My little lady, I watch you getting water from our Brita filter, or feeding Lily, or thoughtfully setting up tea for your dolls—setting each cup on a plate, putting a spoon on each plate, filling the teapot with water and carefully pouring it in each cup, spoonfeeding them the water—and I am in awe.
How did we get here? I barely recognize you even though I know you better than anyone, maybe even better than I know myself. At the same time, you surprise me every day with new language and ideas that seem too advanced for such a tiny sprite.
These are the good old days and, perhaps for the first time, I’m moving toward the center of that truth.
You get some kind of light stomach bug and throw up in your bed two nights in a row. Talking about it later, you say things like:
I. Burped. (Threw up)
I’m sowwy I few up in my bee-id.
(after a nap, thrilled that you don’t wake up to throw up in your bed) I didn’t burp!
Orly gets a bit of throw up on him, but poor Paca gets it the worst. You and Papa attempt to wash Paca with soap and water, which leaves him looking like a mangy rat during the endless drying period. Mema finally washes Paca in the washer and dries him in the dryer, which leaves him looking as good as new and splendidly fluffy.
About a week later, you leave Paca with Papa during the day (a huge sacrifice on your part) so he can fix Paca’s mouth, which has unraveled. The reunion at the end of that day is unlike any I’ve ever seen: Thirty minutes later, you’re still cradling and hugging Paca and telling him you love him. You don’t even notice that his nose is a different shape. Love truly is blind.
Later that week, I get perhaps the worst stomach flu I’ve ever had, nauseous for about 36 hours straight, and it lingers. I’m down for the count for four days, and I miss you madly as I sequester myself in my plague-filled bedroom. You venture in every morning and evening to visit. The second morning, I button your pajamas, and you say, “You hand lucky.” [You’re hand’s yucky.] I smell my hand and, yes, it smells like throw up. You follow up with a scrunched nose and, “You hee-o lucky.” Yes, baby girl: My hair’s also yucky. Your mama is a hot mess.
You want to be close to me, and you hold my arm to “hug” it during each bedside visit. I think of the heartbreaking “Baby Mine” scene in Dumbo and weep inside until another wave of nausea hits and my eyes roll back in my head as I cradle my barf bowl.
The silver lining of illness was listening to you and Papa together—Papa so patient and gentle and you so cooperative. I hear you eating dinner together and getting ready for bed, and my heart beams with pride. You’ve always sensed when it’s time to rally, and Papa steps up to the Papa Plate as he always does.
You are honestly thrilled when we can finally kiss on the lips after my belly feels better: “Yo bewwy feeos beddo?...Yes!...So we kiss on da lips?” One sweet kiss followed by a longer one. Heart puddle.
Just in time for Easter, another bad cold hits you. Your temperature reaches 103.5, marking the beginning of a long night, but it slides down the following day. We break out the meds: two inhalers (albuterol and Flovent), all-natural-maybe-works cough medicine, Umcka, honey, and Tylenol. You move into a gravel-voiced, pink-eye stage the following day, but you’re in great spirits for Easter.
We paint wooden eggs on Saturday, which I hide with clues on Easter morning. (One benefit of you not reading yet: I can make changes and updates on the fly.) We head to the Wolffs for an outdoor “Easter Bunny” egg hunt that leads to your basket.
Among the treats this year: purple and blue socks, a Frozen Golden Book, pastel crayons (which you saw at the Dollar General and which I somehow snuck to the register), a tiny cat figurine that looks a heck of a lot like Lily, Frozen stickers (from the coloring book your eagle eyes spotted in my grocery bag and which I had to hand over a few weeks before Easter after quickly ripping out the stickers to at least save those for the basket), a tiny frog figurine, M&Ms, “bunny cackers een referees” [bunny crackers and raisins], a tiny “DIY” sunflower pot, bath bombs, and (yet another Jelly Cat friend from Sundree’s) a soft lamb we name Sowee [Snowy].
Mema also gives you two new water bottles—Frozen, of course: one blue Elsa and one purple Anna. Purple wins over Elsa for your choice of which one to have at home, though it’s clearly a tough decision.
Oh—and, after the requisite recipe searching for creative Easter-colored desserts, I do something completely out of character and land on good old Funfetti cupcakes. I enjoy them for several days afterward in the true nostalgic Easter spirit, and also because when the hell am I going to buy Pillsbury Rainbow Chip frosting again?.
Snapshots from the day: Ba reading you Frozen. Doing “cheers” with our mimosas, you holding a giant plastic wine glass with (your first ever?) orange juice. You bringing Sowy for a ride in the red car. You sneakily eating most of your M&Ms when no one’s paying attention.
Funniest moment: As we sit down to a delicious brunch spread, you see the purple pillar candle on the table and exclaim “Dats a popo candle! WHAT?!”
We have a few hot April nights, and you’ve always run hot. You experience your first cold wet washcloth experience, and your eyes roll back in your head with relief.
Last but farthest from least…Zaza visits!!!! We have one packed weekend of fun, which begins with you describing a picture you and Papa painted for her that morning. As she says, “She’s speaking in full sentences, and I’m missing it! I have to be there!”
Every time she visits, you immediately fall in love with her all over again.
You in a (Rather Spacious) Nutshell
Your hair is so long now, running nearly midway down your back when it’s wet. You still fit into your shorts and T-shirts from last summer, but you’ve stretched. The juxtaposition of your long ganglifying legs and your big feet that seem to get in the way when you climb at the playground is so perfectly spot-on for your genes. Just too good.
As for the basic areas of development:
Your toilet training continues…here and there. You often use the potty before bath or before getting dressed, when prompted. Sometimes you run in there on your own after a bath, when you feel the spirit moving. It’s where we are. You’ll get there. For some reason, you’ve started crossing your legs when you sit on it. We’re certainly not that fancy, so no idea what inspired that, but hey, you do you.
In the food department, you’re still pickier than you used to be, but you continue to be a solid eater.
Nap time and bedtime is a pretty solid breeze at this point. Life is beautiful.
Your furry friends are just as real as we are. You feed them, talk to them, tuck them in, and look for them when you’re upset.
You have impressive dexterity. You can eat Cheerios and bananas and similar foods with your kid chopsticks. You pick up one grain of rice at a time with those nimble fingers when it spills. You “play” Mancala by placing the stones in a just-so arrangement, then putting them all back in the bag one by one.
You’re so darn smart.
Walking one morning, you shout, “I see a wobbin!” Yes, you know multiple birds and so often specify which type of bird you see or hear, including robins, morning doves, crows, hawks, geese, and blue jays. Mema tells us that you often say things like, “There’s a wobbin, Mema!” Your Papa says, “At that age, I just said, ‘There’s a bird!’ She probably knows more birds than I do at this point.”
One morning, we’re putting on your pants, and you say, “Dees are kina like a skuht” [These are kind of like a skirt.] When I ask you how they’re similar, you reply, “Because you put yo feet in.” That’s right: because you put them on in a similar fashion. I’m impressed with your reasoning acumen. Papa is less impressed. Guess you can never impress everyone.
On April 16th, Papa asks you, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" We talk a bit about what that means and offer some examples, not expecting an answer. You think about it and reply, "I want to do sumpin wohk wid animals." I feel like I'm in the presence of a toddler genius. Speechless.
Reading a book that same night, you identify most of the objects and animals on the page, including a walrus. I have no idea you knew what a walrus is. I'm sure you learn so many things at Viva's and Mema's, and your memory is unreal, but I'm constantly floored by how much you know.
You don’t want to miss a thing, including everyone’s pee and poop in the toilet. Such endless curiosity.
You don’t miss a thing. Zaza tells you a long, convoluted story about almost losing a gel nail during a kickball game as you watch with a rather glazed-over expression. However, later that day, you rattle off, “Zaza payin kickball, almohs loss a nail” (or something like that). You soak it all in.
You remain Miss Independent, wanting to do your inhaler by yourself now and walking up the stairs one at a time, sometimes barely holding on to the railing. “Heeo, Mama! Heeo’s yo puffs!” [Here’s your inhaler.]
You are such a love. So many random “I love you”s and “I love [Papa, Mama, Mema, Ba, Zaza, Lily, Paca].” So many hugs. You now often run to me gleefully and hug me when I pick you up from Viva’s or Mema’s. I have to say, I much prefer that to the running away and screaming.
Fun surprise: You might be a LEFTY?! You definitely favor your left hand when eating and doing art…Time will tell, but how fun would that be?! I’ve always dreamed of being a lefty like all those creative actor types.
What’s big this month?
Everything is big this month, but off the top of my head and in no particular order:
BOOKS: We talk about them and spend most of the time discussing, “How see/he fews?” [How does he/she feel?”] When I turn the question back to you, your answers range from simple and accurate to entertainingly explanatory. Favorite books this month include:
From the library: Peck, Peck, Peck and Where Is Bina Bear?
Several Golden Books new to our personal collection: Zootopia from the Gemm Shop, Frozen from the Easter Bunny, and The Color Kittens
The Eric Carle trifecta (still holding strong)
Lenses (the colored lenses that Viva gave you for Christmas): These have been big for a few months now, but, for whatever reason, you usually need them in your bed to sleep. Friends and lenses: Ready for anything.
Showing Lily everything–new toys, drawings, snacks…You show her, you place things near her to share with her, and you still look for her when you’re upset. Lily and Paca are your #1 comforters: “I want to hug Lily!” or “I want to hug Paca!” as you cry.
Taking care of your friends: Feeding them “tea” with a spoon, putting tiny pieces of your lunch or dinner in front of them…It’s the cutest.
In the media department:
Movies: Luck, a rather strange little movie that you just can’t get enough of, and Zootopia (really?)
Lava—mostly the music, which you now randomly start “singing” now and then to my heart’s delight. You also love/need to tell Alexa which song to play at bedtime and naptime. We always say it “together”: Me: Alexa, play ___…You (overlapping): Alecka, pay _____…Me: Alexa, repeat the song…You (overlapping): Alecka, reepee da sahn…Then, one day, you successfully ask Ziggy to play Lava ALL BY YOURSELF. Your face radiates with joy, and I follow that joy, choosing to focus on your inevitable pride rather than the horror of what’s to come.
You often ask to watch the “skeery powt” [scary part] of movies. One day, Mema asks you why you like the scary parts, and you say it’s because there’s purple. I guess scary parts sometimes have dark colors like purple, and you have a deep, emotional connection to purple. Makes sense.
Food: French toast, rice cakes with cream cheese, and an apple (whole) on your way home from Mema’s house
Stewart Park (a lovely park filled with playgrounds and the like): We make it there twice in April and look forward to a summer of outdoor play on the horizon.
Atlas Bowl: You love this place. Whenever we pass it on our way home from the Wolff house, you say something like, “We beddo go dere fo dinno ageen!” If the lights are off: “Why da lights not on?” If they’re on: “Da lights aow on!...We beddo go dere!” You list the names of who’s usually there: Mama, Papa, Mema, Ba, Eemy, Inny, Chanda (Amy, Amy, Chandra) One day, you exclaim with realization, “Zaza nevo seen da bowlin ahlaee befo!”
Communication and Brain Power
We have our own language, including Wolffisms like “sockies” and “shoesies” that you use as if those words have always been in the world and simply are.
We “read” books together. (While reading Frozen: “We gon tuhn da page end see what hoppens…A big skeery sowman!’ [arms shooting out energetically]
You speak in 14-sentence words, using different parts of speech. Pronouns. Verbs in multiple tenses. Adverbs. Prepositions. Conjunctions. Contractions like “wasn’t” and “she’s.” And my personal favorite: Interjections. (“WHAT?!”)
You correct my grammar. One morning, I exclaim, “Your belly was so hungry this morning! You had an egg, a piece of toast, half a banana, and avocado!” You reply, ”No, I HAVE a egg.” (because you’re still eating it) MY MISTAKE. Just to double-check, when you finish your egg, I ask, “You HAVE an egg, or you HAD an egg?”…“I HAD an egg.”
Papa teaches you, “Meh,” complete with a sassy hand out to the side, as in, “This rainbow is great. This rainbow is meh.”
“Why” has arrived, now pronounced something like “Wohaye.” (This whole speech documentation would be so much easier if I truly understood phonetic spelling.) "Will" and "won't" also arrived, still used (mostly) agreeably at this point: "Please wash your hands first!"..."I will, Mama!"..."Please don't paint the table."..."I won't."
And, though it's bittersweet, first-person is slowly crowding out third-person: "Who did this?"..."I." Your third-person "Emmy" is such a staple of early language development, yet another shift that marks your rapid development out of a fleeting place.
How I'll miss your quiet echoing most of what you hear in that gentle, angelic sing-song voice of yours. And how I'll miss the soft, audible breathing.
Some of my favorite words as of late:
dow (rhymes with “how”): star
macadomias: macadamias (because, yes, you know the names of different nuts, and because, yes, of course, you have expensive taste)
bitims: vitamins (Every day, for several weeks in a row after we open a new container of vitamins, you exclaim with gleeful awe, “You buy mo bitims!” as you take one from the container.)
Uh uh uh! (otherwise known as the “warning” sound Papa makes that means, “Nope nope nope! Stop right there!”)
blueblees! (On April 15th, I hear this for the first time. I thought nothing could be better than “boobies,” but this is pretty darn fantastic.)
YA-ah!: Yeah! (We get the biggest kick out of this. Must be those German roots creeping in.)
Here are some of the countless, continuous words and phrases heard this month:
Me: Absolutely!”…You: Ahbseeloopy!…I cahn’t say it reewy wew [really well].
I’m sowwy you got fustated.
(as we snuggle under a blanket together) My PJs going in the dowk! [glowing in the dark]
What is dat soun fum Good Dinoso? (Perfect grammar. BOOM.)
You got me tapit [chapstick)]. I ate de udder tapit [I ate the other chapstick.]…Dere was a heeo on it [There was a hair on it.]…(You put it on your pursed lips.) Dis good?
You was using this bowl, Mama?
I delew a reebow. [I drew a rainbow.]
I wahs put him in my puhs. [I want to put him in my purse.]
Chandra: Is Paca a boy, or a girl?...You: It’s Paca.
Tew Papa I listen a owl.
Me, at the Gemm Shop: Do you like this purple dress?...You: Yes. I LOVE popo on the dess.
Me: You’re Paca’s Mama. You take care of him…You: Why you not a Mama anymore?…(I stumble to explain how we are both Mamas…)
(while coloring) What color should it be? (Again: Perfection.)
My fingo huwts. Also, my pinky huwts.
(naming your five fingers) Fumb…fingo…fingo…fingo…peenkee!
(After I hug you, you make an “icky” face.) You fuhw tinky. [You smell stinky.]...Papa: Her clothes?...You: No, her mouf. (Shit.)
My hat fawin off my hee-ed. I gonna not weer my hat. Iss fawin off.
Why you cow me pumpkin?…
I have Belle in my keeb? (You shake your head as if to say, “Silly Emmy.”) It’s my BIG GOH bee-ed! I call it my keeb.
(trying out new umbrella inside) I put it on my hee-ed, I doesn’t get da wain on my hee-ed.
Pick up me!
What you doin’?
The tissues will hewp me feew beddo. Get ow da boogies ouda dere. [The tissues will help me feel better. Get all the boogies out of there.]
(I turn my head away from you as we snuggle, because I don’t want you breathing in my mouth when you’re sick.) Why you turn yo hee-ed sideways…like dees? (you crane your neck away from me) (Busted.)
(You see a boo-boo on my chest.) Paca will hewp you feew beddo…I will hewp you feew beddo, too. (You kiss it.)
I want to give Mama a hug.
Shall we get up, Mama? (How eloquent.)
I gonna see Willy and Wally today? Dey my fee-ends. Dey all my fee-ends.
Iss kina like Simba’s bux in Lie Keeng! [It’s kind of like Simba’s bugs in The Lion King.]
(looking at a tiny flower print on a pillow) Iss like Booty and da Beast! (the rose)
I would like a egg too when I done with my French toast.
I gonna get Paca safe in my arms.
Paca is my weedo buddy.
Do you want a water bottle like me?
Pour some water for Papa, Mema.
Me: Okay, time to get pjs on…(You’re snuggled in your reading corner.) No, I’m weedin’ a book fohst.
(after waking up from a nap while Andy watched you) What you doing while I sleepin’?
Zaza: Whew! I’m pooped!...You (with a furrowed brow): Why you poop, Zaza?
Here, here’s some mo food, Lills!
(You bring Lily a flower.) I have a gift for you, Lily…Pay widdit! [Play with it] (You run off to play.)
(After a long day) I’m so tired…
You see a bird in the driveway as we leave the Wolff house. We stop the car to say goodbye to it, and you say, “Goodbye, bird! See you laydo at Mema’s house!”
Me: Do you want to snuggle?…You: No. But I love you. But I’m havin bekkis [breakfast]. I’m having blueblees.
I wanna see the garage. Not yo garage: somebody’s else garage.
Tell me. (Sometimes I ask you a question, and you don’t know/don’t want to answer, so you say, “Tew me.”)
I can bing da baby to Mema’s house?…It’s my little fee-end.
Papa: Okay, don't throw your toys out of your bed again...You: I won't, Papa. I won't throw it down.
I love yo body, Papa.
You start calling Lily “Lills” (pronounced something like “Leh-ills,” as if you have a few marbles in your mouth). You also start calling Mema Meem, as in, “We goin' to Meem’s house?” Some of her oldest friends, as well as her sister Lisa, call her Meem, so it’s pretty funny to hear it coming from your mouth.
On April 1st, I say, “I love you” and you reply, “I love you, too.”
As we snuggle the following morning: “I love yo hee-ed [head]...I love my hee-ed…We love Papa…We love me…I love me.”
That’s the way, my girl. That’s the way.
Two weeks later, we get our first tastes of true sass:
Papa: Why don’t you listen to your Papa?...You: ‘Cause I BIG guh. [big girl]
Me: Listen to your Papa…You: I WILL, Mom!
I mean, they’re endless, but among the most precious:
Rocking with you and staring down at your smiling face as I did when you were a babe, only now you’re softly rubbing my arm
Hearing you sing or shout-sing from your bed
Finding you lying in your “weeding cono” (reading corner), reading a book under a blanket with your friends all around you, your Frozen light glowing, and your humidifier turned on
Singing Lava together: One morning, you want to sing it together, so we play it on “Ziggy” (our other Alexa), and you sit on my knees. I sing along with the song, and you quietly echo the lines, as you always do at this point. Every so often, you stroke my face or kiss my “boo-boos” on my chest [dermatological scars]. The world fades, and it’s only us in our tiny bubble of bliss.
One evening, I hear a slight boom from your room. I look at your monitor, and I don’t see you in your bed…but I give you the benefit of the doubt. About ten minutes later, it’s silent, and you’re still not in your bed. Papa and I walk in to find you sitting on your floor, silent and kind of in a daze.
Your diaper caddy is next to you (because you pulled it off your dresser), and you’re surrounded by diapers and your beloved Hug-A-BooBoo bandages. Three of your fingers have a perfectly wrapped bandage around them. Your pajamas have pink nail polish all over them, and your hands are spattered. Remarkably, no nail polish is on the carpet or anywhere else—and all three nail polish caps are completely on the bottles.
I say calmly, “Emmylou, what happened?” You continue looking down, silent, and you simply say a quiet “Yeah” when I suggest we change your pajamas. I can’t stop laughing inside. Also, this is why toddler water-based nail polish is a must.
I read Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter by John Hendrickson, which includes several parents or parents-to-be discussing the fear that their child will stutter. It’s a fear I don’t really share with anyone, but it’s there, deep in my belly. When I first hear you making the “Uh uh uh!” sound, my heart drops and my stomach clenches—until I realize you’re echoing Papa’s “warning” sound. My visceral reaction jars me, reminding me of my silent prayer.
I know you’re probably fine. Your language is blooming in a vibrant rainbow of colors. You can pronounce the letter “L” beautifully, and I even hear notes of “R” now and then (which I also struggled with). Still, I know it can appear rather suddenly, and I find myself listening now and then for any stumbles or blocks.
Most parents share similar fears, but no one I know can relate to this one. I know you’re strong and bold and that you’ll find a way. I also know that I managed to move through it and that, while I didn’t completely outgrow it, I usually speak mostly fluently now. But I still pray.
Uncle Ronnie shares a photo of you and Lily sitting on the stairs, with this poem by A. A. Milne:
Halfway down the stairs
is a stair
where i sit.
there isn't any
i'm not at the bottom,
i'm not at the top;
so this is the stair
Halfway up the stairs
And it isn't down.
It isn't in the nursery,
It isn't in town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head.
It isn't really
It's somewhere else
This is life now: Halfway up, not really anywhere, and everywhere, trying to find a place to pause while everything spins around us.
I could stay on this stair forever.
I love you.
Love, Your Mama