Tuesday, September 4, 2007

the keyboard is dead, long live the new keyboard

Dear Bet,

You have the best belly laugh. Sometimes you carry on long monologues in gibberish when you're in the stroller, or turning the pages of a book, and every so often you stop and chortle to yourself. I only realized you had figured out how to turn on the cordless phone one day when I heard that telltale huh huh huh, and turned to see your face lit up by the orange glow. But often I have no idea what you're laughing at; all I know is that you love to do it. That was your earliest form of game playing, screeching with excitement, trying with all your power to get us to make you laugh. Again and again and again. Usually we're breathless and spent with laughter long before you are. In the beginning your grin seemed wider than your tiny face, and sometimes it still does.

You are so determined; you know your own mind, and you hate to be pushed. You won't eat yummy strawberries unless the spirit moves you, but then you will gobble them down. You don't want to walk when someone else asks you to, but a minute later you will stand up and cross the room without a thought. I know you get this stubbornness from me, so I want to tell you: don't let anyone tell you it's a character flaw. Yes, it will be an obstacle for you sometimes. But it can also be one of your greatest strengths. Anyone could see that, the day you taught yourself to use the shape sorter in one hour, pushing the circle piece in singlemindedly over and over until you had the entry angle down cold. But I knew it since you were only a few weeks old, and you stopped waiting for me to carefully latch you on, scrambling on and attacking your meal all by yourself.

I don't know if you can understand this but if your Eema hadn't been so stubborn, you wouldn't be here.

You are fascinated by your brother, at least I think that's why you find any toy your brother picks up immediately irresistible. There was that one time I watched you take the toy Aleph was holding, then drop it for the one I gave Aleph instead, then drop it for the first one I gave back to Aleph. He sometimes runs away when he sees you coming, or tries his new maneuver, grabbing your hand and holding it immobile while shrieking for us. But you also smile every time Aleph laughs, watching his face to see what he will do next. And you try so hard to play peekaboo or catch with him the way you do with us, cackling at him and waiting expectantly for him to cackle back. He just watches you with a faint smile, then turns and does something else. But I think one day he'll know how much you love him.

Bet, I worry so much about you. I worry that we should have delivered you a few days later, so that maybe you wouldn't have any of the issues of a near-term baby; I worry that we should have delivered you a few days earlier, because maybe your placenta wasn't functioning so well anymore. I even worry that I'm not worrying enough about you. Your first babysitter used to tell us what a "perfect gentleman" you were, and I was so out of it that it took me a few weeks to figure out what she meant was, you let her put you down and hold your crying brother all day long instead. And that was when we decided we would always, always have two pairs of hands to hold you in this house.

People told me not to feel guilty, because a low maintenance baby can turn into a high maintenance one down the road. And you sure are more effective now at getting my attention when you want it. But even in the days when you were alarmingly self-sufficient, falling asleep so easily or playing endlessly by yourself, I want you to know that your innate happiness -- something you had no matter what I did, or failed to do -- was a pure gift to me. No matter how much trouble you decide someday to give me, you are my joy.


Dear Aleph,

You are always surprising me. Like the time I realized I didn't know when your sedately wavy hair had turned into a riot of curls. I'm tempted nowadays to count the seconds before your freshly brushed hair sproings up into ringlets after a bath. First the edges go. Then the back. Then SPROING!

Or the time I turned around and realized you were happy for most of the day, every day. You've had such a stormy young life, and I'm so proud and grateful for the way you have weathered it. You have all the advantages of a high needs baby: sensitive, bright, craving engagement with the world at all times. I hope that life is going to get easier and easier for you; it's obvious that it's getting to be much more fun. You wander around the room sometimes just smiling to yourself or blowing raspberries. You get bored easily of the four walls of home, but you are fascinated and happy as soon as we take you outside. I need to remember that, when I'm wary you'll be cranky on errands with me: chances are you'll be charming instead.

I think you're on the verge of some kind of verbal breakthrough -- you can say so many words, but you don't seem to know how to bring them out when you actually need them. You go over to the couch and bang your hand on it, bouncing up and down in your eagerness to get through to me (love the bouncing), and I ask "Do you want to go up? Can you say up?" You just look at me helplessly. After I put you up, that's when I hear "up-up!" I know you're almost there; in the last couple of days you've been asking me to name all kinds of things, pointing and going "zza-ZZA!" When you can tell us what you want, it's going to make you even more happy.

Aleph, I hope I've made the right choices with you. I've tried to meet your every need at night, even though it means I am less able to take care of you both during the day. But I think no matter how much attention I gave you, back in the days when you were always unhappy, I would have believed that it wasn't enough. By now, thank Gd, you're mobile enough to just come over for a hug whenever you need it. After all is done, you seem secure with me. That was what I wanted most: to be a source of comfort you could count on.

People like to tell stories about "difficult" babies, and I think you might hear more than you want to about it when you grow up. So I want you to know: every single person who took care of you fell in love with you, no matter how long or hard you cried. That is how powerfully lovable you are. I hope that's the part you remember.

I can't wait to see what you do next.