Puerto Rico

Some months ago, I was talking to a friend who has a three-year-old about her trips with him and what gear she takes and so on. I told her that I knew I needed to travel with Edith at some point, but I just couldn’t face the logistics and also had decision fatigue about where to go and who to visit first.

“Come to Puerto Rico with us in January,” she suggested. “I’ll just send you our itin and you can book the same thing.”

“Ok!” I said.

The thing about plans (which I’d forgotten about since the pandemic) is that it eventually does become time to carry them out, so last week, Edith and my mother and I all flew to Puerto Rico to spend three days at a beach resort with my friends. The last time I traveled was in November 2019 to Rochester, Minnesota for a few days on a family trip. This is very strange because I used to travel at least once a month and essentially lived at the airport, and now I think nothing of going multiple years without leaving home.

Anyway, I was right to be wary of traveling with a toddler. I don’t like fussing about with gear and toddlers require a TON of gear. I did the most minimal amount possible for this trip, but still for the three of us for five days we still had a massive checked bag, a stroller (which turned out to be unnecessary; we never even got it out of the gate check bag), a car seat, a wheeled carryon suitcase, a stuffed diaper bag, a small backpack, and my waist pack “baby bump” carrier. But other than the stroller and some extra swimsuits that I brought for myself and Edith and that neither of us wore, we used every single thing we brought multiple times.

You can check a car seat and a stroller for each child traveling free of charge, which is nice, but they’re likely to get torn up in handling, so these are things I would prefer to gate check, but you can only gate check either a car seat or a stroller but not both. The way frequent travelers get around this is to get pricey travel ones that fold down compactly enough to carry on, but for this trip, we just installed Edith’s old baby car seat in her seat on the plane (which was worth doing because she slept in it and I don’t think she would have slept in the seat, and also I don’t think we could have kept her from taking the seat belt off), and then gate-checked a super cheap lightweight umbrella stroller I bought from Wal-Mart.

An additional complication is that if you are traveling to Europe, European cars require a different model of car seats than US cars and it’s illegal to use an American car seat over there and vice versa, which feels like misogyny somehow? But I’m not sure quite how. Anyway, that’s a problem for future me.

I opted not to travel with any sleep stuff, because here at home Edith sleeps very independently in her pack-and-play but only because she hasn’t yet figured out that she can climb out of it (I live in fear of the day she does). I didn’t want to travel with a pack-and-play and she wasn’t going to sleep independently otherwise, so I figured we’d just co-sleep. This worked ok; I was dreading it, but Edith kicked me for an hour in the middle of the night the first night, and after that, she didn’t wake me up that I was aware of. It took me literal hours to wrestle her asleep in the first place, and I think I was getting poor sleep just from having her moving against me all night, but she wasn’t up and actively trying to play with me multiple times throughout the night like she was the last time we tried to co-sleep, so I’d call that a win overall.

We went to the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort. My friends had been there the year before after looking for a resort in Puerto Rico that had both swimming pools and beach access, and they found it a very chill and manageable spot to vacation with toddlers. And indeed there were a ton of families with toddlers there, which was nice because nobody minded when we spent all day with ours in the swim-up bar pool because they wanted to climb on the submerged chairs, or when they spent an hour running toy cars up and down the railings of the patio at the fancy dinner spot.

I had grand ambitions to spend one day visiting the El Yunque rainforest which was adjacent to the resort but even as I first thought it, I knew we would not end up doing it. We left the resort exactly one time and it was to go to the supermarket for toddler food and bottled water. Otherwise, we spent all three days wrangling the kids poolside in between eating giant portions of very rich food.

Edith’s routine was sort of annoying for a beach vacation. She woke up about three hours before anyone else and Edith wakes up like she’s been shot out of a cannon, so fifteen minutes after her eyelids flickered open, we were dressed and sunscreened and hatted and outside hardcore exploring. By the time my friends met us for breakfast, I had already been doing laps around the resort (and getting an angry case of inner thigh chub rub) for hours. Then, Edith would enjoy the breakfast buffet, and then she’d pretty much crash immediately after, so while everyone else went to the pool, we went back to the room and went back to bed for anywhere from two to three hours. Then, around two in the afternoon, Edith woke up again, we spent thirty minutes covering every exposed inch of her transparent redhead skin with zinc, and then joined everyone at the pool for a couple of hours. Then, it was time for dinner and then it was bedtime.

Parents often say that traveling with small children is just going to a new place to take care of the baby, and I did feel that. Every portion of the trip and every activity was mostly me wrangling Edith on that portion or during that activity. But it was still well worth doing, mostly because I got to spend time with my friends who I never see and it was really fun to watch our kids playing together (even if at this age this mostly involved them tolerating each other). And also, Edith is a lovely travel companion. She was mostly chill on the flights (which blew my mind, as I fully expected her to scream her head off the whole way), she was game and interested in everything we did, she ate whatever was available, she slept wherever she was when it was time to sleep (well, after fighting with me about it and wrestling for a couple hours), she was curious and easy-going. She’s such a great little buddy.

Edith loves to swim and so a vacation mostly centered around multiple pools suited her perfectly. I got her a little floaty harness. She had never used one before and when she realized she could stay afloat and paddle around on her own her entire face lit up and she paddled and paddled and paddled, only stopping to repeatedly climb out of the pool and ask to be “jumped” back in. The swim-up bar pool had submerged ledges with these sort of slide chairs, and a long slow ramp up out of the pool that could be walked up, and the kids loved this. Also, a staff member was trying to teach a salsa lesson poolside on the afternoon we spent at this pool and the attendees were one drunk lady and Edith, who swam over to that end of the pool, climbed up on the submerged ledge, danced her booty off briefly to the great delight of the assembled guests, jumped back into the pool and paddled across to the other submerged ledge, climbed up on it, jumped back into the pool, etc. etc. etc. In addition to “swimming” Edith back and forth, and holding her hands as she leapt into the water, my role also included applauding her dancing and if I forgot, Edith would patiently clap lightly to remind me. At one point, Edith was walking up the gradual ramp out of the pool and she slipped and fell face-down in the water and floundered there for what seemed to me like an eternity but was really probably ten seconds, until I was able to get ahold of her and fish her out. Nobody noticed, least of all Edith, who…wasn’t bothered? By this? At all? But just kept playing in the water? ?!?!?! It took me a good hour and a stiff mojito to get over it.

The other, bigger pool had a waterslide and Edith LOVED this. I went down it with her in my lap and when we got to the bottom we were both drilled down into the bottom of the pool and our hats flew off and when we regained the surface, Edith was spluttering and saying “more, more” and making the “more” sign she learned from Ms. Rachel. I lifted her to the edge of the pool and she took off at a dead run over the ice slick tiles before I could get out after her. We went down the slide several more times and the attendant at the top found this hilarious. “No rest for mama!” he hollered at me.

Edith also really enjoyed swimming with her grandma, and her grandma (who has been waiting her entire life to have a grandchild to swim with) did not half mind it, either, and while they were doing this, I got to have a cocktail and talk to my friend (mostly about parenting small children). The only unfortunate thing about spending time at the pool was that Edith is so little that she can’t really keep her body heat up in the water. After only 20 minutes or so, her teeth would be chattering and her lips would be blue. She didn’t let it cramp her style and insisted on continuing to swim, but it worried me and made it hard for me to relax.

We didn’t go all the way to the beach and not take Edith out to see the ocean. I took her out there the very first morning right after we woke up. I couldn’t wait for her to see it. I have mentioned before that whenever Edith encounters something very new and vast that she can’t really process, she just goes completely pokerfaced and contemplative and does not react to it in any discernible way; it’s as if she’s making up her mind how she feels about it. She did this exactly with the ocean. She squatted down at its edge and looked out over it and she just froze like that for a good five minutes (an eternity in Edith time) without moving a muscle of her face. I squatted down next to her and talked to her about it, but she didn’t look at me or engage; she just kept staring fixedly out at the ocean like a widow on a rooftop. Finally, I got up and waded out to where the waves were coming in, and she jumped up to follow me and a wave came up over her foot. This was not like a wave wave; I wouldn’t have let her go that far out. It was just a lap of cold water, but it surprised her and she fell backwards onto her butt and started crying, so I went and picked her up and then I carried her out into the waves and we stood out there for awhile and then we went back to the pool.

We took a walk out to the ocean every day and every day was about like this — Edith seemed intimidated by the vastness of the shore, which makes sense. It’s vast and incomprehensible even for adults, so for a toddler, it’s especially surreal I’m sure. She got nervous when her grandma went out to swim beyond the breakers, but then I always get nervous when she does that, too. By the third day, Edith was into playing in the sand, and happy for me to carry her out into the surf and then dip her down into the waves while she paddled her little legs in the water.

While Edith wasn’t sure how she felt about the beach, she was demonstrative about her deep love for the footwashing station. Every time we passed it, she stood there for an age dominating one of the spigots (to my embarrassment because the resort was busy) playing in the water and eventually submerging herself before I could stop her, which was rather obnoxious when we were on our way to breakfast or dinner and not in swim gear. She also kept trying to drink it.

I think Edith loved being on vacation because I let her have as much screentime as she wanted, which is something I’m usually fairly strict about, and she got to eat endless sleeves of Ritz crackers AND she learned that it is actually possible (if you’re persistent enough) to be let out of a high chair at a restaurant meal and to run around on your own. She did not love the flights, but everything else pleased her and she will happily travel again.

I’m on the fence about whether I want to do more vacation trips with her while she’s this small. I’m glad we went and I enjoyed myself, but it was a lot of work, and the constant vigilance required with a toddler is incredibly draining. There are some other trips I want to take with Edith to see people I owe a visit to, though, and then my mother wants us to come with her to France late this summer when I’ll be on a sabbatical from my job. I’d really love to go with her, but whenever I think about it, I feel myself reflexively curling over at the waist into a protective position, so it remains to be seen whether we go through with it or not.

Creative Play

Great news! Agatha has shown up again! I know everyone was very worried. She appeared in the hallway one day and was absolutely filthy, so I suspect she spent a long weekend in the park. I was so happy to see her, and I have since explained to all concerned that she is to be left at home. It remains to be seen whether Edith will agree.

Edith is now at an age where she likes playing with more creative toys. We have markers now for drawing and blocks for building and play dough. I was looking forward to this, as I felt it might be less tedious than baby play, but now that we’re here, I’m feeling unequal to it. When I was younger, I used to consider myself a relatively creative person, but I’m realizing now that any imagination I once possessed has degraded past recalling. There is absolutely nothing in my head.

When Edith and I play with blocks, all I can think to do is build a tower. I know there are other things that you can do with blocks; I know people build structures. Edith’s nanny builds them. But when I am presented with a pile of blocks, I can no more think of how to manipulate them into an interesting shape than I could break down the properties of a single block into elements with my bare hands. “How about,” I say, “we stack them? Look, they can go so high!”

Edith then hands me a marker and invites me to draw and I draw a series of three-dimensional cubes. Maybe some stars. I try to think of something else to draw, and it is as if I have never encountered a noun before. I draw more cubes.

With play-dough, I make a ball and I make a worm. That’s it, that’s my repertoire.

And forget about inventing new games or activities or playing pretend. When Edith wants to be entertained, we just stare at each other. She hands me a doll to play pretend, and I hold the doll up and say, “I’m….a baby. I’m a baby.”

“Do you want to read a book again?” I say.

“You do not need to be told how to play with your own child,” parenting books reassure me. “It will come naturally! Or have your child help you with what you’re doing around the house.”

What am I doing around the house? Edith can’t help me with leadership development, she just types nonsense into Slack. She can’t help me with reading novels, either. And I don’t seem to do anything else. I’m not even creative with food; I just give Edith cashews over and over whenever she wants a snack. “How about some cashews?”

Good lord, what a dull lump of nothing I am; how does anyone stand me? At least Edith has other people in her life.

Visitors Come, Agatha Goes

Edith has had a busy week of receiving my coworkers from around the country. The leadership team of the division I work for all came to town for a work meetup and since a number of them happen to be friends of mine, they very kindly came down to Kyle to see me. (Well, they came to see Edith. But they did not mind if I was also here.) Edith was predictably delighted to have more people show up to pay her homage, and she responded by bossing them all around. First, she made one friend march all over the back yard behind her; whenever he stopped following her around, she would turn back and say “Come!” imperiously and he would hustle to keep up. Then, three other friends came during a weekday so we went down to the playground to find Edith (who has a very busy routine during the week that cannot be put aside for mere socializing), and the very second that she had been introduced to them, she began to dance, and raised her arms to indicate that they, too, should dance. We all did so, in a circle around her, and whenever one of them stopped dancing, she stopped dead in front of them and pointed at them sternly until they began to dance again. The dancing went on for much longer than any of them thought that it would, and then everyone was ushered over to the play structure and made to go down the slide repeatedly.

I really enjoyed seeing all my colleagues — I had not seen most of them since before the pandemic. It was a little difficult to catch up much since they were so busy carrying out my daughter’s commands, but we did get a little visiting in where we could.

Also last weekend, Edith went to a birthday party at her nanny’s house for her (our nanny’s) three-year-old grandson and she got to take a whack at her first piñata! She was more interested in investigating the piñata than whacking it really, but everyone was very supportive and celebratory of her efforts nonetheless. She didn’t really understand that the prizes came from the piñata and had to be helped to collect them, but because she was the second youngest child in attendance everyone was very happy to help her and she ended up with quite a lot. She also enjoyed the cake and said “more cake?” hopefully for the rest of the evening, when we had come home from the party.

This week, we’ve suffered a minor tragedy. Agatha the lamb has gone missing. I suspect she went out to the park, which she isn’t supposed to do, and was left behind and kidnapped. I had always had a feeling this might happen — it’s occurred to me a few times to let our nanny know that Agatha is strictly an indoor lamb, really, and cannot handle herself outside the way that certain Jojos are able to do, but I never got around to it, and now she is out there in the wide world and who knows what has befallen her. Edith loves Agatha when she’s present, but she takes her for granted. If Jojo went missing, we would have to hire a private investigator to bring him back again, but Edith is unlikely to take much notice of Agatha’s departure. But I am bereft! I can hardly think about it; it is not at all out of the realm of possibility that I will cry real tears over Agatha sometime this weekend (I am still in denial and telling myself she might be found under a piece of furniture eventually). I could of course simply buy another Agatha, but…it wouldn’t be Agatha! And this is a disturbing thing to ponder, that I have formed a sentimental attachment not only to a particular object but to a particular iteration of that object, such that an identical Agatha would only depress me further. I am nearly 42 and this does not seem developmentally appropriate.

2023 Reading

Somehow I read 66 books this year, not counting the 12 I abandoned. I don’t know when I manage this. I read a little bit in the early mornings when Edith and I are waiting for her nanny to arrive; I don’t always manage this but sometimes she plays independently and I sit on the floor of her playroom and read my book. Edith goes to bed at about 7pm and I go to bed about 9, so usually I spend at least an hour of that time reading. And on the weekends, I read during her nap — usually I fall asleep for 30 or 45 minutes and then when I wake up, depending on how much longer she sleeps, I have about that much time again to read. That’s it, really, but I guess it’s enough to really get through some volume.

This year, I didn’t absolutely love that many books I read. Maybe I didn’t happen to read many truly exceptional ones, or maybe I’m just getting more critical. I really loved:

  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Actually, I initially rated this one as very good, but now I think I loved it, because I have thought about this one quite a lot over the past year. It has stayed with me. This might be because I have a daughter who adores her nanny and whose nanny adores her and sometimes I think about how devastated I would be for both of them if that relationship was severed.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. I almost never truly love nonfiction books, so I’m extra impressed by those I do.
  • Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. I’m late on this one, but boy does it live up to the hype. Single person representation!!! There’s so little of it, and this book gets so much right.
  • Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Books that I thought were really great, but didn’t quite adore:

  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  • This Is How by M.J. Hyland
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. The writing in this is phenomenal. I can’t say I loved it, because I just do not care about a pack of animalistic men brutalizing everyone and everything they come across. But the writing brought me as close to caring about that as anything could, which is saying something.
  • Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
  • A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Books that I enjoyed:

  • Agatha Christie (I finished up the Marples this year and started in on the Poirots): The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, A Caribbean Mystery, At Bertram’s Hotel, Sleeping Murder, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder on the Links, The Thirteen Problems, Three Blind Mice and Other Problems, The Mystery of the Blue Train
  • Death In Venice by Thomas Mann, trans. Michael Henry Heim
  • Far to Go by Alison Pick. Incidentally this was by far the most painful book I read this year. I think of it often when trying not to think of it and every time I think about it, I have to jerk my thoughts away like I touched a hot stove. It really destroyed me.
  • Wise Children by Angela Carter
  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
  • The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
  • On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  • A Headful of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Also a tough one.
  • The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • World War Z by Max Brooks
  • The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding
  • Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, trans. William Weaver
  • Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
  • Three Men In a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
  • Weather by Jenny Offill

Books I thought were pretty meh:

  • Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
  • A Heritage and Its History by Ivy Compton-Burnett
  • The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
  • Changing Places by David Lodge
  • Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
  • I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom
  • Agatha Christie: Nemesis, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories, The Big Four
  • Animal by Lisa Taddeo
  • The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang, trans. Deborah Smith
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr
  • The Great Mental Models vol. 1-3 by Shane Parrish

Books I thought were bad:

  • Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
  • Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

Books I didn’t finish:

  • Don Quixote by Miguel D. Cervantes, trans. Edith Grossman. I know it’s foundational and all, but I got the gist.
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox
  • About the Author by John Colapinto
  • Mort(e) by Robert Repino
  • The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
  • Innocence by Penelope Fitzgerald. I will probably revisit this some day, I just wasn’t in the mood.
  • The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo
  • Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I will probably finish this some day.
  • The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

Christmas Blowout

There was no reason to get Edith much for Christmas — she has a ton of toys and books already, and she isn’t even all that interested in toys. Her favorite game at the moment is repeatedly filling up and emptying a large clear plastic bucket with whatever odds-and-ends she can find. “Bucket!” she announces lovingly at it, when she enters her playroom in the morning. And of course, I want to raise her free from the gross excesses of capitalist consumption, prizing experiences and people over things, etc. So I planned to get her at most two well considered gifts.

Imagine my surprise then to awaken Christmas morning to an absolute mountain of wrapped gifts beneath the tree. Stranger still, I myself had apparently bought and wrapped at least 90% of them. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened.

Edith has loved having a tree in the house, but she didn’t really understand the gift giving. Christmas has been a wonderful time for her, though — there’ve been many more adults in the house than usual and so she’s had a ton of participation in her nightly dance parties. (Edith has instituted a tradition of wild uninhibited dancing and drumming every night after her bath. It’s an exhausting way to end the day for a house full of old people, but it’s entirely mandatory — every time I sit down, Edith points at me like a Caesar and thunders, “Mama! Dance.” and I obediently get back up and caper. We’re reenacting The Red Shoes every night here. Guests are at first charmed by this, until they realize it’s not going to stop.)

Also I have been off work and focused on Edith for almost a full week and there have been lots of activities. On Christmas Eve, we went to her nanny’s house, which was packed full of happy people and children. Whenever we go over there, my normally clingy child disappears into the crowd like she doesn’t know me and if it were up to her, we would never leave. I see her periodically being carried past on someone’s shoulders or spot her standing atop a table with a crowd of laughing women feeding scraps of chicken into her mouth.

Then, my goal for my week off work was to do something new and fun with Edith every day. On Monday morning, we went to a children’s playground down in San Marcos, and there was nobody there. Edith loved it, and I realized that merry-go-rounds were invented to torture parents. Also, there were these neat tandem swings with a baby swing and an adult swing linked, so that Edith and I could swing together facing each other, which let her combine two of her top activities — swinging and grinning moonily at my face.

On Tuesday, my dad and I took her to a children’s museum down in New Braunfels. It was a little advanced for Edith, but she had a good time anyhow. She ignored most of the cleverly wrought child-size exhibits in favor of gawking at a fish tank, trying to get into the bathrooms, and then running outside to throw her little toy monkey into the water works. It was a neat museum, though, and I can wait to take her back when she’s a little older.

On Wednesday, the whole family went to the Austin Zoo, which is a small rescue zoo. Most of the animals were sleeping, but Edith got to see some monkeys, which was the main reason we went. She also got to feed some goats and an alpaca, which was the highlight of the trip and which she enjoyed very much; second best was watching two turtles eat a salad.

Yesterday, Edith had her first playdate — we met a Mom and a little girl from baby gym at this neat play place that I will definitely take Edith back to. At baby gym the other little girl likes to follow Edith around like a shadow but yesterday, they both utterly ignored each other. Edith had a fantastic time, though, climbing ladders by herself against my protest and wheeling a doll all over in a tiny stroller, and she played the most independently she’s EVER played. She actually fully ignored me for two hours, leaving me free to converse with the other mom. I can’t remember the last time I had an uninterrupted conversation with another adult. I felt a little anxious about it, like I would pay for it later, somehow, but so far so good.

Today I am working and our nanny is still off, so Edith is spending the day with grandpa. While this would have been a real treat several months ago, she is going through a phase now where she wants to be in physical contact with me 24/7 and I can hear her in her playroom wailing as if her dearest love were lost at sea, which I’m sure makes my father feel great about having to wake up early and babysit all day. So I guess Christmas is officially over.

September, October, November

Here it is, nearly Christmas. I didn’t mean to stop writing here for so long, but a week off became three months off before I knew what was happening, and then I became intimidated by catching up.

Not that I envision a rapt audience who is dying to know what Edith and I got up to this past fall, but more because I am in part writing this for my older self to keep a memory of these early years and I want to preserve what happened, every detail, and it is all too much.

Well, here’s a brief attempt:

When I think of the big trends in Edith’s behavior over this time period, two things really stand out: tantrums and dancing. She has made a steady practice of both; one is the worst thing about my life right now and the other is the best thing about it.

I won’t focus overmuch on the tantrums as everyone knows what those are (although knowing what they are and living through a small child having them are, I have come to discover, two very different things). Edith’s tantrums mostly come about because she wants something that she cannot have (or not immediately, or not in the precise way that she wants it). At which thwarting, her chin will lower and she will look out from under her eyebrows with a very familiar expression lifted right from my mother’s (formidable attorney and unapologetic Karen) face, and everyone in the vicinity runs for cover. When Edith’s will is opposed (which is often), she does not back down, she does not forget, she will not be persuaded or distracted or convinced or bribed. She will blow out the windows and pull the house down around our ears, but she will have her way. (Don’t worry, I do not give in and give her her way. Much.). I have found myself going through elaborate rituals to proactively ward off tantrums by moving triggers out of the way in advance of Edith’s daily orbit, and given that the triggers are things that I often use, and that Edith quickly figures out my attempts to obscure them requiring more subtle hiding places, this is quickly becoming an ongoing occupation, and makes me feel at times like I am adapting myself to an abusive relationship.

The dancing, on the other hand, is an unexpected delight. Edith loves to dance and will do so at any opportunity. She has a number of toys that play music and at home, she will play them over and over and cut a jig from one end of the house to the other. If we’re outside and some music wafts on the breeze from somewhere (a passing car, say), she will bust out her moves to the laughter of passerby. She dances in her high chair at restaurants and then (when I have to take her outside because of one of the tantrums) capers up and down the porch to the outside speakers. Recently Edith and I found ourselves at the birthday party for a Scottish family’s one-year-old which was a Christmas-themed luau where everyone was in Hawaiian shirts and leis and/or ceremonial kilts. Edith danced right in the door, danced all around introducing herself to strangers, and then danced up on to the stage in the front of the venue. Eventually my attempts to stop her repeatedly dancing onstage during the hired hulu entertainment resulted in a tantrum and our hasty departure from the party, but up until that point, it was the cutest thing anyone had ever seen.

Other events that have occurred:

Edith went as a bee for Halloween. She didn’t really understand the trick-or-treating and she insisted on dragging Jojo the monkey with her as usual, which was confusing to people (“Is the dog part of the costume?”) but Mom and I had a great time.

We sort of forgot about Thanksgiving this year and got caught with an empty fridge and everything closed, so we ended up having dinner at Cracker Barrel. It was predictably disgusting, but Edith loves rocking chairs and fiber-optic Jesuses so she was a fan.

I made the inconceivably stupid decision to get advanced surface ablasion eye surgery which resulted in over a month of severe discomfort and has finally settled down into my needing a less strong prescription than I did previously while still being unable to see without corrective lens-wear, but also not being able to contacts anymore, so I have in essence paid a small fortune and tortured myself for two months in order to have to wear glasses in boiling hot Texas instead of contact lenses.

Edith graduated to a level of swimming where I no longer have to get in the water with her. I was very happy for the simplified logistics but I had a minor crisis over my baby’s increasing independence. In the end, I needn’t have worried because I am still very much involved and am required to crouch near the edge of the pool so that Edith can run into my arms in between her turns and soak me from head-to-toe while cooing, “mama, mama, mama” in an outpouring of affection that she never seems to feel at all when she is dry.

In other growing up news, after a “good enough” sleep situation gradually declined into an untenable standoff of nightly torture, Edith moved into her own room. I shed tears over this (in the shower), but Edith was unfazed or if anything delighted and it immediately fixed all of our sleep problems, plus gave me back privacy that I didn’t even realize I had been desperately missing for nearly two years. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this change made my life as much better as the eye surgery made my life worse. I love having my own space again, and we are still basically roommates, because we have two small bedrooms that share a linked bathroom, and so share a sort of suite. It really is perfect.

And now here we are at Christmas.

Fears

On Saturday afternoon, my father took Edith down to the neighborhood pool for a swim. He came back haunted and traumatized. He told me in shocked tones how the afternoon had gone: Edith was very happy to go swimming; she enjoyed the water and the splash pad. But then, while she was happily playing in the splash pad, Dad turned around for half a second to grab his phone to take a photo, and suddenly, Edith leapt into the pool. I had warned him that this would happen and that it would feel very unexpected. She waits until your attention is diverted. He jumped in and fished her out where she’d sunk like a stone, and he worried that she would now be scared of swimming, having undergone something so horrific.

Hahahahahahahaha!

After this, Edith started to retrieve things from the stroller and throw them into the pool. “Everything that she could lift and wasn’t tied down went into the pool,” said my father, still clearly in shock. While he was retrieving those things, she jumped into the pool again and had to be fished out. I would not have fallen for this — it was an obvious attempt at a diversion.

Then, she began to run laps around the pool, faster and faster. “She must have run around the pool fifty times,” he said. “And she has to run right along the brink of the pool’s edge.” So, she went into the deep several more times. “It never seemed to phase her!” he said, aghast. “She choked on a lot of pool water, but as soon as she was done coughing, she was jumping in again.”

Also, the bees were an issue: the yellow-flowered bushes along the pool’s fence are teeming with big fat bumblebees and as previously mentioned, Edith loves bees, so this introduced another challenge for Dad. “She chased them everywhere, I don’t know how she didn’t get stung,” he said.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he concluded and then he took a long nap.

Edith really has no fear. I would say this is typical of toddlers, but from observing toddlers at baby gym and Edith’s swimming class, I have realized that they come in one of two categories: either they have no fear (and seemingly an active death wish), or they are frightened of everything. I was more the latter, but my daughter has never been frightened of anything. She is an adrenaline junkie and she takes injuries and accidents in stride. When she hurts herself, she either has no reaction at all, or she runs to me screaming and crying, I hold her for exactly one second, and then she immediately flails and kicks out of my arms to get back to what she was doing, like cuddling was all my idea. And even at these times, she really seems more outraged than afraid.

For example, at baby gym on Saturday morning she fell off a stack of mats directly onto the top of her head and after a one-second Mom cry/flail, she climbed back up and repeated the exact same move two more times glaring at the offending floor with fury each time she fell. After that, I quietly moved a second mat next to the stack, because I was afraid she was going to give herself a concussion, and when she landed upright on that mat, she strutted off in apparent victory.

For her entire short life, only one thing has truly frightened her. This thing:

Pictured is a little plastic bath toy with a pull-string that winds up a propeller which, when released, propels it through the bath water.

Edith hates this thing. She can’t figure out what its deal is. I have tried to introduce it maybe every other month and she is always interested in it as a stationary toy, but as soon as I make it swim through the water, she exclaims in distress (I can’t translate Edith-speak yet, but from the tone, I imagine she is saying something along the lines of “wtf!”) and stands up in the bath and grabs at me to be lifted out.

I even show her how it moves and let it go against her leg so she knows it won’t hurt her, and she continues to request to get out of the tub. Her attitude is less open terror and more something like, “that isn’t right, I don’t mess around with stuff like that, I don’t even like that guy’s vibe.” She won’t relax until I put the toy back in the cabinet.

So even the most fearless among us have our kryptonite.

I know it isn’t the monkey, though, because one of Edith’s more recent obsessions is another monkey: a stuffed one on a long leash. It’s actually meant to be a baby leash where the baby wears the stuffed monkey as a little backpack and the caregiver holds on to the leash, and Edith wore it for maybe two days when she was littler, but she very rapidly reversed that power dynamic, and now she drags this freaking monkey behind her everywhere she goes.

On the one hand, it keeps her entertained. She probably dragged it around the kitchen island for half an hour last night while I read a book. But on the other hand, the thing is filthy. She drags it all over the neighborhood and all around the back yard, through the dirt and mud and puddles and shavings and everything else and whenever I take it from her to wash it, she throws an ear-shattering fit.

I really don’t understand the appeal. She does not interact with it in any other way, other than to drag it behind her on its face, but it seems to be answering some deep need in her for the moment, so far be it from me to interfere. It does seem rather hard on the monkey, though.

Watching Edith dragging the monkey around, I kept trying to think of what it reminded me of, and finally I realized:

Bees and Clocks

Edith has finally hit the age where she is having unique interests, and it’s very fun for me. Rather unexpectedly, the main things she is interested in are bees and clocks.

At some point in the recent past, she became obsessed with a bee-printed throw pillow that we have. She still isn’t really talking very much, but I think “bee” probably counts as her first word, because she definitely knows what it means and what it refers to, and she says it all day long with great enthusiasm.

“Bee!” she would shriek in delight, every time she saw the pillow, pressing on the various bees. “Bee, bee!”

She also began to happily identify bees in her picture books (children’s books, it turns out, are positively teeming with bees of all sorts). And shortly after this, she got a toy that had a little stick-on bee and some other insects, and she immediately seized on the bee, and began carrying it around the house crowing, “Bee!” and bestowing it lovingly on whichever adult she felt most affectionate toward that day.

We introduced other bee toys and books; they were all as big a hit. She also enjoys real-life bees, which is unfortunate, because she chases after them and wants to catch them, and this will eventually end in tears.

Also, she loves clocks. I have already mentioned her affinity for my father’s watch and the nursery room clock, but also whenever there is a wall clock, she posts up under it and points at it in wonder, asking questions about it. There are big wall clocks at most children’s locations, and she had a full-on meltdown at baby gym one time because she wanted me to give her the wall clock, which was impossible even if I were inclined to do it.

It’s really fun to see her developing specific interests and preferences. These are maybe not the first things I would probably have predicted a baby would get into, but they are solid choices! Clocks are pretty rad, and what could be better than a bee?

Music Class

One of the many things I don’t especially like about myself is my need to be the center of attention at all times. It very much depends on the situation, but in groups, I am typically one of the more dominant talkers. I have tried over the years to inhabit a lower profile social role, but it never really takes. I think at heart this is an only child thing — perhaps I feel most comfortable and accepted when everyone is looking at me and laughing at what I am saying because that sort of focused attention (me: performer; others: audience) is how I first encountered the world as a child.

Edith is an only child and she currently lives with four adults who are single-mindedly focused on her and enchanted by everything she does, and so at 17 months, she is already overly aware of her own powers. We’ve even fallen into a routine of literally applauding her for minor accomplishments or feats of athleticism — when we FaceTime at night with my parents, Edith will leap off a cube or buckle a strap and then turn expectantly to (Jenna Maroney voice) camera and pose while her grandparents and I obediently clap.

At Edith’s music class on Sunday, her expectation of centrality became extremely apparent to me. Usually Edith needs a nap by the time we get to music class, so she’s pretty subdued. She tends to stand next to the cubbies where we leave our things the whole time, and point insistently at our bag while glaring at me. But this past Sunday, she was awake and alert, and boy did she ever play to the cheap seats. She danced and she pranced and she gestured and she went all around the circle and stopped at each family to introduce herself and display her abilities.

When the teacher dumped all the musical instruments out in a pile in the middle of the floor, Edith horded up all the little bell wristlets and put them on one after the other, until she had a stack of five or so running up each forearm and then she stood there in the center of the circle, arms lifted, and rotated slowly around to display this cleverness to everyone, who all obediently laughed at her. She is clearly aiming for class clown.

“Edith is very cute,” said one of the other parents to me after class, and as I thanked them, I thought, with a sense of foreboding, “and she knows it. She already knows it.”

My concern about this is not that I want Edith to be more humble (she is right to feel herself, she’s objectively the coolest little kid who’s ever existed, and anyway humble people are snores) but more that I know the world is very hard on girls with high self-esteem who tend to seize focus. I know at some point in the near future, some other kids are going to take it upon themselves to knock Edith down a peg or two. And I guess that’s part of life, but I still don’t want it to ever happen. I wish I could somehow protect her so that she goes through her entire life this glorious and this confident and this universally loved.

Grandpa

My father has come for awhile, and Edith has a new best friend. After some initial hesitation, and in particular, pulling at the hair on his arms and legs and asking him about it in a semi-horrified tone of voice, he is now the favorite, and Edith follows him all over the house, chattering constantly and showing him her things. She’s obsessed with his watch and last night, she wore it for an hour, prancing around and pointing at it, and picking up the little clock from the playroom shelves and holding it up next to the watch.

I appreciate the break from her fully focused attention and attempted control, but after I had a minute to breathe, I felt a bit offended to have been so quickly and thoroughly discarded. Three days ago, my constant presence was essential to her equilibrium and if I stopped looking at her for two seconds, she acted as though her air supply had been cut off. Now, I can disappear for an hour and she won’t even notice.

Last night, she was so amped up that she spent a full 90 minutes in her crib after bedtime just monologuing to herself and running in place. I typically can’t get enough of her soft little chipmunk voice, but by 9:30, I was about ready to pitch her out the window.