Monday, July 4, 2016

Dear E.J. - Two Years

My dear E.J.,

Today you are two years old and officially a real-life, full-blown toddler. I don't realize how completely your little baby days have slipped by until, for example, I click on last year's letter to you and see the picture of you on your first birthday. Then I realize, yes, you are very obviously growing up. I think I might just be in denial, though, and don't want to admit it. Birthdays force me to do otherwise, unfortunately.

This past year has seen some great developments for you. Quite notably, you started walking (in August, at Great-Gramps's house) and talking in phrases (and sometimes even full sentences). You do both quite well and with exhaustingly relentless frequency. I can barely even recall your first stumbly steps now as I see you run from room to room in our house, as fast as your little legs will carry you, with arms very deliberately swinging at your sides. You also jump and climb with the best of them, much to my chagrin (in fact, you have even adopted my worried expression of "Oh, geez! Oh, geez! Oh, geez!" that I exclaim whenever I watch you climb, now saying it to yourself as you go). Despite your daredevil tendencies, you seem to fall down less than I would expect, so that's good, and even when you do fall, you are quick to pick yourself back up. I like that about you!

Your speech has really exploded, too. Gone are the days of baby sign language; they were sweet but short-lived. I think you have worked hard to keep up with your chatterbox sister, and you spend much of your time repeating things she says (unfortunately, she does not always find it particularly endearing). Everywhere I go, people hear you chattering away and comment about how much you talk. I just smile and say that they don't know the half of it, because my goodness, you and your sister and Daddy can really talk. I can't say that I mind though, because your little voice is just the sweetest sound. I love to hear your trademark exclamations: "I did it!" (this is not usually a good thing), "I found it!" and so on. When you want us to play with you, you say "hand" and grab our hands to pull us to play. You demand that we "take it!" as you hand us a light saber to battle with you, and yell "I gotcha now!" as the game progresses. You also so sweetly say "Hey, good morning! I missed you!" when I get you up each day, and say your precious "I love you"s to your family at night. I know these E.J.-isms will be just as short-lived as the baby signs were, so I'm trying my best to commit them to memory (and video!). I never want to forget the sound of your baby voice!

Of course, though your voice may sound sweet, the content of your words (or at least, the intent behind them) isn't always so dear. You seemed to have figured out how to tease Ellie at what I think is a pretty young age, and seem to take some pleasure in doing so. I've already broken up my fair share of sibling squabbles, and you find yourself in time out with some regularity (usually for yelling and/or hitting). Couldn't you guys have given me a little more time before this sibling stuff started up?

Despite all that, however, most of the time you and Ellie are so precious together. She just adores you, even when you yell and hit and take her stuff. The spats are bound to happen between siblings; I know that. And those moments are far outweighed by those in which Ellie takes care of you, or tries to teach you something, or I catch you two reading or playing together. It's clear how much she loves you and you love her, and  hope you both always feel lucky to have each other. Siblings can be really great friends, you know. The best, even.

As for how you're growing, well, you are. I don't know quite how your weight is doing -  I think you're still on an upward trend although still on the small side for sure (your size 12-18 month shorts nearly fell right off you at your birthday party this weekend, for example). I don't mind your small stature as it allows me to pretend you're still younger than you are, so I'm not complaining. You eat fairly well and your favorite foods right now are peas and macaroni, ziti with meatballs and basically any and all snacks. You also have sprouted quite a few teeth in the last 12 months, and are sporting nearly a full set now, with the exception of your two-year-molars (still forthcoming) and one little lower front tooth that just refuses to show itself. You have been sleeping through the night consistently since you were about 15 months old, and take one nap in the afternoons. We have a nice little schedule for ourselves!

You have a great gift for mess-making, my boy. You love to play and man, can you destroy a room. I like to think that means you play fully and without reservation, but oh, the mess! You will empty a toy box from top to bottom. You are still quite fond of carrying things around with you, and I had to chuckle when I re-read last year's letter and saw that I mentioned you had stashed our Amazon Fire remote somewhere and it was yet to be found. Now, one year later, we finally ordered a replacement remote because we never did find it. Such is life with a toddler, I suppose.

You love lots of typical "boy" things right now, like trucks (fire trucks in particular), trains and dinosaurs (though to be fair, you also quite enjoy playing with Ellie's princesses, dolls and dress-up). You also took a particular liking to outer space and Star Wars this year, and you can name nearly every person, alien and droid in the Star Wars cast of characters. You enjoy a light saber battle at every opportunity and the first song I ever heard you sing was the Imperial March. You also loved meeting Kylo Ren during our many Disney trips this year, and as I type this you are sleeping with a stuffed TIE fighter and stuffed X-Wing in your crib. I think it's safe to say, you're a Star Wars fan.

Speaking of Disney trips, we had quite a few of those this year, including one for the Star Wars races in April. You ran the kids' run and did a great job! We also took a nice long road trip last summer, and you visited Washington, D.C. (including the spot where Daddy and I got engaged), Philadelphia (you climbed the "Rocky steps" at the Philadelphia Art Museum), Sesame Place in Pennsylvania (you cracked up when you met Cookie Monster), Pittsburgh (you loved climbing the steps at Aunt Rachel and Uncle Mark's house!, Cleveland (you learned to walk during the Hesterman reunion) and Pinehurst, NC (you got to check out the No. 2 course with Daddy). We also made a number of trips to St. Petersburg (in fact, we're at Papa's house right now) and spent a lot of time with family, including Aunt Heather when she was home from Japan. It has been quite a year!

You also had some of your first times really being away from me this year, in the nursery of the moms' group I started going to. It was just for a few hours once a week, but you had a tough go of it at first. In typical E.J. fashion, however, you adjusted quickly and by the end of the year, your teachers actually cried when they had to say goodbye to you. They especially loved your manners, always commenting on how sweet you were when you said "thank you" every time they did something for you. You really endeared yourself to them! (And they weren't wrong - you really do have great manners!)

I also want to mention that as of today, we are still nursing. I am feeling ready to be done so I don't expect that to last much longer, but I am very proud of us for making it all the way to two years. The other night, after your birthday party, I just stared at you as you nursed, letting memories of newborn you in my arms wash over me. In the grand scheme of things, I know you are still very small, but by comparison you are just so big now. Where you once tucked in so neatly, we now have limbs splayed in every direction. It's hard to believe you were ever so very tiny. I have cherished these quiet times with you, and one of my most favorite memories of you from this year was when, after nursing, you pulled away and softly said, "thank you, Mama." My heart broke right in two. You are so welcome, my love.

As we head into this next year, I fear we're starting to see some evidence of those famous "terrible twos." Your tantrums are becoming more regular, an understandable consequence of strengthening opinions paired with limited control over your environment. I will try my best to be patient as you navigate this part of growing up, though at least so far, you still remain your happy self the majority of the time and tantrums are usually quite brief. A simple distraction can flip the switch for you from a fit of rage to a fit of giggles! And oh man, are those giggles worth it. You have a great laugh, and you still laugh yourself into hiccups regularly!

The next year will hold more big things for you, I expect. You will likely start potty training (you already show interest, thanks to Ellie's example) and sleeping in a "big boy bed" (you have already nearly climbed out of your crib, so I'm sure that is fairly imminent). We may move houses at some point, and will hopefully do some more traveling (possibly, even your first international trip to the Cayman Islands next summer!). It's an exciting time to be you!

E.J., I just can't even put into words how lucky I feel to be your mama. You are such a sweet, kind, curious, happy little boy. It just makes my heart ache to think about how my time with you is passing me by so quickly. I want to preserve every precious detail of your babyhood, like the feeling of your tiny arm wrapping around my neck to hug me goodnight, or the excited "ooooh, dat, Mama!" accompanied by a little baby finger pointing excitedly at something new you want to show me. I know that each little detail will soon slip away as you continue to grow older and smarter and faster and stronger. I love watching the process but still find myself already mourning the days gone by. I don't want a single second to be wasted; I want to soak up every bit of you as long as you are still young enough to let me. I feel confident that there are great things coming to you in your life, and I can't wait to be there to watch you grow into the person you are meant to be. In the meantime, I will do my best to give you the very best start possible. And no matter where your life leads you, I hope you will always know, without the slightest doubt, that I am here for you and I love every last piece of who you are. You are my sweet boy and I love you so.

Happy birthday, nugget.

All my love,

* * * * *

My dear E.J.,

Happy second birthday, third [something clever] and Fourth of July! Congratulations on doubling in age since the last letter. By the time I do what you just did, I will be getting ready to retire and you will be 10 years out of college. In trying to figure out what to write this time, I am realizing just how curious a task it is to try to cover here the same amount of aging as I did in the last 12 letters. It makes me a little nervous because the more I think about these letters, the more I think anecdotes are probably the most fun part. Unfortunately, I haven't taken any notes. But, considering how many years of letters I am planning to write, I hope there can be some usefulness to snapshotting what is happening at or around this moment each year. Right now, you are just the sweetest little boy. So active, polite and loving.

E.J., you are constantly in motion and you run everywhere. It makes me smile every day watching you do it, not just because you are getting faster, but because you swing your arms so deliberately. It looks almost like you've watched running videos and are trying to make one or both match what you saw the pros doing, with mixed results. You have also taken to climbing and never consider whether you can do something before you try. I can appreciate what a terrific habit this is even if it makes everyone a little nervous. Finally, and I don't want to put too much pressure on it, you have started hitting a baseball solidly off the tee and make early swings with a golf club. It looks like there might be some natural ability there, but I am even happier that you seem to like it (for instance, you do these things without prompting and they seem to hold your interest well). It's only a matter of time before "catch" involves more than you running the ball to my outstretched hand or golf doesn't devolve into a light saber battle.

I say you are polite because you are so good at saying "thank you." You use it appropriately and with everyone. I love it and it is so endearing. It really makes your Mama and me look good, but really I think it is just you being you. Whatever the reason, thanks for that! I also want to mention that your voice is the cutest thing. Maybe my favorite in the world. I love how much you are saying now and how freely and accurately you copy the last word you hear. You honestly talk all day. If your voice wasn't as cute, it might be a little much some days, but nope. Not yet. I love it.

Speaking of love, you are so very loving. You still smile all the time and have the best laugh. You are entertained by so many different things and people, daily. Even though you are showing flashes of two-year-old moodiness, for now you are easily distracted, and never far from being super happy. For someone of your slow-growing size, you give the best hugs, with full arm and body commitment. You make a popping sound when you kiss and you'll say hi to anyone that asks. My favorite example from this year is our goodnight ritual. After we all clean up (I use the term "we" very loosely), we give each other hugs. Whenever you are more than a few feet away, you come barreling towards me and crash in with reckless abandon. I love every one of them, and don't mind if you never stop, though I realize that if you get as big as I hope, these will not always be in my best interest.

It is crazy to think that you are almost as old as Ellie was when you were born. It is also crazy that I am so comfortable with our family of four that I am not stressed about being in the midst of a career transition. I finished my third and final year in the classroom and think I know what is next, but will not be sure for another few weeks. No matter what happens, I think the world of you, your sister and your Mama and trust that we are going to be okay. We have a really good thing going, and I think you like us all, too. Keep up the good work, E.J., and know you will always be my big guy. I just love you so much.

All my love,

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