For the first year of a baby’s life, it seems, we do everything in our power to help them grow.
Eat, we whisper into a downy ear, rocking in the dark as we issue sustenance from our tired bodies. Grow.
We celebrate when those tiny not-yet-muscles begin to flex, rolling and pushing and kicking and reaching for a wider world.
You can do it, we croon.
We cheer for scooting, crawling, cruising, and those most precious first steps.
You did it! we cry.
The first year is a twelve-month-long display of physical fitness in which the baby continues to shatter her personal bests, and we remain steadfast cheerleaders, coaches, equipment managers, sippy cup refillers, and publicists.
And then comes toddlerhood, barreling in like a rhinoceros on amphetamines, knocking over that baby whose first-year accomplishments we welcomed so eagerly and replacing him with something altogether too fast, too smart, too interested in testing his physical limits against the rules of the house, the world, gravity.
Slow down, we tell him.
Too high, we say.
Not so loud, we plead.
And so begins the second year, an exercise in reigning in, calming down, keeping safe. It’s a prolonged exposure to underlying panic: will she fall down the stairs? chip a tooth? swallow a safety pin? superglue her eye shut? In infancy the sheer state of being tiny represents the biggest danger; in toddlerhood the peril shifts to the world around, a world full of sharp, poisonous, chokeable hazards that demand to be explored.
Gone is the cheerleader in us, replaced by a monkey’s keeper, quick with the rewards and reprimands, never more than inches from our charge. Gone is the need to provide a challenging, stimulating environment (for to a toddler the entire world is so), and in its place a daily rest without which neither monkey nor keeper can survive.
The second year is a physical one for everyone. We stoop, bend, lift and hoist this being who is bigger than a bag of groceries, more unwieldy than his last-year’s self, and comes with an opinion about where he ought to be (an opinion that differs from ours 97% of the time). We are less sleepy, maybe, but just as exhausted. Sometimes an entire day goes by and we wonder if we said anything but No.
No, thank you.
Not so fast.
Not right now.
And yet, underneath the plastic outlet covers and the permanent forehead bruises, when the lights are low and her breathing slows, our better nature still whispers: Grow.
The urge to protect is strong – animal even – but so too is the desire to see them conquer the world. We stand beside the ladder while he climbs, offer a helpless hand as she stumbles, and gather them again and again and again and again into our laps when the world wins. And even as we comfort we say to them: You can do it.
And when we reach the end of that very long year, when two beckons with the promise of full sentences and fewer stumbles (though no one would argue that two is without its own struggles), we say with a full and weary heart: You did it. You made it. You’re two.