Letter To My Little Lady: Love Magic

FairyTaleDear Little Fish,

Your dad and I saw the movie Cinderella a few weeks ago — not the cartoon version you know, but another version directed by this guy named Kenneth Branagh. It got a lot of criticism for being blonde-centric and sexist and some other words you don’t know the meaning of yet. I admit, those things are pretty much all true, but I still loved it.

I love all fairy tales. I always have. It’s not the princesses or the knights in shining armor that I adore — what I love most is the dark and the light, side by side. For every happily ever after, there’s a stepsister slighted, a servant left crying in the garden, an overprotective mother, or an evil queen who would give anything to stay young forever. And if you think about it, that’s just how life is. Sure, there is so much joy in this world, but behind every happy occasion there’s someone, somewhere feeling sad or lonely or left out.

The cure-all for sadness in fairy tales is always the same: magic. A swipe of the wand or true love’s kiss can make it all better. Sounds good, right? Must be nice for those storybook characters to have all their woes cured by some silly wand.

Here’s a little secret, though. There’s magic in real life, too. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently.

In the stories, it’s often a prince that rescues a princess, but in real life it’s even better. In real life, we rescue each other. We fight for each other. I see it every single day. You’re too young to know about this yet, but one of our friends is battling brain cancer right now. Let me tell you, his wife is one bad-ass dragon slayer. I’ve never seen someone fight so ferociously. She will do anything in her power to make sure he gets the care he needs, to give him as many happy days as possible. Or when your grandma Peggy died, people sent me cards and flowers. They dropped off meals, came by to walk our dogs and gave me countless hugs. All of those little rescue attempts made a really tough situation so much more bearable.

And don’t even get me started on you. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to keep you safe. I’d crash through briar thorns, release genies from bottles and battle a thousand giants. I’d walk the earth to find you if you were lost. I’d sprout wings and grow a pair of googly eyes if I knew it would make you laugh. I’d even give you my last piece of chocolate, if you reeeeeeally wanted it.

All of that adds up to one very specific type of magic — love. Just like fairy tale magic, love really does make the world a better place. Every time you act out of kindness, you blot out some of the bad. You make the darkness recede, just a little bit. We can’t stop bad things from happening, but we can love fiercely and faithfully. We can make life beautiful, even in the hardest of times.

Sounds pretty magical to me.

And yeah, love doesn’t guarantee a happily ever after.

But it sure does make us happier.

Love,
Mom

Letter To My Little Lady: 2.5, Oh My!

You at 2.5. These are your very first pigtails.
You at 2.5. These are your very first pigtails.

Dear Little Fish,

You are 2.5 and fabulous. Well, you’re actually more like 2.75 because it took me so long to get it together enough to write this. Why can’t I get it together, you ask? Because I’m too busy having fun with you!

You’re pretty much a connoisseur of fun, and you want to play all the time. No matter what I’m doing, if you say, “Mom, do you want to play?” I have to stop and hang out with you. I cannot resist the call to play. I cannot resist pretty much anything if you’re the one asking.

After fun, talking is your most favorite thing. Like, you do not stop. Ever. You talk so much that it’s easy to forget you’re only two until you say something totally goofball like the below:

Me: Hey, Lettie, how much pizza did you eat today?
You: Four seconds.

Whoa, four seconds of pizza! I think that’s a lot?

You like to dance and shake your arms and spin like a ballerina. You’re way into ballerinas right now. Your big move is to lift one of your legs and hold it for a fraction of a second. You’re pretty proud of that one. You like Dora and Daniel Tiger and your mommy.

Yep, you are a total mama’s girl at the moment. Every morning you wake up and call me from your crib in a pathetic whine, saying, “I want my mommy, my mommy.” Trust me, I am soaking up every single moment of this because I know when you’re a teenager it’ll be a totally different story.

Mostly what I love about you at 2.5 is how full of joy you are. Everything is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done. The other day, I picked you up from school in the middle of an ice storm. It was nasty outside. My coat was soaked and every step felt slippery and treacherous. I was worried about how I was going to get you home safely. I was stressed out about some dumb thing at work. I was tired.

But when I got to your school, your whole face lit up and you said, “Your coat is wet!” like it was hands-down the coolest thing you had seen all week.

I explained to you that, yes, it was raining out, and there was ice on the ground so we had to be careful. You then turned to your friend and said in a voice full of excitement, “We’re gonna go outside and our coats are gonna get really wet! And it’s slippery!”

You were so psyched to go outside in an ice storm. You’d never seen your winter coat splotched with rain before. You’d never felt your footfalls slip and slide all the way home. You were in uncharted territory, a whole new world, and you loved every minute of it.

And when I’m with you, that’s just how it is—the world is new and wacky and nonsensical and wonderful. It’s you and me together, on an adventure that never ends.

Love,
Mom

Letter To My Little Lady: You Are Two

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You, at two.

Dear Little Fish,

People talk up the terrible twos, but I don’t really see it. Yeah, you’re a wild woman and you have tantrums on the sidewalk and today I’m pretty sure you hit your dad in the face on purpose. But I’m still loving this age of yours. Lately you’ve developed a little devil smile where you scrunch your eyes and show all your ten teeth. That basically erases my mind every time I see it. Tantrums? What tantrums?

You talk in 3-4 word sentences now, and you talk a lot. If you’re awake, you’re jabbering. You say funny things like, “neck-a to me,” instead of “next to me.” You’re also learning empathy and emotions. When I was upset the other day, you put your face up close to mine and said, “You sad, Mama?” Then you offered me your blankie. Which I accepted, obviously.

You can count to thirteen and sing your ABCs. You’re just beginning to play pretend. Last night you told me that you were a tiger. According to you, tigers caw like birds and walk like drunk little girls.

Holding hands is your thing right now. Having your picture taken is not. You’ll dutifully say “cheeeese,” but then glare at the ground in protest. When you get really excited, you raise your hands above your head with your elbows bent and shake your arms. With your curly hair all askew and your arms going like crazy, it looks like you are calling thunder down from the sky or demanding answers from the universe.

After I put you in your crib each night I say the same words I’ve said to you every night since you were born: “Good night, sweet girl. I love you to the sky and back.” Sometimes, after I close the door to your room and leave you babbling to yourself, I’ll stand in the hall for a minute, grinning like an idiot. How on earth, I’ll think, is it possible that this goofball is actually mine?

A few weeks ago my friend Shannon sent me two boxes of inspirational quotes. Each quote is printed on a tiny card. Naturally, you’ve decided that these boxes are yours. You love to rearrange the cards. You also like scattering them on the floor like confetti and hiding them about the house. I don’t mind–it’s fun to discover random sentiments in the hallway or underneath my nightstand, almost as if you left them there just for me.

Tonight I found one on my bedroom floor. The quote inside said, “Thou hast seen nothing yet.”

No, my spirited Little Fish, I don’t believe I have.

Love,
Mom

Letter to My Little Lady: Rock and Rock and Rock to Sleep

You and me, tired at the end of a long day.
You and me, tired at the end of a long day.

Dear Little Fish,

I just finished putting you to bed. This is how it usually goes down: I hold you while you drink some milk, and your dad reads a few books. When he’s finished with the last book, he leaves and you and I sit together on your glider. It’s been this way since you were eight weeks old. That’s pretty much forever in your world.

As you get older, the routine has changed a bit. You drink out of a cup now instead of a bottle. You’re almost too big to lie in my arms like a baby. Almost. Your newest ritual is requesting that your dad and I kiss. You push his face towards mine and say, “Mama,” until he leans over and gives me a smooch.

The younger you used to nod off in my arms as we rocked. Now, we sing together. “Mama, shing,” you say. You’re very particular about the song. Sometimes you ask me to switch songs at a rapid pace, like I’m flipping a radio dial. Other times we’ll sing the same song over and over again. You don’t know all, or even most, of the words, but you like to experiment with tune.

There’s a book we often read called The Going to Bed Book. It’s a silly story about big-eyed animals in pajamas, but the closing lines are lovely: The moon is high. The sea is deep. They rock and rock and rock to sleep.

The moon is in the sky. The sea is calm and gentle. Everything is just as it should be. This is exactly how I feel in these dark moments with you—all is peaceful, all is well.

Soon, you will be too big for me to cradle you. In another year or two, you’ll outgrow the glider all together. Someday, further still, you’ll set out on your own. You’ll trek through jungles or sail across oceans, and the place where you fall asleep will likely be many miles away from me.

No matter where you lay your head, I hope you always feel safe. I hope you feel just as content as you did tonight, with your kisses and your blankie and your cup of milk. The gentle waves, the silvery moonlight—they will always be there for you. All you have to do is close your eyes.

Love,
Mom

Letter to My Little Lady: Listen Closely

Mom hugs.
Mom hugs.

Dear Little Fish,

There might be times in your life when you feel lonely. It can be a hard thing to feel. Right now I think I can stop you from feeling lonely just by picking you up and holding you tight. That is one of the beautiful things about you being so little—I can still give you most everything you need. But as you get older and go out into the world, you will have different hopes and needs, and a hug from mom might not be the cure-all it once was. Which is why I want to tell you something:

You may feel lonely, Fish, but you are never alone.

You are so incredibly loved. You are loved by me, your dad, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your friends at school. As you get older, the list of people who love you will only get longer.

But here’s something else: you are not just loved by the people in your life. You are loved by the whole universe. I swear it. And if you’re loved by the whole universe, there’s no way you can ever be alone.

Don’t believe me? Just step outside and listen. In the fall you can hear it in the crackling of leaves underneath your feet, in the pitter-patter of the chilly rain. In the winter you can hear it in the silence underneath the falling snow, in the icy gust of the cold wind. In the spring, just listen for the rush of the rising river, the chirping of birds returning from the south. In the summer, tilt your head to hear the leaves swishing in the trees, the sigh of flowers soaking up the sun.

You have to listen carefully, but you can always hear it. It’s the mantra of the universe, playing on repeat: You are beautiful. You are loved. You are perfect just as you are. 

Love,
Mom

Letter to My Little Lady: You, Me, Gratitude

Image
You at 13 months, snuggling with Grandpa Charlie.

Dear Little Fish,

Lately your dad and I have been finishing each day by telling each other what we’re grateful for. We’ve only been doing it a couple of days, but so far I love it. Feeling grateful makes me feel happy. It makes me feel loved. It makes me feel like anything is possible.

One of the things I am most grateful for, of course, is you. Today you are thirteen months old. Thirteen months! I thought I’d take a moment to tell you about some of the times over this last year with you that I’m grateful for.

The first one goes back to the very first day you were born. After you swooshed out like a speeding bullet, they tried to put you on my chest, but they couldn’t because the cord was too short. I felt your weight on me for just a second before they cut the cord and whisked you to the other side of the room. You cried the whole time you were being weighed and tested. Then, at last, they put you on my chest. And you stopped crying. Instantly. You just chilled there, looking around the room, taking everything in. Our doula even commented that she had never seen a freshly born baby that calm. The amazing thing is that you are still like that. Almost always, if you’re crying or upset about something, you calm when I take you into my arms. I am so grateful for this bond that we share, grateful for whatever it is between us that makes you feel safe.

Another time that comes to mind is Christmas Eve. You were just five months old then. You, your dad and me had trekked up to Vermont a couple of days earlier to spend the holiday with Grandpa Charlie. It was our first Christmas without Grandma Peggy. I don’t think any of us knew how it would go. We all sat together after dinner and read you The Polar Express. It was a long book for a little baby, but you sat through the whole thing and actually seemed interested in it. The couch we were sitting on was soft, I could see the lights from the tree out of the corner of my eye, and there you were, all snuggled up on our laps. And you know that? Somehow Christmas was still magical, even despite all of the loss we felt. That was mostly because of you.

Then there’s the moment you decided that you love cats. Admittedly, I don’t remember the exact day, but it wasn’t too long ago. You just up and decided that cats were the best thing ever. Every time you see one you scream like a screech owl, giggle and generally act like a lunatic. Your joy at seeing something as simple as a cat—something that I see all the time and don’t give a passing thought to—makes me feel joy. I start to see the world through your eyes and what I see is incredible. Cats? Awesome! A red block? Awesome! Random people on the street? So incredibly awesome!

Those are just three of the zillions of moments with you that I’m grateful for. I’m grateful for you every single day. It’s hard to stay sad or anxious or angry when I see your smile. I always tell your dad that I’m not sure how wars are still going on when there are baby smiles in the world.

So thank you, Fish Face, for coming into my life. And thank you for being the craziest, screechiest, sweetest, best little girl there ever was. Here’s to one great year, and many more to come.

Love,
Mom

Babies: creating world peace, one smile at a time.
Babies: creating world peace, one smile at a time.

Letter to My Little Lady: 9 Months, Happy City

You and me at Aunt Meg's bridal shower.
You, at nine months.

Dear Little Fish,

Oh, did I say that six months was an awesome age? I lied. Nine months is even better.

Your personality is really starting to show right now. Let me break it down for you:

  • Enthusiastic: You get excited about everything. Your new love is things hanging on the walls—photographs, artwork, whatever. Any time you spot something hanging, you start gesturing wildly, breathing fast and saying “aaaaaaaaa” in this bizarre way that makes you sound like you have a smoker’s cough.
  • Talkative: Everything these days is accompanied by a sound. You basically don’t stop vocalizing any time you’re awake. You love practicing your consonants. Most recently you figured out “N.” You love saying “naan, naan, naan.”
  • Happy: You pretty much love the whole world right now. You’re generally just stoked to be alive. Your dad and I took you to the park the other weekend and I thought you were going to explode with glee. You loved riding on the swings for the first time and “playing” with the other babies there. If you had your way, you’d be around people all the time. You remind me of Grandma Peggy in this way.
  • Sweet: You learned how to snuggle! And give hugs! Sometimes you try to climb onto my lap and then you’ll just sit there for a while, playing with your toys or lounging against me. There are no words for how happy this makes me.

Other things about you at nine months:

  • You love looking at books. I’m trying to get your first real word to be “book.” We’ll see.
  • You can stand holding onto something.
  • You’re starting to point.
  • You cry when strangers hold you, even if they’re not really strangers (like your grandparents).
  • Whenever you look at me you get this look on your face like seeing me is the best thing that’s ever happened to you. Guess what? That’s how I feel every time I look at you, too.

You and me? We’re having the best time together. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Love,
Mom

Your first time at the playground.
Your first time at the playground.
You looooooved the swing
You looooooved the swing.
Your 9-month salty face
Your nine-month salty face. That drool looks good on you.

Letter to My Little Lady: Six Months of You & Me

colette color
You, at 6.5 months

Dear Little Fish,

You’ve been a part of this world for over 6 months. I don’t want to speak for you, but it seems like you really dig it here. In the last month or so you’ve gone from blob baby to the nosiest baby on the planet. You have to check out everything. Everything. Lights! The dog! Laughter! Random plastic thing!

Watching you watching the world? It’s pretty much the best thing ever.

It’s hard for me to even write you this letter because I’m so smitten with you right now. I kind of can’t think about it without crying. You’ve made both your dad and me into total, hopeless saps.

For example, I cannot read the following books to you without crying:

Guess How Much I Love You
Someday
Daddy’s Girl
On the Day You Were Born

That last one? Tear jerker. I mean, I sob at the end every time. It’s ridiculous.

I think a lot about the gifts you’ve given me just by being alive. The greatest of these, perhaps, is that you’ve helped me to live in the present moment. Before you, I looked forward to weekends and vacations. I was always onto the Next Big Thing. Now, I look forward to your next smile. Who needs to wait for the weekend when there is joy right now, right in front of me? Of course, there was always joy right in front of me, but loving you has helped me to truly see it.

After all, I know that every moment with you is fleeting. You’re growing and changing so fast. The baby you are today is entirely different than the baby you were yesterday. And one of these tomorrows, very soon, you won’t even be a baby anymore.

But for now you’re still a baby. My baby. And I love you with all of my heart.

Love,
Mom

Letter to My Little Lady: I Am Always Here

You, at 12 weeks.

Dear Little Fish,

This week you started daycare and I went back to work. You appear to be ok with this arrangement. Your teachers tell me you’re eating and sleeping just fine, and that you smile when they talk to you.

I, on the other hand, am not so great. It seems unnatural to leave you each morning. It feels wrong to pick you up in the evenings and not know what made you smile, cry or coo that day.

I miss you in a big, achy kind of way. I wonder if you’re getting enough love and if you feel safe. I hope you’re too young to miss me back, but I have no idea. The mind of a baby is a wildly mysterious place.

Here’s a little secret, though: I am never really gone. Imagine a long silver thread—light as air, yet strong as steel—that connects me to you. It doesn’t matter if you go to daycare, summer camp, college or the bottom of the sea. We will never be more than a heartbeat apart.

Love,
Mom

Letter to My Little Lady: Go Big or Go Home

You, at eight weeks.

Dear Little Fish,

In the darkest days of my pregnancy, I was convinced something terrible would happen to you before I got the chance to meet you. I just couldn’t imagine how you could be ok when my own mother was so clearly not. Rationally, I know the two had nothing to do with each other, but for some reason I couldn’t unlink them. You and your grandma were a package deal.

I never verbalized all of that to your grandma, but she knew I worried about you. “I just want you not to worry so much,” she told me often. And she was right. I didn’t need to worry. Because even though she was taken from us too soon, you are are still here. You are alive, thriving and loved.

Thinking about that made me wonder what else she was right about over the years. With a moniker like Mrs. Rightwood, you can imagine she was right about a lot. It made me wonder what lessons she taught me that I could pass on to you. I’m sure there were many, but the one that comes to mind right away is this: love big.

Like, really big.

Your grandma, she loved with her entire heart. If she loved someone the whole world knew about it. And the whole world better like it.

When I was in second grade, I remember telling your grandma that I loved my teacher, Mrs. McElwain. At seven years old, I was a loud, energetic handful. Often my teachers didn’t know what to do with me. But Mrs. McElwain treated me with nothing but gentleness and grace. From her I got smiles and kind words and jelly beans. Jelly beans! Who wouldn’t love a teacher who passed out jelly beans?

And your grandma, she said to me, “Well, why don’t you tell her you love her?” But I didn’t do it. Even then, I thought it was weird to tell your teacher you loved her. Would she think I was an oddball? Would she laugh at me? No amount of encouragement on your grandma’s part could make me budge. I stayed mum. I would save my “I love yous” for my family, thank you very much.

But now, looking back, I realize that Mrs. McElwain–a mother of two herself–would have undoubtedly thought my declaration of love was sweet.

If there’s one trait I hope you inherit from your grandma, it’s the ability to love big and to love without fear. If you love someone, let them know. People like to be loved. I don’t know one single person who doesn’t.

Your heart is big enough to love anyone you choose: family, friends, teachers, pets, the dentist, whoever. There is always room for more love in this world.

So go ahead Fish Face, shout it from the rooftops.

Love,
Mom