- Your fierce, loud “No!” delivered with the authority of a fully grown human. Most of the time you have a high, tinny little girl voice, and you squeak and squeal, but when you are offered something you do not want, you sound like a grande dame of British theatre declaring your opposition to it, body and soul. Usually what you are being offered is a piece of fried chicken, or a pair of socks, or a stuffed animal, or something you were asking for five minutes ago. It should be maddening. It is maddening, in the moment, but you are not afraid to say no and to do so firmly and definitively the first time around. I don’t want you to be afraid to say no to something you don’t want. Not saying no when we should is the cause of about half the misery in the world.
- Your wild, abandoned, uncoordinated, drunken-freshman-headed-for-Taco-Bell run. You love to move, and move fast. All summer long I would take you to the park and put you down and say, “Go, be free.” Other parents would snicker and their children would cling to their legs and you would take off running. Nothing drives you crazier than being cooped up in the house and in the winter you are being driven crazy so we seek out every indoor play-space there is and you run and run and run. You bump into stuff and you fall down and you do it full speed ahead, no hesitation. You fling yourself at the world in perfect confidence it will catch you, and my fear that you will outrun me is always overshadowed with the knowledge that you are supposed to, and you are well on your way.
- Your single-mindedness in pursuit of order. You have several small plastic animals that must be kept together and we are always missing one. You call the piggie, “Here, piggie piggie SOOOOOEEEEE!” at 6 a.m. if he is not waiting with the others on the floor by the TV. Once we lost the chicken for about three weeks and I knew he was somewhere in the house, and every day we looked for the chicken while you made clucky noises. Every night you put the other animals (and all your other toys) neatly away, saving the chicken a space. When we finally found him, you chastised him and then put him back in “da chicken-house,” his small box. I didn’t consider the combined force of your father’s and my perfectionism distilled into one small body, but if you organize the rest of your life the way you organize your tiny toy barnyard, you’ll be president of the world.
- Your utter disregard for hair bows, hair ties, or anything that would make your mother learn to braid. I’ve had short hair since I was a freshman in college and I’m not sure I would know what to do if you loved barrettes and buns. You howl when I try to put sparkly bobby pins in your hair, you howl and pull away, deeply annoyed. You are too busy to be groomed and posed. It makes the daily photos I send to your grandparents look dodgy, like you just woke up from a four-night rave, but you don’t waste a minute of your days. You have more important things to do now, like count your animals.
- Your willingness to encourage. The other day we were assembling a puzzle and after I fitted two of the large pieces together you patted my hand and said, “Great job, Mama!” I laughed because I was being patronized by my 2-year-old, but also I had no idea how much I needed to hear that until you said it.
- Your way of greeting everything new, which is to go straight at it. When you were barely 1, we took you to the ocean with your grandparents in Florida. The waves were rough that day and it was loud near the shore, and very cold, and I thought you would turn away or cling to me or cry when the icy water rushed up over your tiny toes. Instead you flung your arms wide and shouted with joy, and when the ocean roared you roared right back. When I turned to take you back to sandcastles and safety, you pulled on my fingers and crawled back towards the surf. At the parakeet house in the zoo, where the birds flapped around begging for birdseed you offered them on a stick, I thought you’d be frightened by the wings or the noise and you laughed and laughed when they landed on your fingertips. A new house, a new park, different people, different foods, you find a way to love it all.
- Your words and phrases and sentences, and the ease with which you speak. I joke that I taught you to ID the Badgers and Packers logos on sight and that it’s been all you ever since, but it’s really true: You listen intently and then repeat, repeat, repeat, and you sing songs and point out letters in the books we read, and the other day I walked into your room and you were showing a book we often read at bedtime to one of your stuffed animals. Because you have it almost memorized, you turned to a page with a dog and a doghouse and described them to the stuffed … elephant, I think it was.
- Your generosity. You don’t always want to share (who does?) but you offer me and your father bites of whatever you’re eating, you give toys to other babies when you’re done playing with them, and you tend to phrase requests for playtime as if you are sure that playtime will be good for us. “Mama play trains?” isn’t plaintive, it’s more like, “Mom, you look like you could use some train time. Get down here. The e-mail can wait.” It can.