SchumEditor’s Note: This month, the “28th Letter,” as we call them, comes to you courtesy of the other parent who lives around here, my husband Waldemar.
It’s Papa, and I’ll be guest blogging this month’s newsletter. Your mother is not at a loss for words. It’s just that you and I have been getting on great, and I wanted to write it down somewhere safe where nobody would see [Sick burn —Ed].
Now, it’s not as though we haven’t gotten along until now. But more often than I would prefer, our time together has you casting me skeptical glances as I ineptly mind you for a few hours while your mother catches her breath. Well, this month our outings and home play have been consistently great. I’ll say, “Hey Squirt, I have a question for you. Do you want to go to the park?” And you will enthusiastically answer with a reference to your preferred destination, using a code only your parents, or possibly the parents of another Central West End toddler, would understand. “The big red hill!” or “Let’s go be giants!” or “Swings!” or “Let’s go do the testers!” And off we go, with you delightedly playing the whole time. Your favorite game involves untying my shoes, unzipping my jacket, and removing my hood or hat, repeated ad nauseum. Each time I’ll react with feigned frustration at the ways you’ve left me undone. And you find it hilarious. Every time.
The way home is part of the adventure now, too. You used to just watch your videos on the stroller ride. These days you prefer to sit up and chat while watching the world go by. Your take on everything you see toddler-fantastic. The other day, we passed someone raking leaves, and you asked if he was cleaning them up to put them back on the trees!
(Swinging with Grandpa over Thanksgiving)
Once we get home, the fun continues. Recently, your preferred method of getting someone to read to you was to throw a book at the lucky reader to be. Fortunately, this was short lived. Nevertheless, you are charmingly insistent at getting what you want. The other day, you woke us around 4 AM (not a frequent occurrence these days, but still not ideal). Eventually, with the hope of more sleep dashed, I went to work in the downstairs bedroom. An hour or two later, you made your way downstairs and approached the side of the bed in which I was working. I caught a glimpse of you out of the corner of my eye, standing expectantly with a book in hand. I kept hammering away at my keyboard, so you came around the other side of the bed, crawled up and under the covers, took my arm, wrapped it around you, declared it “cozy,” and the reading began. Speaking of getting cozy, one remarkable evening you spent a good ten minutes just lying in bed next to me, gazing at the ceiling, doing nothing much at all. This is remarkable, first because you are always doing something, but also because you’ve almost never been content to be physically close to me without having something going on. When I held you as a baby, I’d have to be reading, showing you some shapes, dancing, singing, etc. Now that you are older, physical contact also involves roughhousing or this peculiar game where we “cuddle” but actually involves you squirming around in some corner of a couch, arranging your stuffed animals, with my body close to yours but not really touching. But that evening, you were content to just be.
(You are the tutu blur on the upper left.)
Now it hasn’t all been easy-going good times. You were so excited by your grandparent’s visit that you stopped sleeping from 1-4 AM… for four consecutive nights. Witness you enthusiastically requesting a snuggle sandwich at 3 AM, with your parents blearily obliging. After all, who could resist snuggling you? Eventually you settled back into a sane sleep routine. In fact, you napped right through Thanksgiving dinner, which, let’s face it, was the only way your mother would get to eat. You object stridently when your mother eats.
(“Let’s let her go till I eat my stuffing!”)
It’s as though your boundary between self and (m)other is not quite formed, and you interpret her eating as a violation of your desire not to eat (same goes for showering). On another occasion, I woke one morning from a striking dream, and wanted to tell your mother about it. You don’t object to conversation between your mother and me when it directly involves you as in, “I’m going to the bathroom but if she needs me she can come in” or, “Look what she did with the makeup. I guess we’ll just have to paint over it” or, “How are you going to get that out of her hair?” But for some reason, you found the telling of my dream objectionable (can’t necessarily blame you). So as I related the dream, you yelled loudly about fruit salad in syncopation with my every word, stopping just when I finally finished.
(A rare low-energy day, felled with a slight cold.)
On one of our weekend rambles, we wound up at the local beer hall where you found a helium filled balloon. The balloon came home with us. Our ceilings are tall, making for a fun game in which you let the balloon go up, and I pull it down with a measuring tape contraption. After playing this game on repeat for a few minutes, I tired and let you know that if you let the balloon up again, the “consequence” would be that I would not get it down. You let the balloon up again. I did not get it down. The tantrum that followed was predictable, but this was the line I would draw, I thought. Your mother gamely went along, though she later confessed she would have given in right away. I tried to comfort you, to let you know it was nothing personal. You would have none of it. The tantrum dragged on and on. Eventually, still distressed, you decided you would get the balloon down yourself. You grabbed the longest long object you could find, a wrapping paper tube, and desperately reached for the wayward balloon. The sight of all three feet and change of you, eyes still blurred with tears, reaching and straining for the balloon against the backdrop of our fifteen foot ceilings, was too much. I got the balloon down. Later, I confessed to your mother that sometimes you scare me. You want with such limitless intensity. I love this about you but what will the world make of it?
Your insistence on getting what you want has been matched by your insistence on growing at breakneck speed. This month you had a period where you would not stop eating until the faint outline of vestigial neck folds, harking back to your fat baby phase, began to emerge. But then, in a matter of days, you shot up, and returned to your still stout, but leaner physique. You now adorn that powerful body with tutus daily, which is pretty great. You have continued apace with your opposite talk. We will say something like “You are getting so big,” and you will respond “You are getting little,” or we will say “You are cute,” and you will say “You are not cute.” You also have revived “You don’t have to” as your all purpose reply to just about anything we suggest, even when it involves things you definitely want to do. Is this all some demonstration of the Hegelian dialectic? Your faith in a higher synthesis? Is this how you grow?
One contributor to your growth, at least intellectually and emotionally, has surely been preschool. This month we had our parent-teacher conference and we were delighted to learn that your are thriving, though we knew it already. Your teacher loves you. Really. She teared up (in a good way) explaining how she feels about you. Though, for me, the proof was in the long list of ways you make her life difficult that she related with patience and good humor.
(Like this, maybe?)
These behaviors are familiar to us: your dislike of getting wet coupled with your enthusiasm for water play, how upset you get about a runny nose (“A wetter wipe”, “A drier wipe”), taking off your shoes and diaper spontaneously, your eagerness to dump anything, anytime, anywhere (poor Ms. Becky and her container of googly-eyes), and how your teachers have learned to apportion you materials (e.g. sand, glue) in extra small quantities, which are guaranteed to get dumped out forthwith. In short, you are clearly one-hundred percent yourself at preschool. They know you and they love you.
(Overcome with magic at the Butterfly House with Grandma over Thanksgiving.)
Our semi-regular nightly ritual involves songtime, with me on the guitar, and you and your mother holding down percussion. You carefully ponder your song requests, though you generally come up with the same playlist: This Land is My Land, Taba Naba, Fruit Salad, Big Red Car and Sixteen Tons (which you call “Da Crazy One”). On some nights, we end with the goodnight song while you head up to bed (Good Night Ladies with “Ladies” replaced by things and people in the room). That’s how we ended songtime the other night. To coax you into bed, your Mama announced that she and her boobs were going upstairs. You gave a look of sad, gentle resignation, knowing that your day was nearly over. You ran after your mother (you no longer walk from place to place), but then turned around and ran back to me as I played one last chorus. You stared excitedly into my eyes until the song was over, then turned and ran away.
[No YOU’RE crying. —Ed.]