Door.

That’s what she said just weeks ago when asked how old she would be on her birthday.

Yesterday, when it really was her birthday, and she wore her very favorite twirly dress (because only twirly dresses will do now), she put her teeth to her lips and, very carefully and slowly, said that she turned “fffour.” (Diego also swings from a “vine” now and not a “dine.” It’s both exciting and sad, at least to this mama. Probably easier for Diego, though.)

When her daddy told her that she’d be four at 10:31, she told him no.

No?

No.

She wouldn’t be four, she said, until she blew out the candles.

She did, and now she’s four. FFFOUR! Happy birthday, sweet girl. We love you.

Swinging into her 4th birthday

Swinging into her 4th birthday

Here’s what I want to know: Can I put off my next birthday if I just let the candles burn down? No, probably not. The resulting fire would bring a neighborhood bucket brigade, and I’m pretty sure that would ruin the cake.

One year and one and a half days ago, we looked like this:

April 10, 2013 - late morning

April 10, 2013 – late morning

Not quite five hours later, we looked like this:

Being in the world requires a nap

Being in the world requires a nap

About seven and a half hours later (Baby Boy’s maybe three hours old here), he and his big sister met:

Baby and big sister meet

Baby and big sister meet

And he was small and beautiful and perfect:

Two days old

Two days old

Now he’s one year old

Carrot cake for the boy who loves carrots

Carrot cake for the boy who loves carrots

and we’re so excited to know him, to have spent this year together, to have learned more about this sweet-tempered, inquisitive boy.

We couldn’t love you more, Baby Boy, and we look forward to all that the next year – and the year after that, and the year after that, and…well, you get the picture, right? – will bring.

Baby Boy's first birthday

Baby Boy’s first birthday

“Mama?”

“‘tick.”

“Mama?”

“‘tick.”

“Mama?”

“‘tick.”

There’s nothing more like music to a mother’s ears than being called “stick,” is there. Or is there? Wait, I guess “Mama” would be pretty nice, now that I think about it.

For Baby Boy, though, the world is new, full of sights and smells and objects just waiting to be named, whereas he’s been around me every day of his life, all 11 1/2 months of it. We name those things for him, and some, like “red” or “hat,” pass unnoticed, unremarked, much as we might ignore a word like “pulchritude.” (How is it possible that such an ugly-sounding word means “beauty,” and how could you use it without insulting the source of that beauty?) Others prove to be of some fleeting interest, like “Mamama” or “Da,” which we hear every now and again, just often enough to keep the embers of parental-name pride glowing. Yet others bring joy and rapture and repetition – and Saturday, two days ago, that word was “stick” (which, really, was still only in a tie with and did not supplant “kwuh,” his word for “squirrel,” which seems to represent for him all that is good and fascinating about the outside world. He points, he watches, he looks rapturously outside as he says “kwuh!”, but would he know a squirrel if one ran up to him and dropped an acorn on his head? I’m not sure. But he does love to say “squirrel”!)

It was naptime, and, as is more common than I’d like, Baby Boy was not napping. He was, however, fussing. We were outside, our family of four, with my sisters and their significant others (one husband, one fiance), at Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia. As we stood at the playground, a happy home away from home for children near and far, regarding the lake-turned-giant-puddle from the film Dirty Dancing and watching Preschool Girl play, Baby Boy’s fussing continued. To distract him, we held up a stick. (Given the options at our feet, it seemed better than the sand.) “Stick!” we pronounced, as if it were a gold medal, something to be prized and cradled. “Stick!”

“‘tick!” he repeated excitedly.

And then WE seemed like the ones learning the word, because we delighted in the game, each saying “stick!” over and over again.

The trouble with the game, though, is that when you are eleven and a half months old, it is not enough to say the word “stick.” It is not enough to see a stick and know it as a stick, in all its this-used-to-be-part-of-a-tree glory. No, you say “stick!” because you want to hold the stick. You want to hold the stick aloft. You want to brandish the stick in ways that endanger your vision and that of the person holding you. As a responsible parent, then, one must take away the stick. You, the eleven and a half month old, will be bereft. You will cry for your stick. You will call for your stick (since you now have a word for it). You will mourn for the stick you have loved lo these past three minutes. Whoever said it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all has never taken a stick away from a baby. It is a moment of crisis.

And then, thank goodness for the aunts. “Squirrel?” they say.

“Kwuh?”

The crisis is over, for now, with the reminder of another word, another part of the outside world to focus on. Maybe, one of these days, “Mama” or “Dada” will make it back into the regular rotation. We’re outside with him too, right? I guess we just need to grow bushy tails.

Daddy, Baby Boy, and Uncles on the AT

Daddy, Baby Boy, and Uncles on the AT

 

Aunties, Preschool Girl, and Mama on the AT

Aunties, Preschool Girl, and Mama on the AT

Last night, the boy had a terrible night’s sleep.

So did his parents.

He was up and unhappy from midnight (the new midnight, darn that daylight savings time) until 1:30. No amount of nursing, bouncing, or singing made any difference. He’d quiet down, he’d stop wiggling – then he’s start up again. At long last, he slept, and so did we.

This morning, I wondered aloud to Matthew whether the boy was building up to walking and that’s why he’s sleeping so badly. He turned to Benjamin and asked him to walk – and, in something like a Jazzercise grapevine maneuver to his right, Benjamin took his first steps! Three of them with his right leg (and so three with his left, too). He then sat and crawled on his merry way, to the cheers of his audience of three. Hooray!

He gave a repeat performance this afternoon in Maggie Lu’s room, upping the number of steps to five. He’s on his way. He’s on his way!

10th

 

My daughter has been beautiful since the day she was born, and I’ve never questioned that. My son has been beautiful since the day he was born, and I never questioned that, although I had to get over the shock of the fact that no, he was not my first-born all over again.

Beautiful, they were.

And nearly bald.

We marvel now, at ten and a half months, at how much hair Benjamin has, compared to how much hair Maggie Lu had at the same time. Really! In real life, it looks like more!

Benjamin crawling

About to get ready for bed!

Maggie Lu in crawling pose

Books! (Photo by Cortney Smith)

But we marvel at her hair now, too, how much there is, how we worried that it would never grow in. When did that happen?

It snuck up on us. Beneath the hair we could see, a new fringe would grow – like Snorkmaiden’s fringe. Beneath that new hair, more would grow. The new fringe would march across her face in rows, serious, intent, focused. It took its work seriously. Row after row marched, growing, like a child, from tiny to long. Now, we have a girl with a full head of hair. It’s still fine and silky, slipping out of ponytail holders and barrettes, but her scalp hides behind it like a plate beneath the bounty of Thanksgiving dinner.

Life with two children is like that, too. You look away for a minute – you read the news, you watch the Olympics in Sochi, you shower – and by the time you look back, there’s more, a bounty of childhood delight. You realize that your son has six teeth (at least!) in, that he knows to turn around and back off of the bed and can stand on his own for a long time, that he has, for more than a month, been making the sounds “Mamama” and, for weeks, “Dadada,” and that he can mimic all sorts of mouth sounds. He has been clapping for a week. You notice that, just the other day, your daughter first said the letter “f” in a way that someone outside of the house would understand. That her imagination has kept Diego, Baby Jaguar, and Alicia as her nearly-constant companions. That in spite of so many changes, she still loves to sit on the floor to look at new books, legs stretched straight in front of her, back straight (but now, a little curved, an early hint of the teenager slouch, perhaps?), intent and focused, eyes marching across the pages.  She showed the same intensity yesterday at her first play, Go, Dog. Go! Benjamin cried at each startling noise, so we spent much of our time in the lobby. Not her, though. She sat with Daddy, rapt. Afterwards, she spoke to several of the “dogs” and hugged some of their legs, too, ever the social creature. In the lobby, Benjamin, a social boy himself, sat and waved at passersby, and one couple, to his delight, even came over to greet him in return, practicing, they told me, for when they would become grandparents themselves in the fall. In the path of the shining sun, his hair was aglow.

Beautiful hair, growing straight down a girl’s back or in a whorl around a boy’s head. What else will sneak up on us, will seem to be on the fringe before popping into full view?

January 7: This is best done on the second day in a row of single-digit weather in a usually warmish climate, when getting out of the house just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

INGREDIENTS
One tube of yogurt, generally marketed for consumption by children or those on the go.

DIRECTIONS
1. Remove the tube of yogurt from the refrigerator.
2. Tear off the top bit of plastic as instructed; throw the trash in the trash.
3. Hand open tube of yogurt to your hungry preschooler. Be sure that the baby is nearby.
4. Direct your attention elsewhere while your preschooler is about to consume the yogurt.
5. Turn back in surprise when you realize the baby has taken the tube of yogurt into his hand and shaken it gleefully, like a hose in the summertime. 
6. Shriek, just a little bit, before tossing the limp remains of the yogurt tube into the trash and assessing the damage.
7. Remove all clothes from your preschooler; skip the hamper and put them directly into the washing machine.
8. Check your son for the tell-tale scent of strawberry yogurt; remove socks and zip-up hoodie. Take these directly to the washer as well.
9. Spot-check the rug for evidence; wipe at least three spots.
10. Laugh at yourself. What else can you do?
11. Remove an additional tube of yogurt from the refrigerator for saddened preschooler and hope for the best…

My math for the day: Months in = Months out. Nine = Nine. A balanced equation with nothing to solve for. (Apologies to my preposition-at-the-end-of-a-sentence hating mathematician of a husband.)

Today, Baby Boy, Benjamin, formerly known as Baby Baby, is nine months old. Sure, if you want to quibble, my math isn’t exactly right: He was born at 40 weeks + 1 day. That would be January 18th. Some two weeks of that were pre-conception, however. 38 weeks + 1 day would put us in the past, on January 4th.

So I made a choice. Life is often about choices – what to eat for breakfast, which shirt to wear, whether you can find enough calm in you to gently admonish your shouting daughter while trying to lull your son to sleep. This time, I choose to celebrate today in two ways: happy nine month birthday, Baby Boy, and happy balancing day. Right now, your story arc makes a perfect “v”; soon, one side will grow longer…and longer…and longer. And longer and longer, if my hopes become reality.

For the moment, I’m enjoying the balance. Nine months = Benjamin = happiness.

Who knew carrots were soothing?

 

I always hope and expect that the holidays will be something beautiful and peaceful, more swan or dove than ostrich. This year, sadly, we could dub this season the holiday of the ostrich.

On December 20th, Benjamin needed a doctor’s visit after having a fever for a day – and then his fever was 103.9! Ear infection. Amoxicillin.

Abbreviated in-law visit.

Christmas at home!

On December 26th, Maggie Lu needed a doctor’s visit after complaining of a sore throat. Strep throat. Amoxicillin.

Even once her spirits improved (after skipping dinner that night and being in bed at 6:00), she still had a cough that didn’t go away. Attempt to head off for family visit…and resulting ER visit. Croup, symptom of some virus. Breathing treatment, no impact. Scary, but, as we were told, she’s old enough that she can still breathe, even with the swelling, so we don’t need to worry. But of course, we worry. It IS scary. And it still isn’t gone. At the worst of times, it sounded like she was snoring when breathing in and breathing out, and a coughing or crying jag made it seem like she was gasping for air. Once, she even threw up.

Not to be left out, Benjamin added a whole-body rash to the mix – probably a reaction to the amoxicillin and not really anything to worry about, either, the ER doctor reassured us. Oh, good. A polka-dotted child.

Return home instead of continuing on. No my-family Christmas. Sadness.

During all of this, to add to the fun, Matthew’s had a virus, too. Happy holidays!

Yes, we’re ready for the new year, if for no other reason than to leave this bout of illness behind. Thank you, 2013, for bring us Benjamin and making us a family of four. We’re grateful. I hope that 2014 brings healthiness and adventure and lots of cozy friend and family time, both for us and for you out there, reading these words on your screen. And while I’m at it, I’ll hope for many nights of good sleep, too. Why not? Even birds have to roost sometime.

Blocks, plastic and rubberwood. Books, Swedish (with Pettson and Findus) and American. Moomin slipper socks and other games, toys, ornaments, and odds and ends. Representations of the love that we have for one another. Not necessary (the gifts, that it – love IS!), but nice.

Lots of the world celebrates the birth of one child (“Where is Jesus now?” my toddler girl asked, and I told her that he died a long time ago, and how could I tell her more now?), and we celebrate his birth, too. We sang, we ate, we opened presents. The tree in the living room still glows, a shining testimony of our celebration.

And because it is the time to celebrate coming into the world, I also celebrate the birth of my two children, my best gift, and my luckiest. Merry Christmas, sweet ones. Merry Christmas. I hope that you will always be surrounded by the warmth of real love. What better gift could anyone hope for than that?

Merry Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

Last night, life went back to normal when Matthew returned home after 3 1/2 weeks of slightly crazy European travel. “I still think about him,” my toddler girl said at one point while he was gone. I’m glad.

Here’s a quick list of what’s happened in the interim, since last writing, in a way that is functional but sadly lacking in style:

Baby Boy actually has TWO bottom teeth, not just the one we thought. He saw his first snow. He began to crawl then pull up and he seems to like food now (he’s tried everything from lima beans and garbanzo beans to puffs and other cereal – wheat-free – and fruits and peas). Last weigh-in, December 4th, he was at 21 lbs., 6.2 oz. He wears 12-month-old clothing, and with his cloth diaper bum, that is sometimes a stretch!

Toddler Girl discovered the letter “l” with no fanfare a’tall. From the library, we checked out Liesel Moak Skorpen’s All the Lassies, a book about a boy who wants a dog but instead gets a lot of other small pets along the way. It ends with a nice surprise and is a fun book to read aloud. “And what does he name the turtle?” I asked, as we read it a second time through. With an exaggerated curve of her tongue to her top teeth, she enunciated, “Llllassie.” And one more little girl thing was gone. She still says “dezhen” for “seven,” among other things, so there is still plenty of little girl charm. “Magnificent!” as she said when she heard her brother had fallen asleep the other night.

Life does seem pretty magnificent now, in fact.

DSC_0439

 

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