We sit on the front steps in the early evening. The sun is not yet set, but the blue of the sky is weakening; the light going all golden and long.
“Ari,” I say. Our toes are in fading chalk dust. You have dandelion seeds in your hair. “Are you my baby?”
You are wearing a pair of Troll panties, and nothing else – as you usually are, when we’re at home. I’m lucky to have the underwear on you at all.
“No!” you exclaim emphatically – that grin with the gap between your two front teeth that melts everybody, “I big girl!”
It is a familiar correction, these days. You know, you understand: you’re not a baby like you once were. Maybe it hurts my heart a little, to hear that even you know you’re not a baby. Mostly it makes me smile, makes me laugh on the occasions I’m not even calling you a baby, I’m calling you baby like honey, sweetheart, angel.
Can you pick up that cup, please, baby? I’ll ask, and your return is immediate, no, I big girl!
And here on our front porch, covered with chalk outlines of your little body, blobs for your two hair buns, belly-buttons and squiggly smiled added as the only details, amid our flowers that you “help” me water – you make an allowance to your answer.
“I no big girl. I little big girl.”
That answer, I like, unreservedly. That’s exactly what you are – grown, no longer a baby. Not just talking but holding conversations, asking questions and making inferences, remembering previous answers and building on them. Not just conversing but singing, do you know the muffin man, and Old McDonald had a farm, and most touchingly, the chorus of Work Song, your favorite lullaby, when my time come around. Not just singing but reciting little rhymes, there were four in the bed and the little one said roll over, and no more monkeys jumping on the bed! Using your imagination, creating little plays for your Baby Elmo and your kitty cats and your Legos.
And yet you are little – you need help up and down steps sometimes, you need reminders to potty and we don’t always make it. You sometimes have fits just because you can’t find the words to tell us what you want fast enough, and we aren’t telepathic enough to understand you want to use two forks and one of them should be green.
Two years old has been this wonderland of childhood magic. I look out across our porch or the backyard, and see toys strewn across, your bike-scooter parked by the edge of the sidewalk and your chalk spilled out down the steps like a rainbow, a puddle of clothes you’ve shucked off insisting you need to be nakie, your water cup and some tiny piece of trash you’ve picked up because you “need” it, three acorn hulls and your current favorite stick – and I think, yes. Yes, this is how a yard should look.
Seeing the world through your eyes has brought back so much joy and wonder in living back into my life, and your father’s, whom you currently call some interchangeable mixture of Papa/Dad/Daddy, depending on your mood. You make us want to make every day a good day, a special day, because to you, all these tiny things we took for granted have so much more meaning and pleasure. Eating a single gummy bear, seeing a neighborhood cat on one of our walks, Kitty licking your fingers, “Mickey and Minnie’s house” appearing before every Disney movie – all of these are tiny wonders that make your eyes light up. “I essited!” you coo, clasping your hands under your chin like a Precious Moments figurine, “I so essited!” You make me and your papa/dad/Daddy excited too – you make us want to hold Easter Egg hunts and go to the Farmer’s Market and visit the river and borrow Toy Story III from the library, just so we can be the people who created that little big of magic for you, in an otherwise demanding and stressful world.
You are, at the cusp of three, wild and free, and more than a touch mischievous. You march around the house sing-shouting, I like to eat-eat-eat apples and bananas; you speed sing, when we learn something new, we do the happy dance-dance! – then look over your shoulder to see if we’ve noticed you being silly. You wander the yard, calling to birdies and squirrelys, urging them to come to your hands so you can pat them. You paddle about the pool with your floaties on, bright-eyed, “I doin’ it! I doin’ it by myself!”
You are, at the cusp of three, tender-hearted. If one of your little friends is upset, you pat their leg. “You OK, you OK!” You want to hug them. You talk about them being upset days later, still concerned. I load you into the car after a family gathering, and your big eyes are heavy-lidded, I know you’re tired even though you’d never admit it, and as we pull away, you look out at everyone gathered in the driveway, making their way into their own cars, and you say, “That my family. I love my family. My sad my family go home.”
You have such a capacity for love, and such a capacity for joy, and you teach us that every day. Sure, you also teach us a lot about patience, especially lately; and you teach us about resilience, when you recover from a meltdown much, much faster than your parents who are often left reeling. But your overwhelming mood is joyful. Your overarching character traits are laughter and affection. You are a light in the lives of so many people, but most especially in the lives of your father and me – and we are so grateful we get to be the ones who help your grow and learn, and hold such special places in your big heart.
All my love,