Dear Charlotte: Happy birthday, your world is growing!

Dear Charlotte,

If this 4th birthday letter has any theme, it is this: the months between 3 and 4 have been a year of understanding a world much bigger than yourself.  You are curious beyond the boundaries of your 38 inches, our four walls, and the roughly five mile radius we travel to school and back each day.  You ask big questions.  You’re constantly thinking: about the books we read, the things you hear on the radio, and the things you see people doing at any moment.  

“Mommy, will Donald Trump decide to be a good person now that he is president?”

“Does God exist in real life?”

“Did God make all the people in the world?”

“I’m sad that Hillary Clinton lost.  But that’s okay.  Maybe she can try again tomorrow?”

“When I die, will this tissue still be here?  Will you still save this drawing I did after I die?”  

Your innocence is perfectly entwined with your developing conscience; your optimism and your sense of justice are still able to operate in their own vacuums.  You’re curious enough to be hungry for everything new, but you haven’t seen, heard, and watched enough to become jaded.

Please don’t, not ever.

With your never ending questions you’ve started to form your sense of self, and your understanding of how people relate to one another.  You’re trying to recognize your place in all of it, which is a gargantuan task for a four year old mind.  It’s no surprise that we put you to bed at 7:30, but you sometimes sneak out to watch us in the living room at 9:15.  You are too busy to sleep!  You have things to figure out!  

You and I had a special moment on the night of election day, 2016.  We talked all week about going to the polls to vote for Hillary.  We drove through Scarborough with our windows down, Florence and the Machine blaring, and you exclaimed “Girl time!  Mommy and Charlotte are going to vote for Hillary Quipment!”  It was exciting and novel–but not because we were going to vote for a woman.  No, the gender wasn’t even remarkable.  You were just excited to go show your vote, to take part in the grown up process.

The next morning, I cried.  I cried before you woke up, and I cried after I brought you to school.  I was so heartbroken that I couldn’t joyfully tell you we had the first woman president, that you’d have to wait longer in your life to see it.  And the weeks and months since have been difficult, as your mom: waiting, watching, and wondering what kind of world my baby girl is going to grow into.  Will it be one that respects her rights?  

But I’ve taken solace in a few places that may become iconic as we look back on 2016:

Hillary Clinton said, in her concession speech:  “And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

Barack Obama told us in his farewell address, that his proudest accomplishment was raising two daughters that are smart and beautiful, but more importantly kind, thoughtful, and full of passion.  That is my hope–no, my goal of every single day–for you, Charlotte.  That your every move is motivated by a sense of purpose bigger than yourself, one that looks outward, and still seeks to welcome people in.  

You do, already, in your four year old way.

You were the first to welcome a shy girl to a busy and loud birthday party–to draw her into a room full of extroverts by providing her a quiet hand and a smile.

By greeting your teacher at 7am: “I noticed you got a haircut!  Wow, it looks good!”

“Baxter, I’m sorry you fell.  What can I do to help you? Do you need some ice?”

Just keep on asking, listening, and thinking.  Keep on talking.  Keep on helping, smiling, and sharing.  And most of all, keep believing.  Believe that you are kind, you are smart, and you are important.  That is what will take you far.

Happy Birthday!  With all my love and even more pride,

Mom

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“Then they will call HER and tell her she won?”

Riding in the car this morning after the presidential debate, Charlotte asked me why I was listening to so much news.  I started to explain about the election in very general terms, telling her that two people were trying to earn votes to become our leader in the U.S.  I didn’t mention Trump, Clinton, any specifics, or any opinions.  This is the conversation that ensued:

Mom:  “So on a special day in a few weeks, everyone will have a chance to go vote for who they want to be our leader.  It will be a very important day, and a very important chance to vote for what we want.”

Charlotte: “Oh.  Just like how we have a chance to vote on books at school, to see which one everyone wants to read.”

M:  “Yes!  Same idea.”

C: “So then after everyone votes, they will call her and tell her she won, right?”

She wasn’t talking about Hillary; she doesn’t know Hillary’s name, let alone the fact that one male and one female are running for office!  We don’t have the TV on at home [very often], we don’t talk about politics when the kids are awake [very much], and I hadn’t mentioned Hillary or Trump’s name in this car conversation.

But Charlotte said SHE.  “They will call her and tell HER that SHE won”.

My daughter lives in a world where she expects that women will lead!  That women will win!  That it’s completely obvious and simply normal that a woman would have a very important job.  Of course, this is her three-year-old world, where she hasn’t yet experienced any gender differences.  But I took a pause in the conversation right there to marvel to myself how lucky she is–she’s growing up in a world that will empower her, and one in which she’ll someday ask me “Wait, when I was three, you voted for the FIRST woman president? Why weren’t women leading before that?”

The incredulity that I know will accompany this question–whether she asks it in two years, or twelve years–will just be proof of how far we’ve come.  The time when women didn’t lead, or couldn’t lead, will be such a distant memory that it will be hard for her to believe.  I can teach my daughter all I want that women are powerful, intelligent, and successful…and I do.  But it’s time she starts seeing women doing, being, and leading so that it continues to just be normal and expected for her as she grows up in this world.

Dear Charlotte: happy three!

Dear Charlotte/Chucky/Cha Cha:

It doesn’t seem possible that my baby is three.  My baby–my original baby–is certainly not a baby and barely even a toddler.  I wrote in your birthday letter last year that we had changed from calling you “Baby Bee” to “Little Bee”.  But now, big three year old, you are simply just “Bee” to us, or sometimes “Chucky”.  (Though you hilariously called yourself “Sucky” for a few months until you could say the ch-sound!)

If the theme of last year’s birthday letter was all the changes in our life, the theme of this year has been independence.  You are a highly verbal and talkative young lady, which has exploded since your 2nd birthday.  So, here are some words straight from your own mouth.  I hope that someday you’ll have a good laugh about the funny three year old you were; but also, that you’ll find some little glimmer or nugget of how you are then reflected so early on in how you are now.  I know that each funny phrase or earnest admonishing you give me is a peek into the future Charlotte, into the teenager and grown up that you’re going to be.  You are building your personality and your character with each passing moment, and we have the gift of watching the pieces evolve along the way.

1) While eating a kiwi the other morning, you told me:  “Mommy! This fruit is kind of like an apple.  They are both green.  And sour.  But this kiwi has a lot of seeds and the apple doesn’t really have a lot.”  

Let’s move beyond the obvious here: that my barely-three-year-old can compare and contrast.  Without prompting.  The point evenmoreso is that you’re always thinking and talking about what you’re doing in the moment.  You love to label things, talk about them, describe them, and give them voice.  “I can hear the wind soaring through the trees” or “Oh! I can see the sunset is coming out!  Look at that beautiful, beautiful sunset!” you’ll exclaim.  You see beauty and interest in the every day things like fruit, weather, and the sky.  Most of us miss it because we are too busy and moving too fast.  This is what I love and will miss most about toddlerhood: the ability and the persuasion to just.move.slowly.  You drink it all in, talk about it, observe it, and love it.  You remind me to just slow down.  How I wish I didn’t have to go work, and could just be slow with you!

2)  “Daddy, I just want to have some privacy.”

You told Dad that you were going to use the potty.  When he followed you in, you turned around and gently–but decisively–said he wasn’t welcome.  You know your own mind, dear Chucky.  I love you for being strong enough to say what you want.  But you do it in a gentle way and with quiet persistence that we follow your requests.  “I’m just not feeling like talking right now” is a frequent refrain when we ask about school.  “Smile, Mommy!  Be happy!” after I’ve just gotten upset with you.  You’re kind, but insistent.  Some may call it bossy.  I say that bossy is a good thing for a girl to be.

While the above examples make me proud, they also make me pause.  We’re finding that you need us less and less.  You clear your own plate from the table, and you’re starting to serve yourself food.  You hang up your jacket, help to feed Pippa, pick out your own clothes and can do your undies, pants, and socks…shirt will be coming soon.  And now, with the recognition that we don’t need to help you with #2 on the potty, we’ve accomplished so many of the toddlerhood milestones.  You just don’t need us in the ways that you used to.

I know that motherhood is all about this gradual release of responsibility.  But it’s hard when you step back to look, and a lot has passed you by since the last time you were aware of it.  In a strange way, time does not move linearly to a mother.  As I wrote to you last year, the greatest gift you can give is to make someone feel needed.  I know it’s developmental, and I know it’s normal.  The ways in which you will need us are going to change hundreds of times in our lives.  But something about the release of these tangible, everyday responsibilities is a hard pill to swallow.

3) You know 18 letters.  

Nobody would ever believe me, but Betsy the literacy specialist is NOT teaching her 3 year old the alphabet.  You have somehow learned 18 letters on your very own, just by picking up on environmental print, and reading as you so love to do.  Your favorite activity for us to “play” with you is reading you a book.  You’re diligent–we cannot skip a page!  You’ll often jump in and read the story along with us, or supply the missing words.  You are so in love with literature, but you’re starting to talk about how you “can’t read” or “don’t know how to read the words yet.”

Hear this*, Chucky: you will be reading in no time.  Look at all the things you CAN do!  You’re already doing the things that pre-readers do: retelling stories and predicting, you can rhyme and make up your own songs in rhythm, and sing word play games like ‘Willabee wallabee Waxter! An elephant sat on Baxter!”

(* “Hear this, Mommy!” is one of your favorite calls to attention).

4)  “Can you put some music on Daddy?”  and “That’s me in the corner!”

A new favorite activity lately is dance parties!  You love to have music on, and it has to be fast enough for you to dance crazily to!  Your current favorites are “That’s me in the corner” by R.E.M. and “Martha my dear” by the Beatles.  You hear a song once, and you can sing it.  You hear a song twice, and you can make up words that fit the same beat.   Dare I say that you may have a musical bone in your body?! A hand-me-down from your mom, perhaps.  (A dancing bone, not so much.  You don’t appear to have your father’s gift for that…yet.)

You are growing and morphing into this wonderfully kind, introspective, curious, and outgoing little girl.  Dad and I both love to take you out for “special Charlotte time” because we always have so much fun.  I am so proud to be your Mommy, and I wish I could pause time to hang onto these toddler moments forever.  They are my favorite. You are my best, best girl!

Love,

Mommy

 

 

Dear Little ‘Bee, Happy Birthday! (chugga chugga TWO TWO!)

Dear Charlotte,

I can’t believe you are TWO years old.  We’re having a train party for you this weekend, but today I’m continuing my series of birthday letters to you… Last year I wrote that we should start calling you Little ‘Bee instead of Baby ‘Bee when you turned one.  You’re growing up so fast!  You are my independent-minded, thoughtful, curious, and happy Little ‘Bee.  Here are some of my favorite memories between years one and two:

1) The day I picked you up from daycare, and you were walking about as if you owned the place at 15 months...proud of yourself, and gaining momentum with every step and cheer.  We had wanted you to walk on your own SO badly, for SO many months.  But my cautious Little ‘Bee , you just wouldn’t let go until you were a perfect walker.  Your diligent practice was so illustrative of your personality.  You’re a careful planner, you are incredibly observant, and you want things to be just right before you do them.  [I’m sorry~you get that from me!]

I dropped you off that Monday morning as a baby, but I picked you up at 4pm as a toddler.  “She just let go of the couch, and hasn’t stopped since!” Connie told me.  The other children were cheering you on, and your smile was as bright as the sun.  I finally knew what it feels like when your heart explodes with pride.

2) The day we brought Baxter home from the hospital.

Dad and I were only gone for 24 hours, but the moment we arrived back home, you hugged me as if your life depended on it.  You were 19 months old, and didn’t have the words to explain that you missed us, you were confused, and you were nervous because of all the changes.  So instead, you just grabbed my neck and hung on for dear life.  I knew that newborn Baxter needed me, but this was such a poignant reminder that my Little ‘Bee still needed me more than ever.  Being needed is one of the best gifts you can give to someone.

3) The first time I saw you hug Baxter.  And every time since.

Jealous?  No. Acting out in rebellion?  Not once.  You are so in love with your baby Baxter, and you are his fierce protector.  You greet him each morning with a smile and eagerly welcome him into your bed.  “Got Mommy’s two babies!” you tell me every time.  When he goes to sleep at 6pm, you tell him “Goodnight Bax, have sweet dreams”.  You help with his pacifier, his burp rag, and cheer for him when he rolls over.  

Your tenderness and sense of duty is astonishing to me–I mistakenly thought that you’d be jealous and impatient.  When we went to my mother’s group playdate a few weeks ago, about 15 toddlers crowded around Baxter.  You subtly pushed your way through the crowd, and stepped between Bax and the mass of toddlers.  No hands were going to touch your baby.  I hope you always continue protecting him and loving him to pieces.  

3) When I hear you say things like “Cut this orange, it’s too much big!” or “Charlotte watching football with Mommy and Daddy and Baxter.”  You were walking in complete sentences well before age two.  I can’t tell you how often my jaw drops; the length of your sentences and the sophistication of your vocabulary amazes me.  You are a little sponge, picking things up from books, music, and the world around you.  I’m not exaggerating even a little bit when I say that you knew all your colors, you are starting to count, and you sing songs like “ABCs”, “Happy Birthday”, and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” from about 22 months.  Your favorite phrases lately?

Anytime we mention nap/bed/sleep, you indignantly shout “No!  Just woke up!”

You greet your brother each morning with “Hi Bax, how you today?  You fine?”

And you can be a little bit bossy: “Just put it right here.  No, over here!”

4) The small things we do together, just Mommy and Charlotte…like “girl time” or reading books before bed.

What a treat for Mommy to do things with only you.  Our lives are so busy that I miss my one-on-one time with you.  A trip to Target or Hannaford is an adventure when it’s just the two of us, and you make everything more fun.  The rare chance to put you to bed now is such a gift, and you make it even sweeter by rubbing my hand as we read, and giving Eskimo kisses before sleep.

Nearly every night since you were born, I have sung “Goodnight Charlotte” and “You are my sunshine” to you.  The first time you joined in on “You ahh my wunshine!  My onwy wunshine!” my heart was so full that I thought it might burst.  I could have stayed there in the rocking chair with you all night, ignoring the dirty dishes that awaited me.

5) Your first time walking on Higgins Beach.  

Seeing your determined little run as you laughed at the waves and chased after seagulls was worth every penny that we spent on our new house.  The whole world was open to you!  You were free to run, spin, jump, roll, and laugh all over that beach–how different than our tiny apartment in Portland!  We went nearly every day during our first summer at Pleasant Hill Road.  And every time, Dad and I knew we’d made the right decision to move.

6) The day two older men held the doors for us at Pat’s Pizza.  And then you looked up at them, started doing your old man walk, and said “olllld man.  OOLLLLD man!”  Also, the day you pooped on the potty for the first time.  Then proceeded to ride around Hannaford in the cart, loudly singing “Poop, poop, I love poop!”

Safe to say that life with a two-year-old gets more entertaining and more fun each day, and I have a built-in playmate.  The best part of my day is hearing “MOMMY!” when I return home and feeling your tiny arms wrap me up in a hug.  I told some friends the other day that I am pretty much obsessed with my children.  And it’s true.  You and Baxter make my world go ’round.

Happy 2nd Birthday.  You are my sunshine ‘Bee, my “onwy wunshine!”

Love,

Mommy

Dear Baby ‘Bee (I wish you could see yourself)

Dear Charlotte, my dear little Charlotte,

I wish you could see yourself now and understand what a truly wonderful big sister you are.  People warned us about you being jealous, demanding attention, regressing with certain skills or having no patience.  And now, when people ask me “How is Charlotte doing with Baxter?” my immediate and earnest response is, “She has surpassed every hope and expectation I could have had!”

You are kind, you are gentle, and you are so attentive to his needs and wants.  When Baxter cries, you immediately hop to problem-solving mode.  “Milk” you tell me, or “belly hurt”.  Or you rush around the house trying to find a burp rag or a pacifier.  Before Baxter was born, I hoped I could train you to someday help me.  I never dreamed you would start from day one.

When we have evening dance parties, you ask that Baxter joins the fun.  When we sit down to eat our dinner, you want to share yours with him.  When we laugh at something, you look to make sure Baxter is laughing too.  And you give him a kiss each morning when you wake up (by touching your forehead to his and exclaiming “mah!”)

I truly did not know that a 20 month old could be so compassionate and inclusive.  You have an empathy that is so in tune with those around you, and of that I am in awe.  It’s not something Dad and I have had time to teach you…so I have to believe it is your nature.  I want to say that I am proud, but that would imply that I had a hand in it.  Your inner beauty shines so brightly that sometimes it makes me cry.

I know it won’t always be this way.  And I know that by the time you are old enough to appreciate this, you will have no memory of it.  But I will never forget your cheerful “Ba Ba, play!” or your furrowed brow trying to discern why he is crying.  I wish I could bottle it up and save it forever.

Love always,

Your proud mom

Dear Baby ‘Bee (you’re going to be a big sister!),

We went to see your little baby brother or sister the other day on the ultrasound screen.  You certainly don’t understand that you’re going to be a big sister–you’re only 13 months old now, and I’m just beginning my second trimester.  I was nervous about taking you with me, but as the appointment as at 4pm and Dad had parent conferences all night, I really had no choice.  Four o’clock can be a great time for you, or it can be a tired-meltdown-hungry-mess kind of time for you.  Things did not start out well–it was torrentially raining, freezing cold, and they made us wait nearly 45 minutes for my appointment.  During those 45 minutes you cruised all around the waiting room, waving “hi” at all the pregnant women and signing baby as if your life depended on it!  Nanny did a great job entertained with books, snacks, and songs.

When we headed into the dark ultrasound room, you suddenly grew quiet and stoic.  No more signing, no more smiling.  The pacifier went in, and your eyes grew huge.  After studying the nurse for a few minutes, and examining her electronic wand that was moving all over my belly, you suddenly reached out for my hand.  Holding on tight, your eyes went from the baby on the computer screen, to my belly, to my face, and back again.  You searched the room, trying to figure out what was going on?  And why?  But you didn’t let go of my hand for the rest of the visit.

Were you nervous, and needing comfort?  Or did you think that I was worried and would need your comfort?  I will never know.  But it was so sweet that I had a hard time taking my eyes off you, even when we were there to see the little baby inside my belly.

Love always,

Mom

Dear Baby ‘Bee: Happy Birthday! Or, you’re not a baby anymore

Baby ‘Bee, as I write this on your first birthday, I realize I should start calling you Little ‘Bee instead.  We’ve come so far in just one year, and you are lighting up our lives in ways I could never have imagined.  But you will always and forever be my Baby ‘Bee.

You are curious, friendly, independent minded, and an absolute sponge.  I need only show you something once or twice before you’re able to try it out alone–just this week you’ve started to use your own fork and spoon, you love to clap, you’ve started to give us hugs and kisses, and you push your little walker around the house like a woman on a mission.  Your favorite signs are ‘book’, ‘dog’, and ‘bath’, and you eagerly shout out “dat”! when you want to see that thing that I am holding.

I’ve never seen a little girl as friendly as you.  Everywhere we go, you smile and wave your little princess-wave, bringing smiles to the faces of everyone in sight.  “Haaaa!” you tell them, imitating “hi” and lighting up your bright blue eyes.  It reminds me of the idea I heard once that babies are born with no enemies, and wouldn’t the world be so lovely if we all continued in that way?

My heart is more full than I ever thought it could be, and having you in our lives has made my love for Dad grow even greater.  How amazing that such a small person can do that for us!  When I think back to life before you, it seems so empty, so one-dimensional, and almost self-indulgent.  Where our weekends use to involve lazy reading mornings and happy hours around town, we now spend 45 minutes examining different blocks, and then practice our cow moo-ing sounds for the next 15 minutes.  We don’t have much to show by the end of a weekend, except for a messy floor and a mountain of laundry.  And smiles.  Lots of smiles.

This first year has been a whirlwind as we’ve tried to find our way with being  a family.   It sometimes feels as though a day can last forever, but when I look back at the last 365 I feel like we’re on fast-forward.  I can’t wait to see what the next 365 have in store for you, and how you’ll experience the world in tiny pieces every day.  With each moment you’ll be moving closer to creating and discovering what makes you you.  But you’ve already done something pretty amazing: you made us a family, and you made me a mother.  For that, I will always think of you as my Baby ‘Bee.

Love,

Mom

(February 4, 2014)