Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A Letter to My Daughter: 2.5(ish) Years Old

25-32 months (beginning in top left, going from L to R)
Dear Brennan,

You're nearly 2.75 years old now.

Much has certainly happened. I'd say I would only hit highlights here to keep this short, but you probably know by now that my fingers don't know when to stop typing. Plus, it's the only way I'll remember some of these things, so I'll document away.

You experienced trick-or-treating for the first time this past Halloween. The weather was pretty cold and windy (due in large part to the effects of Hurricane Sandy). We had been given a ladybug costume, so I bundled you up after talking you through the process. I drove to a nearby neighborhood, and we spent about 45 minutes going door-to-door. Due to your limited speech and overall shyness, you would be mute at each door. However, you happily handed over your pail, and as we turned away from each home, you could barely wait before you were begging, "More? More?" You somehow knew the items in your pail were desirable to eat (although I'm not sure about the Pez someone dropped in there...), even though much of it was new to you. Is now the right time to tell you I ended up eating most of it over the last few months...? (Hey, some of it was actually too hard - or too delicious! - for you to handle!)

"You ate my candy?!"

In the last eight months, you've finished with teething - the final canine and all four two-year molars have come through. We're certainly happy to be done with that season, as overnight sleeping is harder for you during those times.

You asked to nap on the couch

There have still been stretches of weird sleep interruptions, though. I'm not sure what the cause is - it isn't regular enough to make me think we need to sleep train and almost makes me wonder if you're still feeling the molars come in - they're through, but not completely.  Honestly, though, I think one of the perks to you being an only child at this time is the fact that we can respond to your needs instead of having to let you take the back seat were you to have an infant sibling. I suspect others might view this behavior as catering to your whims and a little too indulgent, but if you're having an off night and having mommy or daddy come in for a few minutes to comfort you helps, I'm more than happy to offer you the reassurance that your parents love you and are there for you. I just need to make sure I don't fall asleep. Typically I can slip back out after you've drifted off again, but too often I fall asleep on the floor next to your crib, waking up hours later stiff and uncomfortable, only retreating to bed then. Aches and pains and increased caffeine intakes are small prices to pay, though - this season will go by all too quickly.

What you're forced to do when Mommy and Daddy tire of Duck, Duck, Goose - play with inanimate friends!

Whenever we see our extended family, I'm delighted to watch you interact with your cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. They all enjoy you, and you thoroughly enjoy the times with them all. I have fond memories of visiting cousins and grandparents, and watching it happen for a new generation is special.

Time with family is precious

We spent Easter with your paternal grandparents. Daddy said we could go to the town Easter egg hunt. I was expecting the traditional hunt: city park covered with eggs, a line of children released at the same time to collect as much as possible. However, this small town had a charming tradition. Everyone lines up to receive a ticket, then all the children walk up and down main street, scouring the windows of all the local businesses for the matching number. Once found, the child goes inside to collect their "basket". We found yours at the movie theater, and you were quite excited by the popcorn and M&Ms. You turned in your movie ticket, however, to Papa, who gave you money for your piggy bank.

I'm not one to romanticize a certain age or time and can honestly say that my favorite age of yours is wherever we're currently at. I think a friend's father described it well: "It doesn't get easier, it just gets different." There may not be the middle-of-the-night feedings, but now I'm wrestling with how best to guide you and discipline you and encourage you in new things. There are highlights and struggles at each age, and I delight in witnessing more and more of your personality emerge.

There are certain aspects of your current age that I want to remember. You sometimes take off outside, running with the awesome toddler run, arms flailing to the sides and your legs churning. It's not graceful, and it may not be much faster than walking, but it's absolutely precious.

We introduced you to Candyland and Chutes and Ladders recently, and you enjoyed them, not caring whether you won or lost. You didn't yet know that drawing a "special card" in Candyland that actually sent you back to the beginning was a bad thing. And we exaggerated our excitement when we "got" to ride down a slide in Chutes and Ladders. I know all too soon you will be aware of winning and losing and take it more to heart, so I'm savoring this stage as long as it lasts. And hopefully we can instill in you the desire to do your best and encourage others in their successes, even if it means you "lose".

A couple weeks ago we met a friend at a coffee shop. I was leading you back to the children's area when I realized you were overcome with the song on the radio - you couldn't not dance. You trailed after me, holding our napkins, pumping your arms and wiggling your body. I loved every moment of it, and I loved watching other patrons we passed, from college-aged students to elderly individuals, catch sight of you. From young to old, their faces beamed and it warmed my heart. You had no qualms, no embarrassment, no awareness of their attentions. You were just being yourself and, in so doing, bringing joy to those around you. That's an important lesson to learn.

You with some friends, both new and old

I'm also pretty delighted as I watch you explode in your vocabulary. At your annual appointment in October, I told the doctor I knew you were behind in your acquisition but that I wasn't worried. However, I did ask her to let me know if or when I should be worried. After having observed you, she said while she did expect two-word sentences at that point, she didn't see any reason to be concerned. However, we could have you evaluated in a few months if we didn't see much progress.

You kicked me off of my mat while I was trying to exercise

Come January, I scheduled you for an evaluation. A professional came to our home, asked us questions while she also observed you. At the end of her time, she agreed that your vocabulary was small compared to your peers, but she didn't recommend admitting you to their program. In her assessment, the words were there and they would come when you were ready. In short, you were too comfortable in your non-verbal communication and we needed to frustrate you more. She gave some suggestions and we tried to implement some to encourage your speech.

Around that time, you probably had a couple dozen words you used. You did make some progress over the winter with adding new words, but we were pretty entrenched at the stage of you only using a single word or two.

Even with your limited vocabulary, you've still found ways to entertain us. Below is an account I shared with friends:

So Brennan still doesn't talk much, but her favorite number at the moment is three. The following is not an isolated incident.

Parent: Okay, Brennan, before you can be done with dinner, you need to eat TWO more bites.
Brennan (plaintively, holding up the appropriate number of fingers to add to her plea): Three?
Parent (solemnly, after pretending to seriously consider this alternative): Okay, THREE more bites then.

We really want to laugh and tell her she's doing it wrong, but I can live with her poor negotiation tactics for a bit longer.

Suddenly, in the last three or four weeks, you have had huge strides in your vocabulary. Some of this may very well coincide with visiting one of Mommy's friends, who had a daughter five months younger than you but much more verbal. It's amazing to witness your progress, and you often repeat many of the words I say as we talk. Earlier this week you even composed your first original song: "Mommy, Daddy love me so much! Hugs! Kisses!"

You love singing and playing instruments

You still love books, and you adore puzzles. When you turned two, Grandma and Papa gave you some 24-piece Dora puzzles. With those, you started out by handing us the pieces, we'd place them, and you'd snap them together. Then you started figuring it out yourself, and we've since been on the search for more challenging puzzles. You enjoy 24-piece ones, but they're not a challenge. And I absolutely laugh when we go to the library and you play with the wooden puzzles with about nine pieces (or less...). In fact, I recently picked up three 63-piece puzzles from garage sales, and in a couple days, you already managed to figure out how to do one of them without any assistance (and when we help with the others, we just tend to group like pieces together, or point to the box to show you what piece we need to look for next). It's because of your great attention to puzzles, beads, and other fine motor skills that kept us from worrying about your vocabulary acquisition.

Puzzles, reading, and crafts are favorite ways to spend time

You are developing your own sense of style, offering suggestions (or demands) as to what you want to wear. On one memorable day, you insisted on wearing a Spongebob shirt we had been given. I was surprised, as this character is unknown to you. When I asked who was on the shirt, you excitedly shouted, "Cheese!", so I had to humor you.

Your emerging style

One night at dinner I was excited to introduce mandarin oranges to you. I said when you finished with your plate, I had a special treat. I set the orange down next to my plate and ran to the kitchen to fetch something. When I returned, the mandarin was sticker-less but suddenly possessed bite marks through the skin. The bite turned you off, and it took you a while to agree to try a slice. However, in that interim, you assigned yourself the job of Chief Mandarin Peeler. Heaven forbid we try to have a mandarin without your assistance!

You recently became fascinated by the book Nathan and Nicholas Alexander, starring a mouse who wants to live in the elephant's toy box. We had some stuffed elephants, but I decided we needed to add your own toy mouse to the mix, so I told you I would knit one. While you slept, this mouse was made.

I had suspected he was going to be creating living quarters in your toy box when you slept (we’d been peeking in there after nearly each reading to see if we had our own mouse visitor). But you've chosen to let him bunk with you. In the days immediately after his arrival, he was often found in your hand or nearby as you occupied yourself with other activities.

Another exciting development is potty training. At a garage sale last month, I picked up a second small potty so each floor's bathroom would have its own. I happened to show you how when you got bigger, there was an insert that could go on the big potty, and apparently that was the incentive you needed. A week and a half ago, you woke me up around 5:30 am, standing by our bed saying, "Mommy - big potty!" Your diaper was basically dry, and you went right away! I dug out the training pants, and you were on your way! That Friday, you went successfully 12 (!) times, telling me every 30 minutes or so: "Momma, potty!" We've had a couple less than awesome days in that department since then, but we've also had four accident-free days (and several with only a small accident). You rock at using bathrooms in public; I'm especially amused at your delight when you hear other patrons go: your eyes go big and you applaud them (fortunately, these cheers are masked by the flushing of toilets). There have been far fewer accidents than I expected, and other than the toddler room at church the first Sunday, no accidents in public. Yesterday was a big milestone as well; you went poop on the potty for the first time! You were excited as it happened, telling me, "Momma - big snake!" [I'm sure the internet is glad to know of this story - you can thank me later, or bill me for your therapist.]

All these developments reveal to me what a big girl you're becoming. You are generally patient and sweet, not often annoyed or upset. One of your recent disappointments was when you learned you couldn't marry Daddy because he was already married to Mommy. For days you'd shake your head as you sadly told me Mommy and Daddy were married.

Still processing that you can't marry Daddy

Your hair is still pretty curly, especially when it's humid outside. Just about every time we go out, a stranger comments on how beautiful your curls are. Today it was a parent at storytime, yesterday it was a Target employee stocking shelves, last weekend it was both at a Philosophy gathering and at the church potluck. I love to pull the curls that hang near your eyes, saying "Boing!" as I release them; I've done this often enough that you do the same now, too.

What you did instead of nap - playing "Row, row!"
I still guard my tablet and iPod closely, using them sparingly as special rewards or entertainment when out in public or in the car for long trips. Some of the apps have reinforced your knowledge of the alphabet (you know all uppercase and lowercase letters and can successfully count to 15 or so). And some apps are just for fun, like when you take a call from Elmo.

And now here's where I transition from documenting your milestones and move to more general impressions and thoughts.

On a sobering note, a couple events have taken place, one which made enough of an impression in our country that you will hear about it as a part of our history, another which happened in a smaller sphere.

The latter event, heavy on my heart, was the death of a student. My second year of teaching was spent with delightful seventh graders. They've now since graduated, many of them finished with their sophomore year of college. Since January, three members of the class of 2011 have died. One of those happened to by a student I had in class. This April, she was murdered violently by her ex-boyfriend.

Certainly you know I have lost loved ones, but this news really shook me. I think it was the gruesome nature of a crime committed against someone I nurtured in my classroom for one precious year. And the fact that I am a parent to a daughter means I reflect on events like these more internally. I remember Becky as a sweet and spunky junior-high student. And in the intervening years, while still possessing a vibrant personality, she also found herself in a relationship fraught with domestic violence. Apartment neighbors heard fights, co-workers saw bruises, but nothing was done, and now everyone is reeling from the consequences.

In the immediate aftermath, I was pondering all of this. You are my precious, beautiful daughter. I have hopes you will live a full life, filled with love and following your passions. Certainly Becky's parents wished the same for her. Darling, I know finding love will likely be a priority of yours. But remember that you have value, you have inherent worth. Never let anyone tell you differently. Never let anyone abuse you verbally, emotionally, physically. Do not settle because you think that is all you deserve or as good as you can get. Find someone who will support you, encourage you, challenge you to do and be your best. Be with someone who treasures you and is amazed by you. Find someone who values your beauty inside and out and protects you.

It can be tough enough believing in our intrinsic worth. At least this recovering perfectionist and people-pleaser has self-talk that can fixate on my shortcomings. Maybe the house is a mess, or we're still in our pajamas when Daddy gets home, or I'm unshowered (or all of the above). Maybe I was too short with you, or I worry that I'm not giving you enough attention. But you know what? Your daddy is my primary cheerleader. He counters my negative self-talk with affirmation, love, gratitude, and grace. He repeats to me what he knows to be true, and he is genuine, so I believe. Find someone who values and respects you like that.

You were aghast to learn goats go poopy and potty on the ground!

The other event that has had an impact across the world happened shortly before Christmas. In December, there was a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 young children died as well as several adults. I was shaken up over it, as many were. You struggled sleeping that night, and as I was next to your bed, holding your hand to help you drift off, I couldn't help but make the comparison that while I was being slightly inconvenienced by this small change in my evening plans, there were 20 sets of parents out there, mourning the loss of their 5-year-old children, just wishing they could be snuggling with them that night. Wishing they could be frustrated when their child woke up crying, or complaining about toys strewn over the floor that needed to be picked up yet again. Wishing they could hassle their children about homework or about not finishing their dinner. All too suddenly the routine and normalcy disappeared, and memories of those times took on special significance, times that would be wished back if possible. The extraordinary ordinary.

I think Daddy and I have an advantage in this area - it's credit to your sister Katherine, the influence she continues to play in our lives. Her life was so short that it makes it extra special to get to witness your accomplishments every day. I was nearly brought to tears the first day you started potty training. You are getting so BIG and I get to be your mom and witness it firsthand. What an amazing honor. The ordinary is profound.

We LOVE spending time with you - you're basically the best kid ever

That reminds me of what a former pastor's wife wrote recently. Laundry used to be a huge chore for her, folding and sorting over and over again, the task never completed for long. She used to grumble as she faced the unending sort/wash/dry/fold/put away cycle, until she realized it could be an opportunity to pray. This transformed the task into one she treasured; as she folded socks, she'd pray for her children's steps to be guarded, as she folded underwear, she prayed for future grandchildren, and so on. It's both silly and profound, isn't it? How am I facing my daily tasks? Grumbling or being grateful I have a home that gets messy? Annoyed or blessed by the books and toys given to you that may spill over, but also offer many hours of entertainment and enjoyment? Fixating on the extra time required to do common tasks as you want to add your "help", or delighting in your willingness and desire to contribute to the tasks required to keep our home running? It's all a balancing act. The same task can either be treasured or reviled. But I have a choice in how I view it. And how I view it will shape my character.

I often think in tangents and stories, and the above train of thought reminds me of the following quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.

This is said more for my sake than yours now. My primary jobs are wife and mother, and I should approach all the tasks related to both with this attitude of joyful servanthood. This is my calling. And as you get bigger and want to help more and more, where "help" still means "slowing me down," I more often than not remember that I'm investing in you, trying to teach you what you need to leave home an accomplished young woman. This may mean taking twice - three times? - as long to vacuum because you want to be RIGHT THERE guiding our progress with every step. Or patiently helping as you transfer clothes slowly from the washer to the dryer.

All this to say, it can be a dark world out there. I'm just treasuring the fact that you don't yet know about the evil out there and I can protect you from it for a while longer. To you, injustice is Mommy not letting you have cookies for breakfast (as if that's ever been a thing, but that didn't lessen your tears). And of all the negatives out there, I don't want our home to be another example of disappointment, sadness, hurt, and anger. I want home to be a safe place, a place where you thrive. A place you find comfort while we all grow and support wherever you find yourself.

Upset that we didn't give her giraffe yet another ride on her bike

Even with these sad events, there are still bright spots, still hope. During the school shooting, I stumbled upon a quote from Mister Rogers that was making the rounds on social media:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.
That quotation pretty much sums it up for me. I can't protect you from everything. But I sure will do my best to instill in you the ability to see all the beauty in the world. All the amazing things, from the simple to the profound, that we get to witness each and every day. I trust you will become someone who looks at how you can make a difference: reach out to the ostracized, stand up for the bullied, help those in need in both small and big ways. 

No pressure, huh? Truly, though, I hope as each day goes by, we learn more and more about how we can love and serve those around us, whatever we may do.

Hugs and kisses,

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Let's Suppose

Let's suppose that, since June, I've packed up our old house, moved, then unpacked into our new place.

Let's also suppose I keep pretty busy during my daughter's nap times and bedtimes with housework and exercise. And let's suppose I don't do a lot of knitting when she's awake.

Let's also suppose I've created, photographed, and listed dozens of new items for my shop since June, also accomplished during my daughter's sleeping moments.

And let's suppose she doesn't sleep twenty hours a day. Or even fourteen.

And let's suppose she has had stretches of restless sleep since June as she's gained several new teeth. Let's suppose her parents tag-team evenings and nights in her room, further decreasing free time for the duration of those unhappy periods.

And let's suppose I've also done a lot of knitting, particularly for friends having babies, as well as sweaters and toys for Brennan. And let's suppose I made a lot of handmade gifts for Christmas.

And let's suppose I don't knit while I walk, or while I drive, or while I sleep.

And let's suppose all these socks have been knit since June, in addition to what was already in my dresser.

I recognize the first step is admitting I have a problem.

Let's suppose I'm not there yet.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Busy Books: Coming Up for Air

I recognize my blogging has decreased since teaching lo, those many years ago (and I'll just relieve the mystery and say I think I've decided I can only commit to two letters a year to B from now on: a half birthday and a birthday post), but I thought I'd give a sneak peek to my current obsession.

The seeds were planted in December when a friend linked to a laminating machine on major sale. This sort of information is dangerous in the hands of a former teacher that gets excited in office supply stores. Before I knew it, the $17 laminating machine was at my doorstep, and for $12 more I had 100 laminating pouches (the prices have returned to what seems to be their normal - about $30 for the machine, $15 for pouches - but I still highly recommend both).

Now, there wasn't time before Christmas to pull it out of the box, so it sat in my sewing area, just waiting for inspiration. Eventually, though, all Christmas crafting was finished, snow storms were dodged, and we returned safely after a couple weeks in Iowa.

Meanwhile, one day last week I cut up an egg carton so Brennan and I could make some caterpillars. A photo was posted to Facebook, and a friend recommended making butterflies from coffee filters. A day later, we did so (yet another reason it's fortunate I drink coffee!).

Due to that conversation thread, a friend sent me a link to a butterfly symmetry "busy bag" - I haven't yet made that one (no felt on hand), but it led me down a rabbit hole. I followed all manner of links for ideas for busy bags - contained activities that can be toddler-led with little to no direction after the first introduction.

Many of the items I had on hand, so I began printing, cutting, and laminating and am just now coming up for air. As an aside, I'm a huge fan of our color laser printer and my paper cutter (the latter purchased for use in my Etsy shop and I have not regretted the investment and the time saved since its acquisition).

First, I created a lego busy bag - there are cards showing a number of stacked Duplo bricks, and the child is supposed to recreate the pattern. Brennan took to it right away.

Then I prepared one that is supposed to develop writing skills; the child traces a variety of lines. Brennan also likes this one, but she isn't forcing herself to stick to the lines at this time, instead seeing it as a novelty to use dry-erase markers on paper. I have plans to bind these together, but now they are loose.

 This next activity required quite a bit of cutting. It is an I Spy activity. Print out two copies of the I Spy page. One copy is trimmed down and laminated. The second is cut up to create the card pieces. One person recommended just cutting out a variety of pieces, which is what any sane person would do, but I'm a glutton for punishment and decided I couldn't offer this activity unless every image could be part of the search. Therefore, I cut up all 100 tiny images, glued them into 1.5 x 2 inch pieces of paper, wrote the name of the image below, and then laminated the bunch. Now I have four bags of 25 cards. I tell myself this is worth it, as it means Brennan gets more enjoyment out if it and won't get bored as quickly. She does enjoy this activity. She'll take her dry erase marker, find the image, color it in, and then erase it before finding the next. And, in theory, I could print out a couple more full pages and laminate them for friends who might want to do this activity with her when visiting. Each child gets their own board with a baggy of different images.

This next activity didn't require any laminating (I may have needed a break after the above!), but I picked up some pipe cleaners and dug through my button stash to group them by color. Brennan hasn't been introduced to this one yet, but I will place all the buttons in a small container and let her sort by color, working on her fine motor skills as she threads them onto the pipe cleaners.

I printed out a set of images; there are 24 loose cards that fall into eight different categories, and the child is supposed to sort them accordingly.

Then for a name activity, I picked up some leaf shapes at Dollar Tree and glued letters onto them, spelling out Brennan's name on two different sets. One set was laminated onto cardstock, and the other is loose so Brennan can learn how to spell her name. In time, the next step would be to take away the set on cardstock paper and have Brennan spell her name without the template's help.

Next off, I set off to gather images to use in a dry-erase activity book. I used many of the links (and the template) found in this post. She put cardstock back-to-back when she laminated. I chose to double-side the sheets instead.

We've started doing a weekly family movie night, and Brennan has loved talking about the highlights of them; she doesn't have tons of words, but she has enough to act out her favorite scene in Dumbo (she whimpers to represent him missing his mom, and then she starts singing, demonstrating his mom rocking him).

She essentially loves anything we'll actually let her watch, so her favorites also include Sesame Street, the Muppets movies, Finding Nemo, Ice Age, and the Incredibles. So while searching for images, I found a number from these movies and printed them out (this page is amazing for coloring pages).

I printed, assembled, and bound the book last night (the binding machine is one I bought in the last year to use in my Etsy shop, and I had some extra binding wire from what is leftover from the upcycled notebooks). I presented it to Brennan this morning, and she has loved coloring in it with her dry-erase crayons (available for around $4). Another crossover from my Etsy activities? I carry flannel cloths in my shop, and some sample ones I made and kept back are perfect as erasing cloths with the dry erase markers and crayons.

I have plans to make a couple other activity books, more geared to actual learning (alphabet, letters, writing, matching, etc.), but some of those images weren't as good as the coloring pages, so it is on hold for the moment as I find better quality pictures and finish assembling other sets. Some of the activities I still want to do can be found linked on my Pinterest page here.

I'm thinking the dry-erase activity book will be a great addition to our diaper bag when we're out to eat, at small group, etc. She likes me to help erase the crayons (they don't wipe as easily as the markers), but then she's ready to go again. And there are enough pages to keep her excited for quite a while.

I look back at all I've done in a week, and I'm amazed - hopefully I've gotten it out of my system so I can resume normal activities!

And I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I still have other busy bag activities that are almost ready to go, just waiting for some laminating or final assembly. You'll see them here eventually, I'm sure!