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.