I told myself I wouldn’t have to write another letter to you until your second birthday. That seemed like a relief, at first—sometimes I am amazed at myself, managing to write a letter each month of your first year. I’m glad I did, it was worth the effort – already, once or twice, I have enjoyed going back and rereading, reminding myself what life with you was like at two months, at six, at nine. You have changed so quickly, the weeks and months fly by – and it’s nice to remember days when we just cuddled, or you sat still(!!) in my lap. But still – finding the time each month was difficult, making the effort to pull together words and phrases that remotely captured what it’s like to be your mom. I felt relieved to think I’d cut it down to once a year, a letter for each birthday.
And here we are – I’m writing you an 18 month, year-and-a-half letter.
I can’t help it! You, my darling Ari, are too fun and too silly and too loving and too precious not to take a few minutes to try and capture what life with you is like, right now. You’ve changed so much from 12 months, a year old – already, only 6 months later, I look at pictures of you from your first birthday, and think, she’s so little, her hair is so short compared to now, she’s changed so much, already!
I think I had feared, like most first-time moms, that moving out of that baby stage and into the toddler phase would mean losing some of the specialness of our bond. Having a baby is so soft and sweet and lovely – sure, messy as well, sleepless often, stressful, definitely – but cuddling your baby, knowing you the mama are the thing a baby needs most – it makes mamas feel so special and so unique and so needed, so necessary. The older you get, the more superfluous I will become, it seemed like – the less you will physically need me, maybe the less you might need me, period. It’s a silly worry, I know – I am thirty-nearly-thirty-one years old, and I still need my mama, all the time. But you are so precious to me, I always want to be your best friend.
But happily – so happily – this second year has begun so wonderfully, and has been just as fulfilling, emotionally and spiritually, as your first. Friends had told me one-year-olds are a delightful mix of baby and child, and it’s so true. You have your toddler moments, sure, you’ve learned to arch your back and go limp everywhere except your kicking little feet, you whine when you don’t immediately get your way – but for the most part, you are such a happy, joyful little girl. Every day with you is so entertaining and funny and tender and sweet.
At 18 months, you are brimming with personality. You’ve learned people think you’re funny, or cute, and you like to ham it up. You give Sylvie Ann so many kisses, and then grin at the adults. See how sweet I am? You have this bashful little grin, and you duck your head into my shoulder if I’m holding you, or press yourself into my legs if you’re standing near me. Shy, sometimes – but so sweet when you are. And among friends, family – you are a firecracker. You crawl in your little shark tent at Marmee’s and hide, and shriek when you’re spotted. You chase Ziggy and Kitty and Alice Kitty and Big Kitty Boi, out of an earnest desire to love them, pet them, play with them! You’ve followed Alice and Big Kitty Boi all over Marmee’s yard, chirruping and singing to them, trying to get close enough to touch.
You love music! You love any kind of music, whether it’s on the radio or in dance class, or someone singing. You got some great dance moves, girl – squat, squat and walk, squat and “jump,” this really fantastic walking-while-chopping-wildly-at-the-air move that’s become your signature move, and, of course, the piece de resistance – Down Dog thrown in for extra excitement. You also do some soft and gentle singing, this sweet little high-pitched ooing along with your favourite songs – which are, by the way, “Feel It Still” by Portugal the Man, “Afro Circus (I Like to Move It)” from Madagascar III, and the entire Moana soundtrack. You remember the parts of the songs where Granny sings softer, and hold your little finger to your lips and say shhhh as we sing along softer.
You are quick to learn, still so observant and now able to put those observation skills to good use. You watch your Papa and I go about daily tasks – opening the pantry, sweeping, microwaving, brushing teeth, brushing hair, changing clothes – and suddenly, you are mimicking us. All doors must be shut. You must be allowed to brush your hair or teeth alongside us. You must be allowed to bail water out of your bath. You must help take your own clothes off before bath. You must help tear off toilet paper. You notice anything awry or out of the ordinary, and frequently pick up stray hair bands or bobby pins, a dropped bottle cap or a scrap of paper, and bring them over to us so we can take care of them for you.
You are very clever and resourceful, and now that you are very mobile indeed, the entire world is a playground. You drag out laundry baskets and want to sit inside them, or you flip them over and climb very determinedly to the top, so you can stand there and balance, and say woaaaah – so proud of yourself. You climb the footstool or the couch, or onto the kitchen bench, if we take you to the mall, you need to sit on each of the six benches punctuating the long hallways. You spin, you stand on tiptoes, you bounce, you “jump,” you stomp-stomp-stomp – more frequently now, as you’ve started throwing a mini-toddler-tantrum from time to time when you don’t immediately get your way.
You are a very vocal girl, although not always in public if you are with people you don’t know as well. You are always garbling and chattering and singing to yourself, we tend to call them your demon or alien noises as we can’t figure out exactly how you’re making your mouth making these peculiar sounds. But your English vocabulary is growing, even if it sometimes takes us a little while to understand you’re saying real words and not just toddler-jibberish. Your favorite words right now are Mama and Papa, which is precious, but also can be heartbreaking if you’re having a hard time and just crying Mamaaaaa or Papaaaaa. Your other favorites words are bye-bye and no-no, and of course, ball. You say gah-gone (all gone) and beebee (baby) and dat (that) or dis (this). Your vocabulary is slowly building – in the last week, we have heard you add Kitty and mouth and eye and occasionally uh-oh – but you seem more interested in watching and learning than expressing yourself in adult terms right now – but you understand almost all of what is said to you. You follow directions very well, and will go pick up that cup/stuffed animal/shirt/ball/stick/whatever and put it wherever we tell you.
You’re very social, and loving, and really just overall a joyful girl. I love that so much about you – it’s been apparent since you were born that you were easy-going and sweet, and that’s only grown as you’ve gotten older. Sure, you’re a toddler, you sometimes meltdown because we didn’t take your jacket off fast enough, or wouldn’t let you pull out every bottle in the fridge, or yank Kitty’s fur – but most of the time, you are so happy, so excited to be in the world. You laugh so much and so easily. You love to watch people and animals and babies, and chirrup curious noises at them when you see them. You give smiles and waves and even blown kisses to friends and strangers alike. It pleases you to be around people, and distresses you if another child or baby is crying – often, you’ll pause whatever you’re doing and watch with worries eyes until whoever is soothed and cuddled and happy again. You’re my little empath girl, and I know that’s a difficult road to navigate as you grow older – but I’m so in love with your precious, gentle heart.
You are affectionate with those you know and love. I think Marmee gets more kisses more frequently and more freely given than anyone else. While Papa and I might have to beg for once kiss a day, often “tricking” you by kissing each other first and making you jealous enough to give us kisses of our own – you often volunteer to give Marmee kiss after kiss, delaying our goodbye for long minutes as you keep darting back in for one more. You love all your aunties, particularly Auntie Jeannie, and she’s just about the only person who can make you forget Mama for a few minutes at a time – as soon as you see her, you insist on going to her, no matter who was carrying you before. Auntie Emi is a close second, she often distracts you in my ballet class so I can complete barre work without you on my hip – although it is quiet common these days for me to finish half a tendu or ronds de jambe exercise with you in my arms – and if Emi stops playing with you long enough to teach the next combo, you are bitterly disappointed, toddling over to her with your ball or your scarf, reaching up to get lovings.
You love your dear little friends, and it makes me so happy to see you growing and forming bonds of friendship already. You have your little buddies at daycare twice a week, and you are accustomed now, going happily to your teachers who adore you, receiving greetings from friends in your class. But oh, my heart nearly explodes to see you interacting with our sweet sister friends’ girls, Jude and Lucy. They both greet you with, “Ari! Baby Ari, it’s Ari!” when we meet. You often stop in the middle of Mommy and Me dance class to go give Lucy a hug. After class, you and she soak up bonus tumbling time on the matts or the trampoline, giggling together while BB and I try to snap pictures. You and Jude are wild little fairy girls during ballet class, dancing and twirling with scarves, sharing toys and hugs and crackers, and then melting down at the same time when you’re both too tired to go on. Bye-bye Ju, you said so sweetly, last week, catching me completely by surprise – you’ve not said any other names besides Mama and Papa until now. And then the rest of the week, even when she wasn’t around – bye-bye Ju, bye-bye Ju. I cannot wait to see these friendship blossom and grow as the months and years pass, cannot wait until Sylvie is big enough to be toddling around with you all.
You are becoming your own person. I nearly wrote, your own little person, but your spirit is anything but little. You are coming into your toddlerhood, no is your favorite word, used most emphatically and often in repetition. No-no-no, you say, when we want to lead you towards the car and you want to go explore pinecones and hickory nuts. No-no-no, when we want to change your diaper or wipe your nose and you are in the middle of twirling or chasing Kitty. No-no-no to the food choice that is not your own, to keeping a hat on your head on a blustery day, to sitting in the front seat of a shopping cart. It can be frustrating, but it’s also lovely, interacting with you, learning your preferences. Sometimes, it’s genuinely helpful to start to be able to communicate with you, one-on-one, to have the barest hints of a real conversation with you.
This beginning of the second year has been so lovely, so fun. You feel like my little best friend now, I love running errands with you. I’ll put on the play list of your favorite songs I’ve created for you, and you’ll clap your hands and smile as we drive around. I talk to you when I can, what do you see, baby? Do you see trees and leaves? Do you see a brick house, a doggie? Sometimes, it’s as if I need permission to run around and have little dates with you – but then I remind myself, I’m your mama. I get to decide where we go and what we do, and we don’t need company or documentation to make it an authentic, genuine moment of friendship and love between us. We go to the library and read books and play with blocks, we go to the coffee house and share a smoothie and sit outside in the labyrinth (your labyrinth, little Ariadne, I call it privately), we wander up and down the neighborhood roads, watching the water stream through ditches, collecting leaves and sticks and bits of moss.
The truth is – I have tried, somewhat, this year, to make it a goal to focus more on myself, and what makes me happy. That first infancy year, babies are so dependent on mama. We become this symbiotic being – as your auntie Laureny and I have discussed, we don’t think babies recognize they’re not one with mamas for a long time. And so I thought to myself, as she gets bigger and grows more indepent, that’s the time to focus on myself. And I have, to some degree. It’s been good for me – winters are always hard, and this winter in particular was really emotionally difficult, one of the worst I’ve survived in a great many years – and so trying to put some emphasis on myself, protecting myself, healing myself, growing myself – has been a therapeutic way to make myself my best self, both for my own sake and as well as yours – to be my best self so I can be your best mama.
But the other truth is – I love being your mama. It is one of, if not the absolute most rewarding things about my life. Other people have jobs that are their passion, other people travel or are well known in the community for their projects – and that isn’t to say that won’t be me, some day – some day sooner than maybe even I expect. But right now, my family is my passion. It is not, perhaps, the future I felt most sure of, five or ten years ago. Little raging feminist artist poet me at 22 maybe saw different outcomes, paths leading to a different route – but here I am, at 30, completely in love with being a mom – your mom, and a wife. My core is the same, I think, and if anything, that little raging feminist artist me gives me fuel to be a good mother to you, to show you that you have strength and a voice and the power to do great and amazing things, and also to help you be proud of your life, exactly as it is – to have confidence in yourself, joy in your blessings, gratitude for the small rewards of kindness and goodness and happiness, amongst all the strife of life.
I will continue to develop myself, and as we are poised to go into spring, I feel revitalized, strengthened – but I will also continue to absolutely adore being with you, being your mother, watching your grow and helping you on your path. You have been such a treasure to us, your papa and me, since we first knew of your existence, growing inside my womb – and you continue to be such a blessing, teaching us joy and patience and encouraging us to be moral and kind and strong. This early toddler phase is exhausting, we go to bed each night bone weary, and stumble out of bed each morning, trying to keep up with you – but we do so much living, with you at this age. Our days are so full, finding activities for you, trying to show you every exciting opportunity available to us – even if it is just a walk or a new book or painting or eating a new food – and it gives us such an appreciation for all the good things in life, even among the bad – and the best of all things in our life is you, my darling.