A Letter to My Daughter, 03/09

Dear Emmeline:

Four years have passed since you were born, and, as mentioned earlier, all of my well-intentioned plans to keep a journal of your babyhood and toddler years haven’t panned out. I really meant to do it, I promise, but like most parents, overcome with the task of the actual parenting, I haven’t often taken the time to put my thoughts into words. And now, in the blink of an eye, my baby girl is four.

You were such a beautiful, easy baby. I rarely remember you crying after the first few weeks-- once I learned what you needed from me, which was not much, other than love, you were about as happy as a baby can be.

There were many, many times when I had absolutely no clue what I was doing and was convinced I was going to be a failure as a mother, like on our first night together, in the hospital. Kenny and I had no earthly idea of why you were crying and tried everything to get you to stop--feeding you, changing you, rocking you, singing to you, putting you in your bassinet, all to no avail. When we finally called the nursery to ask the nurse on duty if she had any advice, her answer was simple. “Do you have a pacifier? If so, then give it to her.” And we gave you the pacifier, and you stopped crying--as simple as that. We had several more sleepless nights those first few weeks after you were born, while we were still muddling our way through this new relationship—I remember one night in particular, when I couldn't get you to sleep, no matter what I did. I finally gave up, and the two of us watched Purple Rain together--it's amazing what you can find on television at 3:00 a.m. (You seemed to prefer the scenes with Morris Day and the Time as opposed to Prince, but you were an infant, so I'll forgive you.)

Anyway--once K and I knew that you expected to be fed every three hours, to the minute, and once we knew that if you cried at an off-schedule time it was because you needed a new diaper or wanted your “paci,” it was smooth sailing from there on. And it became ridiculously easy once you discovered that your thumb was attached to your body and was highly superior to the pacifier. (I'm sure I'll regret the resultant orthodontia bills at some point in the future, but your discovering your thumb and then being able to sleep through the night was worth every penny.)

K and I took you everywhere with us when you were a baby—shopping, to restaurants, to get-togethers at friends’ houses. Everyone commented on how easy and sweet you were—you didn’t really care who was holding you, as long as someone was basking in your glory.

But even though you were such an easy baby, I had a hard time of it, at first. K had to go back to work almost immediately, and I slowly came to the realization that I was suffering from at least a mild case of post-partum depression. As I've mentioned before, K would come home as often as he could to check in on us, and he would often find me crying in the kitchen. When he would ask why, I could only give him a truthful answer—I don’t know. Looking back on it now, I realize that it was most certainly a combination of hormones, very little sleep, isolation from being home alone with a baby all day--with very little adult conversation--and just the sheer terror of being completely responsible for another life. It was scary, and lonely, and lovely, all at once.

Despite the post-partum period, I really don’t know how to describe your baby days with any words other than sweetness, joy, and love. Like most new parents, K and I were completely enthralled with anything you did. I would read the parenting books while you slept and then show K your tricks—how you had the walking reflex, the swimming reflex, etc. They were just reflexes, but we knew it proved you were the world's smartest baby. You were the source of endless impromptu photo sessions, because you were always doing something that demonstrated that you were the most talented, most beautiful baby ever to be born. We documented your first involuntary smile, your first real smile, your first bath, your first time lying in your crib—you name your first anything during that first six months, and we got it on film.

Unfortunately, then Katrina happened. You celebrated reaching your six-month milestone at Kendra’s house in Atlanta, a week after Katrina hit. I’m sad to say that I missed recording a lot of your milestones during that period—I don’t think I felt like a normal semblance of my pre-K self until about six months after Katrina. The three and a half months during which we lived in Atlanta, followed by the first few months back in New Orleans, are somewhat hazy and nightmarish, and I feel badly that the stress of that time interfered with what should have been a time devoted completely to you. I have many memories of you, stored both in my mind and in pictures during that time, but not in as sharp of detail as I would like to have had.

But I do have some good memories during that time. We spent your first Halloween in Atlanta, you dressed as a pumpkin. And although you had no idea of: a) why we had dressed you up in that weird outfit; or b) what this Halloween thing was, we still took you out and paraded you through the neighborhood, just for the fun of it.

You also began experimenting with learning to crawl during our time in Atlanta—although it began as merely dragging yourself across the floor on your arms, pulling the rest of your body behind you through sheer force of will. Our dog, Tchoups, was always a great motivator to get you up and moving to the other side of the room. Shortly after we had moved back to New Orleans, around Christmas, you fully mastered crawling and have been, I think, in perpetual motion ever since.

Learning to talk came shortly thereafter. You began to form the sounds for “mama” and “dada” around nine months, but they were used indiscriminately. You would crawl to the cat, pull on her tail, and then say “mama.” At one point, you called a broom “dada.” Your first real, bonafide word was “dog,” which doesn’t surprise me, considering how much you adored—and still do—Tchoups. “Bird” came just a couple of days later, while we were in Atlanta visiting Kendra. And then the words continued coming, multiple ones per day, it seemed--too many to count. Real use of the words “mama” and “dada,” and a fascination with all things animal—cow, cat, and “caw,” which meant frog. Night-night. Bye-bye. Your first sentence, “More juice, please.”

Walking seemed to come incredibly easy to you—you waited until you knew you were fully ready to do so, and then, right around your first birthday, you went from being perfectly content to crawl to pulling up on furniture and cruising. Within a week more, you were walking like a pro.

You have always loved books, since you were old enough to grasp one. It’s one of the few areas where I don't sometimes doubt my parenting skills, as you have, consistently throughout your entire life, had at least two books read to you almost every day. You wake up in the morning talking about books, and you insist on taking your daily favorites to bed with you each night. I got you a flashlight recently, to counter fears of the dark and monsters, and you’re absolutely delighted with it, because it means you can read books in bed to your heart’s content. Every once in awhile, I'll sit outside your room and listen to you “read.” I remember vividly listening to you act out one of your favorites, “Are You My Mother?” You knew the book by heart, and your recitation of it, even though not always grammatically correct, had me grinning from ear to ear. “Are you my mother? No--I a cow! Are you my mother? No--I a dog!”

As I write this, you're snuggled into bed with your beloved pink satin blankets. Because I was a devoted thumb-sucker and blanket girl as a child, there's a large part of me that loves the fact that you seem to have inherited these traits. I don't know what we'll do if you ever lose blankie. We started off with eight of them when you were a baby, and we've managed, thankfully, to hold on to two of them, who are now named "Big soft blankie" and "Little soft blankie." (Original, no?) They started out being called "kiki," then you moved on to "blankie." And in the past couple of years, you discovered their different sizes and gave them new names. Big soft blankie is the favorite, for some reason, and is the only one that gets the privilege of traveling to school with you each day.

Every day with you has been an adventure, and I marvel at the person you're becoming. There are times when you're absolutely hysterical, like tonight, when you acted out an entire Mardi Gras parade in our kitchen, complete with dancing girls, bands, and float riders that singled me out in the "crowd" to throw beads to me. There are times when you're so cute I can hardly stand it, like when you pronounce computer as "bacuter" or tell me that your latest doll's name is "Pada Mada Shada." There are times when you break my heart, when you've had a bad day at school and one of your friends has hurt your feelings.

And I have to be honest with you, Emmeline--there have been times over the past four years when I've questioned my sanity for wanting a child, and there have been times when, as a result of being the mother of a two-year-old, or three-year-old, I have been absolutely certain that I want no more children. But at the same time, I've spent every minute absolutely adoring and loving you. Yes, there are times when I'm tempted to leave you in the car and go play video poker (that's a joke), and there are times when motherhood is extremely difficult. But you are my pride and joy. Because of you, I'm likely to cry when I see schmaltzy commercials or listen to a radio telethon for Children's Hospital--something that never happened before you. Because of you, I got extremely upset last weekend when Curtis and I watched the movie Blink, which includes a scene where a five-year-old girl gets shot. And because of you, I now fully understand how a mother can say that a part of her heart lives outside of her body. I want everything for you that I've had and more.

You are my beautiful, beautiful girl, and I love you very much. Happy birthday.

Love, Mom

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