Dear Joshua,

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Big things have been going on this month, and big things are going to happen in the next one, too – like learning to nap through the sound of Daddy’s summer practice schedule here at home, and making peace with your confinement in the pack ‘n play outside while we work on landscaping. You are growing up in some fun ways lately and you just tickle me to death.

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You love making a bee-line for the bathroom, especially if you can get as far as pulling yourself up to look in the potty, or if there’s a bathing sibling to say hi to behind the door. You love getting into whatever Meredith and Jacob are doing, and you think you’re one of the pack.

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I love how much Jacob makes you giggle, and I love how you’re learning to give Meredith’s abuse right back to her and stand up for yourself. It’s all just cute and fun. It’s not so fun when you whine and yell and fuss, but I get how that’s important, too, because it’s your way of standing up for yourself. So I’m trying to listen, and stop to spend time with you when you’re needing love.

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It was really fun to have you as a traveling buddy in April as you and Meredith and I drove across the country to Colorado to retrieve my Nonnie’s furniture. I was amazed how well you did on that trip (with the exception of the first night, when you spent more time crying than sleeping) and especially amazed at how you learned quickly in the car that when you were bored you could just go to sleep. We passed those dozens of hours of driving largely through those boredom naps, punctuated by stretches of time where I’d reach my hand back to offer you one of the toys from the bucket I kept in the front passenger seat. You’d play with it awhile, then drop it on the floor. When you’d start to fuss I’d hand you another toy, and we repeated this until all the toys were dropped, and then stop for a driving break to put them back in the bucket. We made it from Lawrence, Kansas to Denver, Colorado that way with only two quick gas station stops, which makes you Roadtrip Baby Champion, hands down.

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The first day, the day that ended in Lawrence, was the hardest, since you weren’t used to this particular form of parent-inflicted torture yet. When you’d finally had your fill of travel, around the 12-hour mark, you started to scream. We were just about 30 minutes from our destination so I kept driving, trying in vain to console you. To add insult to injury, we were on a toll road, and when I stopped to pick up my ticket you stopped crying, feeling sure your torture was over. The rage when I started to drive again was something to remember, and we continued that way through the final toll booth and several stop lights before you finally got rescued from your misery.

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On the drive back we passed through Lawrence again, and Meredith got to choose whatever her little heart desired for dinner. Ice cream was the choice, and so we went to Coldstone Creamery and found their simplest ice cream, “Sweet Cream.” It was your first ice cream and you really thought I was trying to kill you upon your first bite. You did not approve of how cold it was. But you warmed up to it pretty fast, and then Meredith got on your good side by sharing pieces of her cone with you.

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I think my current favorite thing this month is your relationship to the birdies above your bed. I made them for you last spring before I ever met you and they’ve hung there, silent witnesses to all your sleeping and a lot of your fussing. But suddenly they’ve come to life and we are getting a lot of use out of them. What I see on your face when we play with them is joy and wonder, undiluted, uninhibited.

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When you’re ready to go to bed (or when I come to get you after you wake) I ask if you want to make the birdies dance and then you look at me with something that’s a lot more than a grin. I spin the birdies and you grab them and sometimes I hold you up so that they hit you right in the face. You cackle with laughter and you look back and forth between me and the birdies like if you could talk it would be to say “Isn’t it your favorite, Mom? It’s definitely my favorite.”

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You’re growing a lot lately and getting stronger. You like to cruise around the furniture upright and you pull yourself up to stand while holding onto my legs a lot now, every mother’s favorite part of the dinner-making obstacle course. Mostly you crawl, but you don’t waste any time at that.

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You’re now a champion stair climber though I can’t get you actively involved in climbing down them. I just pull you down one knee at a time and say “Feet first” over and over until we’re at the bottom. You’re totally just along for the ride and completely disinterested.

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You’re starting to really understand “No” and it’s sweet to see you beginning to grasp the idea of obedience. Maybe you’re not going to be quite as strong-willed as your brother, because you acquiesce pretty easily now that you’re used to it. “Joshua. No stairs!” almost always sends you pushing back onto your butt and looking right at me. It takes a few tries sometimes, and occasionally a tiny little flick on your hand, but the last few days that’s been rare, too. You just don’t bother approaching the stairs much anymore, because you know what to expect. It’s a comfortable, easy boundary for you and you’re happy with it.

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I was marveling with a friend the other day at the value of this life-lesson in the world of a baby. A lot of parenting wisdom these days discourages using the word “No” for babies and toddlers because it makes them feel frustrated. Instead you’re supposed to distract or redirect or use “positive language” like saying “Stay on your bottom” instead of “Don’t stand up.” I get it, but I disagree. You just can’t get through life (let alone childhood) without dealing with that word and its surrounding concepts head-on.

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What I’ve seen now in three tiny lives is that introducing it at an early enough age is the trick. (I think it’d be too late by a first birthday.) It means you’re at peace with the idea of boundaries and authority before you’ve really developed your own intense set of preferences. Right now your identity and mine are still so completely wrapped up in your perception that you’re too young to get upset at being told “No.” You just feel proud of yourself when you put a big smile on my face and I give you a big “Good job, Joshua!”

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That doesn’t mean you’ll never begin to rage against those boundaries, but it does mean you don’t necessarily always have to feel discouraged by their intrusion. “No” is just a reality you’ve grown accustomed to.

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But your will is beginning to emerge, and the first clue to it is this hilariously cute little squeak-grunt that’s just developed in the last couple days. Sometimes when I tell you “No” you insert that once or twice and it’s obviously your version of “I don’t like your choice.” For now, it’s adorable and endearing, and just completely funny.

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You’re sharing more and more of our food with us at the table, and that’s the place where your will and preferences are most strongly present these days. You yell and fuss for food if it’s not being delivered fast enough, and we constantly have to remind you to say “More please” with your hands instead. You just get so excited about eating that it exceeds excitement and becomes stress and it seems like that’s why you yell. You’ve got some pretty strong preferences when it comes to food, too, and you’ve been really immovable on those, even if they change from day to day. It’s hard to trick you into eating something you’ve decided to reject.

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One of the funny stories from this month came a few weeks ago while we ate a picnic with my aunt. You were positively screaming to try to get your message across and I offered you every different kind of food I could think you might be wanting. You rejected known favorites and kept hollering, so I took you out of your chair and offered you milk and instead of nursing you screamed about that, too, a completely unprecedented behavior. I don’t know what finally clued me in, but it turned out that what you wanted was potato salad, and you had completely fixated on it. My mind was blown. I just had to laugh at how grown up you’re getting, to have such a fixed opinion.

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You’re a handful these days, as you emerge into my not-favorite stage of development. I am cherishing all the ways and moments in which you’re still my baby because you are moving so quickly toward toddlerhood. Of course you will be cute and darling and I will be 100% in love with you every single month, but I’m going on record right now to say that toddlerhood and this mommy are not a very good pairing. Maybe the third time around I’ll have learned a few things – mostly learned not to fight it but just to settle in for the fun, even if I’d rather be reading Winnie-the-Pooh than board books, writing music while you do your own thing than stacking towers for you.

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But anyway, we’re still sufficiently in the babyhood zone for me to be always head-over-heels, and I’ve been hoarding a lot of snuggles lately. And maybe it’s not that you’re still a baby. Maybe I’ve finally learned that being with my tiny human is the best and I’d rather be there than anywhere else. They do say the third time’s the charm. However you explain it, the bottom line is that I love being with you and I secretly like it when you have a hard time going to bed at night because it often means I get to come in and pick you up and rock you for awhile. Those moments in your dark room are some of the best I’ve ever had in my life and I’m in no hurry to move past them.

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That’s part of why I haven’t pushed you to sleep through the night yet. You do, once every month or two. And most nights you wake only once to nurse quickly and then go right back to sleep. Once or twice a week you’ll wake more than once, and those nights can be hard for me to recover from, but I’m satisfied, and I love crawling out of bed and walking across the hall to your room to find you and kiss you. It’s become so routine and uneventful, and even so brief, that I hardly remember anything about the night the next morning, which seems like a pretty huge win.

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I told someone this morning that you are, so far, the Class Clown in our family. I love that about you, and the amazing twinkle you get in your eye when you know you’re being funny. You’re quite popular with our friends these days for your preposterous laugh, which is manufactured at great cost to your person. It takes so much effort and comes out forced and throaty, but it just makes us all giggle. You’re a “social laugher,” meaning you’ve reached that hilarious age when you can tell someone else thinks something is funny, so you laugh on queue because you think it’s appropriate.

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The other thing you’ve been doing for laughs is blowing raspberries, and you have completely mastered your technique on this. You do a lot of it, and this leads me to the best moment of the month, just this past Friday, when Daddy talked you into saying “Mama” for the first time. We’ve been having a recurring competition lately, trying to get you to say our respective name before the other. Well, I won that competition, but when Daddy brought you over to me to show off your new skill, prompting you again to say “Mama” your answer was to look right at me and blow a big raspberry.

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I love you anyway.

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Love,
Mommy

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