Once a year I write a letter to my future self and my daughter about what being her Mama is like. Here’s one. This is two. If you’ve no interest in Mommy-blogging, skip this post.
The first thing I experience most mornings, before I even open my eyes, is a small hand touching my arm. I stretch and rub my eyes open to find a miniature human looking at me. Standing next to the bed she’s eye-level with me, wearing fleece footie pajamas with polka dots or monsters or spaceships on them. The first thing she says is usually “Hiiiiii,” drawn out, with a big grin on her face, as if we haven’t seen each other in ages. Or, if her mother has been coaching her, “Good morninggggg.”
This is what having a two-year-old is like.
I pick her up, lay her next to me in bed, and rub her belly. She tells me about whatever’s on her mind in the words and phrases she knows, a universe that expands at a rapid rate every day.
“Elmo potty time!”
“Elmo learned how to use the potty? And Etta’s going to use the potty all the time someday too, right?”
“You want waffles for breakfast?”
“Yeah. Froggy! Hold it.”
She hands me her favorite frog toy, the one that makes funny noises. I pull her close and snuggle and kiss her as many times as I can before she wriggles free and shimmies herself to the edge, and then off the bed.
She grabs my hand – “Mama coming!” – and pulls me out of bed. She toddles down the hallway, pulling me along, the promise of waffles, yogurt and fruit ahead of her.
These are, by far, the best moments of my day.
This past year of transition had to have been hard on a 1-year-old. During her second year on this planet, Etta lived in San Diego, North Carolina, and then finally in “cold-cold” Brooklyn, first at Nonna’s house, and then in our new place, which is still under a stupid amount of construction. There she saw her first snow and felt her first freezing temperatures.
The constant parade of firsts marches on. This year, for the first time, Etta strung words together into phrases and sentences. She used the potty for the first time (if not yet every time). She took the subway to Coney Island and went down several New York City park slides. She formed her first genuine friendship with a classmate. She got down “thank you”, “please” (“peez”), and “sorry.” She chose her first favorite song – Pharrell’s Happy – and has at least four distinct dance moves in her repertoire. She got her first haircut, took her first 3am trip to the ER, had her first surgery, and survived her first mega-family vacation, with all 22 of her aunts, uncles, and cousins in upstate New York. She wants to brush her own teeth every time. She became a fan of World Cup soccer, enjoyed a date every Saturday afternoon with her uncle, danced at her first music lessons, and liked singing “The Wheels on the Bus” while actually riding on the city bus. She had her first meltdown. She told us she loves us.
Every single one of these firsts – even the hard ones – were a revelation. A tiny, drooling, unfocused infant becomes a kid, with opinions, a personality, and a sense of humor. Astonishing.
Our biggest challenge this year was Etta’s physical development. She charmed everyone with her advanced social and verbal skills, wielding waves, smiles, words, claps, and chortles to get us special attention at airports and restaurants. But Etta never crawled, and struggled with pulling up and walking without assistance. My worry about it peaked around 15 months, when our doctor acknowledged her hypotonia, and said they’d test for things like cerebral palsy around 18 months. (My brain fixated on those two words for many sleepless nights after that.)
This experience helped me understand better why my Mom gets so shaken up when something’s going wrong in one of her kids’ lives. Hearing a doctor use the phrase “developmentally delayed” to refer to my child felt like getting run over by a bus. It’s not about ego or worrying she’s inferior; it was the heartbreak of knowing she might have to go through pain and hardship that I couldn’t protect her from. In those moments, I was Mama Bear in full effect.
The day she turned 20 months old, Etta took her first steps unassisted. It was during one of our “practice” sessions and she had a big smile on her face. After two steps she fell into my arms laughing, so it was clear she knew it was a momentous occasion. (It probably helped that I was cheering and fist-pumping like a mad woman.)
We’ve still got work to do around walking, running, and climbing, but she’s getting there, and it doesn’t keep me awake nights any more. When we hang out at home, her favorite thing is to bring me a book, point to the floor and say “Sit doowwn!” which means she wants to sit in my lap and read.
Her favorite books are There’s a Wocket in My Pocket!, Are You My Mother?, The Potty Book, and And Tango Makes Three. We like to do dramatic readings of Do You Have a Hat? wearing our own collection of silly hats.
With the exception of restaurants and relatives’ houses, Etta went through her first two years without television. These days, we’re being less absolutist about screen time. At the end of the day, she loves swiping through photos on Mama and Mommy’s “hello.” She’s a big fan of Sesame Street music videos and Baby Einstein on YouTube. She likes to play with “Google” – Mama’s touchscreen smartwatch.
Touchscreens don’t help develop certain fine motor skills, though, so we spend a lot of time with blocks, Legos, puzzles, forks and spoons and paper towel rolls. She loves squirting water through her funnel set during bathtime, building towers of cups (and knocking them down), and snuggling on her beloved “lambie” rug.
Just like her Mama, she is a passionate afternoon-nap enthusiast. She understands Mama goes to work to “make money” and make the “indernet bedder.” When things don’t work, she demands that “Mama fix it!”
By default Etta’s a calm, observant, and curious kid. In big groups of people she’s quiet, watching everything around her. But one-on-one, or alone in her room, she’ll jabber away about “pup-pups”, Elmo, her cousins, her favorite foods, and toys. (We get to listen in on the monitor when she’s laying in her crib at night, winding down before falling off to sleep.)
She’ll try absolutely any new food, even if the taste of it makes her face pinch in a distressed wince. If Mommy or Mama is eating it, Etta wants some, and will almost always come back for more. Much to Nonna’s delight, she gobbles down meatballs and pasta like they’re her last meal. Much to ours, she loves all manner of veggies and fruit, and chows down on broccoli, raw red pepper, avocado, bananas, corn, peas, string beans, you name it.
She’s a dream kid, and I can’t believe she’s two years old already. My resolution for her third year is to stop stressing about developmental milestones and raise her like there’s a chance we’ve only got one more year together.
Happy second birthday, my little nugget.