Sixteen Months

Dear Leo,

You turn 16 months old today, and I find that totally astonishing. I realize that your Dada and I will be putting 16 candles on a cake for you before we know it. I will try not to cry or lash out in my frustration that I can’t slow down time and hold your tiny wiggly body in my arms forever. I will try not to talk about the sweet, open-mouthed kisses you give us, especially when you are extra tired—those kisses where you lunge with your whole body and smash your smooth baby cheeks against ours, making sure to really get in there close with your kisses. I have a feeling that I will have plenty of time in the intervening years to mourn those heart-melting wet shows of affection.

You have been extraordinarily patient with us over the past several weeks. I flew out to D.C. for work exactly three weeks ago, and everything has felt nonstop since then. You and Dada had a few nights alone together before flying out to meet me. Those nights were challenging, and you stayed up later than you should have. Our nanny was here for part of the time, and that was a huge help because you adore her and will actually fall asleep for her. You have gotten really close to both of your caregivers, and that makes our lives so much easier. If you were the kind of child who kicked and screamed and hated being dropped off at daycare or left in the care of a nanny at home, one or both of us would have had to quit our jobs by now to stay home with you. But you adore going over to “La-La’s” house and playing with the toys, kids, and animals there.

We have a wonderful village and we are fortunate. Still, I often romanticize what it would be like if your Nana was alive to help us out, and what your relationship with her would be like. She has been gone for about 41 and a half months, since we’re counting in months. That’s almost three and a half years, and it’s another fact of life that stuns me and leaves me empty with an aching head if I think too much about it. I wonder if she would have been able to get you to sleep, what kind of special relationship she might have had with you, and how you two would have grown together.

When you and Dada were in D.C., he took you on the train from our suburban hotel into the heart of the city, our nation’s capitol. It was the coldest it had been in that region of the country in nearly half a decade, but you both bundled up and powered through. He nestled you into one of our carriers so he could wear you on his body while he wandered through D.C. and you settled into his chest and fell asleep a couple of times. His chest is one of your safest spaces, and I can relate to that. There is a security there, a promise that he will protect you no matter what. Dada and I bickered a lot during that trip because of sleep deprivation, work stress, travel stress, and a mood disorder that is positively on fire in the wake of the past couple of years and has resulted in heightened anxiety and tension.

Our hotel room for most of that trip was like sleeping inside a sandbox in the baking sun. It was miserably dry and the heat had to run high because it was so cold outside. People often say, “Oh, it’s a dry heat,” when they refer to certain parts of the world, as if this is superior to heat plus humidity. While my hair appreciates the lack of humidity, I can’t say that I find much else redeeming about a dry heat, based on my limited experience. Mind you, I have never actually been to the desert, but as a white American I feel confident opining about something I have not actually experienced.

A younger version of me would have been fine struggling to breathe in the name of having smooth hair. I made a conscious decision about five years ago that my naturally unruly curly hair didn’t command respect in my male-dominated professional field, and have been “straightening” my hair into softer curls and waves for nearly five years. It turns out that I actually prefer it as softer curls because it’s more manageable and works better with my sensory issues, but I’m still resentful at times over the ways in which I have to perform femininity just to be taken seriously.

You will probably never know what this is like—having to think not about your mind, your skills, your communicative abilities, or your achievements, but about your hair and your makeup and the cut of your dress, as you walk into a board room. When you struggle with sensory processing, juggling all these things becomes a minefield that could probably benefit from a spreadsheet with a couple of pivot tables to figure out the best approach for any given situation that will be comfortable enough to last me all day and look appropriately professional by towing a confusing invisible line between femininity and “business.” I have literally pulled over on the way to a conference in another state so that I could buy undergarments that felt more comfortable. And I squirmed into them in the front seat of my car, bare-assed and sweating nervously in the Indiana summer heat.

Shit, does this show too much cleavage? I’m going to be bending over handing out printouts. Yank off that dress.

Okay, skirt suit—gray or black? Or blackish gray? Shimmy into shaping tights. See a small hole. Dammit. Yank off tights.

Okay, shapewear underneath, then tights. Should I wear underwear? That’s a lot of non-breathable material in my crotch. Put on underwear. Shimmy into shapewear shorts, which look like ’90s bicycle shorts without the neon colors. Shove tank top into shapwear, get everything nice and smooth. Realize underwear is too much. Shimmy out of everything and start again.

Oh, God, what time is it? I need to finish my makeup. Run to bathroom to slather on some foundation so it can set. Realize I am going to need to iron the skirt suit. See a piece of my hair that never got touched with the heat tool and is organizing forces to stage a coup an ruin the rest of my hair. Restart the curling iron or straightener. Start the clothes iron. Put on bronzer and setting powder. Realize my makeup mixed weirdly with my moisturizer and is just sitting on my face, making me look like my flesh is peeling off.

Okay, uhhh. I can’t wash my face and start over. That’ll mess up my hair. Let’s see. Find a towel and dab at face. Reapply makeup in some parts. Look at clock, decide to stop caring and move on to something else.

Eventually, I’ll end up shimmying into my clothes, finishing my makeup and hair, and I will usually appear mostly put together. I will almost definitely be late. It is a process fraught with a mountain of stress, and I don’t wish it on anyone, especially my own child(ren).

Although, if you end up being transgender, you can absolutely borrow my dresses and straighteners anytime. You’re gonna have to buy your own shapewear, though.

Wait, where were we? Right, you’re sixteen months old now and you are opinionated and as busy as ever. You went through a brief phase recently where you ran everywhere. You didn’t have time to walk because you had important work to do! And then you tripped on Christmas eve and sailed through the air and your head hit the doorjamb in the living room with such a fierce crack that I am amazed you did not lose consciousness. You sobbed briefly, nursed to calm down, and were back to laughing within less than five minutes. Meanwhile, Dada and I spent an hour trying to decide whether we should take you to the hospital. The goose egg that appeared on your poor forehead looked like an alien growth; it was enormous. There was a scratch right in the center of it where your head actually connected with that hardwood corner, and if you had hit just a little bit harder, we think you would’ve definitely split your forehead open.

We missed Christmas Eve service because of it, and we were all still off kilter Christmas Day. Then, when we spent two days away from home, you reached the end of your patience. Your dad has a very large extended family on one side, with somewhere around 30 or so adults who show up to celebrate together at the holidays. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that makes me need a baker’s dozen of coping naps, but that is very special to him. We both hope that it will become something meaningful for you as you grow and learn about this family tradition. But this season was too much pressure for you, and as you sat in a circle of smiling faces in your great-grandma’s tiny living room—the very place you started really walking when you were twelve months and two weeks old—you fell apart. I had taken great-grandma’s cane from you and given you a shiny Christmas present to open and your tiny face contorted, your bottom lip folded over, and your little body erupted into great big heaves. I was in the center of that circle with you and felt like joining you in sobs. Instead, we scooped you up and took you to a bedroom to catch your breath.

You found great relief in opening the door to great-grandma’s bedroom, trotting down the hallway to the bedroom at the opposite end, and then opening that door. Sometimes you’d go inside one of the bedrooms and close the door from the inside. Then, you’d open it again, marvel at your incredible skills, and start the process over again.

You and I left shortly afterward to head back to your dad’s parents’ farm where Josie was waiting. As long as I was nearby, you were happy to play quietly by yourself while I got things ready for us to crash unexpectedly for a second night. Every part of me wanted to drive the 80 miles home that night and wake up in my own space the next day. But I knew it would be meaningful for your dad to have a few extra hours with his extended family. And I knew you needed to go to sleep early. So we stayed. I sucked it up and powered through my own discomfort because sometimes that is what you have to do to support the people you love.

Your Dada is much better at this than I am, and frequently compromises to accommodate me. The man purees onions every time he cooks with them so that I can enjoy his dishes without crying huge tears of trauma and sensory meltdown. I hope that, between the two of us, we can help you internalize the myriad ways love works, including this one.

We love you, Goob.


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