February 25, 2012
Dear Elizabeth Anne,
Hello, my love! Today I sit down a week late to write you a letter on your birthday.
You just turned two years of age, and I want you to know how much you are already such an integral part of our family. We are the following: Mommy, Daddy, Julia, and yourself, our Elizabeth Anne. We don’t call you Liz, Lizzy, Elizabeth, Betsy, or any such thing – we call you fully “Elizabeth Anne.” All of us (your big sister not the least of which) can hardly imagine life without you, and it gives me so much happiness to see you greet your sister by stumbling towards her in your toddler-gait with arms outstretched. “Julia! Julia!” You call for your sister in your toddler-English and then hug her. You both are smiling.
I have often thought with thankfulness how amiable a child you have been so far. Not fully asleep before I leave you for the night? That’s OK, Daddy, you leave and I will not scream in protest as you walk out. (Your older sister never let me get away with that!) No book tonight before bed? You might complain a bit and then let it go. Not really tired when it is time to take a nap? Most often you will go to sleep anyway after I urge it. Parenting is hard enough, and you have made it less hard with your easygoing nature.
Sure, you can be cranky, tired – full of plaintive tears. But much more often you are full of smiles and laughs. You are a superb hugger and shower us with kisses. And you are so athletic! Your mother especially likes to tell stories of your fearless attempts at scaling rock walls at the park, or jumping from chair to couch without fear in the living room. “She pulls herself up on the jungle gym; she is so strong!” your mother brags. You love to climb onto my back and then onto my shoulders, hanging on for dear life. “Hee haw!” you exclaim, as I walk around with you on back as if I were your horse. It is widely predicted that one day you will become quite the athlete. At the park we come to a set of exercise bars, and you climb up to the very top and hang like a daredevil. (Your sister, on the other hand, decorates the bars with flowers.)
We have well entrenched daily routines and rituals, Elizabeth Anne. For example, almost every evening of your life I have bathed and put you down to sleep. I pay careful attention to your sleeping gear. In winter I was so worried about you getting cold in the middle of the night after you kick off your covers, as you seem unable still to get a blanket over yourself. So I make sure you have long pajamas and a shirt underneath, in addition to your heavy overnight diaper. I come to check on you in the middle of the night, as the thought of my little Elizabeth Anne helpless and shivering in the cold torments me. At bedtime I read a book or two with you and then turn out the light and place you on my chest. With your head lying on my chest you move gently up and down with my breathing, probably listening to my heartbeat. I kiss your hair and slowly rub your back until you have completely given in to sleep. Then I place you in your toddler bed. I can get you to fall asleep just about anywhere anytime, Elizabeth Anne, and your mother looks to me to do it. I am the “closer” at night. I will sit in the dark and pat your back gently as long as it takes – until you let go and sleep overtakes you.
I insist you sleep in your room at night (despite your occasional loud protestations) and have a gate and lock to ensure this. But around 5:30 a.m. each morning I come in and carry you asleep to our room and bed. The 45 minutes of semi-awake cuddling makes for a wonderful transition from night to day.
What a nice way to wake up!
All this highlights one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a father: the physical joy of hugging your child – or just the reaching out and touching the solid flesh and bone of their arm or tussling their hair. There are all the higher connections between parent and child formed through language and reason, and then there is the primal link of physical touch – a baby daughter deep asleep on her father’s chest – comfortable, protected, not a care in the world, completely relaxed. You have not yet learned to complicate (poison?) your life with overthinking.
So it has been for two years, my daughter. You have kept me up all night before long days of work that next day. You have thrown up on me. You have pooped on me. You have gotten me sick. You routinely dump things all over the floor. You write all over your face with a pen. Last month you dropped my glasses on the floor and then stepped right on them. There have been many sacrifices large and small, but that is par for the course and, overall, you have been an “easy baby.” You are our “Elizabeth Anne” and that has meant more good times than bad.
I have enjoyed these past two years, and you have enriched our lives so much. I think of you and smile. And the future (mine, yours; ours) I look forward to.
Happy belated second birthday, daughter mine!
I love you,