I met you three years ago today. I couldn’t believe how tiny you were, yet all the nurses commented on your feet. That checks out: You are three years old (otherwise known as “free”), and you don’t look a day over…five? You love to help set the table, you say things like, “Papa, go! I want to enjoy time with Mama…Come eeo, Mama. I’ll take cayew of you,” and you wear size 10 shoes.
I read recently of the magic between the ages of three and four. We are clearly in that stage. It has been magical up to now, but small shifts here and there exemplify something new—beyond the “threenager” stage that you also exemplify at times. (Case in point: “No!” is often “No-ah!”)
A few weeks ago, Pops said, “Is she too young to call her ‘precocious’?” An hour later, I told your Papa a story about something you said that day, and he replied, “She’s precocious.”
I continue to jot down particular words and phrases that strike me. I can’t help myself. I want to freeze your words in time, and the closest proximity to that is capturing them in writing.
(Talking about school drop-off): Well, I was a little sad in the beginnin’ because I wanted to see the goats.
Would you may have a cookie? (Would you like a cookie?)
(Talking to your electric piano) “Alexa, pause…Ziggy, pause.”
It’s vewy simawew (similar)...
I want to go to gool AND Viva’s. I’m not gonna ky. I dust gonna aks to open and kose da doe.
For Kissmiss you might have to get me stockins…stockins that are my age.
(Talking about October birthdays) Is Pops gonna be 5?
(Bedtime) I’m not gonna call you in tonight, Papa…
This is MY wohk!
I’m not cuffy in my bed.
Bayw Nesesamies: Bear Necessities
Hi! I woke up. I made a good deam. I sleeped well. I never woke up again.
Da one nex to the dawbaywy ice-keam.
I see one dao (star). It’s tyin to get out of the guy (sky). Is it going to go into your heart?)…
My belly huwts…Cake wiw hewp.
(yelling goodbye as he left) Bye Andy! Love you!
This is called Michael’s…Is Miko dayo?
Can you hewp me fix my blanket, please?
Clap set go!
Dis is a piddy fun song! Iss cawed da possum goes boom.
(Talking to Lily, holding up two paper flowers): You like dis one? Or dis one? Dis one? I like it, too.
(Asking stuffed Monkey) “Can you say…nose? Sippos? (Slippers) Ball? BALL?…”
Dere ban noon! (They’re brand new!)
(Wearing new fancy dress) Dust say, “Princess, can you…”
Me: What’s this?...Oh—a seep! I’ll make it so you can undodand.
(I come in to join you and Papa snuggling in our bed) I’m glad you did this wiz us.
We prolly need to dump it togezzo! (small toilet contents into large toilet)
One evening, you pull down a book that, for whatever reason, you love “reading” with us: Whole Detox. We look at the colored pages that show the chakras. As I explain the location of the root chakra, you reply “Toot.” Your name for that area. You are three, after all, but still: I appreciate your name for it. I don’t think you’re trying to be silly either. It’s just its name.
I’m unsure where to go from here, so I’ll share a few salient points that stand out.
Your hair is halfway down your back, and the curls bounce when you dance or run or merely shake your head. You purse your lips when you concentrate. You continue to insist on doing 98% of things yourself, though you can be agreeable to help from the get-go (2% of the time). You love to sing. Just yesterday, Papa and I overheard you singing the entire Do Re Mi song—and you knew every single word. A few minutes later, we overheard you say to one of your toys, “Come on! Get in the tub!...Ow you kiddin’ me?!”
Bedtime is much better overall. Your new favorite routine (besides “spitting” your toothpaste in the sink several times during brushing): Papa and I each rub your back for a few minutes. You often open your door (now that you leave your bed) at least once or five times, but it’s often something like, “I have to pee” (at which point you go in and pee then go back in your room) or “The alvum is ovo” (at which point we choose new music, usually one song on repeat, which is safer).
We often hear you talking to your friends in there or laughing out loud. One night, you laughed about every 3 minutes while listening to You’re Welcome from Moana. Something funny happens at the end of the song (in the movie), and you let out your kind-of-fake (as in, “I know I’m supposed to laugh…” or “This is so funny, I must laugh as loudly as possible”?), very exuberant laugh every time the song ended.
You love to take baths together, and you snuggle up to my belly and happily, “Hm hm…”
Development is a series of arcs, with plenty of “dips” and general “progressions” along the way. I must say that ever since you started school, there’s a gradual trend upward. A little more cooperative (sometimes a LOT more cooperative), a little less whine. Sometimes.
I can’t remember the last time you whined or screamed when I said it was almost dinner time. You simply say, “Okay” and head over—and it’s not unusual for you to announce, “I’m ready fo dinno” before it’s on the table. You put our silverware on the table, fill a cup with water, and carry your plate over. When you’re done, you help set up your bath. What a dream.
We made it through the first few weeks of school and heart-wrenching dropoffs. One mom said, “Remember: It’s a big reaction, but a quick recovery.” It was still horrible.
Now, you simply give me a hug and go inside—sometimes even with a smile on your face. Complete turnaround. I can’t say I’m surprised: You are remarkable in terms of adjusting to things pretty quickly. Still, the dichotomy is striking.
I had the honor of observing your classroom. As if I didn’t already love that school…I left singing its praises. At the end of circle time, your teacher told one student at a time, “You may go do your work.” I watched as children went their separate ways and found something to work on. You pulled out a puzzle and completed it, then put it back on the shelf before deciding to have a snack. Snack is self-serve. You and a classmate served yourself yogurt from a big bowl and used tongs to place some carrot sticks on your plates, then sat and ate quietly together before carrying your plates to the sink and washing your hands.
I ventured outside to the courtyard and saw one tiny sprite wearing goggles and using a tiny saw to cut a plank held steady in a vice. Another child had a fanny pack of nails and was hammering nails into a stump. Two other kids were building something out of long planks of wood.
Back inside, one student used some kind of math tool with wooden beads and sliding numbers. Another student polished a wooden bird sculpture while another washed tiny pumpkins. I thought, “What is this magical place?!”
Needless to say, it seems like the perfect place for you.
Toddlerhood and early childhood is a rather wide swath of development: some three-year-olds seem more like five-year-olds and some four-year-olds seem more like two-year-olds. In case it’s not clear, you’re the former—and observing your class really brought that home. This morning asked me, “Why did you laugh?” and I explained why. You smiled and made a little “T” sound before returning to your task at hand. Sophisticated.
I had the joy of returning to your school this past week to celebrate your birthday. I walked in to see you all sitting in a circle on the rug, a lit votive candle in the center. I sat next to you, and you sidled up to me as your teacher said, “Today we’re celebrating you, Emmylou.” I started crying inside and didn’t stop until hours later. “We ARE celebrating you, my amazing little bean!” I thought.
A classmate got the tiny globe and handed you the world. Your teacher asked you to stand up. We looked at the photo of you when you were a tiny baby and talked about it. You then walked around the rug, inside our circle, around the candle, as we sang, “The earth goes round the sun, tra la la…” We repeated that for the photos of you at the ages of one and two, ending with the photo of you from a few months ago.
You returned to your spot next to me, and your teacher took out a stone. Starting with me, we passed the stone around the circle and shared a birthday wish for you. I wished you a happy first year at Namaste. Other kids did the same. One child, “I hope you play with me, Emmylou.”
A few others said, “I love you, Emmylou.”
You walked around the circle passing out the pumpkin muffins we baked a few hours before (in semi-panic-slash-laughing-out-loud after the already-made-and-ready-to-go muffins had to be abandoned because I missed the text that someone in your class has an egg allergy), and we sang, “Happy birthday.”
I returned home and smiled nonstop for the rest of the day.
We celebrated your birthday all week. The following evening, we had a most festive Wolff house dinner with the Russells and Pepaw. Chandra and Leah showered you with perfectly foo-foo clothing, Pepaw got you a brilliant learning blocks game, Andy and Amy gave you toys, books, and paper doll Elsa card, and Mema and Pops got you a purple scooter complete with helmet and knee/elbow/wrist pads. Our future roller derby queen. 100%.
I will never forget the look on your face as I carried out the strawberry angel food cake. The singing, the glowing candles, the pure magic and utter delight. A gilded snapshot.
This morning we picked out pumpkins at the “pumpkin pats” we’ve passed every week, counting down the days. We saw multiple families we knew and got lost in a corn maze (A little while in the maze, you exclaimed “We can’t get out of heew!” and wanted Papa to pick you up.) Mema and I peed our pants watching you and Zaza ride the “train”: tiny painted barrels pulled quite rapidly down a dirt path by a tractor. You’re favorite part was the lollipop.
After your nap, we had the final celebration of your birthday week: another party at the Wolff house. We planned for Taughannock, had to postpone from Saturday to Sunday due to weather, and decided on their house due to still-iffy weather. Ella and her family joined and, even though you were a hot mess of runny-nosed sneezing, we had a wonderful time wrapping up a w
I forgot to set my alarm for the moment you were born. I thought of it in bed last night, and you’ll someday learn how useless those thoughts are. They jump in and slither out, never to return. At 4:24 pm, we were either singing “Happy Birthday” or had just finished, so that’s something. Now it’s 7:08 pm, and I’m imagining me and Papa in the hospital room, newborn you in my arms or his, all of us exhausted beyond belief, me noshing on the beloved chicken nuggets I craved during the second half of labor and barely able to contain my anticipation of introducing you to the Wolffs the following day.
You just hugged me goodnight, squeezing tightly, and said, “I love you, Mama.” I returned to this same night three years ago, holding you in my arms, subconsciously dreaming of a moment like that.
We have developed quite a little community here, my love. I felt it in full force at the Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago. As I flitted from person to person, group to group, I thought, “Wow. Who woulda thunk.” (I know your Pops is smiling from ear to ear as he reads this.)
I try to avoid cliches, but life truly is one long and wild ride. The past four years have felt more like funhouse mirrors, but we seem to have finally settled into a mirror that we can call our own—even if it’s far from the image we foresaw in our previous lives.
As your Papa said today, “We have the Farmer’s Market, we have an incredible pumpkin patch, we listen to our friends play music…” Not to mention the adorable downtown with its perfect little library, bowling alley and winery and quaint shops and school playground and so much more. Not to mention our beloved family and community. This really is an unexpected utopia. How life and perspective and trajectories change—and all because of you, my love.
Here we are, still in your first home, with all its oddities: gnats at the end of summer, ants in early spring, black walnuts pummeling the roof in early autumn, and the breathtaking sight of softly falling snow illuminated by the streetlight at the end of our driveway.
We just tucked you in, and we’re about to settle into the couch together before we roll into bed for much-needed rest before a new day. I hear you singing along to Jolly Holiday from Mary Poppins (“Big bass ban!”) Yet another tiny dream come true: my young daughter singing along to classic musicals.
My birthday wish for you? Here it is: May you live a life filled with such joy and gratitude, such simple beauty, surrounded by abundant love and neverending support.
And may you always have plenty of reasons to flash that smile—so bright it leaves people breathless.
Cheers to you, my Emmylou.
I love you.
Love, Your Mama