Two years and five months, to be exact. Two years and five months of cuddling and singing and reading and playing and cheering on our sweet little baby into a walking, talking toddler with a mind and personality and voice of his own.
I can't imagine any parent denying that we are born exactly how we are born. As parents, we can shape our children, water the seeds of personality we see sprouting and help those traits develop deep roots, to grow straight and strong and supported. But nurture is only part of it.
If I read back over my monthly posts from Theo's first years of life, I can see some foreshadowing of the loving, curious, intuitive and sensitive toddler he has become. Even as a baby, he liked to do things his own way. He was always observant, studying and watching, learning fine motor skills quickly, like how to use his hands to control his toys or a spoon. He's always waited until he's good at something, perhaps quietly practicing in his own mind, until suddenly he just does it. We saw this first with sign language, as Theo just watched us sign to him for months until one day he had a whole arsenal of words he could communicate with, and communicate well. He did it with walking, refusing to even crawl until just a few weeks before he just got up and started walking. And he did it with talking, only saying a few words until, all of sudden, around his second birthday the floodgates opened and he started talking in full phrases that soon became sentences and then jokes and stories.
I haven't done a proper milestone post since Theo was 18 months old, so I'm going to just jot down a few things to fill in the gaps. He started to talk at around 20 months, and 'Dada' was his first word, followed by "ma," which didn't mean mama, but meant milk and man and the sound a goat makes. I can't believe I didn't write down the first time he said "mama" but I think that was about month later. At 22 months, he started referring to himself as "you," which makes sense when you think about it. We're always saying, "Do you want to do this?" or "This is for you." So, he was you.
We spent Thanksgiving of last year with friends in Scottsdale, when he was about 21 months old, and he was still only saying a few words. By Christmas, I remember thinking his language skills had increased a lot in only one month, but I neglected to write down details. In my journal, I wrote a list of milestones around 23 months. Theo had started saying sentences of three or four words. He called our cat, Jasper, "Gaga." I have no idea where that one came from, but he still calls her Gaga sometimes. He could say, "Mimi," which made my Mom very happy, since he had a hard time saying her name for the longest time. He could count to five, finish parts of the ABC song and would sing along to songs he knows, like Itsy Bitsy Spider. Around this time, he also started cooking with me, and I would let him pull his stool up to the counter and crack eggs to make cookies or pancakes. I'm a big believer in letting kids get in the kitchen and make a mess.
We spent his second birthday in Todos Santos, Mexico. I had to turn to my Instagram post from that day to capture the milestones, because it's true what all parents say. You think you will remember every moment, but you don't. Over time, all of the achievements starts to blur together into a watercolor memory. On Instagram, I wrote, "At two, Theo is curious, quick to laugh, and a little mischievous. He loves to snuggle and still crawls into my lap to read books, which I hope never changes. He now talks up a storm, constantly making us laugh with his expressions and sayings. He enters new situations cautiously, checking things out before diving in. As his mama, it's a trait I appreciate. He knows his primary colors, can count to 10, and calls all animals by the sounds they make. He still loves trucks and trains and tractors and can spend hours playing LEGOS."
Over the next few months, Theo's language skills developed at lightning speed until now, at almost two-and-a-half, he can carry on a full conversation and tell stories. We still start every morning with all three of us snuggled up in bed talking and reading books, and Theo will often ask for us to tell him a story. I'll say, "Once upon a time..." and then he will chime in, and we'll go back and forth, making up a story, usually about a person or animal that finds a tractor. The other morning, Theo crawled into our bed and started telling us about his dream, turning over rocks and finding a BIG crab. He layed back against the pillow and picked up both hands, palms up, and dropped them in a dramatic motion and said, "That's my life!" Elie and I couldn't stop laughing.
Theo also loves independent make-believe play, and he will act out full stories with his LEGO people and tractors and trucks. Our amazing nanny, Sarah, has really fostered his natural imagination and she can follow his lead on imaginary play for hours. Sarah comes over two mornings a week to play with Theo, but Elie and I are usually at home, working on projects or cleaning the house or doing some work. I'll listen and giggle as I hear them making a picnic for all of his stuffed animals or building an airplane out of pillows to fly to Mexico. It's wonderful.
I don't remember exactly when he stopped referring to himself as "you" and started using correct pronouns, but it was probably at 26 or 27 months. I've been amazed at how quickly he has picked up proper grammar, even using the right verb conjugations. Developing language is amazing. When we were in Japan a few months ago, he surprised us one day at dinner by correctly answering questions from our host on his name and his age. It was the first time he'd done that. I feel like he surprises us a lot.
The other day, Mimi was staying with him while Elie and I had a date night. They had just finished reading books, and she was getting ready to put him to bed. We always say prayers before bedtime, so she got down on the floor and he reached out and held her hands, which he's never done with me. She closed her eyes and started praying, "Dear Lord, Thank you for this beautiful day and for all our many blessings." Theo interrupts, saying, "You're welcome!" Mimi could hardly finish the prayer for laughing. Thank goodness we have a Nest Cam in the room, so we have a video of it. Priceless.
That same night, Theo sang Big Green Tractor to Mimi, still his favorite song, because she doesn't know the words and he does. He does love to sing, and recently learned to sing his ABCs all the way through. He seems to have a natural love of music, and he'll strum on Elie's guitar, or bring out his harmonica and play along while Elie plays guitar. That's always a sweet moment and, I hope, foreshadowing for many family music nights to come.
One of the joys from the past two years has been watching the development of the father son relationship between Elie and Theo grow into a special bond. While Theo definitely loves his mama (thank goodness) and I'm almost always the one he turns to for cuddles and tickles, Theo adores his Daddy. When Elie leaves the house, Theo always wants to know where he is, saying, "But I really, really want to see Daddy!" Elie is the one to throw him up in the air over and over and over again, to fly him around like an airplane, to let him play with power tools when I'm not looking, to encourage him to walk on the balance beam or jump from a ledge or take a risk. Sometimes, I'll say, "Ask your Daddy if you can do it." Invariably, Theo will come running back to say, "Daddy said YES!" Daddy always says YES, which is why he's the best Daddy.
Theo is a loving, affectionate little boy. We literally spend hours every day cuddling. Often it's while reading books or after nap, but sometimes he'll just come up and say, "I want to snuggle you!" Those unprompted snuggles are usually when he feels overwhelmed by something, and needs to be close. I'm learning more and more that too much stimulus is overwhelming, even when he's enjoying himself. We often find that he's tentative in situations where we expected him to be excited or outgoing, and he wants or needs to be held and to feel safe. We try not to ever push him to do things, but let him make decisions on his own. Not to project our our desires on to him, or to make assumptions about what he should like or not like. We're learning.
Theo is a sensitive human being, and he almost always needs time to warm up to a person or new situation, unless it involves a tractor or excavator. If it's large machinery, then he's immediately all in, most of the time. Often, he will shy away from people who come up to hug or kiss or greet him, even if he knows and loves them, until he has a chance to feel comfortable. I used to think this was shyness, but he's not really shy. He just needs time, and he likes to engage slowly. It's the same when we go to any group activity, like story time at the Library. When we first started attending, he just wanted to sit in my lap and observe, wide eyed. Now that he's at ease there, he sings and dances and sits away from me at times, testing his independence. He just needed to grow comfortable with that space.
He's going to start preschool in the fall, just three mornings a week. But we think it will be good for him to socialize with other little ones and start to be a little independent from us. Except for the few times Elie and I have done an overnight trip together, I'm almost never away from Theo for more than a few hours, enough time to get in a workout or go run some errands. I just feel like I don't want to miss a moment. But I know he's ready for preschool, so it will be good for both of us. And maybe I'll start spending more time writing blog posts.
What else do I want to remember about this time in Theo's life?
Of course, we think he's smart. He can recite all his favorite books by heart. He knows all animals and animal sounds. He has a great memory. He can count to 20 (sometimes he skips a teen or two), is starting to recognize some letters and numbers, can sing his ABCs and knows all his colors. He loves to help do anything, whether it's vacuum or make coffee or water the garden. One of his favorite things is to 'drive' our cars. He'll say, "I want to pretend in Daddy's car." As I said before, he loves pretend play and make-believe. We still walk down to the beach to look for crabs and go to the playground. Just in the last month or so, he has started to play with other kids on the playground. He especially loves to play with other kiddos if they happen to be a 10- or 11-year-old girl. He is quite the flirt and not at all shy then.
A few other mundane things, but ones that I want to remember: He still likes to drink milk out a bottle, but drinks water and kombucha from a glass (he loves kombucha). He's still attached to his motzetz (pacifier) but we're hoping to retire that soon. We just went through a sleep regression after Japan and had to redo sleep training. It was an easy transition and now he's happily going to bed at 7:00 p.m. and sleeping until around 6:00 a.m. If he wakes before 6:00, we let him stay in his bed and he just talks and plays until 6:00.
I would be remiss about talking about this stage of life and my experience of motherhood without giving thanks. There is not a day that goes by that I do not express gratitude for this life and how we get to live it. I feel so blessed to get to make the choice to stay home with Theo every day, because I know so many moms don't get that choice. I also know it's not the right choice for everyone, but it is for me. Elie gets to be home with us every day, since he retired after Theo was born. While he does have projects he works on, he is often home, from morning cuddles and making breakfast to spontaneous afternoon adventures just because we can. I often think how different Theo's life is and will be--how differently he might develop as a person--because he gets to spend so much time with Mommy and Daddy. With a Daddy who wants to spend time with him, with us.
We have an amazing community of support. My Mom (Mimi) lives right next door to us, and that grandparent relationship is such a special, unique bond. Mimi comes over for coffee almost every morning and Theo and I will wander over to her house in the afternoon for a visit or to sit in the yard while she gardens. She's always available if we need her, and Theo loves spending time at Mimi's house. Almost every week, we make the short drive to Vancouver to spend time with our family there. Theo has a Saba (grandfather) and uncles and aunts and cousins who adore him and always make time for him, who love spending time with him. He gets lots of love from extended family from afar. We live in a safe, beautiful, walkable neighborhood with neighbors who feel like family, who welcome spontaneous playdates in the backyard or dinners rotated at each others homes. And we have a magical babysitter/nanny. Theo literally jumps up and down and runs circles around the kitchen island when she rings the doorbell.
We're so lucky. Theo's lucky. And I can't help but think that this is what motherhood and the experience of family and growing up is supposed to be like. We were never intended to raise children in isolation, alone. Instead, we need multiple generations and diverse influence and a tribe of people who come together to love and model and be a support for child and parent alike.
I am so grateful for this sweet life, and my sweetest son.