A Letter to Birdie, on Her Second Birthday

Dear Birdie:

We have arrived at two. We are only a few weeks in, but I am not worried, so far you have made being your parent a pretty easy and very rewarding job.  Two gets a bad rap. People love to talk about the terrible two's, I really don't like that term. There is nothing- and I mean nothing, terrible about you or your two-ness. I am ready for this next stage, I welcome it- even the big messy feelings, even the constant push and pull of your independence butting up against your need to sometimes still be our baby. All of those feelings have a right to be heard and felt and acknowledged because they are a part of you and are a part you who you are becoming in this world.

At two you have a blossoming sense of independence, which results in either frustration or pride, and oftentimes both. One of the hardest things to do right now is watch you struggle, but as long as you are safe I try to keep myself rooted where I am and wait and watch. The other day at the playground you were climbing a rock. I was on the other side of the playground pushing your friend in the swing, you made it up the rock with ease. I watched as you tried to figure out how to get down. Usually I am standing next to you, usually I would be a little worried you might fall, but you have gotten more confident with your body lately. I have seen you testing the boundaries of how bold you dare to be, I knew you could climb up and down off that rock without my help so I stayed on the other side and just watched. You tried to just walk down but it was a little steep, you tried turning around to go down backwards but that wasn't working quite right, then you sat down and scooted a bit until your feet almost touched the ground. Then you pushed and jumped off and looked over at me and said, "Self! proud!" If I had stepped in you still would have gotten down off that rock but you wouldn't have that sense of pride and accomplishment and one of my most important jobs right now is to make space for you to get there all on your own. When you do, it is beautiful to witness.

At two you are a joy to spend time with. Even after we spend all day together sometimes I still miss you after you are sleeping soundly in your crib. You have fast become one of my very favorite people. Some folks think that you shouldn't be friends with your children because they won't respect you. I think of you as one of my best friends, and like my other friends I expect that the trust and respect that we have for each other is a two way street. I do not think of myself as your authority, I want to help guide you through the world, not force you to conform to my vision of who you should be. I always want our relationship to feel mutual and collaborative, I want you to know that I am learning just as much from  you as you are learning from me.

At two you are experimenting with pushing boundaries; emotionally, physically, socially. Some days your favorite word is no. Recently I was trying to get you ready for the bath tub and you were being silly. You said no to everything- even the things you, moments before, had asked me for. You ran from me, you refused to do the things I was asking. You thought it was a very funny  game, but it was the end of the day and I was tired and I was feeling frustrated. I said, "Ok, buddy, seriously- can you please put the no's away and cooperate with me?" You started to listen and get ready for the bath, I asked you for a kiss and you leaned in. Then I stopped you because I realized I had made a mistake. "Birdie, I am sorry I told you to put your No's away. I was frustrated that is was taking so long to get you in the bath and I just wanted it to feel easier. I want you to always feel like you can say No. I want your No's to be heard and respected. If I ask for a kiss it is always your choice to say yes or to say no. Do you really want to kiss me right now? It is ok to say No." You looked at me and said, "Yes, Papa. Do."

At two one of the toughest parts of parenting you is knowing where and how to draw the line and keep you safe, and how to erase the line and start again, and how to let you cross the line anyway because you really just need to. So often it would be easier for me if you would just go along with what I am asking you to do but I don't want you to make my life easier by making yourself small and quiet. You like to shout NO! very loud just for fun. I tell you, "Your big loud NO is an important word to have. When someone is doing something you really don't like or doesn't feel safe you should use that big loud NO." I sometimes wonder how much of this you understand, but then I watch you with your toddler friends- you crouch down next to your buddy and say, "Hug you, ok?" And then you wait until they say its ok before you hug them. I watch you with your baby dolls and you say, "Pick you up, ok?" My heart swells. I wish I didn't have to teach you these lessons at two, but I do, and I will teach them to you for your entire life because I want you to be raised with the expectation that others have to respect your body, I want you to grow up respect other people's bodies too. And when someone doesn't respect your body, I don't want you to hide your eyes and say "No thank you," I don't want you stay quiet and go along with it anyway. I want you to stomp your feet and ball  your fists and say, "F**k NO."

At two you are exceptionally thoughtful and empathetic. Your capacity for kindness is really incredible, I wonder when it is that we become jaded and lose the ability to be so open and honest. I don't want you to ever lose it. As much as I want to nurture your ability to stand up for yourself and be strong and independent, I also want to honor the gentleness and compassion you have in the world. I don't like to shield you from hard things because there will always be hard things. If I cry in front of you, we talk about it. I tell you that everyone feels sad and mad and confused sometimes, even grownups. You offer me boo-boo packs when I am sad and snuggle me. When one of your friends is hurt you are quick to run over and ask if they are ok. You are so tender and loving with babies and you want to be friends with all the big kids we see. You can be shy but you also like to smile and say hello to everyone and anyone. When we are out walking you will stop to smell every flower we pass. Over the last two years almost every single time I am out with you someone stops to say what a lovely child you are. It's true, your spirit and your heart just shine. Thank you, Birdie, for bursting my heart wide open with love for you. Thank you for understanding and forgiving all of the times I am not my best self for you. Thank you for reminding me to slow down to notice the moment the leaves start changing in the fall and the way it feels when your tiny hand finds mine in the dark when I am rocking you to sleep. Thank you for reminding that when the world can seem so hard and sad there is you; your relentless wonder and goodness keep me afloat when nothing else will.

Two feels so big and so little all at once. Two feels like you have been here forever but I am still just getting to know you. Two feels like we are just as the very beginning but we have also already come so far. This world can feel like a hard and scary place sometimes. I watch you sleeping and I think how will I ever learn to let you go out into the world? Then I remember that it's not up to me, this is your life kiddo, and I am just here to help you navigate. As you grow you might have to remind me of that, I have a hard time with change and letting go, even more so since you came along.

Right now you are learning the hard lesson that you just aren't big enough to do all the things you want to do, that [more than I wish] your grownups have to make a lot of choices for you. It is not easy to be two, I see that. More importantly, I see you. You are a complex and beautiful person and there is plenty of room in the world for you; for your joy and curiosity, for your frustration and disappointment, for your belly laughs and your deep cries, for everything you already are and everything you are becoming. All of you is beautiful to me. Happy second birthday, Birdie.

Love Always:


Posted by Stephen Stratton

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