As I sit down to write this, Anna is babbling in her crib. I put her to bed five minutes ago, and I’m wondering what will happen. Will toddler Anna babble and play and put herself to sleep? Or will baby Anna babble, and fuss, and cry, and eventually need Mama to come in and soothe her.
I wait, I listen, and I take a preparatory sip of wine. After all, Anna’s five-year old sister has already called me up twice; anything could happen.
The past month, in fact, could be summed up by Anna’s moving between the roles of toddler and baby. As you can imagine, maintaining multiple personalities is exhausting.
If you ask Anna she will tell you that she is not a baby or a toddler, she’s actually a grownup and in charge of this entire operation. (That last part is actually true.) She loves nothing more than to do big kid stuff like climb up the tallest slide, or sit next to me on a bench and share a snack. When she finds her seat next to Mommy, she sits straight and tall, swinging her legs and looking at me with a grin and a scrunched-up nose.
Anna is wonderful. She is non-stop energy, curiosity, and exploration. She is sweet, silly, and has a collection of blonde curls at the nape of her neck, above her ears, and in a blonde tuft of hair on the top of her head. This month she’s become a phenomenal sleeper, she tried cheese balls for the first time, and found a love of swimming. Anna knows where her belly is, and will stop whatever she’s doing for a round of peek-a-boo.
Anna is everyone’s favorite.
Anna sleeps with a blanket. It’s a Pottery Barn Kids swaddle blanket that all of my kids have had. None of them attached to their blankets quite like Anna. David loved his, but now that I see Anna with her blanket I realize I never really understood what it was like for a child to attach to a comfort item. She does all the normal things, like sleep with it and holds it when she needs a little extra security. But Anna has these fantastic reunions with Blanket. She smiles and holds Blanket like it’s just come home from sea. “Anna?” we love to say. “Where’s Blanket?” And then we all watch with glee as Anna clutches Blanket to her chest and falls to the floor, overwhelmed with relief and joy.
Her favorite, favorite thing is to be wrapped in a blanket, picked up, and held. It doesn’t have to be THE Blanket, though that is her favorite. I like to keep Blanket in her crib so I wont have to search for it at nap time, so several times a day she’s reduced to bringing me towels, or one of her dad’s shirts that she found on the floor. She hands me the towel and turns around, waiting for me to wrap her up and hold her in my lap. My final baby loves to cuddle. How could I ever question the existence of God?
Anna is cutting her incisors right now. Most days you can’t even tell, though, except for her swollen gums and absolute lack of patience whenever I try to cook or clean or stand up-right and breathe.
Maybe inspired by her incisors, or maybe it’s just a normal 18-month old rite of passage, Anna has started throwing epic tantrums. What really started last month has — what’s the word — blossomed this month. Once I was at the bus stop struggling to get Anna strapped in the stroller, and another parent had to hold her down. I’d say that’s a milestone, right? She’s clearly figured something out.
At home she throws herself on the ground and WAILS, but before she does it, she looks around and makes sure she has a soft place and plenty of room. It is, I have to say, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
Some sort of language switch has been flipped, and even though she still isn’t saying a ton of words, Anna understands so much of what we say. For example, when it’s time to go to the bus stop and I’m screaming at everyone for the twelfth time to hurry up for goodness sake, she toddles straight to the garage.
As far as saying words, she’s digging in on only using the words “no” and “mama.” But she doesn’t say “mama” as in, “Mama, you look as beautiful as a spring morning.” Instead, she sounds like a version of one of those plastic toddler toys with flashing lights. But the batteries are running out and the only noise it makes is “MA!MA!MA!MA!MA!MA!”
She mostly says “no,” no matter what question you ask her. But in the past couple days she’s started to nod “yes.” You can tell she has to concentrate, you can see her neurons firing to make her head nod up and down rather than shaking left and right.
Anna is now tall enough to reach our counters, which is the worst-ever height. Anytime she wants a little attention, she reaches up to the counters and pulls down whatever her fingers hit. Just think for a moment about the things on your counter. Mail, a fruit bowl, a glass of water. In fact, the counter is exactly where I put everything I want to keep away from Anna.
I’ve noticed this month that as a family we’re dividing less. For the past 18 months it’s been Anna and me, and Tom and the big kids. We divide for naps, to get things done, to maximize time and efficiency, to have more fun. But I’ve noticed that these days Anna can hang with the big kids and she needs me less.
Gone are the days of me giving the big kids ice cream and Anna a nice bowl of sweet potatoes. If you ask Anna, our family is no longer comprised of “big kids” and “Anna.” It’s just the kids.
It’s a wonderful phase we’re entering. I could talk forever about how I’m sad to say goodbye to the baby years. I will continue to miss and look back on those years with sweet fondness. But I am just now looking ahead at what’s to come, and it’s so much fun. This month was the first time I really saw it. All the kids on the playground, all the kids in the pool, all the kids refusing the delicious and healthy dinner I made.
We’re at the beginning of the beginning. I can feel it.
In the book Mary Poppins (Which you should read! It’s as much fun as the movie!) There’s an entire chapter from the perspective of the babies, John and Barbara. In the chapter, John and Barbara have full conversations with the birds, the sunshine, the wind, and Mary Poppins. They can’t talk to their mother, but what does that matter when you can talk to the sunshine?
The chapter closes with John and Barbara waking up one morning. They’ve said their first words, but now can’t understand the starling that’s perched on the window sill. Their bird friend hops away, and they start to be able to talk with their mother.
I smiled as I read this chapter. It so perfectly captured this transition that you’re in — baby to toddler. Still a baby, but your priorities are shifting from being cocooned to stepping out, discovering. There is a magic to a baby. It’s a brief and beautiful phase of life, the starting point of everything else.
Watching you through these transitions is the privilege of being a mother. You won’t remember it, but I will.
You won’t remember these sweet months, but they are foundational. And I, decades from my own phase as a toddler, can tell you — you never outgrow the comfort of that place, sitting too close to your mom on the couch.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, Anna fell asleep on her own a while ago. A big girl.