[WARNING: THIS POST IS ALL ABOUT CHILDREN, AS IT'S MY LETTERS TO MY SONS AS THEY APPROACH THEIR FIRST BIRTHDAY A WEEK FROM TOMORROW. IF THAT'S SOMETHING YOU DON'T WANT TO READ, I UNDERSTAND.]
One of my earliest memories of you is trying to put you to the breast when you were less than two days old. The times I had seen you before that, your eyes were shut tight, or you were sleeping. On that day, you looked directly into my eyes with what appeared to be a sad expression. You were so small and seemed so fragile. How much you have changed since those early days!
Up until about a month ago, you wouldn't smile at anyone you didn't know well. When in an unfamiliar situation, you generally wore a serious expression as you surveyed all the new sights, sounds and people, taking in every detail. Over the past month or so, though, you have started warming up to strangers a little, in contradiction of what most children are doing at your age.
It can still be hard for someone to get a smile out of you, but when she does, your smile can melt her heart. You have a definite preference for the ladies; Auntie K was the first person to make you smile when you were just a little baby, even before Mama or Dada.
You are our quiet observer. You notice details I'm not sure most babies would, like when I've had my hair straightened at the salon. (You have a fascination with my hair and love to grab it, no matter how it is restrained.) You seem to take everything in.
Your voice and your laugh are quiet and sweet (though you can make plenty of noise if/when you want to). You have never really screamed or squealed like a lot of babies do. Even your earliest vocalizations were approximations of word sounds like "ah-goo" or "da." Up until a few months ago, you would sometimes jump, startled, when your bigger and louder brother would squeal or scream.
Although you have been teething for months, you still have no teeth, but that doesn't slow your eating down much. You are more than capable of gumming just about any soft food we place in your hand or on your high chair tray. . . and if you try it out and find it isn't working, you just spit it out.
You are particular in that you like things a certain way. New tastes always elicit a funny face from you the first few bites, even with foods that you eventually have grown to love. You don't like your bottle, or your bathwater, to be either too warm or too cold. You don't like loud noises, and you prefer familiar surroundings. Transitions have always been a little bit challenging for you.
You "look before you leap." So imagine our surprise when you were the first to crawl and when, not long after you started standing and then cruising, you also started climbing. (Maybe you think you're part monkey due to the nursery decor, as Auntie K jokes?)
You are becoming more independent all the time. You took your first steps at 11 months, not long after MJ took his, but then preferred to stick with crawling. (You quickly became, and have remained, a proficient and speedy crawler.) As we close in on your first birthday, you are beginning to walk longer distances and more and more often, perfecting your balance.
You taught yourself to give people kisses, and you think it's funny to sometimes lick them at the last moment. When someone is holding you, you like to tap him/her with your little hand. You like to cuddle and often want Mama to hold you these days.
In many ways, you are a very easy baby. You go to sleep without a struggle most nights, and up until recently, slept straight through for 10-11 hours, usually until we had to wake you because MJ had been up for a while already. You are generally easily consoled, as long as your need is identified and addressed early. No cry it out for you!
It is amazing to see how your mind is developing. We recently bought a baby gate with a picture of a golden retriever on the box. You were fascinated with the picture and were studying it at length. When Bubbe said to you "Is that a dog?", you turned and looked at our dog, Hunter, making it clear that you understand what the word "dog" means.
You are my little peanut, my sweetheart, with your happy disposition and your musical little laugh. I love you.
My father said shortly after you came home from the hospital "MJ doesn't know that he is a preemie," and throughout your first year, that has seemed to be true. Even the pediatrician who cared for you in the hospital nursery said you were "precocious." You have hit every one of your developmental milestones on time, or early, despite arriving at 34 weeks. Your weight and height have been at or above the 50th percentile since you were two months old. (We were allowed to stop giving you preemie formula at that visit, since you were gaining weight so fast.)
You like to vocalize just to hear the sounds your voice can make. Those sounds include not only attempts at words but also screams and squeals that can startle us, and grunts and growls that can crack us up. Two sounds you made regularly for months led Dad to nickname you the "baby pterodactyl" and "Captain Caveman." Your voice and your laugh are both loud, and there is nothing subtle about you.
You love your pacifier and like nothing more than to have one in your mouth and one in each hand. You like taking your brother's pacifier from him, too, and anything else he has that you want. This is done without malice. You simply want what you see and decide you will take it.
You took your first halting steps a week or so before Christmas and by New Year's Day, you were walking more than you were crawling. You can now walk quite proficiently nearly all the time, losing your balance only occasionally, more often when you are tired.
You are a "doer" who loves to take things apart to see how they work. You are clearly curious and want to explore your environment, whether this means opening and emptying a kitchen cabinet, playing in the dog's water bowl, climbing on the couch or trying to go out the dog door.
You love meeting new people and seem energized by new experiences. Up until recently, you smiled readily at strangers, although this is now a bit variable with the onset of some developmentally appropriate stranger anxiety. You chortle and squeal happily when someone you know and like (Mama, Daddy, your nanny) arrives home.
After going through phases where you wanted Mama to hold you for extended periods--first in your early days, when you had fussy evenings, and then later, when you were waking around 2 or 3 a.m. regularly wanting to be with me--you are now generally too busy doing things to want many cuddles. You usually only want Mama to hold you when you are sleepy or sad (or sometimes when you see your brother getting attention).
You prefer to be independent these days. After refusing to feed yourself for weeks, you decided around New Year's that you would hold the bottle yourself and now push away any attempts to assist you. You decided you were done eating purees around the same time, and with six teeth already, who can blame you? You eat your finger foods with great gusto, usually grasping fistfuls of food with both hands and shoving it in your mouth.
You are an easy baby in many ways. You generally don't cry for long unless something is genuinely wrong, and you are not very needy.
You are my chunky monkey, my son with the big personality and the set of lungs to match. I love you.