It’s been quite some time since I last wrote to you. And much has come to pass in our lives.
I want to thank you for weathering the storm so well. Even though no one asked you to; even though it’s not your job to be so stoic—to be so unmoved by clearly moving events; it’s your job to be a three year old; to play and to have melt downs and to need your mommy from time to time.
Even though you have a village of people that support you, I know my troubles were not imperceptible to you or to your sister. I apologize if during the past few months—if even for a second—I wasn’t there when you needed me.
But, I think as the years wear on, you’ll come to agree that I’m healthier person today than I was three months ago, and for that, I’m a better mommy. The skills that I’ve been learning and practicing in caring for myself, help me to care for you more mindfully. And I hope that I can give you the tools and coping mechanisms that I didn’t have access to as a child, a teenager and, even, an adult.
Trying not to put you in a box, I’ll say that you tend to take after me on the personality front. Whether that’s DNA or your birth order or how I nurture you is always a mystery. But, I will say, your sister is unlike me in all the ways that you are like me.
Whereas she represses nothing; she feels and expresses her emotion in the moment, moving on to the next equally passionate emotion, you and I tend to struggle with feelings.
I had an epiphany while watching you melt down, your father adding “it’s like she’s having a mini-panic attack,” which at the time felt like a dig, like he was blaming me for your inability to cope. But, stepping back from the moment, I realized it’s not YOU who were imitating ME; rather, it’s ME who still feels like a three year old YOU. Emotionally, I never really grew up.
When I’ve had panic attacks, I’ve been that three year old—feeling emotions that are too big to name or explain, feeling overwhelmed and fighting with myself to calm down, to be strong, to repress these big unnamable emotions. And in the process of fighting so hard against myself, against the tears, the anxiety, the worry, the frustration, the years of long-held emotions, I ended up curled in a heap on the floor, having the ultimate melt down.
So, recently, in addition to encouraging you to just breath (which is often times so much of the equation) when you are blindsided by feelings you don’t yet know how to deal with, I’ve also been encouraging you to name your emotions, through hiccupping, sobbing hysterical breaths.
It may sound like common sense or maybe it sounds like some crunchy parenting crap you’ve read, but as parents, it is far too easy to dismiss your child’s hysteria as being a “baby.” I want you to stop crying as much as you do, as much as the other people in line at the store do, but I also want you to learn positive, constructive ways of dealing with your emotions.
Telling you to “stop,” “to be quiet,” or even meaning well and telling you to “calm down” can be damaging—from where I sit, on the other side of childhood, at least. And I know when I’m having a panic attack, there’s nothing worse than being told or trying to tell oneself to “stop”; that often makes it worse. Because you want so badly for it to stop and it won’t, because you don’t know how.
I’d rather spend the next year crying with you, teaching you to name and accept your big feelings and move on from them, than for you to feel even an inkling of the insanity, depression and darkness that I felt.
Now, I know I can’t protect you from everything. And it’s your life to live. But, I don’t think it will hurt you (or me) to learn to be present with our feelings a little more. Take a little cue from Danjo.
Meanwhile, your sister is another species altogether! And we’ll have to teach her to rein it in a little.
I’m sorry if that all was a bit boring and tedious, but it’s important. Now, onto the fun stuff!
At three and a half years old, you’re thirty-three pounds and thirty-eight inches tall. This is most important because now you can safely ride in a big girl booster seat in the car. And it has not one, but TWO cup holders, so that’s pretty awesome for you.
You’ve shot up like a weed and have become quite the little grown up.
“I know,” is your response to nearly everything, whether you do or not. And I remember saying that as a child too, whether a compulsion or just an adopted turn of phrase, I know not. Luckily, I grew out of it (sort of—I’m still a bit of a know it all) and I hope you will too, because it is annoying. It makes me want to tear my hair out and scream: “YOU DID NOT KNOW BEDTIME IS IN TEN MINUTES! YOU CAN’T TELL TIME! HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY KNOW?! AND ANYWAY, YOU DON’T KNOW, BECAUSE I JUST CHANGED BEDTIME AND NOW IT’S IN FIVE MINUTES!”
To which, I’m sure you’d respond, “I know.”
With three and half years of wisdom also come three and a half years of self-sufficiency. You can take care of yourself in many regards. You get dressed and use the bathroom and brush your teeth all by yourself. I encourage you to take care of yourself and your sister and, in fact, us, your parents. I aim not to helicopter-parent, so if there is something that you can do, I trust you to do it.
Indeed, it may take a little longer or be a little messier, but you are able to and feel the pride of being able to get yourself a glass of water from the fridge water dispenser AND add ice from the freezer; of being able to get yourself a snack from the cupboard; of helping your sister by getting her a fork or water or her lovey. You help with the laundry and I can send you to other rooms to retrieve things for me: a pack of wipes or my glasses or my iPhone. (NOTE: This is not the only reason to have children, but it’s a good one.)
Just this morning, I was doing a short aerobics video while you two were eating your breakfast of yogurt and butter toast at the table.
“DANIELLE IS COVERED IN YOGURT!” you yelled at me, imploring me to do something before you little sister wreaked further havoc.
“Then, get a napkin or towel and help her wipe her face,” I said, jumping-jacks-ing away.
You yelled to me that you couldn’t find a napkin. And I told you to look harder.
“Oh wait! I found a napkin!” you yelled and I could hear the kerfuffle of your sister trying to squirm and run away from your face-wiping attempts.
“Mommy, you need to take her shirt off, it’s all yogurt-y,” you demanded. For this task, I did break push-up form, knowing your sister wouldn’t cooperate long enough for you to get her shirt off. I peeled it off of her in one quick motion and asked you to pick out clothes for her, take off her wet diaper and see if she’d let you help her get dressed.
I caught glimpses of you through your bedroom door as I continued my workout. I heard snippets of your attempts to get your sister to cooperate, namely “you’re a mermaid, Danielle!” coupled with giggling, which I imagine was a happy misfortune of stuffing two feet down one pant leg.
But, ten minutes later, when my video was over, I found your sister jumping on her bed with a clean diaper and pants on. Topless, but what else is new with that girl?
And no one lost an eye!
Yes, my expectations of you are high, but you rise to them. And for every moment that you spend exploring your independence, there is an equally laden moment spent in my lap or spent helping you put your shoes on.
Your hair is beautiful. And looks different every day.
You can have a conversation about almost anything, given that you’re so well read ;)
The other day, your grandparents were recounting a story from your Fourth of July vacation with them. The story was about Danielle and how, at first, she yelled “NO!” at Granpa when he opened up the door on her side of the car to take her out, and that even though she warmed to him over the week, they maintained their yes-no ritual each time he opened her door: “It was our little inside joke,” Grandpa noted.
Pleased as punch over the cuteness that is Danielle, the story was told again a bit later, and having sat through the story twice, you were perhaps feeling a little left out. “It was their little inside joke!” we all cooed, chuckling at That Danielle!
And with a swift one-two punch, without missing a beat, you declared: “I have an outside joke!”
You’re physical confidence is growing as you (I think inspired by your sister) experiment with your own sofa-acrobatics.
You are creative. You found a bunch of rubber bands on the floor from when we put your new beds together. And discovering that the rubber bands made a plucking sound when taut, you strung them between the knobs of your dresser: “Listen, Mommy, I made a guitar!”
I love to listen to you play—by yourself or with your sister. You sing and talk on-and-on. And I hesitate to move. I don’t take a closer look or even try to sneakily record your voice from down the hall. I’m frozen as I listen, trying to decipher your play. It’s like a magic spell that I dare not break. It’s almost sacred, like if I recorded a video, it would steal your soul.
During these moments, you are too precious for words or for a photo to capture.
So, I soak up these moments. For me. For my own memory. Not for instant playback or YouTube. But, for myself, like a little box, I’m filling up with memory bon bons, so I can savor them later, next month or next year or when you’re my age. I’ll let the sound of your sing-songy voice and your laughter melt on my tongue. And the sight of your disheveled costumery and make-shift tents slide down my throat. And the feeling of your joy and enthusiasm fill my stomach, dissolving and spreading through me.
[Someone’s been listening to too much guided imagery.]
I love you no matter what!
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