I've not written a letter to you since you were 13 months old. Sit down with a big mug of something peaceful and drink it in, my baby girl. It's a long one.
Dear Bowie,Recently, we've been visiting public pools, learning to swim. At first you were trepidatious and clingy, but then you began to kick!kick!kick! fantastically. Though shivering, you laughed and bobbed up and down with Mama. You kicked as Daddy helped you glide across the top of the water. You clung to a red bouncy ball for dear life, and you didn't want to get out.
You love water. I admit that I love this about you, in part because it's also a love I share. Last weekend, you determined to go in Gpa's fish pond. You loved it, and we all gathered about watching and enjoying the summer air on skin.
It's a great time of year to be born, if I do say so myself. Everyone should try a summer birthday, just once.
I just read last year's letter that I wrote to you. I expressed a lot of fear about the loss of my baby and how I was dreading the inevitability of your independence. But like you, I have grown up a lot this year. Motherhood feels more and more natural as you integrate into our life, as we become more complete as 3 humans sharing a soul-space.
I have been reading a book called "Brain Rules for Baby," and it's got me thinking about social intelligence. Since it's the main focus of how I am interacting with you these days, I thought you might like to know where I am coming from.
On Happiness:The majority of parents say that the biggest goal for parenting is, "I want my kid to be happy." Humans have spent years and years attempting to define what the word happiness really means. Well, scientists have come to the conclusion that a truly happy human is a connected human. That is to say, a human's personal happiness is inextricably derived from her relationships. Yes, your relationship with yourself, but even more so - your relationship with others.
This makes sense to me. Our very DNA decided long ago that collaboration was better than competition. A single celled organism knew it had no chance of survival alone, so it decided to mate. And mate, and mate, and mate...and billions of years of this mating produced us. The human body - the walking quintessence of collaboration and connection. All temperament and personality traits aside, all humans need connection to other humans.
This has become my focus for you. But how do you teach a child how to be a good friend? There are a lot of practical applications that I am still discovering, but the ideals as stated in "Brain Rules for Baby" are two-fold.
1. Emotional Regulation:A person must develop emotional intelligence before they can be socially smart. They must learn when and how to express their feelings. Many people who were never taught to do this (for indeed it is a lesson to be learned, ideally from your parents) are again and again miserable creatures with toxic relationships. So instead of trying to talk you out of feeling badly, I try to model sitting with how you feel...with naming it and not obsessing with trying to fix it. You cannot regulate emotions if you cannot name what you are feeling. This is much more difficult than I imagined, since being a parent means protecting you.
2. Empathy:Again and again, the word empathy continues to find its way onto my parenting radar. It is the cornerstone for teaching a child almost everything. Sharing, potty-training, self-control, etc. For us, it has been a focus in sharing. Instead of intervening and snatching a toy out of your hand (even though I just told you that 'we don't take toys from our friends') in my attempt to enforce sharing, I simply let you and your friends work it out. When you refuse to share, I try to model empathy. I explain that I understand not wanting to share, and that it's hard to give your toys away. I ask you what toys your friend can have. Instead of me controlling you, I try to find ways to empower you. Sounds great, yes. But, this has lead to you getting toys snatched from you and crying. Your heart is broken, it's obvious.
You are an easy student. You had already begun your own emotional education by acting out sadness. You put your lip out and say, "Sad." Then you say "HUG!" Then you say, "happy." I have no idea who taught you that, but it's achingly beautiful to behold. Your baby, the hose, the kitty, your friends, Mamma, the stool - all of these have been deemed sad, then hugged, then made happy.
But that is now. We've been through a lot in a year. You've gone from baby to human. Where once you needed everything from me, and I needed to be sure I wasn't getting lost in you -now you need less and less from me and I can't even find the place inside where you don't reside.
A Letter of Journal Entries
I've spent hours with my journals, highlighting whenever I spoke of you. Though I didn't write you monthly letters this year, I found myself writing of you in my quiet time. The following represents excerpts of your progress throughout the year.
13 months old, July 2013
July 2013:"Have I begun to miss Bowie? Last night, as I began to wander from the social gathering mentally, I began to dream of Bowie's silly grin and when I go in and wake her up. Her sweet cheeks, her pathetic "ohhhh." I am not eager to return to the work of a toddler, but I miss the personality of Bowie."
14 months old, August 2013
August 2013:"An interesting concept came up in therapy last week. We were discussing Bowie and how's she scaring the shit out of me right now. Exerting her will and showing her independence. She has increasing powers of dislodging my guts; I cherish her more and more. It's unnatural to have a premonition that one's heart is in danger, and still persist in loving. So here I am with my heart bleeding out, and then I hear myself want space from the person threatening to expose me.
It began many weeks ago when she started presenting more of herself to me and I began to resent the new work of keeping her entertained and the mind-numbing repetition of parenting/discipline. I thought I must not like her. Well, if I have the power to dislike her - Fuck. She has the same power. And that's when it hit me newly, that we will have two distinct and different personalities with absolutely zero guarantee that we'll get a long. I think I mistakenly equate getting along with one's parents as a sign of their abilities as a parent."
15 months old, September 2013
"Bowie won't stay put these days. She wants to be where I am, discovering what I am doing, tasting what I'm eating. What a delightful phase, actually. Only weeks ago, I didn't like it. I couldn't find myself time in her new goings on. But I've adjusted. Joel says it's his favorite so far - she's questioning and curious and expressing herself (and LOVES Dad right now, incidentally)."
16 months old, October 2014
October 2013:You took your first steps at your friend Greta's house in mid-October.
17 months old, November 2013
"I'm now always looking forward to seeing her. That little lady is now stuck in my gut."
"She is climbing up on the couch by herself this week. She loves to snuggle the cat, kiss her, try to pick her up, and torture her. She loves to push 'no' even more and it's shocking to me how quickly I became enraged after a few hours of this. She thinks time outs are a game. Test, test, retest...I see her brain doing it. I know it logically, I know it when I step back. I was so frustrated today and when Joel came home, I went to my teeth cleaning with pleasure. When I returned, I was able to handle her volatility with compassion and gentleness. Just step back."
"If I return to full time work, I will mourn the loss of our mornings together. I've learned to tame the productivity beast I wake up with and can ritualize the morning. Bowie is most resilient and independent during this time as well - this gives us both free time. She wanders about, typing on the old typewriter, playing with her toys, signing for me to help her with books or climbing."
18 months old, December 2013
- How easily and deeply you laugh
- Your obsession with and preferences for books. You will bring us the same book to read 6-8 times. We will then try to pick a new one, and you will heartily cast it aside if you don't approve. Sometimes when the house is too quiet, I'll go searching and find you in your room sitting on your rocking chair, reading to yourself. Currently, it's: "Llama Lama" books, "The Going to Bed Book" (despite your disdain for the 2nd to last page?), "The book of 100 words," "Moby Dick," and "Jane Eyre."
- You've begun to pretend with dolls. Real babies used to make you nervous and you cried when they did. Now, when Phoenix comes over and cries, you pat her arm and say "Mou-Mou." You repeat this throughout the week with your dolls, but concerned about MouMou. Your sweet spot has always been apparent, you are snuggler with a gentle soul.
- You are so curious. You love to watch me make coffee or brush your teeth with my sonic care or see what the heck I am always look at on my phone.
- No matter how cranky or sad or upset our day becomes, it can always be reset by going outside. Just the mention of it is enough to get your attention.
- I marvel at how much you understand and how clearly you can already follow verbal instructions.
- You love to water the plants.
- You love to say "Abbey" and "kitty."
- You are verbally aware, mimicking and repeating everything - and you recently impressed me with "applesauce."
19 months old, January 2014
"Bowie's been so good at understanding directions. Just now, I asked her to go find her books behind the couch. She looked that way and went over there, found a plastic puzzle piece and brought it to me. I then pointed at the puzzle under the other couch, saying "this goes with your puzzle under the settee" which she went to promptly. It surprised me."
"Joel and I took B out to dinner. She did so well. She sat well while eating and ate a lot! Suddenly she's a little girl - preferring ketchup and wiggles."
"I hear my husband speaking praises to Bowie as he gives her a bath. I hear the shower gently pelting the bath water, a new routine of hers...to sit in the bath but run the shower. Playing in warm rain. Joel encouraging, laughing, instructing her..."what to relax?" He holds her afloat in the water on her back. She recently looked up at him intently and quietly whispered "Papa."
|Sandhurst Co-Op Preschool|
In February, you started Co-Op preschool. I was nervous the first day because I wasn't sure you were ready for it socially. But you stood in the middle of circle time and smiled at each and every mom and child there. We went every Thursday morning until Summer came, and while you loved the 2.5 hours of singing, socializing, and especially snack - you fell asleep on the 10 min car ride home nearly every time. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the stimulation of people tends to exhaust you. Boy howdy, can I relate.
Love Forever and Always,
March 2014:In March, I somewhat suddenly returned to work. Once again, I was nervous about the transition and once again you reassured me with your secure attachment and resilience. You loved your new nanny, Jenna, from the beginning and we are all doing much better for me being at work, despite the emotional wrenching I had to go through to leave you with someone I didn't know as well as I liked. It was a very rough time for mamma, and I will spare you the pro/con list I made in my journal.
22 months old, April 2013
"Bowie is fun lately. My patience and ability to enjoy raising a toddler is grown and I like that feeling. I bought her a chalkboard/magnet board and she loves it. She recognizes the letters 'B' 'Q' and 'O.' She knows shapes too. Square, triangle, circle, diamond, and crescent (she calls it moon, of course). She screams 'NO' a lot and dislikes sharing, so I'd say she's right on target. She's insane about wanting to be outside these days. She says "ahsigh!" and looks for her alien rain boots. She loves those boots*."
*see boots below
23 months old, May 2014
"I DO IT!"
"B is remarkable, we love raising her together. She makes us continually proud. I can see where she will struggle in life, but those ares of struggle are also gateways to her own soul, how she will know (and hopefully learn to love) herself. I would be doing her a huge disservice to save her from struggle - if I even could."
24 months, June 2014
- You have so many words, including 4-5 word sentences. At your 18 month old appointment, the doctor asked how many words you had. At that time, it was around 50. I have now given up counting.
- You did the cutest thing a few months ago. You have a mobile of planets above your bed, and we periodically review them with you. You can identify 4 of them without hesitation, but back when you could only say 'earf,' you also asked to hold it. The planets unhook from the string, so Daddy gave you the earth. You demanded to sleep with it, and when we entered your room the next morning with you still sleeping, you had the earth tucked tightly up into the crux of your arm.
- You show a solid attachment to the people in your life. You love your aunts and uncles and know them all by name, often asking for them throughout the day.
- You love and hate loud noises, fascinated by them, but often comforting yourself against their intrusion, "It's okay, I got you, I'm right here."
- You know all your colors, can count from 3-5, and did your first big job in the potty.
- Hearing you say "Andromeda" or "hellicopter" (budertopter) or calling me 'Candace' or demanding to be naked is the cutest thing in the world.
I could go on and on for my interest and noticing of you. Perhaps every parent feels awed by their child, but what's truly remarkable is watching a human child develop in your care. It's the greatest experiment of our lives.
Love Forever and Always,
(I mean it. "Just try to get rid of me" as Grandma Denise used to say):