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,