Meredith: 18 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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You are changing a lot. Things are getting less simple every day with you, and this month has been full of me learning you.

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I say “Be happy” a lot because you are developing a propensity for garden-variety complaining. You just moan about insignificant things like getting your face washed. I want you to learn to be cheerful and to have control over your own emotions. I don’t want to deny your emotions or make you think they are a negative thing, and I don’t want you to think you can’t show “sad” to me, even if it is “sad for no reason.” But at this stage of the game I think my job is to help you know what emotions are appropriate in what moments. And moaning like the world is ending just because you’re bored in the shopping cart or don’t want me to buckle you into your car seat is not appropriate. So be happy.

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I say “Be sweet” a lot too, and along the same lines, “No screaming.” No screaming is a big one, about as big as “Sit down,” since you constantly stand up in your chair at the table. The screaming usually happens when you and your brother get into a snit. Your relationship is explosive these days. You are so quick to take offense or feel threatened by each other, and for plenty good reason. You are completely up in each other’s business all day long. This makes for lots of happiness, too, especially when you are fiercely wrestling each other on the floor. But when once someone so much as makes a suspicious glance at someone else’s toy, there is no hope of softening the impact. It always, instantly becomes full-on screaming at each other. (A fun project for the coming month!) I told a friend last night I feel like I’m getting good, as a parent, at anticipating a wave. Parenting seems to come in waves of hard, and I have been gently afloat in some pretty peaceful water the last week or two, but I can feel this one coming.

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These days you have so much more personality, so much more will. We have been working on “Come here” all day every day, and you are finally starting to do pretty well. You are a firecracker, and a dangerous, unpredictable one. I say unpredictable but actually, I’m learning to predict you pretty well: If any given hypothetical tends toward extraordinarily disastrous, I can predict that it will actually play out. Like yesterday… You have this way of climbing onto chairs suddenly, and from there the obvious next step is the table, though so far I’ve always managed to intervene. Yesterday in the middle of the table were my kitchen scissors, and I saw the gears turning. Of course, of course, of course you were going for those kitchen scissors. Did I say predictable? I also mean stereotypical. You are, as a toddler, all those cliché things I always expected Jacob to be.

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But you are dependable in some ways, too. Candles, for one thing… We light candles often, and while I am very careful not to leave the room with them burning, the other day I needed to run to the basement for 2 minutes while you and Jacob ate breakfast. The candle on the table was lit, but I went anyway, not in the least concerned it would attract your attention. You are accustomed to its presence, and I’m glad I can give you that; it’s so much better than baby-proofing, because you’re learning wisdom in a real world, and you get to enjoy all it has to offer at the same time. I wondered yesterday at what a blessing it is to have a pair of toddlers that I can leave at the table eating dinner while I have to run upstairs for a moment. There they sit, not touching the massive cake right in the center of everything, and I was embarrassed last night to realize I take that for granted. Thanks for that.

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You are darling. You love affection of every form and you are very free with the kisses. Yesterday I saw you so grown up. First, there was the snow. I got you up from your nap and then we played in the basement together. Suddenly you noticed the snow falling outside and you ran over, eyes and mouth wide in wonder, clambered onto the couch, and stood at the window cheering it on, so full of delight. But that wasn’t even the best thing. A while later, as I was on the floor doing some crunches, I watched as you brought Jacob’s baby and blanket from his bed, painstakingly situated yourself on the tiny rocking chair, and began to rock and kiss that baby. I will never get over this.

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Your language has been making interesting developments. Very few new words, though some are solidifying, like “boots.” But the reason you’re not trying a lot of new ones is that you’ve selected one of your own making to stand in for any general language needs. So while you have gotten very good at using “Baba” (Jacob), “Mommy,” “Daddy,” “Ball,” “Yes,” “Brush,” and the like, anything else gets an enthusiastic “Bah-Bee!” This is especially darling at dinner when we say our prayers after we’ve eaten, Daddy reading each petition and the rest of us responding, “Lord, Have Mercy.” You join in right on cue with “Bah-Bee!” Then, of course, there’s the ubiquitous “Hup, Muh-muh-muh,” which in its purest form means, “Help, Mommy,” but gets inserted anywhere we try to get you to say a two-word phrase. You’ll say “Yes,” and “Daddy,” but then when we coach “Yes, Daddy” it reverts back to “Hup, Muh-muh-muh.” And we laugh.

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There are a few loveable things you’ve started doing, like being possessive of the job of throwing away a used diaper, or always reaching out to hold my hand when you are ready to step out the door, or playing a game of dancing around my leg, or being conscientious about signing “Thank you” (your only sign except for “Jesus”) when we give you your milk.

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And then, speaking of milk, there are the not so loveable things (but we laugh afterwards anyway…): Last night we were at dinner with our good friends upstairs, celebrating Valentine’s Day together, and you were in your beds. Shrieks of laughter turned into raging screams from your brother and we went to investigate. There you were in your preferred sleep position: belly-down, butt-up, all snuggled in. And under your belly was Jacob’s milk cup, which he’d foolishly handed to you in a moment of fun. There was nothing else in your bed. Just you and that cup, and you were guarding it like lost treasure, you little stinker.

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I have to tell you about your naps. The last 6 or 7 weeks have been frustrating, marked by lots of tears at nap time. You scream when I put you down and you scream when you wake up. I’ve learned that going back in after a few minutes to cover you and say “Nite nite” again is all you seem to want on the front end. But one day this week I struck gold. You always stand up and start crying as soon as I put you in bed after I sing to you. I say “Merry, be happy. I love you. Nite, nite,” and walk out the door usually. This time I got one of your animals and laid it down on the bed. “Here, come snuggle up with your giraffe.” You just needed the coaching, and the recognition that you had animals there to keep you company. You snuggled in, I put on your blankets, and you never made a peep.

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The waking up is still full of fury, though, but I have learned you, and I’m content with it: You want affection, so it’s my job to give it. I go to get you and you nestle into the curve of my neck. I wrap a blanket around you and then we sit on the couch and just snuggle, sometimes for 20 minutes. This is becoming a moment I look forward to every day, and I’m glad you are teaching me to slow down for affection.

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You were so sweet last week in church. We went to say hello to an elderly lady who comes every week. She lit up with you there, but you became very calm and silent, nervous. We talked for awhile and she said how she wished she could hold you. She was standing with her walker. Then she realized perhaps she could, sitting down, and so I put you in her lap after she sat, and you stayed calm and stony. She was on top of the world, though. Soon another friend came along and started teasing you and you managed a grin, and then you were just happy. I think greeting Miss Juanita is something we will have to do every week now, as much for her as for you.

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Perhaps my favorite of all your antics these days is how you respond when someone winks at you. I can just see it making you feel happy right down to your toes, and you wink back, but you wink both eyes. It is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Sometimes you are just so happy you can’t help but shaking your head back and forth while you “wink.” It reminds me of how I felt that one evening during a concert call just a couple months after we started dating when your daddy caught my eye across a room of people and winked at me for the very first time. It went right through me, and right down to my toes.

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I’m finally finishing up your Year One photo-book and it’s amazing seeing how much you’ve grown. It’s such a treat watching you grow into a girl from the baby you’ve been. I am often in awe of your strikingly beautiful face. You found my jewelry box and helped yourself to it the other day, like you knew it was girl-stuff. It was a mess, but it was adorable. I’ve had to buy you a new wardrobe because you are starting to grow out of 18mo sizes and towards 2T already. I am rather ridiculously excited about the closet full of pretty dresses I acquired for you at Once Upon A Child last week. But I think you are liking them, too.

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I love how in the morning you reach for the high shelf where your box of hair things sits, asking for help. (Wait, did I mention you have hair!? I love your hair! Your thick, growing hair! I spend those after-nap snuggles running my fingers through it gluttonously.) Anyway, the box of hair stuff: You’re very possessive of it. You love to open it, get your brush and run it over your head, take out all the headbands and barrettes and then put them back in. You are getting a little practice at wearing a barrette and leaving it in, but you are without one 99% of the time because you still would rather pull it out right away. But it’s cute to see you interested in this girly bit of grooming and I’m betting any day now you’re going to be picking out your own clothes and insisting on hair bling, to boot.

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This month’s narrative wouldn’t be complete without mention of your latest skill: singing. You sing all day long (when you’re not screaming or moaning or saying “Bah-Bee!”) and, as often as possible, with a little book in hand. I often find you standing by the couch flipping through our hymnal. It’s an open-mouthed hum, but the pitch is so sweet and varied, and the rhythm is interesting, too, clearly influenced by the music you are most familiar with, which follows speech patterns closely. I wish I had more concrete language to describe it, but I will have to settle for only reporting that it is one of the sweetest sounds our house has to its credit these days.

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We’re noticing you learning tunes, too, most notably “The Wheels on the Bus,” and the bedtime hymn that Jacob is currently obsessed with: “All for Jesus.” It begins by outlining a first-inversion major chord, not an easy pair of intervals to sing, but there it is, clear as day, and Daddy & I look at each other in amazement.

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There have been an unusual number of babysitters this month, and of meals you’ve eaten without Mommy & Daddy. Last night you and Jacob were underfoot, already fed, while Daddy & I were preparing to have a fancy dinner with friends – a stay-at-home double date for Valentine’s Day. Your meal had come out of fridge and freezer and I was roasting a chicken and chilling a bottle of wine. There was that aforementioned cake, too. I felt this pang of guilt that so often you aren’t included in our sophisticated festivities. And what’s worse, we don’t even hide them from you. Here we are, flaunting our candles and white table cloth and good cheese right in front of your little jammied self. But as I seem to be so good at doing, I justified it to myself. So here’s my spin: You are little people, growing into this real world. We are showing you the good things of life, and as you grow you will aspire to these, just like you aspire to be a grown-up who’s allowed to pour milk and drive the car. I like to think of you imagining what you’ll do when you grow up, imagining how you’ll be like Daddy & Mommy, imagining yourself with a good cake, a good set of friends, and a glass of wine in your hand.

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Happy Valentine’s Day, little princess, and happy half-birthday, too. We love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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