Someone very special recently said, “The greatest gift is making a difference in someone’s life.” My brain hadn’t formed such a succinct, powerhouse of a sentiment, but that idea flits through me every single day. What a gift to walk with you through your precious life, and what a gift to know that I’m somehow making a difference in that life. You certainly make a difference in mine. (I mean, obviously, based on the fact that I’ve already written you approximately 800 pages worth of letters. Good God.)
I believe I finally made it through the month with fewer notes. Here we go!
Multiple people comment on your striking resemblance to Shirley Temple. You are joyful, dramatic, and passionate. You’d make a wonderful child model/actress, that’s for sure. As well as being incredibly photogenic, you turn on the smile when prompted. And you break into this sly or happy or excited smile, your eyes crinkled like tissue paper, your face barely able to contain the emotion inside you.
I can’t wait to get you into dance lessons.
Everything has its place, and you know your routines. Dinner is less of a battle now: You often come to the table without fuss when I say it’s time, carrying over your plate and “waddo” [water] all by yourself. You enjoy helping me set the table, laying out the silverware and napkins remarkably well. I take a photo of one setting at the Wolff house: Your fork on the right side of your plate, spoon on the left. For the adults, napkin and fork on the right side, fork and spoon together on the left or right. Amazing.
I will always cherish our dinners, perhaps these early ones in particular. The three of us around the table, telling stories and laughing, is the highlight of my day.
You are mostly potty trained. (!!!!!!) You still wear a diaper to bed, as it’s about 60/40 dry/wet diapers in the morning, but you’re 100% fabulous other than that. I catch you holding your hand in front of the toilet as you pee, and we realize it’s because Papa did that in a public restroom with you the week before. (He was shielding the pee, which has been known to spurt straight out when you sit on full-size toilets.) We explain that you probably don’t need to do that, though I continue to encourage you to lean forward a bit and watch the pee closely anytime you pee on a big toilet just in case.
Bedtime is, overall, less of a struggle. You need your blanket tucked just so around your mattress (I get it), and you make this happy “Hm hmm…Hm hmm…” sound when I do it, especially if you're tired. It’s a sound of exuberant relief, a release into your comfort space.
You still call to us from your bed rather than getting up and coming out into the living room. Most nights involve just one or two calls. As to be expected with potty training, you go through a phase of needing to pee up to three times after we tuck you in. We have a “come to Jesus” moment, and the following night, you tell me “I’ll call you in dust one time…” The night after that, when you call me for the first pee, you explain, “I have to pee! Dust one! Dust one!” [Just one!] Now, you only ask to go pee once, if at all, and (with exception of about one night every few weeks, which are rough), you are generally content to play with your friends in your bed until you fall asleep.
We often hear you singing or talking or laughing from your room. One night, I hear you raise your voice, and I assume it’s for me. I go in, and you say, “Dese guys ow bein’ naughty because dey’re not goin to sleep.” A few minutes later, we hear you saying to them, “You’re bein’ naughty!”
Your language is extraordinary. You use location-based words like “behind” and “on top of,”
No neeko.: No thank you.
No, baby (instead of just “No.”).
Papa’s a coo tuck. [cool truck]
Mama! Dat leedo boy said hi to me! Because he loves me
I wewy [really] did!
Yesserday I was tyin to do missuf! Like Max. [Yesterday, I was trying to do mischief. Like Max in Where the Wild Things Are.]
(saying goodbye to Chandra) Sanda, can you stay foeva? Where do you live?
Mama, I can’t heawit. Can you tohwn it up a liddo bit?
(ruffling through your stuffed bear’s hair) I’m makin’ soor my bear doesn’t have ticks.
It totee fine. [It’s totally fine.]
I don’t want to have dinno. I ju’s want to sit hew (at your little table) all day night.
I want some cerewo [cereal]…like Puffins or sumpin.
Me: Does your arm feel better?...It’s a liddo beddo…But my sick is beddo.
Mama, it’s not a nipple. [pimple]
(putting on shoes) Is dis da wight foot?
No deeko. I like it like that please. (your hair down and wild)
(trying to hold my glasses, or Mema’s sunglasses, on your face) Do you like my new glasses/sunglasses?!
Me: Which friends do you want to bring on our trip tomorrow?...Oh—I choose Paca and Orly. And baby bear. I choose bofe of da Orlys.
In a second!
No, I isn’t!
Papa, can you help me get my chair out please? Deekoo
(eating an ice cream cone) Dat’s pitty goot.
(spreading jelly on toast) I did a pitty good job!
I hav’d come in da geen caowt. [I did go/ have gone in]
I love da uddo Ixxa…da one dat havs cuffy seats. [I love the other Ithaca…the one that has comfy seats.]
Gordy hewps da messin go down/go into the coffee [Gordy helps the medicine go down…Gordy helps the medicine go into the coffee.]
Oh, and even you fohgot…(e.g., you forgot to paint something)
I take a mental snapshot of countless small moments. You snuggled up with Lily on Grandfather’s chair, reading her books out loud and holding them up to her face so she can see them. You licking “Papa’s oat milk” (because Papa started making oat milk) off your top lip. You so incredibly focused on drawing or painting, your tulip lips pursed in concentration.
One afternoon, I wake you from your nap (as I usually have to do!). I give you kisses and rub your legs and back, then slowly pick you up and rock you on the floor. A few minutes later, you recount the moment: “You picked me up and snuggled and snuggled and snuggled and snuggled.” Yup. Snuggling is pretty much my most important job.
The morning after Amy and Andy spend the evening with you (while Mema, Pops, Papa, and I go to the Hangar Theatre), you tell me, “Andy wed me FIVE books! I said two books, and he read me FIVE.” Andy had confessed the night before that he read you more books than we probably usually read. How funny that that’s the first thing you told me the next morning. A few minutes later, you exclaimed, “You came back!” I said, “Of course we came back!” And melted into a puddle.
You know shapes—circle (soko), triangle (tigo), square (gay-ew), star (tao)—and we practice more, which you quickly learn: rectangle, oval…
We all watch in amazement as, one night at the Wolff house, you use your kid chopsticks to pick up one pea at a time.
I catch you singing the rainbow song from Story Hour, and you know every single word (though you add purple for good measure). A few days later, you sing the entire ABC Song. I had no idea you knew that song so well.
We have yet to spend time swimming at the lake. Between me working full-time, the air quality, and life tasks, it’s so tough to find time. But we will spend time there, I promise! My heart aches for it. Still, we’ve had some wonderful summer adventures so far:
We pick beautiful strawberries at the Cider House. A few minutes in, I say, “You can eat some, too!” and you reply, “I’m dust puddin’ dem in my bucket wight now.” Wow. Said no toddler ever. (You soon find a balance of productivity and tasting.)
I ask if you want to help me shell peas, and you sit on the floor with me and thoughtfully shell peas for about 10 minutes straight.
You enjoy husking corn, though those silky threads can be troublesome.
We all watch the sunflower seeds we planted grow and thrive. By mid-July, one flower blooms!
We have an all-day 4th of July party with the Russells at the Wolff house. For the first time ever, I believe, we have a delicious brunch/lunch, then put you down for a nap there and continue the festivities late into the afternoon. It’s the first time in a long time we’ve simply celebrated spending time together, and we cherish every minute.
We go to your first pool party at Gordy’s house. You are very hesitant to go in the water, preferring to sit on the edge for about half an hour. We finally manage to entice you in, and a few minutes later, you’re “floating” on a noodle and kicking as we hold you and move you around the pool. You love it, but you’re done after about 15 minutes. Still, progress!
We attend many Farmer’s Markets, visiting with friends, listening to music, and playing on the “Peace Ship.”
You meet a new friend named Clyde. That morning, you ask me, “Is he a nice Clyde?...Is he a big Clyde?” I, sadly, miss the morning of fun because I have to work, but Mema and Clyde’s mama send boatloads of photos and videos. He drives you around in a motorized pink Barbie car and, seeing your beaming smile, I think, “Well, here we are. Her first driving date already.”
One morning, you and Papa and I go on a “fairy walk” at Buttermilk Falls. We entire a grass path in the woods and one of us says, “This is where fairies live!” You stop in your tracks and stare in awe at the path. Throughout the walk, we look for “faiwies.” We explain that we probably won’t see them, but we listen for them and see “faiwy bullerfies” (white) and tiny “faiwy flowers.” We pick and eat many blackcaps (a fun surprise!), making sure to leave some for the fairies.
We finally spot a fairy or two! I shouldn’t be surprised by the success of this improvised adventure, but I can’t help but feel proud of Papa and myself for creating such wonder and joy. Weeks later, you still exclaim, “A fairy bullerfy!” whenever you see a white one, and my heart flutters every time.
A week later, we have a special sleepover at the Wolff house. I wake you up around 10 pm and carry you outside to see a most magical sight. The south field is ablaze with a raucous firefly dance party. You’re half-asleep, your head continually returning to rest on my shoulder, but when I whisper, “Fireflies!” you whisper back, “Fireflies!” I carry you back inside to snuggle with the giant bear you found in Zaza’s old room. It’s as big as you are, and you fall asleep with it on top of you, your arms wrapped around it.
Though it’s hard to quantify excitement at this age, I must say that our biggest adventure is introducing you to New York City. We pack it full of adventures.
We stop 5-6 times to go to the bathroom. As our first long car ride without diapers, it’s a raging success. You end up peeing in your undies on the FDR, but that’s after holding it for nearly 20 minutes at the worst possible time. I’m so proud of you.
On Thursday, we have dinner with friends we haven’t seen since COVID in their stunning Tribeca loft. You take your first cab ride there and sit shyly snuggled into me, trying to make sense of this strange custom of being driven by a complete stranger. (By your second ride, our way back uptown after the dinner, you can’t sit still and pay the driver yourself before echoing my, “Have a good night!”)
As we climb out of the cab, Papa grabs your other hand, and I freeze the moment forever: the three of us, my family, our family, walking hand in hand in Manhattan. We dreamed of this for years before you were born, my love.
A few minutes later, you ride in your first elevator (“ahdogaydoh”). I guess that’s how you know you’re country…Oh, wait! Okay, you rode in a few as a baby, but you don’t remember that.
On Friday morning, we meet Zaza for breakfast before taking the M72 bus to Central Park. The energy is electric, all of us amped and ready to go. Walking to breakfast, Papa starts saying something, and you say, “Don’t tew a dory. I’m tellin’ a dory.” [Don’t tell a story. I’m telling a story.] You proceed to tell us some story about Lily, waving your hand around in circles as you do sometimes. We all look down in wonder at the little person you’ve grown into.
The bus is the highlight of the trip for you. You love it. I watch you looking out the window, sitting on the edge of the seat with your backpack on your back, and, as per usual I suppose, I can’t contain the joy and gratitude.
We explore the park, bringing your Goodnight, Central Park book with us and snapping a photo of the spots and respective pages. (I can’t help myself. We’ve read those books for years and talked about going to visit them someday.) We buy you a chirping bird from the Central Park Conservancy shop, the place where we bought the turtle puppet for you when you were a wish held within us.
We visit the Alice statue, see a few ducks on the pond, and ride on the carousel. It’s actually a bit traumatic, poor thing. I’m holding you on a giant horse that moves up and down, and I immediately see your face shift when it starts to move. You keep saying, “I’m keered…” [scared] But there’s not much I can do. When you burst into tears, I take you off the horse and hold you in my arms where you eventually say you feel safer.
After your nap, we spend an hour at the American Museum of Natural History with Zaza. Papa has shared this dream, of taking our children to this (his favorite) museum. I watch him hold your hand, pick you up, show you around, and I’m absolutely beside myself. We are literally living his dream, right now. After 30 minutes into the hour, you’re sitting in your stroller, slumped and comatose. I ask if you feel okay, if you’re tired, and you say, “I’m tired.” It’s a lot.
We meet Pepaw and his friend for dinner at The Smith (an old favorite of ours). As per usual, you’re, as Zaza puts it, “The most well-behaved toddler I’ve ever seen in a restaurant.” The cloth napkins spark a giggle-fest.
On Saturday morning, we meet friends in Central Park. I laugh at how you immediately take off your shoes and run under the tree, carrying back acorns and rock treasures from the mud. Your hair is wild in the humidity, and you’re wearing the lucky stone necklace that Mema made for you over your orange linen sundress. Meanwhile, our friend’s toddler won’t step on the grass with bare feet. City mouse and country mouse. (Side note: Two friends say that you look so much like me. I can’t help but smile.)
That afternoon, we spend time with my friend, Amanda, who is overjoyed to finally meet you. We play in John Jay Park, right behind Abigail and Michael’s apartment building. At one point, you say, “I want to blow bubbles on the grass.” I have to explain that there is no grass here, and I’m struck by that. I suddenly have a fierce desire to make sure you always have access to grass.
We order sushi takeout for dinner. You draw a picture of Amanda, including a short line between her legs. “What’s that?” we ask. “Dat’s whey-ew ho pee-pee comes out of her butt.” Well, there you go. Another developmental leap: anatomically-correct drawings. You choose Amanda to read you a book before bed. What a sweetie.
Before the trip, someone asked me if I thought you’d like the city. I had no doubt you would, saying that I could see you as a city girl. After the trip, I think about the gift of nature you’ve had your entire life. As much as I see you thriving anywhere, you are a country girl at this point. Of course you are.
On Sunday, we stop in Beacon to visit another friend for a few hours before heading home.
As I tuck you in that night, you exclaim, “Weo heo!” [We’re here!] I smile and say, “We’re home?” You reply, “Yes…I missed home.”
Well, I guess this wasn’t too much shorter. It really was…but then I felt compelled to share everything we did in NYC, and it got rather out of control. Forgive me.
One more thought for now...How did you come from me? I will never be underwhelmed by the fact that you literally grew inside me into a fully-formed human and emerged as the photo we have framed on the wall. I imagine you floating in there as you, in your mind-boggling womb bubble, as I lived my life on the outside. Biology is incomprehensible. I will always simply consider it magical. Like most things about you.
I love you.