Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy 2nd Birthday!

Dear Helen,

In 2004, your dad and I completed the Topeka Tinman Triathlon. The event consists of an 1100 yard swim, a 20 mile bike ride, and a 7 mile run. Winning or hitting a certain time were not on the horizon of goals I had, but I did hope to complete it. I was certain I could complete the biking portion, figured the swim was probable and was a bit concerned about the run. When your dad and I started training, I could not run a half mile, let alone 7 consecutive miles...after swimming and biking. But as you instinctively seem to know, Helen, sheer force of will can make you do some things that seem impossible. The men started swimming before the women, but your dad - who also didn't much care about winning - cruised along on the bike portion until I caught up to him so we could ride together. At the end of our bike ride, it was time for the run. HELLO LEGS! It is impossible for your dad to run as slowly as me because his stride is longer, so with a little guilt, he took off to finish the race. At that point, I think we both wondered whether I would finish.

But I had a strategy, Helen, and that strategy was given to me by a few concerned co-workers. I would walk through the water stations. No matter what. I would drink every drop I could, and hope that my body could rebound just enough to make it to the next station. And by about mile 3, I was fairly confident I was going to finish the race. And that was the time that I started passing other runners. And at mile 5, I passed a woman who was in her 50s or 60s (and yes, that means a woman in her fifties or sixties was faster on the bike and swim portion - BY A LOT - than me) and do you know what she did? She shouted "YOU GO GIRL!". And those were possibly the most inspiring three words I have ever heard in my life. I pumped my fist in the air and said "THANKS!". And part of me was thinking "I just passed someone and she actually cheered me on, and that makes her the coolest person in the world".

And I tell you this story now, Helen, on your second birthday, because this is the cheer I have had for you every day of your life. And you embody it. How else to explain the way you can go into a room of older children and figure out how to get your way? You scale adult-sized furniture with no trouble and you are willing to really struggle on the playground to get where you are going. Yes, sometimes you need a strategy, but you develop it, and you test it, and you get the job done.

And even though you are strong and tough (all 22 pounds of you), you are also my baby. And from one baby of the family to another, don't worry. It's not a bad thing. It entitles you to have your way more than 50 percent of the time because you have the ability to cry at the drop of the hat (and you do this already). You can also expect older siblings to get things from tall cupboards, even when you are perfectly capable of getting a chair or stool to stand on yourself, just because you have that special ability to look so pathetic when you need to. Just ask Aunt Linda about this someday. Connor already seems to know he's there to help you out.

You are also my child who was the Best Sitter Ever. Seriously. You learned to roll over at four months, but you did not crawl until you were nine months old. And up until that point, everywhere we went folks would remark on what an excellent sitter you were. And I would smile and nod, and mostly think to myself how thankful I was because our house spelled danger to a mobile baby. A few of my close friends tried to ask in polite ways if I was worried and I would practially shout "WORRIED? I'm WORRIED about when this child does learn to crawl and suddenly all of the pennies, marbles, and million other tiny things Connor loves will become not just objects of fascination and admiration but CHOKING HAZARDS". And soon enough, you would put things in your mouth, and even long after you knew this was unwise, you would do it when you wanted a little attention. And I would dutifully stick my hand out and request you to spit out the object, while friends were having a heart attack wondering how it was possible you were still alive. And by the way, you should remember to thank Connor for your being alive today because while you were busy stuffing things in your mouth, he was busy screaming "NO HELEN! NO HELEN!" and when I would holler back "Connor, please use a quieter voice with your sister" he would shout "MOMMY, Helen just put a marble in her mouth!" and I was all "GAH! Thank you Connor, SPIT THAT OUT, Helen!" He also would single-handedly tackle you if you decided to go near the stairs while I left the room to do something else until you were able to maneuver the stairs deftly on your own. You did not appreciate this, but I did.

You are also the poster child for helping people decide that yes, another child is a great idea. For as stubborn as you are--and you are stubborn--you snuggle, you hug, you kiss, and you smile - often coming up to complete strangers to give them a little love. Sometimes they look at you and say "Oh, I think your mom is over there" and I would respond "she just loves everyone". And for quite some time, that was true. You have a million smiles and also have your daddy wrapped around your finger. And me too, though I still possess the ability to say "no" on occasion, which brings on instant tears from you. Oh, Helen, the injustice of life. But your dad? He adores you and he caves when you tilt your head, smile, and say "please".

You stand your ground. Sometimes a little too much for my taste. You fold your arms, glare at whomever offends you, and then either turn your back to them, or continue staring at them just daring to cross you. As I looked back at photos over these past two years, I was reminded that this has been you from birth.

When you are tired, you take it out on Connor with the occasional hair pull, bite, or kick. But you also adore him and are sad on those occasions when you wake up and he's still sleeping.

I attended a lecture recently where a psychologist said that personality traits that children display at very young ages tend to be with them at older ages as well. In some ways, I am scared, for even at the age of two, you can be a force to be reckoned with. We don't call you Hel' for nothing, my dear. But mostly, I hope you hear me shouting "YOU GO GIRL" in the background whenever you get ready to kick whatever happens to be in your way. You may be little, Helen, but as Nora Lou Mills told me over and over, big things come in small packages!


  1. you made me cry.... I hope nobody enters my office right now.
    This is a very lovely note Ellen
    Happy bday Helen