A little over two years ago, I lay in a hospital bed, a fetal monitor strapped to my belly, ultrasound gel oozing out from underneath, cold and blue as a bruise. Your heartbeat accelerated and decelerated, sending the needle of the monitor dancing in a frenzied staccato – up, then down, then up again. The nurse held the print-out in her hands and shook her head, smiling: “This one is going to be a handful.”
You’re much more than a handful now, two years old and full of fire.
You ran over to me this morning, skidding to a halt at my feet. Your eyes wide as saucers, you reached up and asked, “Hold me like a baby?” I bent down then and lifted you up, cradling your head – punctuated by two cornsilk pigtails – in my left elbow, dangling your now coltish legs over my right, and inhaled your Pampers scent. I looked down at you as your face opened into a wide grin at the cleverness of your ruse.
“Are you a baby or a big girl?” I asked you, just as I do every time we play this game.
“Big girl and baby,” you assured me. And how right you are in this moment at which you examine me and your whole world from your perch on the ledge between babyhood and girlhood.
Every day, it seems, your body stretches out. Angles and planes reveal themselves where only curves were before. Your cheeks, once downright Rubenesque, are narrowing. Your legs, honed by a year of walking, then running, then jumping (can leaping be far behind?), grow longer and skinnier by the minute. Your hair, stick straight, baby fine, and refusing to be tamed by any ordinary “‘air bow,” falls into your eyes and into your food. Your tummy is somehow less convinced of your age, clinging to its round tautness and jutting out over your diaper and leggings.
Tinker, tailor, solider, spy, you drink in the sights and sounds of your world as though through a straw. You move quickly through the house, pumping your left arm as you run, deciding which puzzle to do next, how high to build your Duplo tower, or how much damage you can do to one brother’s wooden castle or the other’s Playmobil creation. A miniature cruise director, you narrate everything you do and see, seeking confirmation in a world that is still quite new to you: “Daddy’s at work, right, Mommy?” and “You put ‘yotion’ on my big legs after my bath, right?” The tiniest drill sargeant, you bark orders and offer quick assessments: “Read me this book, Mommy”; “Get me my milk-a-milk-a”; and, most insistently, “Snuggle me!”
How could I ever refuse?
Though you look up to your big brothers – both literally and figuratively – you are in every way your own girl. Rarely bound by traditional rules of fashion, you announce your avant-garde style with accessories like dinosaur print rain slickers (inside, on a sunny day), Mardi Gras beads, giant sunglasses, and plastic toy bins repurposed as hats. You shoo everyone out of the hallway so you have enough space for your “yoga stretching.” You showcase your diverse taste in music – from “Tinkle Stars” to “I Like to Move It” – through interpretive dance moves reminiscent of Elaine Benes. No one finds you more entertaining than you find yourself as you triumphantly laugh and declare “funny!” every one of your non-sensical knock-knock jokes.
As you try to keep up with your brothers, your agility and derring-do sometimes outpace your judgment, scaring me and you in equal measures – like the time you scaled the dining room chairs and climbed to the middle of the table while I was cooking dinner. As you rose onto your feet and started to sing “Eye of the Tiger,” you noticed the height and thought better of it, but weren’t sure how to get yourself back down. I ran over to you and scooped you up as you started to cry, silently grateful that, though you might not need me as much as you used to, need me you still do.
And though you be but little, you are fierce. You careen from serene to laughing to outraged in the blink of an eye. You know what you want and you insist on getting it. And, when you don’t, you screech at a volume and pitch to rival an eagle’s. Sometimes your storm rages on and you clear the counter of your play kitchen with one sweeping gesture, sending wooden watermelon and plastic ice cream to the floor. At other times, the cyclone passes as quickly as it came, stillness and giggles left in its wake. It is at these moments that I see the seeds of the conflicts we are sure to have when you are older; I comfort myself that we have years yet for you to rage over a second cookie rather than car keys and curfews.
My strong, smart, beautiful girl, my indomitable two year old handful, it is an honor to be your mother, to shepherd you and hold you and follow you through your childhood, to bear witness to all that you are and all that you are becoming.
I am delighted to offer this contribution to the This is Childhood series. Please follow along with us every Tuesday as we commemorate the mess and magic of childhood with a post on each age from one to ten.
ONE – Aidan Donnelley Rowley
TWO – me
THREE – Nina Badzin
FOUR – Galit Breen
FIVE – Allison Slater Tate
SIX – Bethany Meyer
SEVEN – Tracy Morrison
EIGHT – Amanda Magee
NINE – Denise Ullem
TEN – Lindsey Mead