This week you turned twenty-nine months old. I will remember this month as the onset of the expletive, that benchmark moment in my adult life when I finally realized just how much of my vocabulary is occupied by words used to communicate frustration, many of them involving situations with your father and how he refuses to read the directions on anything. Much of your childhood will be spent listening to him ask me how long he needs to cook something, and me snapping back that he wouldn’t have to waste that precious breath asking an unnecessary question if he would just READ THE BACK OF THE BOX. The back-and-forth continues until we have sparred longer than it would have taken the food to cook, until I give in because your father would never cave as that would disrespect the years of his adolescence spent perfecting the art of holding out. It always ends with me yelling OH MY GOD SERIOUSLY WHAT THE HELL 12 GODDAMN MINUTES.
You’ve picked up the “oh my god” part and have on several occasions used the “what the hell” part when we were least expecting it. The first time you said it we were sitting on the porch moments after I had watered my potted plants. Without warning a puddle of water from one of the pots snaked its way under your hand, and you jerked it up and yelled, “What the hay-yull?” I couldn’t figure out where you had learned to say that until it dawned on me: your father doesn’t know how to cook a frozen pizza. If he would read the directions like he’s supposed to, our daughter wouldn’t be cussing at the age of two. That’s what I’m going to tell God when I have to account for my sins and he asks what went wrong.
One morning last week we were all lying in bed together with our laptops. Your toy laptop was given to you by my mother for Christmas, and it features several spelling games where you’re asked what letter is missing in a word. We thought you’d love to press the many buttons on its keyboard, but we never thought you’d be able to participate in the games for at least a few years. This was one of those many instances when you have proved that maybe our expectations of you are much too modest because that morning you showed us that you can spell many of the words on that computer. All I ever wanted was a child who would grow up and breathe air, and look! I GOT ONE WHO COULD SPELL! That’s almost as good as one who could make a hot dog!
At one point the computer asked you what letter was missing in the word ROBOT. You accidentally pushed the E instead of the O, and when it said, “Uh-oh, try again!” you bit your lower lip and said, “Shit!” Both your father and I froze, afraid that any reaction would be the wrong one, and he asked me what you had just said in case he had gone temporarily insane and had heard it wrong. Before I could confirm his worst fears you turned your head to look straight at him and said, “I said SHIT!” As if to say, because you didn’t hear me clearly the first time, father, I’m going to spell out for you the fact that both you and your wife are so bad at regulating the crap that comes out of your mouth that your baby learned how to use an expletive IN CONTEXT before she learned how to wipe her own ass. Good work on that one, guys.
This month the weather has been cooperative enough that we’ve been able to introduce you to water in its many wonderful forms: pools, fountains, lakes, and sprinklers. The one we had the most success with was the fountain at the local outdoor mall where, after only a few minutes of hesitation, you ran head first into one giant stream shooting up out of the ground. I hadn’t prepared for the possibility that you would be so enthusiastic, hadn’t packed a bathing suit, so I let you run around in nothing but a blue swim diaper. When I noticed that every other kid was wearing a bathing suit I pulled your father to the side and asked him quietly why ours was the only one halfway naked, were there laws in Utah against letting your children run around in public looking as if they were homeless? He said maybe it wasn’t illegal, but it certainly wasn’t encouraged like it is where I come from, where the state emblem is a shirtless man victoriously holding up a skunk he just ran over with his car.
Earlier this week we visited a small reservoir near my mother’s cabin in the desert, and we hoped you would react as happily as you did last year when we took you to a beach. Instead, you freaked out when a handful of wet sand washed over your foot and clung to the spaces between your toes. You hated it so badly that you demanded that your father carry you back to your towel, and then you spent over ten minutes cleaning off your foot with a wet wipe. This didn’t necessarily surprise me because you cannot stand to have anything remotely messy on your face or your hands, and you spend more time wiping the crumbs off your face during mealtime than you do eating anything. You can safely blame me for this nervous tic of yours: I am Dr. Frankenstein and you are my monster. People often write me and ask how I keep my wood floors so clean when I live with a child and a dog, and my answer is that I use a technique called Suffering From a Mental Illness. I scrub everything vigorously because I am a sick, sick person, and I seem to have passed on this obsession to you. People may call us crazy, Leta, but they cannot ever say that our floors are dirty.
A couple weeks ago you and I were standing outside talking to the neighbors during that enchanted part of the day when the sun is setting and kids are running around trying to pack in as much of life as they can before they are forced to go to bed. Every kid on the block was outside chasing one another, laughing, and swinging from the trees. You stood close to me, your arms wrapped around my leg, and watched the surrounding excitement as if it were a traveling circus. Suddenly a neighbor’s sprinklers went off and that circus converged like a black hole onto that wet yard. You gasped, let go of my leg, and waddled off with the others to feel the spray on your arms and face. The ten seconds that it took you to walk over and play in the water just about knocked me over with their significance: you were walking on your own to be with other children.
I will never take for granted the fact that you are able to do that now, able to move your legs normally, able to take yourself where you want to go. So many months of my life have been spent worrying that you would never be able to enjoy something as simple as running through a sprinkler, and now that you can I will never be able to look at a single one of your steps without my heart exploding into flames and setting every corner of my body on fire. There is no amount of money, no fortune or success in this world that could make me feel as blessed as I did in those ten seconds.