Four years ago my entire existence transformed, four years ago my former self became a mother. You are not supposed to say that, or at the very least not supposed to admit it out loud. But parenthood was a game changer, a life changer, an electric shock to my perspective. Four years ago, I watched in fear as my heart leapt from my chest and became entwined with an infant child. Four years ago, you became my primal concern, my heart, my breath, my anxiety, my fears, my hopes, my dreams … my infant girl.
You were an infant that had to be held constantly. You were fussy. You didn’t nap anywhere, but in my arms. As a first time mom, I was told that I must breastfeed fifteen minutes from each breast at each feeding. As I studiously approach life, I diligently approached nursing, I had a pen at each feeding and I documented each feeding, minutes, time, etc. I cried when you only ate for six minutes on my left breast and then fell fast asleep. I worried whether you would be okay when you only ate for two minutes on my right. I did everything that I was told, I undressed you, I tickled your feet, I squeezed your palms, and I brushed a cool washcloth on your forehead. I worried why breastfeeding, parenting, work, life was not occurring exactly as it was described in the books.
You would not sleep in a crib, a swing, or a bassinet. You chose only to sleep in my arms. Night after night months on end, I held you resting on the boppy as your dad brought me my dinner, crumbs falling on your bald head. You were the definition of a baby that needed to be held, so I held you. You didn’t just fall asleep in my arms. Dad and I took turns spending endless hours on the large inflated bouncy ball with you swaddled in our arms. We bounced and bounced. We bounced until our backs hurt. We bounced until our arms were numb. We bounced and we tried to put you in your crib. We would lie you down and creep away. The moment we’d get to the couch your scream jolted us up. So we held you.
No one tells you how hard it is to add an infant to a marriage, but it’s hard. We learned patience in the midst of exhaustion. We learned to divide our attention. We tried to put a little focus on our marriage. We struggled, we reminisced, and we accepted our new reality. We grew with you. Your dad laughed at ever giving parenting advice to his patients pre-children, he became a better doctor.
When you were almost five months old you took your first trip to Mexico. You spent most of your time in a baby bjorn, where you would sleep on and off throughout the day. You still had not learned to fall asleep on your own. You dozed off for 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there, but never enough to allow you to feel rested. We have an amazing photo of you falling asleep for 5 minutes sitting up on your Dad’s lap. He was so proud. Pre-kids he had dreamed about napping with his baby drifting off on his chest and for five minutes in Mexico that was his reality.
Before you were two-years-old you became a big sister. It broke my heart to think you would have to share your attention with another little person. It broke my heart to think that I would not be available to give you 100% all of the time. I worried whether adding a child so soon was the right thing to do. I worried how you would feel. I worried about how I’d manage two babies alone all day. I still remember the first day I was alone with my two babies, pure panic, but I made it through, we all made it through, and expanding the love in our family was the greatest gift.
You are my hyena girl. At two, you loved Lion King. You had a strange obsession with the darker characters of Lion King, especially the hyenas. I was a little worried. You carried plastic hyena figures with you everywhere. You took them to your two-hour preschool class, and by the end of the year, the other children were searching for Simba and the hyenas in the schoolyard.
When you were two and a half your vocabulary was huge. I remember people teasing you that you sounded like a little English professor. You inserted exclamations such as “clearly” and “of course” throughout your speech. It almost sounded as if you had a British accent. My sister would imitate you to no end. Your attention span is and was tremendous. You sat for hours and listened to books, combing through the pictures, and asking numerous questions. You never really played on your own. You needed to be entertained. You jumped from playing with your parents to playing with your sister.
You loved to sing, you still love to sing. You awoke from every nap singing at the top of your lungs in your bed, “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”, “Hakuna Matata”, and any number of childhood songs. You have a great singing voice and I love hearing the unabashed melodies echoing from behind your closed door.
At three, we started reading chapter books with you and again your amazing attention span continues to surprise me. We’ve read Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at least five times each. Sometimes I wonder what you absorb in the books we read aloud, and then weeks later you will say something to me that will sound so familiar. Suddenly, I realize that you directly quoted a line from a book that I read several weeks before. It doesn’t even have to be a book that we have read thousands of times. Your memory is a sponge. I read to you and you often correct me. It is not words that are glaringly obvious that you catch, such as wrong names, but sometimes you correct me when I insert the wrong preposition into a story.
You are an observer. You love to play with friends and be part of the action, but you often sit back and take it all in. You are cautious, but as you approached your fourth birthday you have become much more physical with your behavior and are less afraid to fall down and pull yourself back up.
At times you are heartbreakingly quiet. If you are not comfortable in a situation, your voice is not heard. I struggle with respecting your quietness and trying to pull you from your shell. YOU have so much to share with the world. People have asked, “Does she speak? … Has she been in school? … Why is she so shy?” I am a Mama Bear, I want to protect you from the world’s judgment and criticism. All I want is for others to see your wit, creativity, sensitivity, and strength. I never want you to be overlooked or lost in the crowd.
At four you are a little girl. You are engaging, dramatic, bright, and fun. You love playing with your close friends and cousins. You are painfully aware of all the preschool social dynamics. You are learning to make new friends.
Your sister is your best friend. You orchestrate long play sessions with her and your animals, stories with dramatic plot twists. I see the two of you together and I am so grateful to have two girls so close in age with such a magical friendship. Your interactions shine a light on the magical gift I had growing up with a twin. No words or need for explanations are needed between you and your sister. You truly are each other’s yin and yang, peanut butter and jelly, and everything else that is different but just supposed to be together. This last couple of weeks you’ve started sharing a room. A couple of nights ago, I found your little sister had crawled out of her bed and fell asleep snuggled next to you in your twin bed. You are each other’s warmth and security.
This summer turning four has come with big changes. Fear of the dark has wreaked havoc on our nights. Every night you drag your animals down the hall and fall asleep on the floor by my bed. As a baby you were not a good sleeper, and you continue to be my problem sleeper. You shower me and your dad with love, “You are the best mom in the whole world,” as you wrap your arms around my waist. This is often followed by, “You’re the meanest mom ever.” Your emotions run hot and cold, arms crossed, eye rolls, and stomping of feet have scarily become common gestures. A few nights ago you moaned, “my mom is sooooo irritating,” when I insisted that you stay in your room at bedtime.
The dogs have transformed from objects that you torture to furry friends that you love and help me care for. You help feed them, walk them, and will curl up on the dog bed to snuggle Cru every morning (currently around 5am) when you wake up.
You hate to disappoint people. The moment you are unable to complete a task, reprimanded for hurting your sister, or you spill something, crocodile tears appear in your eyes. You have an uncanny ability to trigger tears on command, and I swear they are the biggest tears I’ve ever seen. In fact, most babies don’t cry real tears for the first few months of their lives, but you have shed real tears from day one.
You took ballet over the summer. You twirl and spin, jolted movements that at times appear far from graceful, but I am so proud of you, bravely dancing with the other girls. You make me laugh. You have your Dad’s flexibility (an inability to touch your toes), gymnastics and ballet may not be your strong suits, but you love it all the same.
You have no fear of animals, reptiles, or bugs. You love searching for bugs, especially rolly pollies, digging through the dirt. Bug hunts are a favorite activity. You love snakes. We have pictures of you holding huge snakes with them wrapped around your shoulders.
You still love hyenas, but foxes are your four-year old passion. When you watched Peter Pan, you didn’t fall in love with Tinker Bell, Wendy, or Pan, you fell in love with the Lost Boys and because you did so did your sister. You continue to love the obscure characters in books and movies (i.e. the parentless children dressed as animals that live in a hollow tree with Peter Pan). You dress up like the fox Lost Boy (Slightly Foxy) and your sister like the bear (Cubby) and you create endless adventures. Sometimes you ask me why you are the only one that loves these animals so much, and why no one else loves the Lost Boys like you do. I try to teach you that it is your differences that make you special. I wish I could build a protective wall around your idiosyncrasies, so that you will always remain confident enough to be my lost boy or hyena girl. I wish the world was more appreciative of everyone’s differences. Our differences are what makes the world a beautiful place. As the People book states, “what if we all looked and acted the same, what a boring place it would be.”
You are so special, so different, so unique, and not like anyone else. You are brave, timid, loud, quiet, dramatic, logical, heart melting, and infuriating. You are the most amazing, magical, interesting, and dynamic four-year old that I know. I love you mountains and mountains and mountains. Your dad and I have learned the world from you. You teach us to be better parents and people. You teach us to rethink everything we ever assumed of what or how parenthood should be.
We thank you for all we’ve learned and continue to learn, pushing our limits and stretching our perspectives. We wouldn’t change you for the world. You are magically unique.
We love you.