lulu letters: 17 months

Updated: Mar 20

Dear Lulu,


Hello, little growing bean.


You are such a person. I see it in more and more moments: drinking from a small glass cup (before filling it with applesauce and Cheerios), carefully placing your necklaces in their bowl by dangling one a time until it stops swinging so you can fold it completely into the bowl, pouring water from tiny cup to tiny pitcher to tiny bowl with the utmost concentration…I give your first “big girl” place setting: a small porcelain plate on a silicone placemat. You handle it well, and you’re quite skilled with a fork.


I see our future in our present, and it’s like looking at a Christmas tree.


Welcome to month 17!

 

Chapter 1: Play

I decide to take you to the toy library with me after my solo attempt doesn’t prove successful. This visit is a win:


  • Your only choice is a baby doll, which Papa names Ketanji after the first Black woman nominated for the Supreme Court. You spend most of the car ride home examining her curly hair and eyes that open and close.

  • I choose a big block table. Later that day, you enjoy building for the first time. I marvel at how you move around the table with ease and curiosity.

  • I also choose a wooden puzzle – a puzzle I had as a child. Flashbacks fireworks shoot across deep recesses of my brain. How incredible that a simple toy can whisk you back to images from over three decades ago.


Mema shows you how to paint with water. You skillfully dip the brush in the cup of water before painting it on cardboard. She buys you smocks that are adorably ginormous on you, and we can’t get enough of the “swish swish” as you walk around in the giant, puffy purple smock that nearly kisses your toes.

Mema also makes you play-doh! She buys non-toxic food-based food coloring and makes perfect play-doh. Initially unsure about how to interact with it, you’re soon poking and squeezing and using cookie cutters to make shapes, in awe of the wonder that is this new medium.

We have a full snow day, the three of us. Here’s what we do:

  1. Morning play with Papa

  2. Breakfast with Papa: strawberries, kiwi, and new wheat squares cereal

  3. Books

  4. Water play at your little table

  5. Piano with Mama

  6. Looking at our wedding album

  7. Boob Tube, Part 1: 20 minutes of Frozen 2 (all you can handle), followed by our faithful Street friends

  8. Play-Doh

  9. Music

  10. Blocks (about three minutes)

  11. Solo play while I make lunch

  12. Lunch: chickpea pasta & tempeh with pesto, peas, bread with melted cheese

  13. Fort-building and reading

  14. Making a cardboard “ski” ramp for your little plastic people (about 30 seconds)

  15. Brief FaceTime with Zia Leah & Mema

  16. Wrestling & snuggling & raspberry-blowing/cackling on the bed

  17. Nap (all of an hour…)

  18. Art project we saw on Sesame Street: decorating a toilet paper roll and putting things inside (about two minutes)

  19. Playing with Mama’s jewelry

  20. Snack: pear & three tiny toddler-style cookies

  21. Outside play – FINALLY! It’s quite cold, but we pull you on the sled trail that Papa made earlier, and you make your first teeny tiny snow angel with a neighbor.

  22. Boob Tube, Part 2: A hodgepodge of different attempts, all met with the sign for “All done”...so, finally, our Street friends while I prep dinner

  23. Dinner

  24. Bath & bed

Mic drop.

 

Chapter 2: Montessori Babe

I’ve been slowly adding touches of the Montessori life.

For example:

  • The top shelf of our bathroom storage is yours, complete with a small mirror, toothbrush, hairbrush, and washcloth.

  • The bottom kitchen drawer is yours, as is a small shelving unit that Pops made for Mema in Brooklyn about 40 years ago. The bottom shelf holds your utensils and cups. The top shelf holds your plates (the same ezpz plates we’ve been using throughout as well as two small ceramic plates that are slowly replacing them) and four bamboo bowls.

  • I become obsessed with finding you small kitchen utensils and tools. I go to five different stores in Ithaca to find little cups and plates, a tiny rolling pin and other tiny baking supplies, a tiny ladle, tiny pitchers…I try to thrift as much as possible and am proud of my smarts in this regard.

  • I rotate toys every so often, putting away those that you show less interest in and reintroducing others. I really try to not have too many toys out at once. It’s not quite a Montessori-style “1-2 toys per shelf” situation – and there is some plastic here and there – but it’s a noble attempt.

  • I hang a hook on the end of our kitchen island, near your playmat, with a small towel, your apron, and your smock so you can let me know when you want to do water play.

  • I designate the lowest craft shelf as yours. As of now, it holds a big roll of white paper, beeswax crayons, dot markers, round label stickers, 3x5 notecards, a paintbrush (to “paint” with water), and two toilet paper rolls for future TBD art projects.

  • I buy you a Melissa & Doug cleaning set and introduce the duster. You get it immediately. It then sits on your shelf for the next week straight. One thing at a time!

 

Chapter 3: What’s Big This Month (in no particular order)

You have some tried-and-true favorites, along with a few new hot tickets:

#1: Sesame Street: This continues to be the #1 crowd-pleaser (along with The Lion King at the Wolff house). We often watch one 25-minute episode in the morning and another around 5 pm. Those are the times, and we stick to them. When the theme song begins, you smile and bounce and point, barely able to contain yourself. If I’m across the room, you turn to me as if to say, “MAMA! DO YOU SEE THIS?! ALL MY FRIENDS!!” At the end of each episode, I pick you up and we dance to the song:


Come on and move your body and use your mind

‘Cause you know you are growing all the time

You’re growing smarter, stronger, kinder…

On Sesame Street


And I cry because you are growing smarter, stronger, and kinder.


#2: Books: Your Papa recently deemed my childhood very reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie – but rather a Little Library on the Farm. He isn’t wrong. I have to stop myself from buying you more books because your book collection is already ridonkulous. So, it’s no surprise you love books. You “read” more and more.


Favorite books this month:

  • When the Sun Rose

*We sing the rainbow song on the rainbow page, and you say “Doh!” on the page where she opens the door to greet her guests. Door, I assume?...

  • The Whale’s Song

*You love the pages with grumpy Uncle Frederick. You wag your finger and babble right along with his dialogue.

  • Grandfather Twilight

  • Miss Rumphius

  • Charlotte’s Web

*You have been known to walk around with this book for over 20 minutes, flipping the pages until you find the Charlotte pictures.


*Mid-March, you become obsessed with The Little Match Girl – a picture book from my childhood that pains to me read. What a horribly sad story. But the illustrations are beautiful, and something about it strikes you. I soften the story so it doesn’t depress me quite as much.


#3: Bugs: Yup, they still elicit great excitement and urgent pleas to get as close as possible.


#4: The “Aunt Renėe Photo Album”: You love to look at the photos. You must know that she’s one of our VIP angels, always watching over us. I watch you looking at her photos and see for the first time how much you remind me of her. Of course you do. The Universe wouldn’t have it any other way.


#5: Playing piano with Mama. You have your favorite songs in a primer book that was Mema’s and then mine. Each one-page song has a little illustration. One of your favorite songs? “Here we go for a touchdown…here we go for a goal kick”…Really? Okay.


#6: Playing with Mama’s jewelry. We sit with a small container of random necklaces, pendants, and rings, and you try on a few. Talk about FUN!


#7: Being awesome. This is constant, even when you’re screaming and writhing like a banshee.

 

Chapter 4: Good Laughs, Heart Melts…and Tantrums…Oy My


Good Laughs

  • You empty the wicker box (including the rather unwieldy foam roller and dustbuster) and manage to climb inside. One morning, I look across the room to find you sitting it. The next day, you empty the ottoman and manage to climb in that. You’re basically doing a split at one point, but you make it in there.

  • You open the bathroom door, carry out the foldable stool, and close the door behind you.

  • You carry the Squatty Potty out of the bathroom and spend about 30 minutes with it – carrying it, trying to figure out how to sit in it, putting your figure friends underneath on top of it…

  • We go to visit Grandpa, and Papa introduces you to the thrill of “rollercoaster road blips” (for lack of a better term here): When we go down the hill, you put your arms out to the sides as if startled and wear a huge grin of glee.

  • We finally go to the local tavern for brunch. Papa gives you an empty creamer cup, and you’re entertained for the entire meal, asking for water in it to drink and offer to your Sesame Street crew.

  • When you’re looking for something/wondering where it is, you hold your hand to the side, palm up, and tilt your head/raise your shoulder toward your hand.

  • You fake yawn. It’s Papa’s favorite. One morning, you yawn as I put on your coat. Papa says, “Rough morning, Lulu?” You reply with a very exaggerated fake yawn.

  • You have a new scowl when you don’t like something/are afraid of something (e.g., the dinosaur book with sounds)/are frustrated. You furrow your brow and purse your lips, something with an accompanying “Oo-oo” sound, often accompanied by a hand wave.

  • We watch a Sesame Street episode on superheroes, and I clip a long dish towel around you like a cape. You watch the rest of the episode wearing the cape.

  • Mema buys you a set of Lion King figurines on eBay and presents the characters one at a time to coincide with the songs we watch. You look completely overwhelmed, ungluing your eyes from the screen to stare at them in awe, slowly reaching out to hold them. This is your version of Heaven.

  • We finally go to Atlas Bowl – a local restaurant/bowling alley. The four of us take turns doing laps with you around the joint. You’re 100% ready to run down the lanes. One of the families lets you try out the toddler ball ramp.

  • We visit the Russells, and you spend most of the time trying to catch their cat, Frankie – no matter how much we try to explain that he’s not as…willing…as Lily, the only other cat you know.

  • We go to Thirsty Owl winery, and we’re the only ones there. You make friends with one of the employees. She sits on the floor and you bring her stuffed animals from the display.

  • You have a new sound/face. You scrunch up your nose and forehead like you do when you’re fake-yawning and make a low, guttural noise that sounds like “Dohhh.” We have absolutely no idea where this came from, but it’s hysterical.


Heart Melts

  • Papa and I hug, and you run up to us and hug our legs.

  • You’re sitting on Mema’s lap, listening to Rock-a-Bye Baby, and you suddenly run to get your baby doll, which you proceed to rock to the song.

  • We dance together, as we always do, to the closing Sesame Street song. I press my face against yours, expecting you to move away, but you press your face back into mine and we stay like that for the entire song.

  • At one point on our Thirsty Owl outing, I squat down and you run across the room – limbs flying and a ginormous grin lighting the room – and into my arms. Are you for real?

  • Papa reads you bedtime stories, and you reach for me when I go in to kiss your goodnight. I take over, and we rock. You mumble happily, touching my face with your hand every so often before smiling with your eyes half-open and nuzzling in again. I lean down to echo your “whisper” mumbles, and you smile. We smile together, our noses and eyelids touching, and I’ve never felt so full of everything all at once.


  • If it looks as if you hurt yourself, I say, “Did you get a boo-boo? Do you want me to kiss it?” You toddle over to me and lean in slowly and gently until we’re lip to lip for a “kiss.”

  • You love when I hold a blanket over my head like a tent. You run in with me, smiling ecstatically and snuggling in and leaning in to give me kisses.

  • You finally look forward to seeing me when I pick you up from Veronica’s – running to me and giving me hugs and kisses, wanting to sit in my lap.

  • You finally don’t mind when I pick you up from the Wolff house. You let me put on your coat and hat and hold your arms out like you’re ready to go.

  • You’re so kind. During our snuggle sessions in the mornings, you offer us and your “friends” milk from your sippy cup.

  • You’re more and more affectionate, offering more random hugs (sometimes with those precious back squeezes – hands open and shut, open and shut) and kisses, touching my face with your hand…


You’re also having your first tantrums. You can flip at the drop of a hat, morphing into a raging lunatic, flinging your tiny body around, rolling on the ground, trying to bite objects to release the gigantic emotion erupting in your tiny body.

 

Chapter 5: Communication


New words/sounds this month (mostly on command):

  • “Doh” (“Down”)

  • So many variations of “This” (I prompt this, to use specifically when choosing a piano song.)

  • “Tsa!”: This seems to be a catch-all sound, and it cracks us up. It’s a half-whisper of almost-awe or understated big reveal.

  • “Ya-do” (“Yo-Yo,” as in Ma): As you know, I like to begin the day with classical music. When I ask Alexa to play Yo-Yo Ma, you echo me with “Ya-do.”)

  • Animal sounds! Mid-March:

  • “What does a cat say?” → “Minaminamina…”

  • “What does a duck say?” → “OUA!” (mouth wide open)

A few other precious sounds I haven’t mentioned until now:

  • A little exhale every time I pick you up – a quiet exhale of…relief? Contentment? “Okay, here we go?”

  • A quietly falling “Eh heh…” when, for example, we sit down to read a book you’ve chosen. Again, perhaps relief or contentment? On other occasions, perhaps it’s resignation…

  • The panting! Panting when you run, wrestle, exert a lot of energy. Life is hard!

We also work on a few more signs:

  • “Water”: Your sign for this looks like a wave variation. One morning, I realize – after you throw your cup on the floor in exasperation – that you’ve been signing “water.” Sorry I don’t always understand! How frustrating that must be. Veronica says you say “Wawa” for water.

  • “Help”: You finally do some semblance of this mid-March. We’re so proud.

 

Chapter 6: Brain Leaps


Here’s a taste of things you figure out this month:

  • You find my felt squares in the ottoman. Mema lays some out on the floor and says, “Step on the red/blue/green/yellow square!”...and you do. You nail it. We knew that you know some colors, but this is a new level of following directions. Colors, stepping…so much to take in and decipher!

  • You successfully (at least the first time I’ve witnessed it) do the farm animal puzzle, adjusting the pieces until they fit just right.

  • You’re a master drawer, easily putting crayons or markers or pens to paper and scribbling.

  • You can finally climb on our big leather chairs, not to mention the small wooden “Lulu” chairs.

  • We try to get you to say “Mema” at the Wolff dinner table. When we say “Me,” you bring your hands to your chest. We sit there in disbelief. YOU UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF “ME.” WHAT?!?!


*What to Expect


Every month, I see how you stack up against the What to Expect book. I know, I know: every toddler is so different. Still, it’s fun to take a peek.


Here’s where we are:


Like most toddlers, you:

  • play on riding toys (took us a while to get here)

  • drink from a cup

  • point to a desired object

  • say 2-3 words (more or less)


Like half of all toddlers, you:

  • run

  • point to body parts when asked

  • play pretend games


Like some toddlers, you:

  • walk up steps (with help)

  • kick a ball

  • remove one piece of clothing without help (if socks and maybe a vest count)

  • sort toys by shape or color (you know colors, and I’m pretty sure you know shapes, so I assume you can do this)

  • follow a 2-step verbal command (without gestures)


Like a few toddlers, you:

  • throw a ball overhand

  • build a tower of four blocks

  • identify items in a picture by pointing


Still no on words in general, including combining words and saying “no” (NO complaints here on that one).


So many things feel easier. For example:


Toothbrushing: You used to fight me when I tried to brush them after your initial go. In early March, you often surrender. You stop fighting me for the toothpaste, and you stop trying to squeeze it all into your mouth. I pre-paste it, but sometimes you like to do it yourself. So, we hold the tube together as we squeeze a tiny dab onto your brush. Satisfied, you brush away. When you’re “done” brushing yourself, you calmly open your mouth and let me give those pearly whites a good quick scrub.


Hair washing: You finally surrender without a fight 90% of the time. (Singing the sassy number song from Sesame Street helped: "And hop...slide....") You see me getting water in the cup, and you let me gently push you back. Sometimes you even lean back on your own. WHAT.


Also easier: You rarely put things in your mouth. You very rarely have an interest in cords and outlets. You rarely throw your cup or plate on the floor. These are things that I would have forgotten were ever a concern. It’s so easy to forget a lack.

 

Chapter 7: Fundamentals


Food

  • The first week of March, you eat us out of house and home.

  • You try your second stuffed grape leaf – and unlike the first time, you devour it with gusto. You also like tahini! That Lebanese shines through, along with your Dutch love of white fish. Food is in your bones, sweet love. (Now onto some German fare…)

  • I make you a few new treats, including French toast. Success.

  • You eat butternut squash like it’s the best thing you’ve ever had.

  • You enjoy munching on raw spinach leaves, chewing as you twirl around the room. What?

  • You really dig pesto, which makes your Mama so happy. It’s one of her favorite foods.

  • You’re quite clear when you dislike something. You make a face somewhere between a grimace and a smile and emit a quiet, pathetic “Ehhh…” sound. Those tastebuds are still somewhat of a mystery, but you won’t quite eat anything.


Sleep


Week #1: Something shifts in a positive direction. Gifts abound.

  1. Naptime is (generally) easier, though we still have to wait until you’re asleep before leaving.

  2. Bedtime is easier. You fuss for about 20 seconds when we leave before settling into sleep. Even when you don’t want to go in your crib – full stand mode when I leave – I know you’ll be okay very shortly.

  3. You wake up between 6 and 6:30 am.


You go through a Mama phase, where you won’t let Papa put you to bed. One night, he’s sitting in the rocking chair with you in his lap, and you grab frantically at the cushion. “Are you looking for something?” we ask, trying to understand. “Your books are here…Your friends are here…” Eventually, I go for, “Do you want Mama to put you to bed?” You “Heh heh” in agreement. Papa stands up and sets you on the floor, and you literally usher me into the chair with your arms before settling in with a “Yes, that’s it” attitude.


By the beginning of March, sleep is a-okay across the board. You still sometimes rustle around 4-5 am, but you go back to sleep. March 3rd is the first night in over a month where you happily gab yourself to sleep.


A few days later, we hit a “fastest bed ever” record: Not one verse into Edelweiss, you signal. I ask, “You want your crib?” Nod. You signal toward the huge fluffy pink bunny blanket hanging on your crib. “You want the bunny?” Nod. You snuggle with the bunny and proceed to wave goodbye to me. HAHAHAHAHA.A few days later, you adamantly wave me away 15 seconds after we start rocking. You’re in bed at 6:42 pm. Just when I think it can’t get any easier, you full-on cut off bedtime reading time by waving goodbye to us the following night.


We move through Daylight Savings with great success. We shift bedtime little by little:

  • Tuesday/Wednesday: 6:45 pm

  • Thursday: 6:30 pm

  • Friday: 6:15 pm (For the first time in weeks, you request Papa. So darn sweet.)

  • Saturday: 6:00 pm (asleep by 6:14 with just a bit of fuss)


I don’t think your Papa and I have had such a luxurious evening since your birth.



Look at You


You grow more and more beautiful every day, though I can never believe that’s possible.


Here are a few snapshots of the physical you these days:

  • Those blue eyes are magnetic.

  • That tulip mouth is perfection, as are those strawberry blonde eyebrows and that tiny button nose.

  • Your cheeks are often brushed with rose, just like mine.

  • Your mouth is full of teeth. Just waiting on the top and bottom canines and second molars.

  • Your hair has a life of its own. The sides are still shorter than the top swoop/swoosh/wave, and those burgeoning curls and ringlets at the rear are too good to be true. The ash-blonde glows in the sun. Some days it looks like you got electrocuted, some days you look like a fuzz monster, and other days you channel Shirley Temple. We just never know how you’ll roll out of bed.

  • You never stand with your legs locked fully straight – they always have a slight bend, as if you’re prepared for takeoff at any moment.

  • That hand (usually the left) is still often out at the ready, palm facing forward and fingers slightly curled, as it was months and months ago.

  • Your gams are so strong. I take a photo of you standing by a chair, one foot casually crossed over the other. You look like a gymnast in your pink leggings.

  • Your belly…is everything.

 

Chapter 8: Holidays & Celebrations


We don’t celebrate any official holidays. March is the Tuesday of months: one big meh.


We DO celebrate 2.22.22! I take a screenshot of my phone clock at 2:22 pm. 2:22 on 2.22.22. How fun is that?!


We also remember my Aunt Renée, who died on 3.3.93, at the age of 25 after battling aplastic anemia and Myasthenia Gravis. She will always be as she was in my nine-year-old mind: beautiful, loving, patient, kind, funny…Magical, almost ethereal. We have so much to be thankful for always, my sweet. The memory of loss reminds us of what we hold now and forever.


On March 15th (Happy Month 17!), you reunite with two friends at Veronica's. You haven't seen them in several weeks. Veronica sends a long string of photos of your boundless joy: hugging them, kissing them, barely able to contain your glee.


Life is beautiful.

 

In early March, I listened to a Glennon Doyle podcast on parenting in which she shares the magic of Kairos time: moments that suspend in timelessness. Some moments, hours, days feel endless. This is Chronos time – chronological time – in all its frustrating glory. Other moments freeze. These are moments when I get lost in you – when everything else around me disappears and loses all significance, all purpose, all presence. I already cherish these moments, but I hope to make more of a point of stopping to live fully in them whenever they occur. A day with several Kairos moments is a gift, and you offer an abundance of such moments every single day – as long as I pause long enough to be with them.


This same podcast discusses a form of military torture training: putting someone in a windowless room with a speaker playing a toddler crying and saying “Mama” over and over again – plus waking up the trainee whenever sleep takes over. In short:


“The reason you feel like you’re being tortured is because you’re actually being tortured. But, unlike these soldier people, you don’t get to cave. You just have to, day after day, survive being actually psychologically and physically tortured. That’s why you feel crazy. You are not crazy: you’re just a goddamn parent.”

So, that’s affirming.


Finally, this podcast (yes, an episode truly full of gems) shares the wise words of a child psychologist: parents who want to learn more about how to be a good parent usually don’t need any guidance because the fact that they care enough to want to learn makes them good parents.


That’s also affirming.


So, little bean, I guess we’re doing a-okay.


No. We're so much more than a-okay. Right now, a war is destroying lives. It's destroying families and all that people knew only weeks ago. Children...lost in too many ways. Every day is sacred, Lulu. We are safe. Your belly is round and full. We have each other. You are growing and thriving. You are, as always, joy amidst pain. I hope I never ever take that for granted.


Thank you for filling our lives.


I love you.


Love, Your Mama