We read The Very Hungry Caterpillar at library story time today. The book was your pick. You lurched out of my lap, rifled through a basket of books, and emerged victorious with the largest copy of Eric Carle’s book I’ve ever seen. You handed the Caterpillar off to the librarian and scurried shyly back to my lap. When we made it to the payback for the caterpillar’s campaign of voracious gluttony, the stomach ache, you turned, drilled a finger into my shoulder and said, “Mama?!” Yes, I had a stomach ache. And then I passed the stomach flu onto you. Your finger drilled into your own shoulder. “Yes, you had a tummy ache too.” “Yeah,” you said, head nodding in double confirmation.
You are 22 months and 3 weeks old today. I’m not writing to you because you’ve achieved some great calendar milestone. No, that second birthday is still five weeks away on the calendar. I’m writing to say thanks. Just thanks for being you. The you of today. I’ve known and loved the past yous—the you of one minute old, the you who screeched with every ounce of infant breath at bath time, the you who sang softly along stroller walks, the you who said “Pssss” (please) at a year old, the you who charged into the ocean waves with the squeals of a land-locked mermaid, the you who burrowed her head in my neck when her tummy ached. With each “you” I meet, I feel a pang of loss at leaving behind the previous you, but the newest “you” is always the best you yet. I’m thankful for you today.
Here are some moments of today’s you:
• I love how you thread your fingers in my hair absentmindedly. I (mostly) don’t mind when you destroy my pony tails in this manner. Yesterday, you invented a game of pushing my hair into my face, looping tendrils across my nose. Laughs, chuckles, and titters. Later, your little hand tucked each lingering hair back behind my shoulder.
• I love how you give full body hugs. The way your eyes brighten in anticipation of the squeeze as your legs tense, then push off, hurtling your momentum-weighted limbs and torso into my open arms. You pat my back with your head laid solidly on my shoulder. We breathe together for a few breaths.
• I love how you tell stories. How you use a combination of words, signs, and “Yeeees” and “Noooo” to convey meaning. The woodpecker story. The “broke” tree story. The Daddy going to work story. The sleepy spider story. The duck story. The Waylon Uh-Oh story. The ballerina shirt that got dirty and had to go in the washing machine story. The cat on the dining room table story (“No, no, no” you say, wagging your finger, your eyebrows arched with impish delight.) I love watching your memory take root: This week, you discovered the “Go Momma!” sign from my half marathon. The plain, white back is facing out. You knew, though, and remembered. “Mama!” you said, and then ran from one end of the room to the other. “Mama,” you said again, and banged your fists together in the sign for shoes. Yes, Mama went running with her running shoes.
• I love how you demand to know where your special people are. Over and over and over. Daaaaa? And Meme? And Baba? And Mmmya-Mmmya? And Lylylya? And Yeah-yon? And Yar-yeh? And Nana? Each time I answer (home, work, lunch, school, sleeping), you confirm my response with a “Yeah.” Then, “Daaaa?” and we begin again.
• I love your animal noises. The “Doh-doh-doh” of the duck’s quack. The “Huh-huh-huh” of the dog’s bark. The “Myeouw, myeouw, myeouw” of the cat’s meow. The “Mmmmmm” of the cow’s moo. The “Bzzzzzzzssss” of the bee’s buzz. The “Psssssss” of the snake’s hiss. The “Bawk-a-bawk-a-bawk” of the chicken’s cluck.
• I love how you’re learning to name your world. After months of silent signing, your mouth is catching up with your hands and language is now sprouting like a Chia pet. Just yesterday you conquered the linguistic challenges of “Red, yellow, green, and spice rack.”
• I love your naked dancing. The way you combine spinning with squatting with marching with jumping with running with hiding (“Hiiiii?” you say). The way you demand to hear the Ralph’s World C-O-F-F-E-E song by covering your mouth with your hand and giving a series of fake coughs. The way you laugh, and laugh, and laugh some more as you cavort around your room, naked as a jaybird, avoiding the bath.
• I love your new discovery of pretending. How you point to Miss Clavell’s girls lined up in beds and designate that one as Madeline, that one as Isabelle, that one as Georgia, and that one (melt) as Mama. How you demand my and Big Friend’s presence under the dining room table for a pretend dinner. How you pick up pretend (I hope) crumbs from the floor and offer them to us as delicacies, chortling when Big Friend accepts with appropriately noisy and exuberant munching sounds.
I love the you of today.
You pooped on your bedroom floor this afternoon. Squatted down and squeezed out some lovely brown goo. That was after I heard suspicious tinkling noises coming from where you squatted in front of the training toilet. Two small wet socks and a handful of soggy paper towels later, the messes were a thing of the past. I bit my tongue (hard) and simply celebrated the “big girl” feat of peeing and pooping sans diaper.
I’ve never talked more about bodily functions than since becoming a mom.
It’s not that I’m gung-ho about potty training. I’m anything but. I’d be happy to wait to potty train until you tell me, “Mama, none of the other girls in first grade wear diapers.” Diapers are awfully convenient for me, you see. Yet without parental prodding, you’ve gone and decided that kid’s potties are about the coolest things you’ve seen. And you need one. And you can use one. I feel faint.
I’m still wondering who gave you permission to move from taking baths in my kitchen sink to full-blown synchronized swimming sessions in the bathtub.
Then there’s the issue of the big girl bed. Really? Do you have to go there? This weekend, you spent our trip to IKEA lolling about each and every kid bed with a look on your face that was nothing short of the first glimpse of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
I’m still wondering when you stopped sleeping in your cradle next to me. How can I shift so quickly from crib to bed? Slow down, Little Friend, slow down.
It’s taking me awhile to catch up. I find that I’m complaining often about time. I’m falling into the old standby, “They grow up so fast!” It’s an easy thing to throw into a quick conversation with the barista at the coffee shop, but I’ve come to the conclusion that “Time flies” is a misrepresentation of the true nature of time. At least the time spent in the company of a growing little girl.
Time is more like an old jalopy that idles, sputters, and then lurches forward unpredictably. To combat the erratic, eroding nature of time, each day I’m cognizant of treasuring the idle moments, the times when you want “Up, up, up” while I’m peeling potatoes and even though the water is boiling and demanding attention, I put down the spud and pick you up for a spinning hug around the kitchen. Your shoes ratchet along the stove knobs. You squeal with laughter. The moment is solid, tangible, heavy in my grip. There is nothing else but me and you. Then somehow, time makes an unspecified lurch forward, and it’s a day later. The moment is gone, barely remembered, quickly lost.
Kind of like the caterpillar in The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
One moment he’s an egg. Then for quite a satisfied while, he munches. And munches. And munches. We get to know every little detail about what he eats, how much he eats, and even what colors he eats. Such a nice, long, hypnotizing interlude of time. But in a shockingly swift and decisive leap of time, the page turns, he balloons into a BIG caterpillar, and in the space of just one more page turn, just one!, the caterpillar is gone and replaced by a butterfly.
Don’t butterfly on me yet, Little Friend.
Let’s linger a bit today, munching our way through one red apple, or five oranges, or if you prefer, the piece of salami that you pointed out as your favorite food at library story time. (Have you ever tasted salami?!) Let’s laugh about poop smears on the carpet and pee that lands just one inch shy of the toilet. Let’s take one more whirl around the kitchen, not caring if the potato water boils over.
Because I can’t hold onto the you of today forever. This moment is my only chance to cheat time. So thanks for being the you of today. Thanks for the smiles, the points, the kicks, the “Mama!”s, the runny nose, the hugs, the jumps, the spins, the laughs. I’m sad for the sun to go down on today. I’m happy because I’ll love tomorrow’s you even more. And one page turn after that…