If you are new here, these are series of letters I started writing to my daughter before she was born. This was the first one, and this is one her Daddy wrote her. I wrote about her birth story here and a year ago I wrote this one. I seem to write a lot about raising a bilingual and bicultural daughter and about the hardest part of motherhood . You can read the rest of the Dear Mija Letters here.
We celebrated your birthday last month and I still can’t believe you’re two. I have finally accepted that I may never actually start or finish anything that resembles a traditional baby book, so these letters will be what I hold on to for you. I write so one day you will remember what you were like and what kind of things you did, but perhaps equally important I write so I can remember what I kind of mom I am learning to be.
First, I am learning to be the kind of mom that doesn’t compare. The first year of your life I was so eager to know, Am I doing this right? So I looked to see what other moms were doing. I used their routines and parenting philosophy as my gauge. Oh, your 10 month old sleeps 12 hours straight through the night. Great, why isn’t mine? Or your kiddo can be left with loving caregivers and not scream, really? So, why can’t mine? I think I was asking the wrong questions and in turn getting answers that were not helpful. Elena, I don’t want to be the kind of mom who compares your growth and development or my choices as a mama to other moms.
This year I have been paying extra attention to you and less on what everyone else is doing. I know that you have always been active, but now I see how central it is to who you are. You get excited to climb and jump and hang on the end of our table with your feet swinging in the air. And when you get angry or upset you often need a physical response to calm down. You need a tight hug or some swaying back and forth or the natural comfort of nursing. Physical movement calms you down and I smile now, when I think about all of those days and nights bouncing you on the gray exercise ball that we kept in your room or walking with you in the ergo just so you would fall asleep. You didn’t have words to tell me, but you sure made your needs known.
I joke that it took you two years before you felt tired. Because that is just about when you started sleeping well. Right about a year ago we placed you on the floor and you slept better than you ever did in a crib, but there was still lots of bouncing and nursing and waking-ups. Now we have a small foam mattress in one corner of you room. And you nap there once a day all by yourself and sleep through the night. It’s quite amazing. Sometimes at dinner, you’ll even rub your eyes and tell me, “I’n tie.” It still shocks me that the child who took so much work just to get to sleep for two years, now tells me with two simple words that she’s tired. After a quick bath and nursing session, I lay you on your bed, wrap you up in the woven blanket that I carried you with for so many months and we pray. As soon as we say “amen” you start telling me exactly what will happen the next day. I think you’re asking me and reassuring yourself in the same breath. “Mama? Mama, close door..go downstairs…listen Lena…morning come get you in bed…open door….sticker??” Yes, sweetie, that is exactly right. Mama is going to close the door and go downstairs. I will listen to Elena in the monitor and in the morning Daddy or Mama will come get you and open the door. ” After we’ve been through that a few times, I kiss you goodnight and close the door. And you fall asleep. The magic of that is not lost on me.
Elena, you have always been physically strong, often oddly so. Like to the point where I am like, how are you able to do that? Like lift your head up as a 3-week old baby while on your tummy or hang from the monkey bars by yourself at 18 months and lift your legs straight out? But sometimes I think that your spirit is just as strong, maybe even more so than your body. I think the experts and books call this “strong-willed” or “persistent” I just say you have a quite an internal strength. It is both a wonderful thing to watch and a challenging thing to understand.
For instance, you won’t let go of my leg or let me put you down without screaming, if I you know that I am going to leave, but if I stand next you I have watched you stand up for yourself even to other adults. And you do it, in both English and Spanish. The first time was at a birthday party for your friend Keila. You were 20 months old and wearing the cutest little yellow dress. Our friend Megan touched your back and said something like “Look at your cute dress.” I watched as you quickly reacted and motioned to me that you didn’t like it. I half-seriously told you, honey, tell her if you didn’t like that. And you turned right around and looked up at the adult standing a full 5 feet taller than you and with your arms crossed said, “Dis is Lenas.” She being the kind friend and wise mom that she is, responded, “yes, I am sorry, that is Elena’s.” I just stood there shocked and kinda proud. Where did my almost two-year old find the strength to tell an adult that you didn’t like something? We have talked to you a lot about how you’re the boss of your body, and I guess that idea really stuck.
Then you did it again a few months later at a restaurant when Nana was visiting. When our waitress came to the table to take our order, she greeted you as is quite common in Guatemala, “Hola, Nena.” You looked at me again with that passion and distress in your eyes, “Mama, no BIG girl.” I nodded, affirming what I already knew. You did not want to be called a baby or nena. I pattered your back, You can tell her, sweetie. And with that you turned around with your head raised high and in perfect Spanish announced, “Soy nina.”
And I smiled, yes. Yes, you are my girl. And my prayer is that you use that strength to stand up for yourself and for others. I am learning to be the kind of mom who stands next to you and encourages you to stand up for yourself.
Elena, one of my favorite things this year has been listening to how you think and remember things. It amazes me the things that you remember. One our trip to the states in April, I pulled out a bag of chocolate chips and almonds, a treat we don’t have often. You saw the bag and asked, “treat?” I gave you a few and then put it away in order to avoid melting chocolate fingers all over the airplane. In fact I put it away so well, that I forgot about the bag of almonds for the rest of our three-week trip. When I was unpacking one night back at home I found the bag at the bottom of my backpack and placed it on my desk. The next morning you saw the bag and pointed “ai-plane, ai-plane..treat?!” I couldn’t believe that you would remember something you saw once, there weeks ago. Unless of course you are like your mother, and have an extra affinity and memory for good chocolate.
Right around this time on our trip was when I started telling you stories. You were 21 months and it was the only way to pass hours in the car and eventually you’d fall asleep to the sound of my voice because I guess my stories have the kind of effect on people. But what amazes me is how well you actually listen to these stories and remember them! When I use the wrong name you correct me, “No, Mama fue Elsita. No Elsa.” Or when I tell a story about Mama and Elena taking the “green train” (which is really a shuttle) up the hill to the new playground, you correct me and say, “No, Mama white train.”
I am learning that you are watching and listening to me, and not just when I tell stories, but all the time. I have since stopped saying “Oh crap” for that very reason.
Elena your favorite things right now are babies, airplanes and beans. Maybe in that order. We got you this baby for you at Christmas time and she goes almost everywhere you do. In fact, we often “feed” your baby and sometimes you hold her up to my shirt for her to nurse and lately we’ve been bringing your baby to the bathroom to go pee-pee. Like I said she goes everywhere.
You have been fascinated with airplanes before you could even talk. I think I count it as one of your first words, right after “ma” (mas) and “agua.” Whenever you heard an airplane you would run to find us while blowing your lips together and pointing upward. Right around 15 months you started asking to look at these two books, No Jumping On The Bed and I’ll Love You Forever. You could care less about the words, but you would flip through the pages to look for the airplanes! Somehow you found a small wooden airplane that made an appearance on each page of No Jumping On The Bed. And I have read I’ll Love You Forever a hundred times and never once noticed that there are airplanes on the wallpaper. But you noticed and pointed them out each time. Elena, you are helping me pay attention and notice new things.
When went to the fair a few weeks ago you played one of the games where you got to choose any prize hanging on the wall in front of you. Even with Frozen stickers staring right out you and soft squishy teddy bears, you chose a plastic airplane as your prize. I smiled. My traveling girl, I have a feeling airplanes will always be part of your story. In your short two years of life you have flown on just shy of 20 flights. It’s no wonder you like airplanes.
If you had to live on just one food group it would be black beans, maybe a close second would be avocado and then some smoothies and Trader Joe’s Roasted Seaweed thrown into the mix. I think your food preferences represent your cultural backgrounds quite nicely. You are actually a pretty good eater, particular about how you eat, but not too picky about what. You love my soups, which makes me happy because I put all kinds of yummy vegetables in there. And my pesto pasta with broccoli (which you started eating as soon as we called them baby trees) is also one of your favorites. Much to your Daddy’s surprise you don’t really like meat. Every now and then you’ll try some fish or chicken, but you are mostly a vegetarian girl, which I can’t lie, makes me smile. You absolutely love your Mama Hiya’s pepian, which makes her heart proud. And I hope one day she’ll teach you how to make it.
Elena, you are one lucky girl to have a Daddy who loves who like he does. No one makes you laugh as much as he does. You constantly announce through your giggles, “Daddy being silly.” The two of you started going to Bagel Barn together for breakfast this year when you both were up early. You call it the “vaca” (cow) and always order “guac-cay” (guacamole), “beans” and “jugo.” And you later tell me that Daddy ordered “cafe.” I think you are becoming his favorite breakfast date probably because you are almost always ready on time. 🙂
I am learning to be the kind of mom who trusts and let’s your Daddy take care of you in his way, even when it’s different from how I do things. I can be controlling and so often think that my way is the right way. I don’t like this part of myself. And I think I spent a lot of your first year of life expecting Daddy to do things in a certain way. And that wasn’t fair for anyone. Don’t worry your Daddy and I are always on the same team. We agree on the big stuff, but I am learning that there are some special things that you will do just with Daddy, in Daddy’s way and that is okay, even good.
Elena, you are making us better parents and better people. I feel like parenting the first time around is like starting a new sports team. You’re still figuring our which position you play best and where you need some coaching and you both spend a good deal of time just running back and forth. But I hope the next time around, one day when you have a little sister or brother, we’re going to know so much better what to expect of each other as parents and as partners.
This past year I have loved watching how you connect with people. You learned the names of your first friends and you talk about “Lucy” and “Stella” and “Baby Juni” often. You know the names of everyone on both sides of your family and you often ask me to tell you stories about your cousins, Emma and Sofi. You ask to FaceTime Bean and Bobo and Tia Stephie and you get excited when Nana and Papa call. You ask about our friends in Coyolate, mainly “Lolo” and “Don Tomas” and “Dona Ruth” and “William.”
Mija, you are an anticipator of what’s to come and always aware of what’s currently happening. If you don’t understand why someone is laughing or why mommy swerved in the road you immediately ask, “What haaappened??” You are cautious in the pool, playful on land and could be equally content feeding your baby or climbing trees and throwing rocks. And I want to foster a love of both. You pick flowers for Mama and Daddy and also really like taking apart the screws on your toy airplane. Sometimes you even bring back screws that you find on the ground at our playground. Which I am not sure if that says more about the status of our local playground or your ingenuity and observant eye. Maybe both.
Elena, I know as a girl, you will often be praised for how you look; for you curly hair and your deep brown eyes or the cute dress that you happen to be wearing. Those things aren’t bad per se. It’s what our culture will notice first, and I do hope and pray that you develop a deep sense of confidence to know just beautiful you are. But I am going to work so, so hard to always remind you that who you are and how you use your mind and your strength and your words matters so much more than how you look.
You have always been the kind of kiddo, where it’s a more a battle of will than a question of whether or not you are capable. My sense is this will be one of your greatest gifts and one of my biggest parenting challenges. Sometimes my first response as your mom is want to teach & train you, but every so often I remember sometimes the best thing I can do is pray for you (and myself!) Because more than anything, I hope that I can give you a tangible picture for how God loves us with a mother’s heart; loving, nurturing and guiding us.
Elena, sometimes I feel like being a mom is the best never-ending job there ever was. My sense from talking to moms with older kids, like ones who go the bathroom by themselves and even mom’s who own “kids” are adults and have their own kiddos, is that the conversations change and the needs change, but a mother’s love only grows. I don’t think a mother’s love can be static. I think it gets deeper with each passing year as the ache to hold on and remember is tethered by the growning-up and letting go. Granted you’re only two, so I have a lot more years to practice this. But I can already anticipate it. (geez, I wonder where you get that fine quality?!!)
Here’s the thing, Elena you are my first-born. My journey as a mom began with you and so many of these milestones we will learn together. In the process of loving and caring for your soul, I find my own is being changed. And for that I am grateful. So, from one strong woman to another…Elena, I love who you are becoming and I hope one day you say the same about me.
Happy 2nd birthday, Mija.
With All My Love,