About a month and a half ago, you and I were at our friends the Hensels’ new house. You and I drove out to see it for the first time — you cried the whole way. I got maybe 15 minutes of fart noises and coos, and then that devolved into 20 minutes of irritated-at-still-being-in-the-carseat cry.
But — we wound down a long country road, pulled in, you calmed. Smiled at everyone, waved. We settled in for a long visit where you played with (erm near) Norah in the floor. She made up stories with your toys, she had a princess who was baking strawberry pies for you and me to sample. We ate haphazardly in that way only friends-who’ve-become-family can — sprawled out here, there, everywhere.
Man, I really love this age, your Uncle Travis said, somewhere around nine or ten months, suddenly, it’s like they’re a little person, and they can interact with you and you can figure out how to make them happy.
Nope, I said, shaking my head. Disagree. This age has been really hard for me.
About a month and a half ago, I didn’t get it. It had been hard — you went through this really obvious transition. I mentioned in your last letter how it felt like I woke up one morning, and there you were — a Big Girl. And that took me by surprise. It kind of shocked me. It shocked me how much you changed, how quickly. This happens, every three months or so, each quarter, each continuation of those trimester periods we’ve been tracking since birth — suddenly, the difference in babies’ development is so marked, so noticeable.
And for a while, at nine months, I fought it. I’ve struggled all along enjoying your progress wholeheartedly. I’ll freely admit I miss your early days when you were a sweet little squish who could blink and nurse and needed to be cuddled constantly. It’s not so much that I don’t want you to grow up, ever — it’s more I have enjoyed every single stage with you, and I wish I could enjoy each stage a bit longer, a few more months before I was more ready to move on the next adventure. Each month birthday milestone was met with a small sigh of regret even as I celebrated.
But, a week or two after that conversation with Uncle Travis — I stopped fighting it. I accepted your first birthday was right around the corner and fast-approaching. I welcomed it. I made myself get excited about it. I made myself focus on what you’ll be doing here soon, how you’ll be playing, how you’ll be interacting with us and the others who love you so dearly.
I stopped trying to treat you like a little baby, like if I wished it hard enough, you’d suddenly be small enough to curl up on my chest again. I started treating you like the big girl you are — and life got so much more fun after that.
So we don’t sit and cuddle endlessly for hours on end — but we set up laundry baskets and spare cardboard boxes and I watch/encourage/help you from place to place; watching you crawl, providing the assist when you get wobbly. You don’t curl into me like we’re two halves of the same whole quite as much anymore — but your chubby hands reach for me when you see me. You look up in delight and crack a still-mostly-gummy grin. I hold your little fingers in mine and guide you on practice steps around the room.
You stack your blocks now, and you hammer them. You drum on popcorn tins and empty packages, you can manage some semblance of a “gentle” pat-pat-pat on Kitty’s head. We set you on the bed and you bounce-bounce-bounce.
You entertain yourself now — more than ever before. My favourite time is in the mornings, when Papa is still sleeping, and it’s just the two of us for twenty minutes or two hours, depending on the day. I spread all your toys out on the floor, but I let you pick. I watch you weigh and consider, and crawl to one toy, inspect it thoughtfully, then put it aside for another.
Tonight — we haven’t done this as much lately — I had a chance to read you some pictures books in the floor before we got ready for bed. Every night your papa and I are both home, he reads at least a page or two to you from the Chronicles of Narnia. We finished reading the complete Winnie the Pooh to you a couple months after you were born (we started a few months before), and now we’re about to finish the Magician’s Nephew. But it had been a little while since I’d taken the time to flip through your simple rhyme books, your own little library.
And since the last time — you’ve changed so much. Used to be I tried to read those simple phrases to you and barely made it one page before you were ripping the book out of my hand and shaking it. But now, you considered the pages. You understood the page-turning concept, as you’d grasp one and flip, or open and shut the book, again and again. You understood what we were doing.
You’ve always been a clever baby, but now I watch you become a smart girl. You are mischievous and inventive and adventurous, and I guess in the next few years, I’m going to be paid back for whatever wildness Toddler!Me dealt your Marmee.
You have always been so full of personality, but now I feel like I’m getting to know you even better. I can learn your likes and dislikes, because you understand what likes and dislikes are. We have to start setting guidelines and help you learn about how the world works — in whatever tiny, small scale manner makes sense to your baby understanding. But at the same time, we are starting to let you explore more, we are preparing you to develop that sense of self, that autonomy.
I’ve fought that autonomy all along — but now I see what a treasure that too will be, just the same as your sweet baby dependence. I’ve known all along — heard it so many times — that each stage gets better. I always fight the next phase — but it’s true. I always end up loving it. Doesn’t mean I can’t be nostalgic for who you were before — but I appreciate the newness, the adventure, the great and wonderful gift of being your mom.
Often, when I see you with your Marmee, I try and fathom what that must feel like for my mama. Before you were born, I didn’t know what it was and how it was that my mother felt about me, and my sisters. But now, I have that understanding with her. We aren’t the same, her and I, not you and I as children — but as I watch my mother care for my grandmother, as I care for you — I think about each of the stages of life. From baby to child to teen, to young adult to adult to elderly. I see how my mom and my grandmother still cherish and tease each other. I watch my mother with you, my baby, and I try and imagine what it will (could) be like one day, to see you with your baby. How could I ever love anything more than I love you right now? And yet — I will, I will love that little baby of my baby so incredibly much.
And so anytime I find myself fighting the progress, the inevitable forward-marching of time — I think of the treasures still waiting to be uncovered in our future together. I think about how we will always be a thread in each other’s lives, no matter where we go, or how we change. We will always be in each other’s hearts, a tattoo, an imprint. Nothing can change that — and I need to remind myself of that, from time to time. I brought you into this world to see the very lovely and special woman you would grow up to be, and although I cherish each day and mourn the little moments passing — I can’t wait to meet who you and I will be, together, in the future.