(EDIT: I meant to post this on February 12th, but instead your dad and I watched The Danish Girl in our quest to watch some of this year’s best picture nominations before the Oscars are actually handed out. So sue me. I can’t do everything.)
Tomorrow morning at 8:59 am PST you will be eighteen months old. When I was pregnant with you – a million years ago – I had this adorable idea that I would write you a letter for each month of your first year. It is now the night before you turn eighteen months old and I am only just sitting down to write something for the very first time.
(Thank you Chiswick Chronicles!)
(Why is it that people think they will somehow spontaneously become better versions of themselves when they have kids? “We will eat more vegetables!” or “We won’t stay up late watching terrible television; we will read books about child development and educational crafts!” or “I’ll start writing monthly letters!”)
The thing about you – Leo Fox Parker – is that even before you were out and about in the world, we knew you would be a strong and adventurous person. The story of how you arrived in the world is for another time, but in the five days between knowing you were on your way and your actual birth, the one constant thing in our lives was your steady heartbeat. It was like you were already telling us, “I’ve got this. I’ve got this. I’ve got this.” Bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump.
You were in the NICU a remarkably short 11 days, surprising everyone with your quick departure. Among other things, premature babies are only discharged after they prove that their on demand feeds equal or surpass the recommended amount of milk necessary for healthy weight gain.* You pulled out your nasogastric tube twice (quite the feat, as it was taped to your face and required a certain amount of coordination not expected from a 2 day old, 4 lb preemie), and although the gesture was likely due to discomfort I also like to think that you were saying “I’m ready for a bottle, guys. I’ve got this. I’ve got this. I’ve got this.” And you were ready. You’d got this.
Part of the wonder of becoming a parent is realizing that your kid is another human being, wholly separate from who you are and at the very same time uniquely connected to you in a way that no other person is. It’s so weird. What it felt like then, and often feels like now, is that you had a plan for your life and you were making it happen. We – your hapless parents – were just along for the ride. Eighteen months later you still approach life the way you did in those first few weeks in the NICU. You are confident and independent, and surprisingly able. You are also engaging and curious, playful and determined, strong willed and daring. You’re a rascal, my sweet son, and we love you.
Here, in no particular order, and without an overarching theme except for “write it down, quick! before he wakes up from his nap!” are a few things that we have noticed about you, at 18 months:
*** At eighteen months you approach the world as if everything in it is yours for the taking. It is a beautifully frustrating thing. I love that you will fearlessly march into a room jam-packed full of new kids, spot the toy you want the most, walk over to the two older boys playing with it, sit down on one boy’s lap and wrest the truck out of the other boy’s hand, shouting “truck!” Your bravery astounds me. (This, of course, is also the behavior of a despotic egomaniac, which is definitely an apt description of the toddler persona.)
***Every day we head “outside for an adventure,” which is always our saving grace. When it is 8:23 am and I have already had to deal with your “bravery” all morning (a nice way of saying irrational toddler demands) we know how to fix it. We have a routine. We put a jacket on over our pajamas, hats if its cold, and I grab my coffee. You find a stick, I pick a spot on the stoop. And then you dig. Sometimes we wander down the street to follow trucks, or dogs, or to chase plastic wrappers that catch your eye. Almost every time we come back inside refreshed and reset. Fresh air and dirt under the fingernails, our recipe for joyful hearts.
***You go to bed around 7:30 every night, after bath time with your dad. Aside from when you are teething, or adjusting to a trip, you usually wake up around 7 am after a brief feed at 5 am. You currently nap once or twice a day, and gosh if nap time never lasts as long as I need it to! You didn’t start out a great sleeper – being 4 lbs with a stomach the size of a grape will make sleeping difficult for a person – but you need your sleep, so we worked hard for this routine. You’ve been sleeping in a crib for over a year, and for the first time last month you climbed out. It totally freaked us out, and thankfully since we lowered the crib mattress by a few inches you haven’t done it again. Praise the Lord.
***You are the sort of kid who learns boundaries quickly, understanding consequences, weighing them, and sometimes choosing to cross the line because it is worth it to you. For example, you (used to) throw food. A lot. After trying every “positive parenting” technique in the book, I decided to tell you that when you throw food you are telling me you are all done and the meal is over. No second chances. No wiggle room. It’s been about a week and I am happy to report that mealtimes no longer drive me to the depths of despair or into a seething rage. Progress! But the thing is, you still throw food sometimes. You’ll pick up a piece of sausage, look me in the eye, and toss it nonchalantly to the floor. When I wash your hands and remove you from the kitchen you aren’t upset, instead you give me this look that says, “I knew what I was doing, and I am happy to live with this consequence.” It is the worst. I am hoping this means you will be the sort of grown up who challenges boundaries that shouldn’t be there, boundaries of race and sex and class. But for now I just need you to know that throwing food is not for us.
*** You have a small and well loved circle of favorite things, including: your dad (all things that”dada” uses regularly are called “dada,” for example the aeropress, the laptop, the hair dryer), foxy (your beloved stuffy), trucks and cars and airplanes and emergency vehicles of every kind, books (currently, Peepo! Cars & Trucks & Things That Go, Everywhere Babies, Just Like My Dad and an alphabet book with flaps), trying to put on your socks, pretending to call people on random objects (“hiiiii!”), the great outdoors, cooking, figuring out machines (bikes, stoves, washing machines, electric heaters, hair dryers), climbing things, and dumping things off high places so they crash “bam!”
***In the past two weeks your language has really taken off and it is so exciting to hear your sing song voice describe the world around you. Your dad and I are often too slow to understand everything you want us to hear, and this will probably continue throughout your life in a more metaphorical sense, but we hang on every word. It is a joy to listen to you chatter. Some of the words you have been saying a lot include: fire truck, thank you, banana, potato (my favourite, so cute! “tay-toe”), water, book, hot, chicken (“bok bok”), sock, wow, and baby.
***You like to eat oatmeal, sausages, bananas (“nanas!”), pears, apples (but only if you can have an entire apple), peas, peanut butter, cheese, bolognese, curry and anything that your dad and I are having even if you don’t actually love it. You will not, under any circumstances, eat eggs or broccoli.
***Last week we went to a drop-in football (soccer) class for kids aged 2 and 3. Your very first organized (term used very loosely!) sports activity! You were a bit too young for the exercises, but loved throwing the ball, stealing other kids’ snacks, and following the two young men who taught the class. We don’t have you enrolled in any weekly activities, but we have been going to a drop-in play group at church where you and what seems like hundreds of other small children run around like crazy people amidst heaps of super fun toys. After only three weeks you are already obsessed with the church creche (nursery) and run towards it when we enter the sanctuary. This all makes me think that you will be very ready for preschool, whenever that happens. (Preschool! Gah, where did my baby go?)
***You are not a naturally affectionate kid. When you fall down, or get upset, you are not the sort of person who wants a long cuddle. What works for you is a quick look of reassurance and some assistance so that you can get on with whatever plan you are executing. (This does not apply to when you are teething. When you are teething you want me but don’t want me and it is hard and sad for all of us.) I have often selfishly wished that you were a naturally snuggly person, because snuggles with a small warm person who smells like heaven is obviously a lovely thing. But I love that you are independent. And I pray that one day you learn how beautiful it is to need other people, too. You don’t give hugs on command – and good for you! it is your body and you are the boss of it – so when you do reach up and put your arms around my neck, borrowing into my shoulder with your head and resting there for even just 10 seconds it is a miracle thing. I will always remember the very first time you did it.
***Just because you are not naturally affectionate does not mean that you are not totally and completely darling. It just means that your primary love language isn’t hugs and kisses. Love is so much bigger than hugs and kisses anyways, so good for you. Right now, at eighteen months, you show love by engaging other people in your play, by making jokes, and being silly. You show love by spending time with people, reading your favorite books, crashing wooden block towers, digging in the dirt. You show love in your ready smile for strangers, your contagious laughter, your games. Strangers often comment on your engaging nature. I hope that no matter what happens you will always have this open heartedness towards other people, giving strangers the benefit of the doubt, and letting curiosity win over fear. In a CBC radio interview last year Eve Ensler said this phrase that I really love, something about love being a simple gathering of daily kindnesses, and I pray that this is true for you.
Parenting you is the hardest best thing that I have ever done in my life. You are such a cool person, I can hardly wait to see what you’ve got planned next.
*NICU babies are fed via gastric tube every three hours until they can feed “on demand,” or independently, whenever they choose.