Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Letter To My Daughter: Three Years!

37-42 months
Dear Brennan,

You are now three years old! (And then some...why, yes, this letter did take a while to write.)

Written on your birthday:

We've had the honor of being parents to Brennan - one sweet, bright, silly kid - for three years now.

This last week, after seeing an Operation game box, she was fascinated to learn Mommy had an operation when she was born. Then followed repeated requests for the story of the day she was born, complete with pictures when possible.

Today she woke us up at 6 am with the excited question, "Is it me birfday yet?" She opened cards and gifts, ate a pancake in the shape of a 3, enjoyed cake with friends, and wandered Bay Beach Amusement Park. As she got off the Ferris wheel in the rain, she declared, "Best birfday ever!" That's my girl.

Last summer was atypical. Daddy was invited to a five-week-long seminar in Saint Louis, so we packed him up and experienced five weeks without him (we went down with him initially for a weekend, then made another trip three weeks in so we could get in some more Daddy time).

Waiting for the train to go visit Daddy!

You were a pretty good sport, but the days were sometimes long. Some friends remembered I was a single parent for a time and scheduled a playdate or fed us dinner periodically, and I know more would have if I would have sent out a plea, but I am grateful that it was only a temporary thing and that I normally get to do this parenting gig with Daddy's help.

25-36 months

You didn't fuss during the day about Daddy's absence (you're used to days with just Mommy while he goes to work), but I think the time began to wear on you. For the majority of his absence, you would wake up crying at least once, sometimes a couple times, in the middle of each night. You didn't seem to know what was wrong but since it started with Daddy's absence, I can only assume you were trying to process this long stretch without him. I was quite appreciative of caffeine during this season.

Entertainment on the train

Since I knew the sleep I did get needed to be refreshing, I ended up bringing your convertible Dora couch/bed into our bedroom, and then I would relocate you in the middle of the night when you'd cry. After Daddy returned, you were still in this habit. Then we were all together for only a week when we went to Iowa to deliver you to Eric's parents so we could fly to NYC for a second honeymoon/tenth-anniversary trip. After we returned home again, we were again in the rut of your joining us in our room in the middle of the night, if not at the outset.

Enjoying a friend's pool on a hot day

I was asking you if, by the time you turned three, you would sleep in your room all night again, as that had been the norm for most of your life, but you said, "No - me like sleeping in Mommy/Daddy's room." No amount of bribery would work. And then, in the fall, you made it one night, and then two, and we've now reverted back to you staying in your room all night, perhaps only stirring to ask for a drink of water, after which you'd promptly return back to your own bed. It can be unpredictable, though, and now that spring is upon us, sometimes you'll arrive in our room in the middle of the night, asking to sleep in there with us, or joining us quite early in the morning.

The best baking assistant

You were potty trained during the day when I last wrote, but we'd been putting you in diapers when you napped and overnight. However, in late August, I began leaving the diaper off at naptime, and you've been dry except for one time. And as I write this now in late January/early February, I can report you are potty-trained at night as well as of sometime this fall.

Looks like you've outgrown the sandbox

I asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, and you said you wanted to be a doctor. I asked you some more questions as to what kind, and you said you wanted to "help kids" - you already love to give Mommy and Daddy regular check-ups, so learning this little tidbit meant that we picked up a lab coat for you to further embrace the role (I'm thinking I need to sew up a little tote bag for all your medical instruments as well - no professional takes their items around in a ziploc bag, honey).

You take this profession seriously

Honestly, though, it cracks me up as you seriously administer the physical, instructing me to "take deep breafs" as you put the stethoscope on my chest and back. And it seems you are pro-vaccinations, if only because you love to give shots.

If the medical profession doesn't pan out, you can always take to the high seas

Lately, though, you've been telling me that when you grow up, you want to be a mommy. When I tell you that you can both be a mommy and have a job, you say you also want to be a teacher (Daddy's influence, I'm guessing, as you know he teaches students).

You made the cutest Little Red Riding Hood for Halloween

This past fall your favorite books were a treasury of Berenstain Bears stories, particularly the "Gimmies" story, as well as a collection of four Strawberry Shortcake books you received from a friend. Over Christmas, you also received a Dora collection.

Petting a puppy, no matter that it's stone

You pick up a lot from these stories. In September we were in the mall and we'd already let you pick something out for your birthday (you absolutely had to have a Dora umbrella), and as we were leaving, you saw a collection of candy machines. Daddy reminded you that you'd already received something special, so you couldn't do candy as well, just as Brother and Sister Bear in the Gimmies story could only select one item per outing. You suddenly spouted, "The worst case me ever see!", which is a phrase from the book.

You always want to pick "flowers"

When you and Mommy were returning home from visiting Daddy in St Louis, I had packed some sandwiches, among other items, to eat on the way home while on Amtrak. The Strawberry Shortcake book that had been in frequent rotation was Strawberry Shortcake Goes to School. In it, she forgets her lunch and instead of telling the teacher, stresses about it all morning. She admits it to her friends at lunchtime, and they all select items from their own lunches to share with her. I had pulled out our sandwiches on the train, and you suddenly grabbed mine and said, "Mommy, Strawberry Shortcake's friends shared their lunch," and you proceeded to tear mine in half and put it with your entire sandwich. Clearly you misunderstood a crucial plotline of that story! (Your mommy secretly ate some from your sandwich after you were "full" from eating mine.)

Rowing with a couple aunts

One big development since I last wrote is that you are going to be a big sister! We only told you when we were going to be ready for you to announce it to everyone, at the end of the first trimester. In preparation, I'd been finding secondhand books about babies joining families (many of which follow a standard formula) and I would periodically add a new one to the rotation.

Just making friends with a zebra, no big deal

The first book I gave you when I shared the news depicts a baby in the womb. You were entranced by a picture of a mom sitting up in bed in the middle of the night with her hand resting on her stomach. I explained to you that the baby was kicking the mommy, and as soon as you learned that, you started placing your hand on my tummy. "Is baby kicking now, Mommy?" I tried to explain that baby would need to get a bit bigger before I could feel the movements, let alone you, and it was going to be a while. Your response? "Maybe after naptime."

Taking care of one of your babies

The formula in these sibling books often have an older sibling struggling with the transition: tired parents, having to keep quiet during naptimes, witnessing the baby getting all the attention and gifts, until they are pulled aside and shown their own baby pictures and begin to learn ways they can help. I have been trying to make you aware of what the change might be like and what baby can and cannot do when she is first born. Once I asked you what you thought your favorite part of being a big sister was going to be. You answered, "Singing to baby and holding her." I affirmed that her baby sister would absolutely love that. And then I asked you what you thought the hardest thing might be about becoming a big sister, and you optimistically declared, "Nothing, Mommy. I love it ALL." I appreciate your spirit, but somehow I think your answer might be different in a couple weeks.

Daddy takes weekly pregnancy belly pictures - you've been wanting to be in them with me lately

As I've mentioned before, whatever your current stage is tends to be my favorite stage. Right now, I love watching you master puzzles, draw pictures, fill coloring books (you do great coloring in the lines, but you totally judge your friends: "Mommy, Paige *scribbles*!"), and carry on amusing conversations. 63-piece puzzles are no big deal, and you can even do one of your 100-piece ones on your own, too. You love to dance, are inquisitive, and show such a passion for life and learning. I love snuggling with you on the couch when you ask me to read a chapter book (we actually started Little House in the Big Woods recently).

I love seeing your creative side come through, and I love watching you play games with Daddy, sometimes with my participation as well (can I blame the pregnancy brain on coming in third in Memory?!). I enjoy seeing you mature and take on responsibilities and lecture us on manners: one of your main jobs is to empty the silverware tray from the dishwasher; you take it upon yourself to fill the cat dish if the food is low, and you sometimes ask if you can help set the table. It's also pretty typical that you ask, "Can I be 'scused?" when you are finished with dinner, and you're not afraid to lecture us if we don't use good manners ("Mommy, you didn't say 'You're welcome'" or "Daddy, you didn't say 'scuse me' after you burped").

You LOVE to color

I also love how observant you are. A couple months back, while sharing lunch with friends after Bible study, I was talking with someone when I saw you leave your friends and approach one of the other mothers. I at first thought you mistook her for me, but then I overheard you tell her, "Carrie walk down the hall and is going to the stairs." All the mothers were oblivious, but you noticed the little toddler leave the room and knew you needed to tell her mother. I was so proud of you.

You notice the smallest things - here, an ant

You are showing me the traits that make me think you will be a stellar big sister (and person in general). You love knowing routines and rules and are pretty awesome at following them. Better than that, though, you love enforcing them when others are at our home, which is pretty hysterical to witness. Your babysitter will report how you seriously told her we need to shut off lights when we leave rooms, or how we put paper on another book when coloring with markers so the table or floor doesn't get stained. I think the stereotypical "bossy" big sister may emerge, which will bring about other conversations, but on the whole, I love knowing how helpful you are bound to be.

"Mommy, this the most beautiful baby me ever see!"

You have declared some of your stuffed animals for baby and you no longer play with them. You have two teddy bears that are current favorites with you: "Warm and Cozy Bear" and "Beary", sometimes also called "Notre Dame Bear" because of the shirt he is wearing. The latter has a monkey counterpart that was also given to us upon your birth, and you've earmarked that one for baby, convinced it will be one of her treasured friends. Another favorite of yours is "Close Eyes-Open Eyes Baby", which is quite a mouthful and so funny to hear you say when you're sleepily asking us to help you find her.

We only have six more days before your little sister will arrive, and she has been quite active lately. You love when I invite you to place your hand on my stomach and feel her move around. Sometimes you bend down and say, "Hello, baby! This is your big sister, Brennan!" I love your excitement. I think it also helps that I have three good friends here who are going to have babies in April as well, including the mother of your best friend, so you get to share this journey with her.

Your first self-portrait, done entirely on your own as a surprise - you were very proud!

For better or worse, I see you've been demonstrating perfectionist tendencies. In one instance, you were coloring. Now I've never insisted you stay in the lines, but you will often turn to me when you stray out and report sadly, "Mommy, me go out of the lines." I let you know that it is okay, that *everyone* does this, even mommies and daddies. But on one particular occasion, you were so upset at yourself that every time you "messed up", you tore out the page and ripped it up. This happened several times, even with me doing all I could to calm you down and let you know it wasn't a problem. I've long struggled with perfectionist tendencies, and I like to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist now. I have to admit I feel bad for passing it on to you.

Even as you grow, you're still my little girl

My other vice has been as a people pleaser, and I see some of this in you as well. A friend mentioned a term that we sometimes use to describe you: "threenager." When we chastise you if you're about to do something dangerous, or correct you when you're acting up, you will sometimes leave the room or retreat to a corner to lay down until you're feeling better. I'm always amused when you try to hide your emotions: "Mommy, me eyes just wet, me not crying."

Here in Wisconsin, the cutoff for school is September 1. With a September 15 birthdate, you are bound to be one of the oldest or the youngest in your class. We've been wrestling with what route we'd go, but it's clear that you are so ready academically and socially that we are pursuing 4K options for next year, with the expectation that kindergarten will follow the following year. Your daddy has predicted that you will be reading by the time you are four, and I'm not sure that he is too far off. We took you to one possible 4K site early this year, and while you loved the time there, it was hard to believe these children were at least one year older than you and had already finished half a year of school. It's likely because you're so interested in letters, etc., but other than writing out the date - we haven't done any writing of numbers - you were more than able to keep up. In fact, they practiced tracing out their names, and you've already written yours out without any help beyond me telling you the letters. Another time, you decided independently you wanted to write out your letters, so you grabbed a sheet with the alphabet on it as well as a blank piece of paper and got to work copying them.

Writing out the alphabet

Your vocabulary has blossomed, although your pronunciation is still a work in progress. I'm always entertained when I've taught you a word (like sunset) and a day or two later, you will seriously ask, "Mommy, do you know the word sunset?" Or, due to episodes from Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood and Peg + Cat, you've asked, "Do you know what empathy is?" and "Mommy, this is a [s]phere!"

I'm touched when I see your sensitive side come through. A few weeks ago, we were driving to small group. Sometimes you've woken up due to a bad dream, and on that particular night, you said you'd recently had a bad dream, but when you woke up, you prayed that you wouldn't have any more bad dreams and you were so excited to report that you fell back asleep and didn't have any more bad dreams.
I've been working on this letter off and on since September as I periodically sneak away to a coffee shop, but with your baby sister arriving in a week, it's time I finally gather the pictures and post this, so this letter is admittedly a little scattered. To add to the jumble, I'm closing with some of the Facebook statuses I've posted which involve you:

Brennan, while I was painting her toenails: "Mommy, they are so pretty - they make me want to DANCE!" 3/21/2014

Being awakened by a haphazard ukulele serenade at 7 am: good or bad way to start the day? Discuss. Also, keep in mind the toddler performance was actually intended for our cat Augustine. 2/27/2014

If you have to go out in negative temps, it pays to be a knitter. 2/26/2014

Brennan is all about making valentines for her friends. Some are going better than others. 2/7/2014

Overheard from my toddler (to her best friend): "When you're old, you die. Like when you're 15. Or 21." 2/4/2014

"Mommy, I love pizza, but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE hockey!" 2/1/2014

Brennan has set herself up in her chair with a blanket and a book and thinks this is how we should spend our day ("but we still have to take naps, Mommy, because babies make mommies want to sleep"). 1/28/2014

Brennan drew a picture of herself and said she was also going to draw someone "very special." She revealed it was her baby sister. Just when she starts to wear on me by not napping and being a little more disagreeable due to that fact, she goes and does something sweet like this. 1/15/2014

My daughter, the budding poet: "Hear that noise? It sounds like the snow is singing!" 1/13/2014

My sisters have great husbands. Last night I enjoyed the company of Casey as he joined us for hours of games. This morning, when Eric got up with a bright-eyed Brennan at too early of an hour, Chad offered to watch her so we could sleep longer. When we woke up, we learned she had been taught the names of some of the chess pieces as well as how to set up the board. She was on her way out to his shop to sand, but decided after a swipe or two that it wasn't a very fun "game."  12/26/2013

Brennan has a finger puppet nativity. After she colors the characters, I cut them out. I encouraged her to finish, as Jesus might be lonely without his parents. This is when she informed me that, in fact, Mary and Joseph were actually at a friend's house and the wise men and angel were babysitting. What service - expensive gifts AND free childcare! Also, I learned yellow is Jesus' favorite color. 12/16/2013

Highlights and observations from our car trip to Iowa:
- Brennan's short list for little-sister names includes Circle and DeeDee
- Brennan's rendition of the Zacchaeus song includes the line, "Jesus said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down. There's snow on the ground. And I have two sleds.'" 11/26/2013

"Mommy, can you turn off the little light in my room? It's making shadows on the wall. I see a dragon in the water, but dragons are supposed to be in caves." 11/13/2013

You bring so much joy to my days, and I can't wait to see how having a little sister shapes you. I am so thankful I get to be your mommy.


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