This is 3!

 

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This is 3! We hung the birthday sign and the paper chain and blew up balloons. I made blueberry pancakes and lit a candle and we sang, all before sun up. I was a full and present parent who didn’t try to juggle other tasks into the day. She chose the Peabody museum, so we went to New Haven and, as luck would have it, they were feeding the bearded dragons and frogs and Vietnamese walking sticks, so we got to hold and touch and marvel up close. In the afternoon it was warm enough to go to the beach and build sandcastles. I’m still off food from the stomach flu, so when my mom offered dinner and a birthday muffin, I said, oh yes please! (I’m getting a lot better now at saying, yes, thank you for your offer to help, I’ll take it!)

I would like to write another ode to age 2, but I’ve been catching up on my course, and must save it for the weekend.

Thank you, dear readers, for hanging in there and leaving so many kind comments during this stretch of thin posts and two bouts of illness. It was a beautiful day celebrating my sweet girl and I’m feeling so grateful.

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If the Season We Could Keep

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Thank you for all the kind words and encouragement during this wacky week of Intro to Potty Training. I swear I’m going to stop writing about it. Today is a better day for no particular reason other than it just is. These last few days I’ve wanted to hit fast-forward, but last month I wrote this essay about the moments I wish I could keep, and it’s on the Brain, Child blog today. A good reminder that there are so many little joys and that things are changing all the time.

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Changes and Traditions

These last couple of months leading up to age three are all rapid change and growth. Increased vocabulary and refined pronunciation. Heightened awareness and comprehension. Assertiveness, a strong will. There’s a lot more resistance, a lot more “no!” She will hold up her hand and say, “No, mommy, leave me be!”

She still has an ethereal essence, a sweet and gentle soul. It shines through her big brown eyes even during crabby moments. But a fierce will is emerging, and though it sometimes wears me out, I’m glad for it. I want her to claim her space, raise her voice, stand her ground. She is an incredible combination of peace and strength and silliness, teaching me all the time.

If you ask her what she wants for Christmas, she will answer, “A present!” There is no material good she longs for, except perhaps another book to add to her collection. She is still blissfully unaware of our consumer-driven culture. I know it won’t be long before this changes, and I’ve been thinking of little traditions that focus on what truly matters. I love the tradition of decorating a tree in the yard with edible ornaments for the animals, detailed over at Wilder Child. It’s a simple craft project, an experience, and an act of giving. It turns our attention to the creatures we share space with and instills a sense of responsibility to wildlife. And it looks so lovely, the cranberry strands and orange cups of birdseed hanging from the tree. We’ve been reading Jan Brett’s The Mitten every night and thinking about all the creatures in our backyard.

If I had any talent for sewing, I’d quilt an Advent calendar. My favorites are the fabric ones with pockets for little felted ornaments and candy canes. This year we have a beautiful paper one from my sister. Perhaps next year I’ll craft one from fabric…

How are your little ones changing? How do you celebrate the season?

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Make Something, Anything

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First, put down your phone. Forget the torrent of bad news on Twitter, the cabinet of deplorables. Forget that the car died and the auto shop resurrected it and then it died again. Sit down on the floor with your child and build something. She will knock it over. Keep building. The cat will plop himself in the middle. Build around him. Realize you’re out of diapers, but have a bag of pull-ups. Coax the potty-resistant toddler to the potty. Make it fun! Get some books. Cajole, cheer. Be gentle. Set the timer to 15 minutes with a delightful ring called “Twinkle.” Think, positive associations. Think, be inventive! Remember that you have drinking straws in a drawer in the kitchen. Create a game, a magic trick. Can you make the water disappear by drinking from the straw? Cajole. Cheer! Per toddler’s request, slice half an apple. Renew your commitment to limited screen time. Declare a meaningless warning, only 15 more minutes of Caillou. Note the Twinkle timer. Use a joyful voice to announce, it’s time! Drag the limp-limbed toddler by her arms while she cries, then laughs, and eventually sits on the potty. Read more books. Make it fun! What animal likes apples? The horse, yes, the horse! Note the dust and hair collecting on the floor behind the sink. Get the bottle of diluted bleach, get down on your hands and knees, and scrub the floor. There, an accomplishment. Make a potty chart with stickers. Turn off Caillou and endure a 10-minute tantrum. Bring the felt board into the living room. Coax. Cajole. Try to sit at the table for a moment and write (ha!). Try the make-water-disappear-with-a-straw magic trick again. Coax. Cajole. Breathe. Sit in front of the felt board and pull out the tree-shaped piece of felt. Place a red circle near the tree and claim it’s an apple. Watch the toddler grab it and declare, No, it’s not an apple! It’s a red circle. Acquiesce with a sigh. You have no argument. Twinkle timer. Coax. Cajole. Find a new book to read. Please stop touching your bottom. Try to keep the edge from your voice. Be gentle. Admire your freshly bleached bathroom. Note the sun rising higher in the sky. It’s 9:00 a.m. You’ve been at this for 2 hours, eight 15-minute increments. Note this is how big things are accomplished, in tiny increments. Endurance is key. Your husband returns home from running errands and takes the toddler for a walk. You sit down to write this. You are interrupted by the friend delivering a cord of wood. By the toddler home from the walk, demanding TV. You swallow frustration. You accept that there will forever be forces running counter to your mission. You wonder why you bother. But deep down, you know it counts. You renew your commitment to remain Twitter-free, news-free for 24 hours. Mental health is key. You will stop consuming. Start creating. You will make something, anything.

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Early Morning Thoughts

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Coughing myself awake at 4:00 am means I can remember my dream (or parts of it anyway), and in it, I’m young, early twenties, and I can really feel it, the carefree wildness. It’s so strange the way everything was a lifetime ago and also two minutes ago and we keep all the pieces stored up in our bodies, our brains. There I was, here I am. And here’s the toddler who’s delighted I’m awake at this this dark and early hour. Cheerios for her, coffee for me. PBS cartoons, my crutch. I was going to type, “now let’s see how much I can write before 6:00 am,” but I’m already pouring more Cheerios and then getting the cats’ brushes because now is a good time for us to sit on the rug and brush out Buddha’s mats, or knots, or as my daughter says, “Does Buddha have snots? I’m trying to get his snots out.” That one makes me laugh so hard, I can’t bring myself to correct her. Her pronunciation has become so clear, I already miss the days she would say “fwuh-guh” for squirrel. I repotted a spider plant clipping my sister gave me ages ago, and now it sits on the table, my new writing companion. It’s amazing, the energy of one small plant. I opened an old Word doc this morning in my early-morning haziness, something I’d written back in May during the Spring workshop. I’d abandoned it back then. It seemed disjointed. I’d let the writing flow without worrying about where it would end up. I don’t remember much of the feedback, except the suggestion it was probably two different pieces. Reading it this morning, I was surprised at how much clarity I found within it. I can see where I was trying to go. A good reminder that you have to put things aside for a good while and return with fresh eyes. It takes time.

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Pre-nostalgia

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Pre-nostalgia. Some nights, like last night, when I am at the library, I get a text with a picture. And I am reminded that, no matter what challenges we’re feeling right now, we are also inside one of the sweetest moments in time. Pause. Look. Breathe.

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Breathing Under Water

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Good morning friends! My new essay Breathing Under Water is up on the Brain, Child blog today. I hope you’ll give it a read when you have a chance. My heartfelt thanks for all your support!

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A Summer Afternoon

On the heels of a 3-day migraine, toddler finally over the cranky rash-virus, no plans with friends, no additional children to care for, no essay due, no freelance project, just emails to answer. A blank white calendar square. The to-do list, half on paper, half in my head, is forgotten. Struggling to wean, big fat milk ducts bulging and achey. She naps briefly, then we head to the playground, where she races to the swings, cherub-cheeked smile under the brim of her hat, whooshing through the air. I capture the swing and say “1-2-3 blast off!” before releasing it. She laughs and laughs. Running, sliding, exploring. Her legs, longer now, climb with greater ease. My wobbly baby is suddenly surefooted. Suddenly, suddenly, that’s how they evolve. She scrambles up some steps and has her face in what appears to be poison ivy or sumac before I can reach her, so that decides it. We head home where I sit her on the counter and rub the last of the Tecnu soap all over her cheeks and arms while she says, “It’s okay, mommy, don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” And then for good measure, I put her in the bath. And after the bath I squirt breastmilk, cure-all, on her face and she laughs, “milk sprinkler!” We take a long walk in the hot sun with her new trike and she practices pedaling. Eventually, eventually, we arrive at the ice cream shop. I get chocolate and she gets vanilla and we share. The day’s delicious sweet spot. Both of us covered in sticky ice cream drips. When it’s time to go, she’d like to stay. Coaxing doesn’t work. I carry her a bit as she wails, then set her back down on the trike, where she continues to wail under the bright sun for the entire 30 or 40 minutes it takes to slowly walk home. And then it’s okay. We drink water. Her big brown eyes, they kill me. Her wispy hair. I kiss her cheeks and her neck, smell of baby and sweet sweat and ice cream. So in love, so in love with my girl.

That was the afternoon, lovely and exhausting. I wonder, does it sound like nothing? And then I think, who cares? I know if I read this three years from now, I’ll be grateful to my younger self for trying to the find the words, for taking the time to describe it, for capturing a slice of day in all its tiny glory.

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If the Season We Could Keep

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7:00 a.m. The yellow slicker makes its reappearance. Blowing bubbles in the summer rain. She sings, Rain, rain go away, have again another day! She asks me to come out and splash in the puddles.

I would like to live inside this summer forever. To keep the sun and warm rain, to keep her small.

She is a toddler now. Knows joy the way I know shame. Closely; as if kin. Lake water that splashes against a wall and into her face is the ultimate in the earth’s gifts. She wears no shirt and no shoes and is slathered in the white porcelain shell of sunblock. The deadly rays, the vitalizing rays; we relish in them both. At the same time. She never wants to go home. She puts an arm around me as if she is my grandmother and says “Oh, honey.” As if she is telling me: oh honey, there is so much great stuff ahead. Just you wait; I know these things.

-Jennifer Fliss,  Milwaukee. Rust. A  Baby.

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To Everyone in All the World

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A few days ago my birdie girl said, “Is it an owl? Who who! Or is it a mourning dove?” Sometimes I think if I could solve these toddler riddles, we could save the world.

Today she asks, “Are you happy, mama?”

“Yes, I’m happy, bug.”

“It’s going to be alright,” she assures me anyway.

In the car, her current favorite song is Raffi’s “To Everyone in All the World.” A fun little ditty that goes, “To everyone in all the world, I reach my hand I shake their hand. To everyone in all the world, I shake my hand like this. All all together, the whole wide world around, I may not know their lingo, but I can say by jingo, no matter where you live we can shake hands.”

We sing it again and again, “all all together, the whole wide world around” as we drive through the afternoon’s thunder and pouring rain, washing me clean of the divisive language circling through cyberspace.

In the store, she says “hi!” to every single person she encounters. She extends her warmth and kindness without hesitation. And nearly every time, a smile and greeting is returned. There is more power than we realize in our everyday exchanges. No matter what is happening in the world, we can always smile and say hello, we can always choose to be kind.

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Photo credit: Dreamstime