You spoke three words to me tonight that took firm hold of my heart (and no, they weren't those three words). As I've pondered them, I've realized it's time to write you a letter -- a letter you won't read for a long time to come.
You are 2 years old right now, years away from becoming an adult and forging a life of your own.
Those years will crawl for you, a slow progression of childhood joys, preteen growing pains, and teenage angst, which will occasionally jumble together in a confusing mix that leaves you wondering who you are, where you're going, and whether it's possible to just stay a kid forever or speed up time to finally be an adult already.
For me, on the other hand, those years will fly -- a speeding bullet of bittersweet emotions, which will occasionally jumble together in a mixture of joy, frustration, and exasperation that leaves me wondering who you are, how you got there, and always always always whether it's possible to just keep you my baby forever.
Sometimes I wonder what you'll be like when you turn 18 and head off to college, but more than that, I wonder what our relationship will be like when that happens. I know the mother-daughter paradigm calls for a tenuous connection during the teen years, and as much as I'd like to believe we'll somehow avoid all of that, I'm realistic enough to know that even the best of relationships experience rough patches.
So in case we lose our way somewhere in the next 16 years, and you find yourself standing some distance from me on the day you leave the nest, I want you to know what our relationship is like right now, when you're 2. Because sometimes the best way to move forward toward someone is to look back on how you used to be.
Right now you are a tiny bundle of sass and pizzazz. I love to stare at your pixie face with its creamy skin, wide blue eyes, rosebud mouth, and perfect nose that is just the tiniest bit crooked (which, by the way, was one of the first things I noticed about you when you were born, not because I saw it as a flaw, but because my nose is exactly the same way). You are shy in new situations, but quickly become the vivacious, outgoing girl we know at home. You are constantly making noise: talking, singing, humming, screeching, crying. And the facial expressions, oh my! You have more personality than I know what to do with, and although it's exhausting, I love every minute of it (except for the minutes when I wonder if my eardrums will rupture from the pitch of your screams... in those moments I find you less than delightful).
Perhaps I'm so in awe of you because your budding personality is what I always hoped mine would be. While I am shy and reserved, unsure and awkward, you are unabashedly open. You sing at full volume, raising your arms like you're the star in the grand finale of a Broadway show. You love to be the center of attention, while I hide from the spotlight. There's a good chance that as time goes by you will grow more subdued, maybe even more like me, but I hope you'll always maintain at least a spark from this fire of your toddlerhood.
As the only other girl in our family of five, I feel a sense of camaraderie with you that is different from the relationship I share with your brothers. Whether it is real or imagined is yet to be seen, but I've soaked in every girly moment we've shared and I am hopeful that there will be many more to come. You've already shown your interest in clothing, and since I seem to lack all but the most basic fashion sense, I will rely on you in the years to come to keep me from falling into the Pit of Motherly Frumpiness.
It's probably a little foolish to say this to a 2-year-old, and maybe I'm looking into it too deeply, but I think part of what makes us work is the balance we've struck between being mother and daughter and being friends. I set limits where they're necessary and correct you when the need arises, but we also love to be silly together and you know unequivocally that I am, and always will be, your biggest fan. Our relationship will be forced to change when you leave the nest, but I hope we can continue to strike the right balance as you grow into womanhood.
One of the many blessings you've provided me has been the ease with which you go to bed. For the past week or two, though, you've wanted to read extra books, sit in the chair to rock longer than usual, and bounce back and forth between cuddling Daddy and cuddling me -- basically anything to stretch out our time together. Tonight, as I finally laid you in your bed, you uttered three little words in your sweet voice that tugged hard on my heartstrings: "Don't leave me."
Sixteen years from now, we will reverse positions. I will be the one wanting to drag out our time just a little bit longer. I will be the one asking you to sit with me for a few extra minutes. And as you head for the door, everything in me will want to scream, "Please don't leave me!", but I won't. I will hug you tight, then let you go, knowing that you are doing exactly what you should be doing. Knowing that, just like that little girl who spread her arms wide as she sang her heart out, you will now spread your wings wide as you live your heart out.
There are three phrases you say multiple times each day: "Don't touch me!" (which is usually directed at your brothers), "Watch me!", and "Mommy, come!" I hope as you grow, you will continue to say those three phrases. The first to all the boys who will no doubt be lining up for your attention, and the second and third to me. Because wherever this world takes you and whoever you end up becoming, just remember one thing. No matter how far apart we are, physically or emotionally, all you have to say is "watch" or "come" and I will be there in a heartbeat.
I love you at 2 and I love you at 18. Always and forever.