reading through the 101 stories in a two-week cycle, but it didn't take long before the bookmark was useless due to you removing it. All other books meant nothing to you, and you'd spend long stretches in your crib reading to yourself before and after sleeping. You would also pore over it during the day, reading to your stuffed animals. We've had to do some surgery on the binding, and the bottoms of some of the pages were accidentally torn during a car trip. But it is still your favorite book.

You love to color, and we spend a lot of time drawing. We do our best to cater to your requests for drawings, and I hate to brag, but I can draw a mean stick figure. Your typical requests are Ma, Da, Nnnn, Ella, and Dora. And less decipherable are Sarah and Nina (and, perhaps, Boots, or Diego, or Logan - we're not confident on that word you're trying to say). I once drew you and Ella holding hands, and now your main requirement is that everyone holds hands.

Mommy and Daddy

Puzzles and games are huge now. We have a matching game, and while I haven't attempted to teach you the game with the pieces face down (you can experience a limited version on the iPad), you understand the concept of finding the match and will dig through the box until everyone is paired off. You also love some puzzles handed down from your cousins. Well, you did until the Dora puzzles entered your life at your birthday party. Since then, nearly all other puzzles have become invisible.

You are still a huge fan of play food. We inherited a toy kitchen to help corral your play food, and you happily concoct creative pairings, serving them to your parents and kitties (although I'm suspicious of trying the foods you "cook" in the dishwasher...).  At times, the items you take to bed with you all fall in the food category: drumstick, milk, eggs. You know, in case you need that midnight snack.

You still do dance, especially to the Wiggles' rendition of the "Shake Your Sillies Out" song. You excel at nodding your naughties out and clapping your crazies out, and you're passable at jumping your jiggles out, but I laugh at you shaking your sillies out - it mimics your "All Done!" sign too much that I had to do double-takes early on, wondering if you were enjoying yourself or telling me to turn it off.

You barely let Papa and Grandma dance without you
We are hitting the circuit of library story-times. There's an underwhelming one near our place twice a week, but there's an exceptional one a little farther away once a week. And I've heard rumor of another great one at another branch, but that will have to wait until my weekly Bible study ends, as they conflict.

There are many great parks around us, and we've enjoyed checking them out as weather allows. You are a master at slides, provided no other children are rushing you. If there's competition, you defer to others, ever your cautious self.

We are also members of the children's museum, and we've already gone four times, even with having only had the pass for about a month. There's some great water play opportunities, and you're deigning to get dirty with sand a little more frequently. You feel the firetruck is your own personal conveyance, and the diner is a favorite spot as well. I love the art center, where you can paint to your heart's content, all while the staff set up the easels and paints, provide smocks, and even clean up after we're done: all the fun with none of the work! Needless to say, the membership decision was a good one. I suspect we'll spend many a snowy or rainy day there.

You're also learning to keep the coffee coming - great lifelong lesson, there!
Over the summer, your hair became curly. One could accurately predict the humidity in the air based on how tight your curls were. This has been an interesting development; I hardly know how to manage curly hair, and I feel yours typifies what people mean when they say someone has a "mess of curls."

It's also feast or famine when it comes to whether or not you'll allow me to do anything with it. The best luck we've had is with headbands (although they do little to tame, it's a step in the right direction). And you'll sometimes ask me to put clips in your hair - ALL of them. This rarely lasts for any length of time, unless you've forgotten they're all in there. Then we are endlessly amused when we look at you. And, yes, we did take you out in public looking like that.

We bought a little potty, and you were enamored with it (to the point I had to shut the bathroom door so you couldn't compare it with the adult potty every time you saw them). At first, when you sat on it, you needed the entertainment of books or Dora before you'd eventually go, but in the last month or so, you've started telling us when you need to go. One day you successfully told us five different times. I began to think we'd have you potty-trained early after your second birthday. However, you've refused to sit on the potty for the last week now. Fortunately, we weren't planning on starting the training process quite so soon, so we weren't disappointed. We won't force you and we're happy to wait until you're ready to try again. Although I picked up some big-girl panties for you today, and when you saw them, you were so excited and hugged them to yourself, so maybe that's enough bribery to get you to start going again (you cut your bath short to go on the potty, so that's progress!).

"Mom, get out of the way - Dora's on!"
At your grandparents, you also started drinking out of a cup without a lid. Grandma gifted you a set of cups so you could practice at home. We don't use them every day, and I still ration liquid in them, but you love having big-girl cups at meals.

You're wearing 2T and 3T tops (and I even put you in a long-sleeved 4T top the other day, and I couldn't believe that it fit!). Your current shoes are size EIGHT. Somehow, when I wasn't looking, you've gotten to be a big girl.

You are helpful and learning every day, although I take comfort that I still see the little girl in you (see: hoarding tendencies when it comes to the condition of your bed). 

On some future Hoarders episode, we'll remember how it began...

When you're extra nervous, there's a cycle of coping strategies you employ. The earliest was the neck grab, which made way for a habit of chewing your nails. Seriously. (Where did you learn this?!). That transitioned to fingering your belly button. And when we went to Hope's wedding this summer, you regressed back to the neck grab. Fortunately all of these have faded away and you'll settle for trying to melt into Mommy or Daddy's side.

When you're teething or feeling sad or nervous or shy, you cling tight to Mommy and no one else will do. I love our cuddles and our laughs and your general personality as you go from being silly to serious to inquisitive to everywhere in between.

My little goofball while we tried to take a picture
As I see how much you depend on me and look up to me, it can be intimidating. Moms hold so much power and these days are making an impact on the rest of your life. I will do the best I can, and hopefully while praying for wisdom, listening to advice from others, and just approaching each day as it comes, I can help you channel your sweetness and care for others and guide you and raise you into becoming even more beautiful, both inside and out. And I sure hope you'll always feel safe to come to me when you need comfort. I'm always here for you, sweety.


Monday, April 16, 2012

A Letter to My Daughter: 19 Months

18 months; 19 months
Dear Brennan,

You're now 19 months old.

First off, there were some stories I could have shared in my last letter that just didn't come to mind while I was writing.

For instance, you adore walks, no matter the weather. You can be like a little puppy, going to fetch your shoes (and mine!), then tugging at the closet until I open it and you point to your coat, and then you stand at the door waiting. In fact, if we have to get in the car instead of taking a walk, you might shed some tears.

You also have some bouts of jealousy and possessiveness. A friend asked me to watch her daughter one day since the daycare had an in-service. You started out charitable, surrounding your new friend with books and toys. In fact, when she was wary of the cats, you even grabbed your Cats & Kittens book for her! But as Lucy warmed up and started getting comfortable, it became a trying day for you. After all, she wasn't just content with the toys you vetted for her, and you would sometimes try to wrench un-approved toys out of her hands. We're trying to work on that sharing.

Nothing gets by you - you're always watching

Immediately after my last latter - within a day, you figured out how to climb downstairs and onto furniture. This has been a pleasant development. It used to be that in the morning when we walked into the kitchen to get your milk, we'd also put up the gate at the top of the stairs. Now, though, we only put up the gate if we want to keep you upstairs. Typically you like to near where we are, but we're not worried if you decide to head to the stairs.

You are becoming a little girl

You now weigh 27 pounds, 10 ounces (85th percentile) and you're 35.25 inches tall (99th percentile). Your head is also quite the noggin at 19.5 inches (98th percentile). You usually wear 2T (and 3T) clothes. However, when you're not in your cloth diaper, we suddenly notice how much bulk that removes - a friend is watching you some this month while I work extra hours, and we've been sending you with disposable diapers. Your pants were sagging down something fierce that first day!

While you know how to use utensils and typically eat very neatly (see: my last letter), you're in this phase where you'll sometimes try to smear your hands in certain foods (cottage cheese, pudding, applesauce). The first time you did this, I was shocked. You were starting to eat while I finished up dinner, and next thing I knew, I looked over and you were a mess! I admit that I'm okay with some of this exploration in limited contexts, especially provided the food stays on the tray. The moment you start throwing handfuls (like with chili...), we end it.

"What are you staring at - do I have something on my face?!"

The last couple months have also seen an ever-emerging attitude of independence.

Pushing your kitty around the porch

You love to help with common tasks. If the dishwasher door is opened, you long to pull out items to hand to us. I want to foster this attitude, but it makes me nervous when you grab out something breakable, so I'm about one step away for those items. As proof of your observation (and snooping), you pulled out the colander the other day and tried to put it away on your own - you knew exactly where it belonged. Of course, if we're trying to load the dishwasher with dirty items, you get frustrated that we won't let you unpack it.

You "disappeared" while folding laundry - I still wonder where you went...

You love to help move laundry from the washer to the dryer, and you'll pretend to vacuum, sometimes wanting to push it with me. After every bath, you hang up your washcloth and load up your toys into the boat and push the boat to the end of the tub; we never pushed this, you just started doing this after you watched us do it time and again, and now we encourage you. I typically like involving you in these tasks, even with the additional time it takes to complete them. It's only a matter of time before we give you age-appropriate tasks to start helping with, and I want you to see chores as just a way to contribute to the family, not as punishment or a burden to bear.

You have firm ideas for the way things should be done.

When you do your shape sorter, the star and circle are the first two you do. When we do the Kermit/Miss Piggy puzzle you recently got, you always start with Kermit’s head, then Miss Piggy’s. You love to wear necklaces, but when I brought a new one home to add to the mix a couple weeks ago, you wouldn’t wear it for a time because it wasn’t around when you started wearing the others (but they’re all Mardi Gras necklaces, and we were just adding a new color to the mix). I put water in a bowl and gave you a paintbrush so you could “paint” the cement. The next day, I tried to offer a couple other brushes in slightly different sizes, and you kept throwing them back at me, refusing to use any but the first brush.

You also have a strong desire to put things where they belong. If you see a cat toy, you must pick it up and give it to one of the cats (I love when you do this - they’ll be sleeping and completely uninterested, but you just keep trying, sure they must not have seen the toy since they're not falling over with gratitude). If you see my coffee mug or water bottle sitting nearby, you often pick it up and give it to me. You even grabbed my glasses case, which I keep by the bedside, and set it where my two sunglasses cases are by the door.

These almost seem a little extreme when listed one after another, but you are a creature of habit (and your parents have a bit of that characteristic as well, so it comes as no real surprise). New things take time to meet with your approval. For instance, now you vary the order when you do the puzzle and shape sorter, and you will now use the extra paintbrushes and wear that newest necklace. But I have to be aware of how things are done and what you are used to and how you learn (doing something the same way over and over and over again) and not push you too fast to embrace something new. For instance, on the days I work, I am the first awake. But on days I stay home, Daddy will get you up and change your diaper before I crawl out of bed. When you come into the bedroom where I am, you bring me my slippers. I might as well just comply. Later I can kick them off and if they're out of sight, they're out of mind. But if I haven't gotten out of bed, it's just best to let you fetch them for me.

Sleep is still a work in progress. You default to being an awesome sleeper, but when you're teething, you can't stay down through the night; sometimes all it takes is for us to hold you a few minutes and then move you back to the crib, but other times you just need to know we're there. When we're pretty tired of the recliner but are failing in successfully transitioning you, we'll try to bring you to bed, but no one sleeps well then, so we prefer when we can transition you to the crib. Daddy, however, hasn't had good luck lately with moving you unless you've had a recent dose of Tylenol. Fortunately there have been more good days than bad lately. You now have 12 teeth, which means we're still waiting for those four canines to come through and, eventually, those two-year molars. Maybe we're in another reprieve, though.

Resigned to a picture in your Easter dress

You still love books. Lately you're usually too tired when we put you in the crib for your nap or bedtime to do much reading beforehand, but typically you wake up from your nap and reach for your books. You'll spend quite a while just "reading" and snuggling with your stuffed animals until you want to get out. I asked my friend who is watching you this month how long you slept on Friday. She didn't actually know since you were quiet the whole time. She set you in the crib and you didn't make a peep so she didn't know when you fell asleep. She checked on you at the one-hour mark and didn't hear anything, so after another hour had passed with no sounds whatsoever, she checked on you again and heard...pages turning.

Your naps are around 75-90 minutes now; bedtime is at 7:30 PM, and you wake up after nearly 12 hours of sleep. In fact, if you wake up in the morning an hour or so before your regular time, I've learned to let you be if you're quiet. It's not unusual for you to sit up and flip through books for a few minutes, then lay back down and fall asleep again.

Just reading the Economist - no big deal.
One day you'd only napped for 30 minutes, and you were quite fussy the rest of the day. Two days later, I cringed when you again woke up at the 30-minute mark. I wasn't in a hurry to fetch you, knowing the sort of attitude you might be in, but when you started looking at books, I decided to delay getting you. You quietly flipped through them for 45 minutes, only then beginning to make noise. And you were such a happy child for the rest of the day. While it's no surprise you're introverted, I'm beginning to realize sometimes you also need some time by yourself, so I try to respect that. One day I needed to get dinner started, and you were playing at the foot of the stairs. The kitchen is at the top of the stairs, so I went upstairs to begin my work, with frequent peeks down the stairs to check on you. You were as happy as could be with your books and toys and didn't mind my absence.

Talking is still at a minimum. In addition to your previous words, you will sometimes say cow or duck, and kitty means just about animal; you'll appear to repeat us sometimes, but you are quick to go quiet when we ask you to say it again. But your comprehension is strong. You love to have us name objects and animals as you point at them, often repeatedly, as you add them to your vocabulary. You have a See 'n Say - one of those toys with the lever on the side that, as you pull it, will spin the arrow around and name the animal it started on and the noise it makes (i.e., "The rooster says cock-a-doodle-doo!"). I can name an animal or give an animal sound and ask you to point to the appropriate picture, and you don't hesitate to do so. Or we'll line up your stuffed animals and I'll ask you to find the elephant, or the pig, and on and on. You can also identify every animal in your bath toys, including the lobster, seahorse, octopus, and walrus.

You may not talk much, but you examine everything

You have some favorite animals. The lamb is still a big favorite, but it is equal to (or even surpassed by) Kermit the Frog. And other times you prefer your small kitty and Violet - the theme seems to be pairs of animals. You love to make sure they are offered drinks from your cup, or bites of your snacks. If you've cried in the middle of the night, you will grab a couple of those stuffed animals before you'll let us pick you up. It would make it a little easier if you could narrow it down to one, but at least this means you might not notice the absence of one if someone turns up missing before bedtime (right now, kitty is the one we can get away with forgetting, probably because she's the smallest). We had a close call today - Daddy picked you up, and in the transition, Kermit got left behind. We have your little friend to thank for finding it so quickly so I could get it on my way home. You're not up for sharing your animals at her house, so when she saw it unattended and you nowhere to be found, she made a beeline for it, repeating, "Kermit! Share? Share?"

Selection of your favorite animals

It's amusing to see your crib after a nap or in the morning - what with your blanket, your four stuffed animals, and several books that start out propped against the sides but end up everywhere (even underneath you), it can look like quite the disaster area.

You started struggling during diaper changes - it seemed you didn't like laying on your back on the changing table. When we're at church or a friend's house, it doesn't tend to be an issue, but it became frustrating trying to get you to hold still, especially for those messy diapers. My solution was to give you my iPod. I'm not a huge fan of you already accustomed to my iPod, but there are a couple apps on it that you excel at and it keeps me from having to change the changing table's diaper pad after every dirty diaper (ask me how I know...). One is Old McDonald, where you'll vary up the games: one favorite of yours names an animal and asks you to select it from three possible options, another one makes an animal sound and you're supposed to name it before hitting the barn doors and revealing who is hiding inside. These sure have let us witness new animal words - it was the first time I heard you say cow.

You have now had your second-ever fever. I had wondered if you'd felt a little warm on your forehead, but the rest of you seemed normal and you were eating and playing like usual, so I didn't check. You woke up at 2 AM and were burning up with a fever of 102.3 degrees. However, by 7:30 in the morning it was already down to 99 degrees and stayed down. That is now two fevers you've had, both of which have resolved in a matter of hours. It's going to be hard on me when you have your first sustained fever.

You've also had your first real injury - you had helped Daddy unload the dishwasher, and you had gotten distracted with your toys in the other room when you decided you wanted to cross the kitchen. Daddy was loading the dishwasher when you slipped and fell, catching your nose and cheek on the corner of the door. There wasn't very much blood and you didn't cry for long (I was trying to wipe away the little bit of blood as you struggled, so I turned on Sesame Street as a distraction - you stopped crying before I even set the remote down). But when it scabbed over, it looked pretty miserable and you drew a lot of attention (you can see the evidence of your injury in the toy collage).

It's pretty likely at this point that we're moving this summer, although the location may be up in the air. And as I'm mentally preparing, in between actual packing, I find myself turning reflective as we work to close this chapter of our lives. So many things have happened here in Indiana. We had left a close community in Minnesota after only two years, so there may have been some doubt about whether or not we could find friends that we were as close with. And so much has happened in the six years we've lived here. I was first pregnant here. I lost your sister here. And in the midst of that heartache, people came out of the woodwork to grieve alongside us. And now we have you.

In the midst of this uncertainty of the future and reflecting on the past, I'm also watching a friend go through a very hard time in her marriage, some of the issues stemming from what she'd gone through as a child and young adult.

While I was anxious during my pregnancy with you, and during the early days, I feel like I've reverted to my former personality and while I know I can't protect you from anything, or even guarantee anything, I look back at my own life and see where I've come from and what I've experienced. Children are resilient.

I was processing this with some friends, and I wrote the following:
This parenthood/adulthood is seriously wild, you know? You think your parents know everything, and then you become one and realize they were just as lost as you are, but they loved you like crazy. So you love your child like crazy and hope you learn from your mistakes and don’t mess them up too badly.

That's the place I'm resting in now. I want you to be spared from any hurt, but I know that's not realistic, so I'll try to shelter you from the major ones and hold you through the minor ones. I hope we have a close relationship, one that starts from respect and love and moves to include friendship as you become an adult. I have no idea how old you will be when you read these letters, or what our relationship will be like when you do. I hope you find joy and contentment. I hope you feel you have a purpose. I pray like crazy that you love Jesus. I hope you're content in your singleness. And when it's time, I hope you'll find a husband that loves you, serves you, leads you, protects you.

And know, even if you think I've been a failure as a parent, or at least made some big mistakes that you think should have been obvious enough to avoid, that I love you so much. And I'm just doing what seems best with what I know today, but I'm this imperfect person who will make her fair share of mistakes along the way. All throughout, though, never doubt my love for you.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Letter to My Daughter: 17 Months

At 16 and 17 months
Dear Brennan,

You continue to grow, both mentally and physically. At your last appointment, you weighed 26 pounds and 6 ounces and you were 33.25 inches tall.

You had a personal vendetta against bibs for several months; anytime we tried to put one on you, you'd nearly strangle yourself trying to get it off. As such, we gave up on them for several months. I recently learned your daddy was using them with you, though, so I sometimes grab one, depending on what we're feeding you. For the most part, though, you don't get too messy. You are best with finger foods, but you know how to work a fork and spoon (sometimes, if the food isn't particularly sticky, though, you turn the latter upside down, when it ends up on your shirt).

You have discovered our trashcan and love to help tossing away items. We need to keep a close eye on you, though - a couple times you've looked at us questioningly as you hold a toy or bowl over the can. You also have a keen eye and nimble fingers for picking up dropped food, etc. My favorite move of yours is when you pick up something that is so miniscule I sometimes doubt there's actually anything there, but you're so concerned about placing it in my hand so I play along. Sometimes it's nothing larger than the size of a grain of sand, but you're so serious about it that I gravely take it from you and thank you as I throw it in the trash.

You are quite close to being able to climb up on the chairs and couches unaided (you've done so once, getting on the loveseat, but it hasn't been repeated). You will walk up to the object where you want to sit and lift one leg, hoping that is all you need to do. It's quite amusing to us, not so much for the cats. Or, in all honesty, not so amusing to Augustine, who prefers staying out of your reach.

Moments before her first leg grab (and, incidentally, her first scratch)

 You see us telling the cats to get down from places they're not allowed to be, so at times I see you trying to scold them as well; the other day Dante got on the bookcase and started looking in the mirror, and you went near him and started waving your arms and "talking" vigorously.

You are adept at stacking blocks; your record is ten tall. Your old record was eight tall, and I actually captured a picture while you tried to stick on the ninth one, right before it fell over.

Around Christmas, you took a break from your books. Since we were traveling, I wrote it off to the excitement of new surroundings and different toys. This kept up for nearly another week after our return. I was surprised, wondering what transpired. After all, we could hardly keep you away from them before. But then you returned, and we figured it out. You were too busy mastering walking and relishing your newfound mobility that you couldn't be bothered to sit. Once you conquered walking, though, you resumed your bookish ways.

Where some of the reading is done

You now have your two bottom molars out, which finally made an appearance New Year's Day (they made the drive home on New Year's Eve a bit unpleasant for you). And now your top molars are through. That puts you at ten teeth, and you've started teething pain again, although I haven't felt the new teeth emerge yet.

Sometimes you would wake up in the middle of the night, seemingly ready to play. Your parents, on the other hand, were not willing accomplices. We'd try to rock you (typically you were just in pain from your hurting mouth and just wanted some comfort), but on those few occasions that didn't work, we debated what to do. Once we found success placing you in your crib with soft toys and books. The first time, you were occupied for 30 minutes while we checked in with the video monitor, whereupon you quietly laid down and fell back asleep. However, this hadn't been replicated. We knew what the problem was: the toys and books in the crib were selected for their softness, not due to your interest.

On one of the next occasions, we decided to put some of your favorite books in the crib with you, settling them against the slats. We even left a small lamp on (to read by, of course). And it was AMAZING. We do this all the time now. We're not above admitting that we happily rotate books in there that get a LOT of reading time, just so we can have a break. You love this arrangement. Now before naps and bedtime, once we put you in the crib you gladly reach for any number of books, "read" them to yourself for anywhere between 3 and 45 minutes, and then, when you can't stay awake any longer, you lay down and drift off. It warms this mother's heart to see you taking after your parents, up reading long past your bedtime until your eyelids absolutely must close.

A favorite book has been Junior Goes to School. However, a few weeks before nap you separated two pages that weren't supposed to be separated and removed the pinwheel, so it gets a sabbatical until I can repair it. I also bought a used copy as a backup.

You also love to read Global Babies, Guess How Much I Love You, Chicka Chicka ABC and several Sandra Boynton books. And right now, you can't get enough of the variety of Spot books we have, and you are having us read Clifford books to you over and over again.

There have even been a few occasions where I have caught you saying "Oops!" at intervals while you "read" Blue Hat, Green Hat to yourself. It's pretty cute to watch, although your "oops" sounds a little slurred at the end.

In addition to reading, you spend a lot of time with your toy food. It's fun to watch you mimic eating and drinking. And the wooden cabinet you now have was originally bought used by Grandma Dawn (your great-grandma) for my mom (your grandma) over fifty years ago. It has aided in imaginative play for many years already, and it's still going strong.

We still pull out dried beans for you; sometimes we give you an egg carton that you fill up, most recently I gave you another container, and you diligently moved all the beans into it, and then proceeded to move them all back into the first container. You do a relatively good job of keeping them off the floor, but when you start throwing them around, or when you ask too many times if you can eat one, playtime is over and they get put away. It makes for a nice change of pace from your regular toys, though. I've told your daddy to pick up some more in different colors and sizes to add another dynamic.

You have dress-up moments - there are some necklaces your cousins gave you at Christmas, and you will pile them on or wrap them around your neck like a scarf. If you catch sight of my wristlet, you insist on taking possession of it and looping your arm through it, as it happens to be the perfect sized purse for you.

We also can spend long stretches of time pulling out items from your dresser - we try to keep you to the bottom drawer with socks, tights, and headbands. As you outgrew your handknit items, I kept them separate from the rest of your outgrown clothes. I recently pulled them out and you enjoyed handing items and the stuffed animal of your choice to me to be dressed. I'm glad to see these knit items enjoying a new life, and I suspect other knitters are as well.

Stylin' animals in knitwear

I catch you grabbing your neck or the skin on either side of your neck with your fingers. It seems you do this when you're a little uneasy - it's your way of self-soothing. Once when we were at storytime, you had two huge fistfuls of your neck while you sat on my lap as you looked around at everyone. It doesn't seem to hurt you (although you do leave marks), but I hope you can find other ways to soothe yourself.

In the last few weeks, you've grown attached to a lamb stuffed animal, so maybe we'll have to see if cuddling with that can substitute for comfort.

Not the lamb, but another doll she carried around

Pretty much since you started getting teeth, we had this finger toothbrush we'd use to clean them before bed. We upgraded you to a toddler toothbrush, though, and you were enraptured. It got to stay where mommy's and daddy's toothbrushes stayed, and every time we went by the bathroom, you'd detour to grab your toothbrush and paste. While I'm all for you having a good relationship with dental hygiene, it was getting to be a bit much. We just kept the door shut at all times for a couple days, and that seemed to solve the problem.

"Look, Mom - no cavities!"

You continue to soak in so much around you. I got together with a friend after Christmas for a playdate. She was sharing how her daughter, a little younger than you, learned to throw up her arms and yell "Touchdown!" over Christmas. Your friend began to demonstrate it for us maybe half a dozen times in a row with you looking on. And 36 hours later, I was sitting next to you in the car when you suddenly started throwing your hands up deliberately, time after time. We got you in the house and set you down. You started toddling away to get a toy and I said, "Touchdown!", and the hands immediately went up and you grinned big at me. I could never catch it on camera or video, but it's amazing what a sponge you are; it's not like we were having you mimic your friend's actions, but you just picked it up on her own.

We watch segments of Sesame Street if you are having a rough day and we could all use a break. This week we watched Elmo teaching about Up and Down. Later on, you were methodically standing up on your tippy toes, then sitting down, over and over again. We would say the words aloud, and you'd do the correct motion.

You have fixed ideas on where things belong, as well. For instance, we've got this Musical Stacking Toy that has four balls. We'd lost one of them but knew it'd eventually turn up (sometimes the cats enjoy batting them all around). I unearthed it under my sewing cabinet, which you saw me do. For several days, when you were done playing with it, you'd roll it back under there, thinking that's where it was supposed to be.

You don't say very much, but at your last appointment the doctor said she'd only expect about four words at that time, which you certainly had then (you say cat, cracker, cheese, oops, Daddy has heard you say read, and while you seem to know mama and dada, you don't really call us by name). There may be others (I think I heard you say trash, for instance), but you don't seem to have a problem communicating. After I got tired of you insistently whining as you reached for something, I taught you the sign for please. You picked it up quickly, although that seems to have replaced the sign for more (I'll ask if you want more of something, and you'll respond with please instead of more, but that works for me).

It's been a fun seventeen months. They've absolutely stretched me and sometimes we're pretty exhausted, but you're a joy to have around.

There have been a couple articles on parenting that made the social media rounds recently, and they absolutely resonated with me; I think they really capture aspects of parenting, of motherhood, that I face. The first was "Don't Carpe Diem," by Glennon Melton. I love her comparison of Chronos time and Kairos time. We can get caught up in the Chronos definition of time, and this parenting business can be hard work (and let me say, when I can't get you to go down for your regular nap, something I have done dozens and dozens of times successfully to the point you don't even need my help once I lay you in the crib, suddenly I feel like a failure of a mother as you cry and I want to cry with you and those minutes seem very long indeed). But I love sitting back and registering those moments of Kairos, when I actually see and experience and savor the moment for what it is. These seventeen months of only going to work 12 hours a week but spending the rest of the time with you have been perfect for transforming me and molding my heart. I get to watch you make connections, I get to introduce you to this world of ours and walk alongside you, and when I think of those things, I can get emotional. What an absolute blessing.

Another article that connected with me was "To the Mother With Only One Child," by Simcha Fisher, a mother of nine children.

I'll just share the close of her article here:
To become a mother, I had to learn how to care about someone more than I did about myself, and that was terrible.  But who I am now is something more terrible:  the protector who can’t always protect; the one with arms that are designed to hold, always having to let go.
Dear mother of only one child, don’t blame yourself for thinking that your life is hard.  You’re suffering now because you’re turning into a new woman, a woman who is never allowed to be alone.  For what?  Only so that you can become strong enough to be a woman who will be left.
When I had only one child, she was so heavy.  Now I can see that children are as light as air.  They float past you, nudging against you like balloons as they ascend.
Dear mother, don’t worry about enjoying your life.  Your life is hard; your life will be hard.  That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong—it means you’re doing it right.

I love this, and it was just as emotional for me as I returned to the article again to finish this letter to you as it was the first time. I sometimes wonder when we might try again, and I admit while I absolutely want you to have younger siblings, and that you have been basically the easiest and best baby ever, I'm not in a rush (we're in a transitional limbo right now, as well, so we're not exactly having this conversation yet). I'm in awe as I remember my parents had five children, most of us only two years apart. And yet, as I get up in the middle of the night with you to comfort you in your teething pain, or I bundle you up to schlep you out and about for errands, I'm happy with what we have now. I don't want to be discontented with where we're at, so while we know we'd like little sisters or brothers for you, I'm glad that we are happy now with where we are and what we have.
I'm not sure I can appropriately sum up all my feelings. You are so wanted and so loved and you're teaching me so much. I'm trying to continue to allow motherhood to be a spiritual practice, of sorts. To let this act of parenthood shape me, to submit to what I need to learn. I struggle with keeping up with everything - if I'm staying on top of my Etsy shop, I'm falling behind on dishes or laundry or vacuuming or toy pickup or meals or ... - but I'm trying to bend. If I get annoyed that I'm failing in being the "perfect" mom who has it all together and a tidy house to boot, I'm not allowing myself to learn what is taking place around me. And I suspect this is one of the times in life that a tidy house isn't expected. I know when I need to tweak my priorities and put something at the top of the Must Do Very Soon Before I Go Batty list, but I also know my friends understand where I'm at when I invite them over. Our house is clean, but it's certainly lived in.

Anyway, those are some of the things going through my mind these last couple months. Thank you for being who you are and stretching me to be a better person.

So much love,