Now you are three! You are hilarious and brave and determined and silly and very, very ticklish. You love coloring and pretending to write letters and doing anything Ezra does. You are very polite. When someone asks you if you want something you automatically say “no, thank you!” then giggle, roll your eyes, and say, “I mean yes thank you!” When we ask if you have something, you widen your eyes and seriously state “I do.”
You love your friends Ingy and Rosie. You are indifferent to the potty. You hate pants. You hate it when Ezra tries to tell you who to pretend to be, sobbing, “I’m NOT Princess Anna! I’m Sally from Busytown!” You love Sally from Busytown.
Since I’m writing this letter to you a bit late, I’ve had a chance to see you be three for a little while, and before I look back over your last months of two-and-three-quarters-ness, let me mention that I’m not entirely pleased that you got the memo about being three. The memo apparently states that you must express your disappointment with being told “no” about anything with the most tragic face-crumpling ever seen, that a dark cloud of tragedy must haze your eyes, and that you must fall sobbing to the ground in a sodden heap of misery. Three is a dramatic age.
But you have always been a dramatic girl. When Dada comes home from work every day, you run down the hall at top speed and literally leap into his arms. You give full-body hugs while swooning, “I love you so much!” On your first run down the big sled hill on our yearly trip to Galena, just a few days after your third birthday, you demanded to go down headfirst, on your back, by yourself. It was the craziest possible arrangement, but there was no talking you out of it, and down you went. When you reached the bottom, you felt you had completed your perfect run and declined to sled any more that day.
The next day you sledded so much that on the way up the big hill back to the car, as I was pulling you in the sled, you simply lay down and fell asleep. Sleeping Beauty. I mean, Sleeping Sally from Busytown.
The last few months, you have become very interested in baby dolls. While Ezra always slept with a giant pile of stuffed friends, you’ve never been much of a sleeper with stuff. But then you slowly but surely started wanting your baby doll with you more and more. One night I left you in your room at bedtime, awake and sitting on the floor reading books, and when I returned, you had gotten the baby and tucked yourself in, cuddling her through the night.
A few weeks ago you told me that the baby’s name was “Jon Bon Jon Bon Jon” and I couldn’t help myself, I said, “Oh, you mean Jon Bon Jovi? The doll is named Jon Bon Jovi?” And so she is. For your birthday Grammy gave you and Jon Bon Jovi matching nightgowns, and I love peeking in on you at night with Jon Bon Jovi in your arms.
Your interest in fashion has only grown stronger. You have incredibly clear opinions about what you should wear each day (usually summery party dresses and tights) and what you should not wear (pants, basically ever). You discovered headbands and became obsessive. With an infusion of new birthday headbands from Grammy and Aunt Lilli, you are now able to cycle through many headband looks each day, and choose a new one for bed each night. You love sparkly shoes and polka-dotty tights.
Because you have an older brother, most of your toys have been pretty gender-neutral, but by three, you’ve started getting some special girl stuff just for you. I’ve tried to keep the pink princessy stuff to a bare minimum, but you certainly do love it. So does Ezra, so at least there’s that. I love watching the two of you negotiate who gets to wear the fairy princess costume you got from Nana and Papa for your birthday, or both of you sitting for half an hour putting eye, mouth, jewelry, and hair accessory stickers on blank pretty-lady faces. I got you a craft project for your birthday but I needn’t have bothered; your very favorite thing I gave you on your birthday was a tube of Hello Kitty lip gloss.
Speaking of kitties, your love for Lucy is true and deep and beautiful. You call her “my kitty” or sometimes “my precious kitty,” and several times a day you kidnap her for some special hugs. She’s patient and loves attention, but she’s old and fragile, and I fear your days of loving on her may be numbered. But for now, it’s great fun to watch you cuddle her like a baby and sing sweet songs in her ears.
Glossy kisses and sparkly hugs, my three year old girl.
On my birthday, you turned 4 1/2. You can see 5 on the horizon, kindergarten in your hazy future, but for now, you are right in the thick of 4 and enjoying it all. The emotional tumult of 3 1/2 has finally simmered down a little. You are beginning to be better at recovering from a disappointment, rolling with a change in plans, reasoning through a disagreement.
You are very interested in becoming more independent and forming relationships on your own. After a few weeks of me taking you into school every day, you noticed that some of your classmates were happily walking in on their own, and after watching a few times, you suddenly told me you were going to do that too. You noticed that some of your classmates carpool, and have been so excited the few times you’ve gotten to ride in a new car, too. And the realization that the world was not divided into playdate friends (i.e. the kids of my friends) and school friends, but that school friends could come over for playdates, was earth shattering. So excited have you been to play with school friends outside of school that I’ve had to carefully help you calm it down so you don’t overwhelm them with your puppy dog energy.
You enter every party at full tilt these days, and if you don’t know anyone, you make new friends. You have a wonderful sense of trust that if I have brought you to a place, then everyone there is your buddy. If there are kids, that’s great, if there are no kids, you make a grown up friend instead. Sometimes you take it too far — I’ve had to take you off a few laps of strangers — but mostly it is a lovely trait. You seem at home everywhere you go.
You have very specific ideas and plans about how things should be. You decided very early that you and Zella would be an elephant and zebra for Halloween because E is for Ezra and Elephant and Z is for Zella and Zebra. I mean, duh, what else could you have been. You love watching Busytown Mysteries, and for months determined that you were Huckle and Zella was Sally and I was Hilda and Dada was Lowly Worm. When we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you became Charlie Bucket. When we listened to Little House on the Prairie on CD, you became Mary and Zella was Laura. I called me and Dada “Ma and Pa,” and you reminded me that we were named “Caroline and Charles.”
And once you find your thing for the day or week or month, you are incredibly loyal to it. At the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, you could have watched the Rube Goldberg machine for hours. You slowly worked your way around the whole thing, stopping for long, careful stretches of watching. You find favorite records and listen again and again and again. You put on the same costume every day for weeks. Zella is your greatest fan, and when she sometimes seems calm and focused beyond her years, I am sure that it is because she is learning from you.
Your memory continues to amaze, and sometimes, as when you point to the exact spot on your blanket where you barfed a few nights before Thanksgiving, to disgust. On a class field trip to Didier Farms, you remembered the rides from the year before and immediately got in line for the biggest roller coasters and fastest spins. When you watch Busytown, you can tell me what episodes you want from memory, including episode number, season, and plot outline. You’ve memorized whole books, and within two days of having a few new Frog and Toad books, you can tell me which stories are in which books and in what order.
You are desperate to learn to read. All day I field questions about which letter blends make which sounds. You don’t quite have the thread of sounding out words, though. A few times we’ve tried a series of rhyming words and after I do a few (“H-O-P, hop! T-O-P, top!”) when I ask you to try, you often overcomplicate it (“P-O-P, puh, ah, puh. Puapa!”). But you are never discouraged.
If I could change one thing about you, my darling boy who I love so much, it is that, without fail, when we go on a vacation, you will not go to sleep. You are so excited, having so much fun, and you cannot shut your brain down, and then it’s midnight in Indianapolis and I want to burn down the hotel. I love how easily you jump into the fun of new places, new faces, new friends, new swimming pools. I just want you to learn that the fun is always still there in the morning, and that you and your poor parents both need some rest.
Your ideal day at 4 1/2 seems to be wearing shorts in the house, piling all the couch cushions into a lopsided pile and then jumping on it, seeing some friends, playing crazy 60s folk records on the record player, bingeing on Dinosaur Train, and trying on your new tap shoes.
And then doing it all again tomorrow.
Love and hugs,
Mama (AKA Caroline, Mrs. Pteranadon, Hilda the Hippo)
Now you are 2 3/4. You practiced saying that for a whole day, stopping again and again as you worked out the order of the words. “I three and two…no…I TWO and THREE QUARTERS!” In honor of this milestone, you grew almost an inch and finally started breaking your last set of molars.
For months and months, you have been fascinated with drawing and painting. While Ezra never wanted to do anything like that when he was your age, you can sit for long stretches with markers or a brush and work on projects. And in the last few weeks, you have discovered coloring. With a vengeance. I’ve had a few coloring books around the house for years, and neither of you had ever shown an interest. Suddenly, it’s all you want to do. On Sunday, while the yearly puzzle hunt swirled around you, you sat for close to an hour, just scrubbing colors onto a printed picture of a cat. You don’t stay inside the lines exactly, but you do stay shockingly close to the lines, showing a clear understanding of what spaces they delineate. When you don’t have a drawing to color, you carefully color arrays of spots on paper, like rorschach blots. “This is a cat,” you tell me. “This one is Ingy.”
You are a hard worker when you set your mind to things. At gymnastics class, you have been laser focused on figuring out how to get upside down on the bar. For a few weeks you worked on getting your toes up to your hands. Now, using some blocks for height, you can get your feet up, through, and over in a complete flip with no help. And you are brave. The class features a giant pit of foam blocks, and after a few times scooting on your butt to the edge and then sliding in, and a few times holding my hand while you jumped, you now scramble up onto the jump-off point and leap, sometimes face-first, into the pit. There’s a slide the teacher has created out of a big mat leaned up against a high pommel horse, and the routine is for the teacher to seat you at the top and give you a gentle push to slide down. When she’s not looking, you race to the top and leap off, flying halfway down before your butt hits the slide at all.
You have always been fascinated with clothes and patterns, and it’s only increasing as you get older. You keep track of the source of all your hand-me-downs, requesting Ingy shirts and Miriam pants, and carefully select whole outfits. You favor polka-dots above all other patterns, but you’re also a sucker for a good jumper, even if it just has flowers on it. I used to be able to coax you into certain items of clothes just by telling you they were from Ingy, but now I have to tell you they’re for a party. “This is my PARTY jumper!” you yell. You love your sequined party shoes, and a few weeks ago, aggressively went after some hand-me-down light-up shoes that I had carefully tried to decline. I shouldn’t have; they are perfectly matched to your personality. You wore them on Halloween, delighting with each sparkly step in the darkness.
Ezra chose your Halloween costumes this year (E for Elephant, Z for Zebra) and you happily played along. You love playing along with his dress-up schemes. The other day, Ezra declared that he was Sergeant Murphy, Busytown’s police officer, and you piped up, “I’m GIRL Sergeant Murphy.” Then you decided you could both be regular Sergeant Murphy. Then you were both Snow White. You told me you were both going “to the fancy party,” and then you got on top of the dining room table and covered each other with placemats and pretended to go to sleep.
But listen, Zella, we need to talk about the whining. Oh, the whining. It is bone-chilling. And all the worse because your regular voice is so wonderful and expressive. Recently you’ve taken to saying phrases over and over again in many different voices, experimenting with loud and soft, growly and smooth. The whole way to Ezra’s school the other day, you repeated “pick up Ezra” in different voices.
And you have faces to go with the voices. We can’t even imitate the amazing things you can do with your eyes. You have these expressions of disdain, mischief, surprise, joking, with eyes narrowed or widened, cast down or up. They are amazing.
So, put on your party jumper and your party shoes, grab a marker, do a silly voice, and let’s get ready to leap into three!
Love and kisses,
Mama Sergeant Murphy
In these few short months since you turned four, you caught bluegills, went bowling, flew a kite, slept all night on the top bunk, played an Indonesian Gamelan, and, with no fanfare of any kind, rode a bike. A real bike, with pedals and no training wheels.
Our late summer was a clutter of trips and festivals, some small and some major, which is tough, because you are a kid who loves routine, who loves feeling like an expert, like you’re in your element. What is so amazing to watch is how you create that safe space for yourself everywhere we go. You enter new rooms looking for familiar things, or for new things that you have seen or read about. It’s fun to follow you on these fact-finding missions, as you name and identify all the cool stuff in each new place we go. You name the new houses we stay in, choose your bed, meet the neighbors.
The meeting of the neighbors is always the most fun to watch. You are sometimes very shy, usually when you are tired or haven’t quite figured out how to make a new place feel comfortable for you. But when you’re on your game, the conversations you strike up with strangers are a wonder to behold. “What’s your name? What’s your mom’s name? What color is your car?” You introduce Zella, launch into complicated stories involving your friends back home, and, depending on how badly you need to go potty, occasionally give some gentle pushes and head butts.
When you have an idea in your head, you can be remarkably focused and determined for a kid your age. You played trains at Nana and Papa’s house on July 4 amid a maelstrom of cousins because that’s what you do at Nana and Papa’s house. You woke up one morning during our weeklong trip to Wisconsin, put on your frog costume, and then wore it all day, because, duh, you were a frog. Kid Frog to be exact. And we were Mama Frog, and Daddy Frog, and Baby Frog, and you corrected us every time we addressed each other all day long.
Our big trips at the end of August came back-to-back. First there was a week at a cabin in the Northwoods, with a beach and a fishing pier and a rowboat and a playground. We stopped on the way to get you and dada fishing poles (a few weeks earlier, you had taken a fishing lesson so we would be ready). You fished every day, pulling in bluegills and pumpkin seeds like it was your job. Every time we took a fish off your hook and threw it back, you would have already caught another. You came up with little stories about them: bluegills liked to take tumbling class, but pumpkinseeds were more into ballet.
We met some other families at the resort, and you struggled a little, being in a tough age between the babies and the big girls. The girls, 6 and 9, mostly wanted to pet Zella, and you got zany trying to get their attention. But as much as I could see them getting frustrated, you mostly just enjoyed being part of the action, and I think you’ll be much more able to figure out how to play with them rather than at them when we see them again next year. This is the first summer of the three we’ve spent up there where I feel like you really might remember it next summer. The fishing, the hikes, the boat, and especially our favorite crazy zoo, where Kid Frog spent a magical day.
A few days after our Wisconsin trip, we turned around and got on a plane to Utah to spend the weekend with Nana and Papa at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. You’ve understood that Papa tells stories for a long time, since we listened to his CD on repeat in the car for weeks, and he visited your preschool last year. But seeing him perform in front of a big audience was new. True to form, you thought the coolest part was the stage and the microphone, and the fact that Papa could get you up there. You also enjoyed seeing another favorite storyteller, Ed Stivender, and getting to play with him between performances was a huge hit.
Our gracious and generous hosts for the weekend lived in a magical wonderland, set up for their 58 grandchildren to enjoy, with a playroom larger than Ezra’s preschool. You guys wandered it in a daze until you picked out your favorite costumes (Ezra: queen, Zella: peacock), which you then wore every waking minute you were in the house. You woke every morning ready to play, had to be dragged out of there every night. There was an elaborate mural of fairy tale characters on the wall, and a poem that referenced all of them, and you had me read it to you over and over and over again, memorizing the lines and pointing out each character. And having Nana and Papa in the same house to play with you and read you poems? Magical icing on the cake.
Here’s a moment from Utah that captures your whole personality in a nutshell. The storytelling festival featured some activity tents for kids, and one of them was a pottery tent. There were potters there operating wheels, and when it was your turn, you could take a block of the clay and the potter would help you make a small vase or cup. We were excited to find there was no wait one day at lunch, so we whisked you in there. You completely shut down, wouldn’t touch the clay, wouldn’t look at the potter. But all the same, you wouldn’t leave either. So we stayed and watched. And watched, and watched, and watched. Until you had figured out the whole thing, saw how it worked, figured out the exact shape you wanted. And then you were ready. We had to wait for the exact potter you wanted to work with, and when it was finally your turn, you were so careful and concentrated so hard, and made exactly the thing you wanted.
And another: after a summer on your balance bike, you started asking when we could go to “the pedal store.” At the park one day, your friend Ewan brought his pedal bike, and you asked to ride it. I pulled you up and down the path while you felt it out, and after just a few times helped by me, and a break to mull it over and think it through, you could ride a bike. Like just out-and-out ride a bike. With no help. Starting, stopping, making u-turns. It was a little bittersweet for dada, who had assumed that he would teach you to ride a bike. But you didn’t need a teacher, just some time to figure it all out.
Just keep watching and waiting and figuring it all out, buddy.
Hugs and kisses,
My favorite thing this summer is to watch you run at full speed. You do crazy things with your arms and face, often throwing your hands out behind you and jutting your chin out. Sometimes you run towards me so fast you can’t stop yourself, flinging your body into my arms, or wrapping your arms around my legs to slow yourself down. You live your whole life like this, at full speed, fully invested in everything.
You speak in an amazing declarative yell, full of lots of emphasis. Yesterday we talked about all the fun things we will do in Wisconsin next week, and you repeated it all back to me, making relevant hand gestures all the while: “we going to go SWIMMING, and I going to FISH, and there will be BEACHES, and we going to PLAY on our NEW BEDS.” We love to contrast your speaking style with the sweet, inexplicably French accented, voice of your best friend Ingy. “Here is my bébé, I love my bébé,” she whispers. “This is my DOLL,” you yell. Then you start singing. When you’re not declaring things, you are singing little songs like “Now I’m walking to the living room!”
Ezra’s defining personality feature has always been his deliberate nature. He waits until he is sure he can do something right before doing it. He loves to be an expert. You are different. You are brave and willing to try crazy things. I’ve had to work hard to get you to stop leaping into my arms from the top step without checking to make sure I’m looking at you first. You didn’t need swimming lessons to be willing to stick your whole head under the water.
You have traveled the midwest this spring, with weekends in Michigan, rural Illinois, and Wisconsin. You no longer sleep in a pack ‘n play on trips, and I’ve been so proud of how easily you’ve adapted to so many new beds in so many new rooms. In Wisconsin, you and Ezra slept in a bunk bed, and it was fun how excited you were to be on the bottom bunk, yelling all your thoughts up to your hero upstairs.
You and Ezra play together more and more, and I have to very consciously notice how I discipline you guys when things get out of hand. After several years of automatically docking Ezra, just because he’s bigger, it’s clear that you can make mischief of your own just fine, and that sometimes the time out or the stern talking to is meant for you.
But when it’s working, watching the two of you play together, or listening to you have conversations, is amazing. The other day we took the swords that you bought with dada at the Renaissance Faire out to the park and the two of you (King and Princess, according to Ezra’s calculations) had a treasure hunt and slew a dragon. He has only the most tenuous understanding of anything royal or magical, and yours is even shakier, but you don’t care. Ezra told you to be a princess and kill a dragon, and so of course you did.
Of course it’s not always sunshine and hilarious declarations from you. Some days you whine every request, cry like it’s going out of style, and bury your head on my shoulder in despair. Sometimes you get a look of wild mischief on your face and start defying me and giggling about it. You need to nap or you get nutty in the afternoon, but you can’t nap or you’ll be nutty at bedtime. You won’t eat breakfast, but you fall apart at 9:30 without it. In other words, you are 2 1/2.
At 2 1/2 you love riding your bike, eating ice cream, chomping on whole cucumbers, and blowing milk bubbles over the top of the cup. You love nursery rhymes and Timmy Time. You love finding our cat Lucy, picking her up in a full-body hug and yelling “here’s my sweet Lucy-Luce!” You went through a few weeks of obsession with my boobs (“Are those your boobies? I going to SMOOSH THEM!”) and have now moved on to tushies (“You got a tushy? And you got a tushy too? And I got a tushy TOO?!”) You use the potty almost every day, far earlier than Ezra showed any interest. You have opinions about your hair (“two ponies, a top pony and a bottom pony”) and your clothes and your shoes, and when we did manicures a few weeks ago, you went straight for the hipster grey.
This week you get to start soccer camp with Ezra, sneaking in even though you’re not quite old enough just on the sheer force of your personality.
Are those your cheeks? I going to KISS THEM.