Today you turn three years old. This morning after you screamed, “MOM!” fourteen different ways, sometimes turning it into a two and three and seven syllable word, I finally got out of bed to go get you from your crib. You had your stuffed puppy wrapped around your head and wouldn’t look at me when I walked into your room, so I said, “Okay then. I guess you don’t care that it’s your birthday.” I could have pinched you or flicked you in the forehead, but sometimes I like to exercise restraint so that I can brag about it on the Internet.
You immediately flung that puppy in the air and jumped to your feet, breathlessly yelling, “BIRTHDAY CAKE? BIRTHDAY CAKE?” I nodded and asked you how old you were knowing that in response you’d scream, “TWO!”
Your sister knew the alphabet when she was eighteen months old, Marlo. You’re three and you can’t even count that high.
I say that only to highlight the sometimes hilarious differences between you and your sister. I have no doubt that you will pass the very many math exams waiting for you in your future, so it doesn’t matter right now that you don’t care if you answer incorrectly when someone inquires about your age. I mean, within about twenty minutes after I had repeated THREE very slowly, over and over again, you finally said, “I’m turning two-three!”
See? Progress. Still wrong, and you would totally be GONGED! off the stage, but I’m here to tell you that you’ll do better next time! (Maybe. Let’s set realistic expectations.)
Last week on the way home from the library where your sister checked out seven books, she and I chatted about the songs she’s learning in piano lessons. She talked about composers, time signatures, treble and bass clef, and then she lamented that she might finish reading all of those library books too quickly, and then what would she do? This is the child who at your age would watch episodes of Dora and roll her eyes when Dora asked the audience to talk back to her. Because, come on. Did Dora take her for an idiot? Shut up, Dora, you imaginary nag.
Thirty minutes later I found you standing not a foot away from the television which was broadcasting an episode of Dora. You suddenly yelled, “BACKPACK! BAAAAACKPAAAACK!”
I started to smile when I heard Dora say, “Backpack is still asleep. Can you scream it louder?”
Marlo, my adorable little butternut. Watching your straight arms hang at your side as you arched your back to strengthen your lungs, hearing you scream BACKPACK! so loud that the earth shifted in orbit, seeing you out of breath and waiting, hoping that it was just loud enough… I, too, started to hope. Come on, Backpack. Wake up!
Your sister has always had a very old and wise soul. And yours is so… so eternally playful. Witnessing that contrast is fascinating, and it continues to unfold in sometimes beautiful, sometimes hysterical, often frustrating ways. If I ask your sister to hold my hand along a busy street, she huffs and puffs and rolls her eyes. She always has. Last week when I asked the same of you, you laughed, yanked your hand away from mine and said, “I can’t! I don’t have a hand!”
You don’t have a hand. Had I called you a turd right then you would have been like, that’s right, shithead!
Leta is curious, but she’s very much like me in that I really don’t care how certain things work. I just want them to work. You, however, are very much like your father in that you MUST KNOW HOW THINGS WORK SO HELP YOU GOD. You want to participate in everything. You want to help me pour your cereal, help me wash the countertops, help me clean out the refrigerator, help me feed the dogs. A few days ago you would not relent, and oh my god, suddenly I am leaning down so that YOU can brush MY teeth.
You and your sister are best friends most of the time, at least until your carefree, balls out approach to life interferes with her fundamental need for order. She wants her toys in their bag tucked into the corner of the closet. You want them dunked in your bowl of chili, thrown into the air and then set on fire with a can of hairspray and a cigarette lighter that you stole from 7-11.
“Mom, Marlo is touching my stuff again,” she’ll complain as you suddenly run through the room naked carrying a wet Barbie in one hand and a handful of dog food in the other.
Threats never work with Leta because she is stubborn to the core. Threats don’t work with you because somehow you know the world is filled with so many other options than the one I am withholding. Don’t I know that life is just an endless string of possibilities, one appearing magically upon the disappearance of the one before it? Ugh. You are such a hippie.
There’s a ton of touchy-feely bullshit that people sometimes spew about how children teach their parents more than their parents teach them, and well. Sorry, not true. I have probably spewed it at some point myself, but then I remember the months required to teach a toddler to use the words PLEASE and THANK YOU, the years of showing a kid how to speak to adults with a different tone than they might use to address a pile of dog poop.
But what does happen in the relationship between a parent and the child she loves so completely is an exploration and examination of what she thinks she has come to know as absolutes about herself. You are the child who looks more like me, but you challenge the most underlying characteristics of my personality. You show me what it’s like to let go (I hate letting go), to shrug if I realize I’m running late (I hate running late), to slow down and explore how something works (I just want the damn thing to work). I try these things because I cannot contain your spirit, not that I would want to. But watching you maneuver through life makes me think you are on to something.
You take my toys out of my closet and set them on fire, and suddenly I realize I kind of like them that way. And I never would have known that without you.