I've had about a bazillion different versions of this letter written in my head, none of which now sound genuine enough in the moment. Today marks the second anniversary of the day you fully took on your individuality, emerging from the shelter of my womb into this crazy world.
Furthering this emergence, this past month saw a very interesting role reversal for you and I, and I was nothing less than totally impressed by your total ease and grace as a caretaker. Earlier this month I had oral surgery to remove my wisdom teeth, some of which were impacted, and since I was put under general anesthesia, I was not exactly an active and alert mama post-op. In fact, I spent most of my time sleeping...
While a little upset when you first saw me, you quickly rose to the occasion and always made sure that I was doing ok, that I took my medicine, asking if my teeth hurt, if I needed more ice, bringing me water and reading me stories, and of course making sure that I got lots of kisses and hugs.
Thanks largely to your adorable support, I came through that pretty easily. Then this past week, we both got sick. You got a bit of a runny nose. Baba didn't get sick at all. You must have gotten your immunity from him, 'cause I was laid flat with a fever, bad aches, and a debilitating cough. But once again Nurse Cadie (and of course, her trusty assistant Baba, who I fear bore the brunt of your wrath during this time) was there to care for me. "Mama sick, mama? Mama need medicine? Stay right there, mama, rest now! I be right back!"Granted, you had you moments of being upset that I couldn't play with you, but ultimately I couldn't have asked for better care, or certainly for better behavior from an almost 2 year old whose mom wouldn't get off the couch. Thank you for being the most wonderful, thoughtful, nurturing little lady I could imagine. You even came with me to the doctor's office, and despite the fact that you were hungry and had nothing to do, you were the picture of politeness and didn't make a fuss the whole time, even though my O2 sats were down and they had to give me a breathing treatment that lasted a full half hour, and a brief observation period afterwards... you played on my legs, talked about my medicine, and decided what we would have for lunch. Amazing.
The advent of my illness brought about another big milestone, too: you took your first extended trip away from Mama and Baba. We'd all been invited by a friend of my mom's to visit her house on Barren River Lake, but when I got sick I decided to stay home, and Baba stayed with me, but we didn't want to spoil your fun, so off you went with Nana and Kelly to visit Pam (and, much to your reported delight, Sophie Dophie, the dog). It's a 45 minute drive each way to get there and back, which put together probably equals the contiguous amount of time you've spent without us and outside of your familiar surroundings thus far. But on top of that, you guys were having so much fun, you stayed for about 6 or so hours! You came home tired, but seemed very happy.
You got to climb lots of stairs, and play with the dog, and eat lots of good food, and swim in the lake [with a turtle floaty thing, I'm told? When I asked you about it your response was "No, I don't think so, mama." Which is something else you've taken to lately, that 'I don't think so' - with this very knowing, particular melody to it, peaking on the word 'think' and descending again for 'so'...I think you use it in place of "I don't know" though, since you most often use it in instances where I've asked you a question like "whose house is that?" or "which one do you like better?" But then you'll use it perfectly in context and it seems perfectly natural and unaffected, so maybe you're just figuring it out.] and you got to take your first boat ride! Pam and her husband Butch have a pontoon boat, and you all got to ride on it. I was still a bit out of it so the details may be wrong, but Kelly even told me that, once you knew that swimming was an option, you said something about the boat staying right there and you'd get in the water, and then tried to jump off the boat. Ack! Luckily you were in good hands.
Swimming has definitely become a big thing for you. We go to the water park often, and you'll generally spend half your time going up and down the butterfly slide, and another 40 percent of it playing in the "deep water" (in quotes only because that's how you ask for it - "I go deep water now, k mama?"- I think the section we usually play in is deep enough that I have to be on my tip-toes to keep my whole head above water), where you jump in, practice kicking and reaching, SWIM UNDERWATER and splash around and have fun. The other 10 percent is spent 'touching' the streams of water spewing from the various structures and tooling around in the shallow-er parts of the pool, where you can touch but the water comes up to your neck.
And of course you still love that Elephant pool, too, though you seem to prefer to play with Kelly or Nana rather than mama and baba when it comes to that pool. I guess they must play better games, or something. I think it's an important step for you to be able to choose to spend time away from us, but it always helps to see your smile when they bring in a shivery wet bug for me to dry off and cuddle warm again.
This is especially true given your new propensity to cross your arms and hide your hands in your armpits to avoid some annoying adult from taking your hand to help you when you don't want it. Your independence is establishing itself quite well these days, with determined avoidance of 'help' and constant declarations of "I do it mineself." You want to do it all, and most of the time, you can. At least in the situations where we'll let you. You dress yourself, and that usually doesn't present a problem...though those underwear are pesky and confusing, so we usually have to redo that part. You dish out your own food, you put away your toys, you turn things on and off and play with the dog, all yours-self. And if you get stuck, you ask for help, please, all yours-self.
And can we talk about that politeness thing for a moment? You have continued to take your talkativeness to new levels, though you generally don't like to talk too much in front of people outside the family. But when you do, you are just oh so polite, it's kind of hard to take. I mean really kid, how much cuteness can one take before one's head simply explodes? You've figured out "you're welcome" and so, when someone thanks you, you'll respond, so genuinely and sweetly, "you're welcome!" And you are super good at using words like please and thank you, and use them without prompting most of the time. And on the few occasions where you don't and we think it's warranted, you correct yourself with just a gentle verbal reminder.
You even ask to be held when you want to be now. "I need a hug" or "hold me, please?" will often replace what used to be crying, and sometimes you'll even turn it on us, "I hold you now, baba." Especially if you're playing nap time. (But we can't instigate that game. That has to be you. Otherwise, you'll shout - at increasing decibels - "No sleeping Baba! No sleeping Mama!") And when we sit on the futon reading books, you'll ask us to hold you. You won't get any complaints from us. Though you are becoming more dangerous, what with your increasing length and powerful joints...
You're such a big girl now, it's kind of amazing. You waltz past obstacles that used to threaten your head, now rather innocuously at chest level, barely paying them any mind. I guess all that avocado and mango you gobble up is actually doin' somethin'. It's getting harder and harder for you to hide your entire body in some of your usual spots (like Puy's box), but this remains the game of the hour...you love to hide. Under sheets, blankets, preferably with someone else, multiple people if you can. And then to have someone else - human, cat or dog - stumble upon your chosen spot results in gleeful, eardrum bursting squeals.
You've been experimenting a lot with tones, I imagine due to your gentle exposure to Mandarin, coupled with your still developing sense of language in general. You are very good at applying correct tones to mandarin words, and sometimes, if we aren't understanding an english one, you'll try saying it with a different tone. You've also furthered that musicality to the point where, if we don't give you a favorable answer to a question, you'll repeat it, this time raising the pitch slightly. And you'll repeat this, often repeating it enough times to raise your pitch by an entire octave or more, becoming so high pitched that we can barely discern individual words.
Yes, little lady, you are very definitely figuring out how this world works, and how you can get along in it. Whether it's using the potty more and more consistently; playing very interactively and specifically with your toys - caring for them, feeding them, helping them, having them help you, putting them down for naps, getting 'stuck' with them, giving them baths, breaking up fights and teaching them not to pee on the floor - or going on more play dates and learning how to interact with other kids, on their turf, with their stuff; learning from your Baba to roar at the gorillas in the rainforest cafe whenever they got to be too scary (which worked wonders, you were able to fully enjoy your meal once you figured that one out); or figuring out why Mama and Baba say some movies are just too scary, and then incorporating the idea of monsters into your everyday play; you are piecing it all together expertly.
Interaction with people, and other people's things, has seamlessly worked it's way into your everyday life in ways I love to watch. You share toys with your friends-even though they don't always share back...it's a learning process and you'll all figure it out- you spend time with people away from mama and baba - so far just family, but you will sometimes instigate it by telling baba and I to "stay right here" while you go off to play with Kelly, Papa Nana, or more recently, Peggy.
Yes, this month your great aunt Peggy, Nana's sister, came to visit you from Minnesota, and my goodness but did you ever love that! You took to Peggy immediately-almost before you actually met her, we told you ahead of time that she was coming and for an entire day before we picked her up from the airport, you talked about getting to see Peggy. During her stay you would very often go and seek her out, and you didn't really want us to hang around...by the time she left, you were referring to her as "Mine Peggy."
While she was here, we did all sorts of stuff, singing songs and playing hand games that she and Nana knew from their childhood, going to the water park and out to eat, cooking at home, splashing in the elephant pool, we went to lost river cave and visited the butterfly garden (which you liked, but you did not like having a butterfly land on you before you were mentally prepared. Although, you seemed to adjust to the idea after the fact; for the next few days you kept referring to "mine butterfly", meaning the one that had landed on your dress, and talking about how pretty and nice it was, and asking us to draw pictures of it for you.) and also bought a bag of sluice, which we then got to use to pan for gems...you found plenty, and did very well at retrieving them. Peggy also gave you a few early birthday presents, some books, which you love, and have been reading ever since, patting the back cover of each one as you finish it, as you do with all good books, with great delight.
Delight is actually a very apt word for how you enjoy things these days. Kelly introduced you to disney's 101 Dalmatians, and you're totally addicted. You wake up from naps asking to watch it, you sit at the piano and sing "Dalmatian Plantation" the way Roger does at the end of the movie, you play baby puppies - you've got a newfound vigor when it comes to discovering and playing with toy dogs. I have a bunch of 101 dalmatians figurines leftover from my childhood, mostly the kind you'd get with happy meals, and you'll carry them around and make up extended scenarios for them, providing large chunks of time where we'll barely hear from you. But it isn't limited to that, it's any puppies-big small, plush, solid, what have you...you love your puppies.
You also, evidently, really love fireworks. We didn't go to see any professional shows this year, since it was thunderstormy out, but Papa bought a whole bunch of them, and we spent a couple of nights setting off fireworks outside our house. You talked about it excitedly, about how they went boom and looked so pretty...though your enthusiasm was (very ver slightly) dulled upon learning that they weren't magical enough to show up during the day.
You definitely share a lot in common with your Papa, and one of the most recent examples of that is Papa's Truck. He's wanted a good, old, reliable, simple, small toyota pickup truck for a long while now. He'd given up on ever being able to find what he was looking for in the current economic environment (who sells such a reliable vehicle in times like these?), when lo and behold, his dream truck appeared for sale just down the street! It was a '92 white toyota pickup, standard transmission, no power nuthin', with a cover. He bought it, and while his own excitement was not surprising, yours is.
You LOVE that truck. You are constantly asking to "ride in Papa's Truck." I'm not sure what exactly about it is so thrilling to you, my best guess is that, since there is no back seat (and no airbag) you get to have your car seat strapped into the passenger seat, where you get a full, unadulterated view out the windshield...it only took one very brief ride to get you hooked, but I can see getting to go for rides in that truck becoming one of the exciting things about getting to come visit Nana and Papa down the line.
Of course, maybe you'll end up identifying more with them anyway. You've already taken to calling Baba and I by our given names when you're calling for us. "Hey James! where are you James? Kate! I need help please, Kate." We aren't sure exactly how to react to this...Baba will occasionally correct you, saying "I'm Baba." But, you counter, all to intelligently, "Your name James?" and that kind of ends that conversation. I guess it isn't a bad thing, but it was not a development we were prepared for, and honestly aren't sure what the best way to react is. Do we discourage you from using our real names? do we encourage it? what are the myriad social implications and neurosis either option will leave you with down the line?! So, for the time being, we're just kind of going with the flow, and trying not to let it be a big deal.
So, here we are little bug. Your second Birthday. We're smack in the middle of birthday season, in fact...Kelly's birthday was the 3rd, yours is today, the 7th, and Papa's is on the 16th. Plus you have a bunch of friends who have birthdays around this time, so there has been no shortage of birthday excitement going around. You're an expert, already...you love them. You love to sing happy birthday, you love to pick out presents (which you call 'happy birthday to youts"), you love to wrap them, you love seeing the birthday person open them...Kelly had two parties, and even let you help her blow out her candles at one of them. You were elated and can't wait for your own party now.
You are going to have a Big Birthday Bash with all your friends this coming saturday, so we opted for a lower key good day for your actual birthday today. Given your enjoyment of birthdays in general, it isn't that surprising that when we greeted you in the morning with happy birthdays, your eyes just totally lit up, and that big ole smile smacked your face full force and stuck the whole day.
We went to Panera for breakfast, and got your absolute favorite, a spinach and artichoke souffle, and even a fruit and yogurt smoothie (you got mango!), and then headed over to the Great Escape, where they have an early morning children's series, and saw Hotel for Dogs. Not any of our first picks, but hey, it was free admission, and it had lots of cute puppies in it, and we had good food, so it was fun. (I have to say, though, I was kinda proud of how dumb you thought the movie was...and it just goes to show that if studios would put the effort in to make good movies, and then could just trust in their art, everyone would be happier and they'd make more money in the long run...but I digress...Kudos to Cadence for having good taste.)
After that, we headed over to Lenscrafters so I could get my glasses fixed...which, believe it or not, was a very good thing to do on your birthday, because you love the "glasses store." You love the people who work their, and trying on all the glasses...the whole experience. As we were leaving, you noticed a display in the hallmark store across the way of self contained eco-systems, each containing water, a frog, a snail, some bacteria-laden gravel, and a stalk of bamboo...you looooved those, and we spent the better part of the afternoon in that store, watching all the frogs swim about. Then it was home for some lunch and a nap, and plenty of playtime...and later that evening, we all (you, me, baba, nana, papa, and kelly) went out for a birthday dinner. We went to Steak-n-shake, as per your very specific request. You seemed to have a wonderful time, you enjoyed your food, and the company, and getting to put stickers on the cardboard car they gave you to build...and when they found out it was your birthday, they sent out a special Happy Birthday cookie topped with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry. What a lucky girl you are!
Back at home, you opened your presents. Mama and Baba got you one of each of the ducks you used to visit ever time we went to the grocery store, nana and papa got you a doodlepro [a fancy schmancy magnadoodle which you absolutely adore] and Kelly got you some playdough...you love your "happy birthday to youts!" and played until bedtime, delighted, and seemed pleasantly tired when we tucked you into bed.
So marks the end of your second year. I look at all of these simple pleasures and silly bumps along the way, and I am so, incredibly grateful that we are where we are in life, that we have the wonderful relationships that we do. To think how easily we could have fallen into the heartbreaking reality of a broken home; how each of us could have fared so much worse, and then to look at the amazing love and support that we get from each other, and from our big family, and from many great friends...It's very humbling, and wonderful. Cadence, you are the catalyst that turned our lives around, made us better people, and gave us the unspeakably important gift of understanding that we could be happy. Thank you so much for that, little bug. I look forward to celebrating many more birthdays with you, and sending you off into what I hope will be your own blessedly happy life.