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.