My dear daughter,
Fifteen minutes ago, you officially turned two years old. You cuddled into bed with me and your little stuffed dog NaeNae (and about nine other animals), and I told you the story of the night you were born. You nursed off and on as I explained:
Once upon a time, you lived in Mama’s tummy. You made Mama HUGE! Then one night you decided you wanted to come out, and Mama’s tummy hurt a LOT. For TWO STRAIGHT DAYS (give or take). Eventually, Mama’s doctor said: I don’t think this kid’s going to come out the natural way; you need an operation. Mama said: Will it hurt? The doctor said: YES, but we need to meet your daughter! Mama agreed, and after a few more minutes, we met you! You were MAD.
You were HUNGRY. Eventually, you figured out how to nurse, and your Mama figured out how to nurse you, and you ate enough to fall asleep…for a few hours. Then you ate and raised Cain until they let us out of the hospital, and you haven’t stopped since.
You snuggled in close, an exhausted two-year-old on the tail end of a two-party day — one with your toddler friends and their awesome parents; another with your visiting Babcia who came down with a cold and didn’t want to be Patient Zero at a toddler party — and your father joined us in bed, and we all thought about how the past two years have been the longest, hardest, but simultaneously most alive years of our lives.
You sighed and grew restful as I explained the slow emergence from new-parenthood delusion that I’ve undergone for the past twenty-four months, the delusions I needed for survival but probably knew, deep down, to be delusions: After the “fourth trimester” is over, she’ll be easier and it’ll all be okay. (Ha.) When she can sit up, she’ll be able to entertain herself better, and I’ll get a break now and then. (No.) When she learns to talk, we’ll be able to converse and reason and communicate, and this will all be easier. (Nope nope nope nopenopenopenope.) Without fail, around every corner, there’s a new challenge that was somehow harder than the one before it. A new sleep regression (3am-7am = your new favorite party time), a new thing you hate (being wet; coincidentally, you also still love dumping water all over yourself); a new thing you figure out how to do (climb up onto your own high chair after pushing it up against the counter that happens to have a knife on it).
It never gets easier. It never will.
- But the thing is, I know this now. I’m used to it. I’ve Stockholmed myself completely. We have still never spent a night apart. I say it’s because you couldn’t handle it, and this is probably true, but I also DEFINITELY couldn’t handle it. When you were first born, I couldn’t relax enough to sleep when you were near me. Now I can’t sleep unless you’re snuggled by my side.
I said all this to your father just now, as your breathing slowed and I prepared to settle in for what I hoped would be a long, restful night as a happy, cozy family.
And then you sat your ass bolt upright, asked, DO YOU HAVE ENERGY?!?!? (translation: I HAVE ENERGY), and commenced your favorite game, which is BOUNCE ON THE MAMA, and is exactly how it sounds. After a few days of sustaining internal injuries (for real), I’ve learned to sort of “spot” your butt as you bounce up and down on my ribcage, so it’s cool. You are now out in the living room playing songs on your xylophone with your father, and orating about your YELLOW DUCK, and I take comfort in what is usually the Universal Constant of Fluffy Trouble Hyperactivity, which means that EITHER you party hard for an hour (or three) before you go to sleep at night, OR you party hard at 3 in the morning. Better now than then, kid, even though I can barely hold my head up and am typing this with a reserve tank made possible by seventeen too many servings of cake at two different intervals.
My favorite thing you do right now is your pitch-perfect imitation of me saying “Check THIS out!” which you generally do before taking off at a run across the living room to demonstrate your new Daniel Tiger trolley. Aside: you are OBSESSED with Daniel Tiger, Dora the Explorer, and the first seventeen minutes of Frozen, and I make absolutely no apologies about letting you watch a limited amount of TV every day, and anyone who wants to be a smug fucker about how this is rotting your fragile little brain can enter into a reading-off with you and lose. I’m talking adults.
I am generally pretty shy about explaining this, because most parents exaggerate their kids’ abilities and everyone uses the word “gifted” so it means nothing (and is OBNOXIOUS), and all kids are great and all abilities are wonderful, and nobody’s alleged “gifts” should make them better than anyone else, and I mean this very sincerely, and not just because my own kid was a week younger than two before she finally figured out how to use a sippy cup.
That said: You, my kid, can read, for real. You are two, and you can read. You learned your alphabet at one and were weirding out the other parents at the library even back then, with all the words you could speak, and the few that you knew by sight (your name; “cat,” “pig,” etc.) But now–now you can actually sound out words you’ve never seen before. You haven’t yet cottoned on to sentences, and you don’t seem that interested in reading your own books by yourself (though you have them all memorized and can read most of the words in them by either sight or phonetically), but yes, you, my two-year-old, can read. And I am not ashamed. Everyone has their thing, and yours is that you can speak fluently and read. Fluently, but still with a few adorable quirks. You still call yourself “you,” largely because we spend a lot of time just the two or three of us and without a lot of other kids to model speech, pronouns make no sense and, as Wittgenstein will tell you, when you have no basis on which to understand that grammar is a thing, it’s pretty hard to learn grammar.
You’re two. You do a lot of two-year-old things that being an “early talker” and early reader have not helped, even though people (LIARS!) said they would. You tantrum like you have a black belt in tantrum-throwing. Your desires are as particular as they are immediate and intense. (Want to eat BUNNY CRACKERS from the BLUE BOWL with RASPBERRIES and the YELLOW DUCK and PAPA WEARS GLOVES and WATCHING FROZEN RIGHT NOW!!!!!!) On the rare occasion when we misplace one of your 80,000 stuffed animals, you have a seventh sense that alerts you to this fact and that creature becomes the only thing on Earth you care about even if you haven’t given it the time of day for four months. You still regard other children with at best benign hostility. (We were able to test this theory today when we hosted five of your closest friends from story time for pizza and cake — per your request, a WHITE CAKE WITH FROGGY FROSTING, which I managed to bake only after substantial duress, and whose FROGGY FROSTING ended up coming from a can after the first draft I tried to make from scratched had the exact color and consistency of a substance inappropriate to mention to a two-year-old, even a mature one who spent the day walking around saying YOU’RE SCREWED! YOU’RE SCREWED!)
What does your third year of life hold for us, Fluffy? What fresh hell awaits us? What fresh wonders? I wish I had time to ponder this, but you’ve just run in here and declared WANNA NURSE ON THE PURPLE COUCH WITH MAMA, so it’s likely the night’s party is finally coming to an end. You are magnificent, little one, and you’ve got your mother half-dead, and that’s the way it always has been and likely always will be. And I am here for it. Always.
My terrifying, insatiable little baby is a kid now — albeit one who still nurses 900 times a day and wears diapers. Transitioning out of both those things is the primary goal of the next year, and I look forward to the many helpful pieces of helpful advice that helpful strangers and friends and relatives will helpfully help me with. NOT.
Yes, this birthday comes under the terrible pall of the new order that is afflicting our nation and the world, which I won’t mention in detail because anxiety and dread about it already infect too much of the rest of our world. I want so much for you in the next year, Fluffy, but most of all I want to protect you from this near-unthinkable awfulness that is now our daily reality. I limit my exposure to the news — I read it for about 15-20 minutes, once a day, just enough to know what’s going on; not enough to wallow in my rage — but it’s hard not to despair. On election night, the one thing that kept me from just imploding in rage and anguish was you. I had you. You had me. And I still have you. And you will always have me. And I will do my absolute best to fight to make the world better for you, and to protect you and all of the other beautiful, impossible kids out there.
You are two, my daughter. I’d say I can’t believe it, but you’ve been acting like a two-year-old for 7 months, so I believe it. Oh, I believe it. But check THIS out. I love you with such an impossible screaming comet of a love. And I always will. Especially if, Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ, you finally come to bed now and let me get some fucking rest.
I love you, always.