So, the thing is… I am feeling a little guilty.


I know, I know, what’s new?  I’m like the travel agent for guilt trips.  Right now I’m feeling a little guilty because I am so madly in love with my little Smiley Jane, who turns two-years-old today.  I mean, REALLY crazy about her.  I can’t keep my hands off of her.  Her smile just lights up my whole world and that laugh—gosh, if I could bottle that baby deep-belly laugh, I would be the richest woman in the world.  It’s hard to capture the essence of Jane’s personality with words.  I can’t really describe that sense of perpetual motion, that blinding smile.  It’s like she is lit from within, and I think that light is joy and enthusiasm and awe for this world.  She’s so loving and so happy (even with that awesome temper) and then you add that baby skin and that wall-to-wall smile and the next thing you know, I am feeling guilty!


I can remember going through this phase with Ana (now four-and-a-half) too, although she was never quite so over-the top at loving me back as Jane is.  But there was no need to feel guilty because she was my first.  I just totally indulged myself in a big crush on my girl.  But with Jane, there’s this vague sense that maybe I’m being somehow unfair.  Like maybe my infatuation with her takes something away from Ana.


And it’s true, you know.  I am NOT madly infatuated with Ana at the moment.  I LOVE her and I appreciate her and I marvel at her but it’s also her job to push my buttons.  She’s good at it.  The whining thing.  The testing thing.  The negotiating thing.  The monitoring my speed limit when I drive thing.  I can honestly (albeit ashamedly) say that when she goes to school, I am a little relieved.  It’s just hard with her right now.  She’s four going on about thirteen, and she ignores me half the time and is cheeky another fourth of the time and then she’s so completely wonderful and loving and funny the other fourth that I feel MORE guilt.


Oh, but that Hurricane Jane!  I miss her if she’s merely taking a long nap.  Sometimes when I go in to check on her at night and I see her, asleep in her mermaid pajamas and her little rump up in the air, I have to stop myself from picking her up, just to feel her little baby self.  She’s so compact at this age.  She hugs so well.  I am getting some real one-on-one time with her now that Ana’s in school in the mornings.  And she’s just CHARMING.


I took her to the playground the other day and she wanted me to swing on the big girl swing next to her.  “That’s GREAT swinging, Mama!” she said, encouragingly.  (I love the way she always uses everyone’s proper names when she is addressing them.)  A little bit later, as we sat on the playscape and looked at the full moon still visible in the sky, she turned to me, blue eyes grave and awed. “Boo-ful.  It’s boo-ful, Mama.”  I gazed back at her, afraid my heart would burst.  “Yes, Jane.  It is.  Beautiful.” 


I think part of appreciating Jane so much is that I know now how fleeting these days are.  Every wonderful stage gives way to something else, and where once I cradled her and leaned over her as she took her first steps, now I’m watching her run away from me into her own world.  And after Ana, I knew this was coming, so all the times Jane runs into my arms become that much more precious.  I give myself permission to enjoy the view of her little naked behind and the funny way she confuses her pronouns.  (“Hold you?  Hold you, Mama?”)  She’s given to spontaneously saying, “I luff you, Mama.”  But I know.  I know the day is coming when it will be gone, the last vestiges of her babyhood, almost without me even noticing. 


Sometimes I watch Ana in this new role as my Independent Big Girl and I just want so much to reach out and pull her into my lap and hold her for a long while.  I want to tell her I’m on her side.  But I can’t.  She wouldn’t stand for it (or believe me, for that matter.) The other night she came out of her room after bedtime on some pretext and when I tucked her back in, I kissed her. 


She wiped my kiss off. 


I guess this is a normal rite of passage, but must they all be such heartbreakers? I thought I was allotted a period of time when I got to be the hero -- what happened?  This summer, after I’d said “No” to her about something, she wanted to go to the grocery store and find a new family and go home with THEM.  (I wish I could say I responded with sensitive probing about her feelings but instead I said, “Okay, as soon as you find a new family, I’ll drive you right to their house.”) The teenage years loom large. 


So you can see why I prefer, ever so slightly, the uncomplicated relationship I share with the little Hurricane.  She who still craves my presence and hugs me with abandon and misses me when I’m away.  She who spontaneously started to YODEL in the grocery store a few months ago.  (Seriously!)   She, who is so responsive to my slightest touch.  Who is silly just to make me laugh.  Who likes to wear my shoes.


Maybe the first two years or so of a child’s life are given to us as gifts –so we have a firm foundation of holding them closely that will withstand the next sixteen years of them distancing themselves from us.  As Graham Green said, “There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”  I don’t actually know that this is the start of the third year, but it would make sense.


I don’t really want Jane to stay a baby –there are many other wonderful milestones along the way to adulthood.  But I am enjoying every minute of it while I can (albeit with a small amount of guilt.) 


Happy birthday, Smiley Jane.  May you always have that sparkle in your eye and that yodel in your heart.



Babies are such a nice way to start people.  ~Don Herrold



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(c) Barbara Cooper 2002


Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (4.5) and Smiley Jane (TWO YEARS TODAY!).  She lives in Austin, Texas and she stole that line about being “the travel agent for guilt trips” from her friend Mary.