year two

Dear Olivia,

In a miracle of modern biology, you've recently turned two years old. Your mother and I have successfully kept you alive for another year, and you've successfully given everyone just enough fuss and tantrum free time over the past 365 days for the judges to move you on to the next round of the competition. Don't get me wrong, the Russians were a little skeptical about how moody you could be and initially scored you low. But I slipped them some Benjamins, a few pairs of Calvin Klein jeans and spoke highly of you, which convinced them that you were worthy of moving forward. Don't worry, daddy's got your back.

This past year marked many milestones in your development as a human being: you began to eat more solid foods, started walking on your own, communicated with words (mama, dada, no, perestroika) and learned how to drive a stick shift. One of the biggest achievements, and most important to us, was when you finally started sleeping through the night on your own. For the longest time our nights consisted of laying in bed next to you while you bottle fed, hoping you had finally passed out and then carefully transferring you to the crib like an archaeologist hoping to steal a golden idol. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes you woke right back up and tried to tear out our hearts while screaming "Kali Maaaa!" We eventually had to call in an expert who not only helped us to teach you how to sleep on your own, but who also returned the Sankara stones and all of the missing children to the village. I think I just set a personal record for the most Indiana Jones references in one paragraph.

With all these advancements came much more interest and wonder regarding the environment you were growing up in. Your mother and I cannot tell you how many times we heard you ask, "Izzat?," but we gladly answered every time. You also began getting into any and everything your tiny hands could reach. Television remotes, cellphones, nuclear missile strike buttons and hot ovens were just a few of the things we had to pry out of your hands or deter you from touching. You went at them all like a cartoon cat who wanted nothing more than to push that jolly, candy-like button. Thankfully we diverted your attention with other things like toys, books and Logs.

Your new inquisitiveness also brought about the realization that you couldn't have everything you wanted. I'd love to say you handled it with the cool calmness of a surgeon, but you're not one of those (not yet, anyway). Instead, you waved your scalpel all around, hit and threw things, banged your head on the floor, cried a lot and blamed the nurses for your being punished. You discovered that you could use your teeth to convey how angry you were, and because of this we learned how to give time-outs. It hasn't been an easy process, and we all made mistakes, but progress has been made. We've learned how to manage your tantrums, spot when it's more than frustration (teething, hunger, a taste for human flesh) and distract you enough to defuse most situations. You learned about some of the things that will put you in a time-out (biting, hitting, a pitcher that's getting rocked by the opposing team) and that, for now, dada is the bad cop in this family. In my defense, if stopping you from throwing things at our TV is so wrong, I don't think I want to be right.

A major challenge for all of us this past year was communication. Initially, you just wanted to mimic what we were doing. You tried to imitate the words we said, laughed when we did and pretended to talk on the phone using items like TV remotes and business cards. I always wondered who was using up all our minutes, and now I know. Then you started wanting things, and you tried your best to tell us what you wanted by pointing in the general direction and whining until we found the right thing. While fun for a while, the toddler charades became more and more challenging for all of us. I searched high and low for one of Herbert "Unkie Herb" Powell's patented baby translators, but stores are constantly sold out of them. So we eventually did things the old fashioned way: trial, error and morse code. I'm still not sure if you were asking for more milk, or you were letting me know that your cruise ship was in distress and you needed a tow to the nearest port.

Thankfully the communication part is getting easier every day. You're constantly impressing your mother and I with the things you've been learning and absorbing. Daycare has taught you how to say 'please' and 'thank you,' helped you to start recognizing letters and colors as well as learn songs like 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,' 'The ABC Song,' 'Happy Birthday To You' and 'Back in Black' by AC/DC. In fact, you enjoy singing these songs so much that you've developed a habit of belting a few of them out after we've put you down to bed for the night. There you are in the dark, white noise machine trying to whoosh you to sleep, and you're on your third round of 'Happy Birthday' to one of the daycare workers that you love seeing so much every day. I'll admit, I'm jealous that you like name dropping them instead of putting me or your mama into your vocal stylings. Then again soon enough you'll be dropping my name, and perhaps not in the nicest way at times, so I'll let these ladies have the spotlight for now I suppose.

While it's still a bit early, I have to say one of my fondest things about this past year has been seeing your personality start to come out. You're already showing us how stubborn and bullish you can be, which (and let's just keep this between you and me) totally comes from mama's side of the family. You want what you want, when you want it, no exceptions. I'm hoping that will subside as you learn patience and that not everything revolves around instant gratification (unless you're talking about the internet or getting takeout delivered to your door in New York, then it's totally fine). You're also quite the cuddler, enjoy curling up in our laps and will gladly pass out smooches and hugs upon request. I'm hoping that you'll develop the same sense of care, compassion and love that your mama has for the people around her (again, keep that between you and me). Lastly, I've noticed that you can be quite the goofball when you want to be. You'll let me tickle you, then beg me to do it over and over again. You'll laugh and enjoy when I try any physical comedy with you (or at least you'll fake it really well), and you'll accompany me in any silly songs I sing to try and distract you while I change your diaper or put your clothes on. I can be a goofball myself sometimes, and I'd rather you have something like that of mine than one of my less redeeming qualities: my constant overthinking, my worrying and my undying love and devotion to the Reese's peanut butter seasonal candies.

In this past year of your life I've learned a lot of things about being a better father for you, and being a better husband to your mama. It's getting a little easier to forgive myself for not knowing the right things to do, to let myself make mistakes and to be more understanding. It's a challenge to juggle all of my roles (father, husband, friend, professional shoe lacer) and feel like I'm doing a good job at any or all of them. But I'm trying to not be so hard on myself, and to give myself more credit for the things I'm doing. Dada will be the first to tell you that he is in no way, shape or form a perfect person, and you'll notice that there's a sizable line forming behind your mama, grandma and plenty of friends and acquaintances who will agree with that statement. That being said, I'm still going to try my hardest, every day, to be the best dada for you that I can be. You will come to know that even though I'm not a perfect person, or perfect dad, I will always be here for you and your mama. I cannot imagine my life without you in it (except for when someone babysits you for a weekend and I get to sleep in, but I promise I'm TOTALLY thinking about you the whole time), and I hope that some day you'll feel the same way about me.

Happy (belated) birthday baby girl.