A Letter To My 3-Year-Old On Her Birthday

You will surprise and delight me. Scare me, then reassure me a moment later. Walk away, but eventually (please) grab my hand. You are my baby and you are also my big girl.
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Dear Zadie,

Almost every day we marvel at how much bigger you have gotten. She looks taller. Look at how big she is. I can't believe she can do that. Those are the things Daddy and I say -- over and over again.

Because you show up next to my bed and say, "Wake up, Mommy" when you used to just cry out from your crib. Your kid feet are no longer baby feet and they reach the edge of the couch. You make me my "coffee" in your kitchen. You count to 10, to 20. You spell your name (kind of). You climb the ladder at the playground. You tell me about the friends you make at school and how you pretend to be cats together. You hold the phone all by yourself to talk to Grandma. You choose your own bedtime story and recite all the words.

And you sleep in your big-girl bed.

Three years ago today, I couldn't have comprehended such things. You were fragile and alien, placed in my arms, taken from me for checkups. We brought you home and I stared at you, adored you, but it was a matter of survival. Make it to the next feeding, the next nap, the next change... We lived in three-hour increments.

Even when you started talking -- and yes, hearing you say mama turned me to mush -- we didn't have conversations. I'd ask you questions and you would answer, but that was a party trick. Now, you're all, "Mommy, look at this in my room" and "Mommy, do you like pigeons?" (Nope, no, I don't.)

I know you are still little. When you throw tantrums, your mouth contorts into your signature cry-face that is simultaneously horrible and hilarious. (On that note, I am sorry for cracking up when you freaked out about Gripe Water as an infant, but if you ever have a colicky baby, you'll know how badly I needed that laugh.) You want to be carried. You are not even three feet tall! You carry a stuffed animal or character around with you at all times - Ernie or Bert, Rosita or Zoe, a baby bear or finally we've settled on "baby snow leopard." You're afraid of the merry-go-round.

But we took you to a kids' concert this weekend. (Bonus points to Daddy for planning.) I asked if you wanted to go stand in the front where the band would be. You're usually scared in crowds too, but this time you didn't pause and just ran up there. You stood on your tiptoes next to big kids twice your size, your eyes barely reaching the stage. When the music started, you did a wicked awesome toddler dance.

I stood over to the side, keeping my eyes on you, not the show and was a little more panicky than I care to admit. Wait, I can't see her over those preschoolers with air guitars. What if someone steps on her? As soon as the lead singer said they were starting the biggest parade the venue had ever seen (read: silly conga line thing), I was sure you'd come running back to Daddy and me. You didn't. You just took off. I tried to run after you, but 6-year-olds in fairy costumes and other jumpy parents got in my way. At the other end of the room, I finally caught up and held your little hand. And I thought, This is it; this is how it will be.

And then I thought, I'll remember this moment -- the beginning of a mother/daughter dance we'll do forever.

The day didn't start out as a milestone. It was frustrating to get you dressed before the concert -- you ran circles around the apartment and went limp in my arms when I tried to get pants on you. And you wanted to wear a ridiculous pair of too-small shoes. Nor did it end peacefully, mostly due to a dash to a public restroom with a not-so-lovely floor, as we tried to have a big girl dinner at a restaurant.

But in the middle was one of those glimpses I get every so often of our future, one that shocks and thrills me all at once. You will surprise and delight me. Scare me, then reassure me a moment later. Walk away, but eventually (please) grab my hand. You are my baby and you are also my big girl. Happy birthday.


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