When people ask me to describe you, I often say you’re “tough, but tender”. I don’t remember when exactly I started thinking of you that way, but it was in the early days of your life. Some of this may be wrapped up with my memories of the extra time you had to spend in the hospital during those first weeks – being poked and prodded through various procedures. And you were born with a big brother, who has always been sweet with you, but hasn’t always been gentle. So maybe you’ve had to be tough. But there’s an essence in your core that exudes strength.
You’re a dare devil – our climber, we call you. You’re always trying to keep up with the big kids, often wiping out and then after a moment of crying, you pop up and announce, “I’m OK!” and run off. Your first animal sounds were these deep growls, and one of your first words was a deep, booming “NO!!” You know your own mind and God help anyone who gets in the way of what you want (it’s usually me, unfortunately).
But as much as you are tough, you are tender. You are such a sweet soul, stroking my face or your Dad’s, whispering “nice”, assembling your babies in their beds, under layers and layers of blankets. You’re our snuggler. In fact, the first couple weeks of your life, you wouldn’t let me put you down. So I held you or carried you in the baby carrier all the time, or risked blood-curdling screaming. And you’ve always been attuned to the emotions of others, not wanting anyone to be sad or upset. I remember once at the playground, you were only about 15 months, and a little boy about your age bumped his mouth and was crying. You went over by his side, tried to hug him, and only returned to playing once he did. You are a true sweetheart.
As I watch you sail through toddlerhood, your personality blossoming more every day, I realize that those two parts of your personality are still central, but I’ve been wrong in how I’ve been describing them. And it all comes down to a single word.
You’re not tough, but tender, you’re tough AND tender. Your strength and toughness is just as much a part of you as your tender sweetness is, and neither contradicts the other. You’re tough and tender and so many other things. You are a wildly, beautiful, complex soul.
I want you to grow up in a world where you can share and develop all your strengths and all sides of yourself. A world where you can cackle about crashing your monster trucks and in the next moment tend to your little herd of babies. Where you prance around in your batman shirt and cape paired with a frilly tutu, and then jump off something really high and scare the pants off your mom (I wouldn’t mind if you skipped that part…or at least, toned it down a bit).
My Valentine’s wish for you is that you can carry those pieces of yourself as you grow. That you don’t feel you have to hide or subvert any part of the tough, tender, wickedly smart and funny girl that you are today, sleeping in the room next to me. That you can become who you were born to be, and whatever you choose. You are you. And you are precious beyond belief.
I love you more than you can ever imagination.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
The other evening, I was looking for a photo on my computer and got stuck on a trip down memory lane, flipping through photos of our family over the last few years. Since my kids are a little more than two years apart, a lot of my recollection of that first year with baby #2 and a toddler are stuck in a fuzzy, sleep-deprived cloud. In that spirit, below are a few messages I’d like to impart to my (slightly) younger post-partum self (especially the one after baby #2). And just maybe it’ll resonate with someone else embarking down this road:
- Take videos. Stills are great, but videos are priceless. At the time you think you may be overdoing it, but you’re not. I promise. It’s one thing to see my son as a toddler in stills, but to listen to him talk and see him dance captures the little dude he once was. And to hear the cute little grunts and growls my daughter made as a baby are still the same ones she makes as a strong-minded 2 year old. One of the kids’ favorite activities is to watch videos of themselves.
- Be gentle with yourself. Love yourself. I remember not being able to find any shirt that fit over my swollen belly and giant nursing boobs for Christmas and being kind of annoyed and depressed. Now, I look at photos of that tired, smiling, post-partum me and feel so much compassion. Embrace it all – the sore boobs, the belly and all. For one day, in the near future, it will seem like another lifetime. And that wee babe will be a “big girl” who walks, talks, insists on doing everything “by myself” and only on the rarest of occasions now falls asleep in your arms.
- And on that note… Document your pregnant/nursing boobs. Photograph. Make plaster casts. Whatever it takes to preserve them in all their glory. You will not believe how gigantic they were. Seriously. Unbelievable. And they will never look that way again.
- Take time for yourself. I know it’s easier said than done and you’re sick of hearing it, but it’s true. Your baby will be fine without you. And you will be a happier mom and person. Take a nap. Exercise. Read a trashy magazine. Have coffee with a friend. Whatever recharges your batteries.
- Ask for help. I’m not always great at this, but people want to help, they just don’t always know how. Help them help you.
- Most important: Enjoy it. It goes so damn fast. I know that at 3 am with a colicky baby it doesn’t seem that way, but in retrospect, it flies by. As my Grandma often said, “the days are long, but the years are short”. So, spend an extra moment cuddling with your daughter after she nurses. Take your son for a special date to the park to just play together. Make memories. And enjoy the silly, small, funny, messy moments of life with little ones.