That little larva to whom I gave birth, two years ago? Is now an indisputable PERSON. A full-fledged little girl. There is no baby left in this child. I have to catch myself now: she’ll say “Mommy?” and I’ll say “Yes, baby?” and that’s the wrong answer, because she is a Big Girl and will not be diminished.

She’s been ahead of the curve this whole year, but sometime in the past month or two she tipped over from “toddler with advanced language skills” to “talkative kid who, oh yeah, still needs supervision when descending a staircase.” The rest of her is catching up with her early verbal maturity. It’s been so easy to forget that she wasn’t yet two.

And now she’s two.

She is obsessed with construction equipment, of all things. Months ago, when we would pass a construction site downtown, she’d say something that sounded like “Big trouble, mommy! Big trouble, mommy!” . . . and then I realized she was saying big shovel. She loves excavators, backhoes, anything that digs. And as her articulation has grown clearer, so has her affection for heavy machinery. “I see a shovel digging in the dirt!” she’ll tell me, first as a demand, and then in delight when we actually pass one. If none are in evidence, she’s learned that maybe they’ll come if she calls them. “Oh, shovel!” she’ll singsong as we pick our way through the traffic on Independence Avenue. “Oh SHO-vel!”

Naturally, &’s reaction was to dive into his childhood library and retrieve an ancient favorite, a book that his own father fondly recalled from childhood. I vaguely recollected reading Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel in my own youth, but remembered neither the plot of the book nor any special affection for the characters. Fortunately my daughter found her father’s enthusiasm infectious, and Steam Shovel quickly became her favorite book. So when it came time to design her second birthday cake, the solution was self-evident.

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Yes, that is an HO-scale steam shovel, lovingly assembled with tweezers and handpainted by Natalie’s daddy in an exact replica of the literary Mary Anne. She and her intrepid operator stand in a chocolate-cake basement, four corners neat and square, which of course they excavated in the space of one day. And the kids at Noodles’ party decorated cookies with sprinkles and yellow toy helmets with foam stickers, in celebration of the construction of yet another story on the edifice of my daughter’s amazing ongoing life.

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She is a dangerous language sponge. Tell her once that Santa comes down the chimney to bring her presents, and she will remind you of this fact, verbatim and unprompted, for days afterward. Once, while attempting to parallel park our new minivan (yes, we got a minivan, and you’ll just have to ask & if you want a blog post on that subject, because I am resigned and indifferent and also still drive my fourteen-year-old A4), I swore aloud and was greeted with the world’s most adorable “Goddamnit!” in response from the back seat. Natalie will sing entire songs — and improvise original medleys — on the commute home, and insist on being a soloist if you attempt to join in. “No mommy, no mommy, I do it! The wheels on the bus go round and round, four little monkeys jumping on the bed!”

We drive now. At eight months pregnant I decided that, gridlock and ungodly expense be damned, both Natalie and I were too big to manage the hourlong bus commute downtown any more. Fortunately (after much frustrating research that indicated otherwise) it turned out that there was, in fact, parking to be found near Natalie’s daycare. Even more fortunately, a subsidy for DOJ employees at this particular parking garage meant that we’d save fifty bucks a month over market rate. Granted, this knocked our monthly parking expense down to a mere $250 (::gaspchoke::), but this was a bargain in comparison to spending an hour each way on the D6 bus, trying to convince a lively near-two-year-old to sit in her big-girl seat and use her inside voice while her kid sister played water polo in my midsection.

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Natalie will tell you that there is a baby in Mommy’s tummy and that she, Natalie, is going to be a big sister, but I’m not sure how much of those phrases she actually understands. I can’t fault her that, though; I’m not sure how much of them *I* understand. Neither of us has any experience with sisters, either having or being one. In another few weeks we’ll both be greeted with the surprise of our lives, and it’s anyone’s guess how we’ll deal.

But if I had to guess, I’d put good money on Natalie being an absolute champ. The indicators are good: she loves to tuck in the baby dolls at daycare, hugs and kisses her fellow toddlers when they fuss or show signs of distress, and seems quite proud of her impending big-sisterhood when you ask her about it. And frankly, at this point, we’re so accustomed to her rising to the occasion (whatever the occasion may be), we almost take it for granted that she’ll do awesome. Natalie will be a terrific big sister, because she is intuitively so good at any challenge she faces, and always has been. I wish this magical skill for her sister, too. Heck, I could do with a dose myself.

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At age two Natalie is still uniformly happy, friendly, outgoing and full of fun. She loves books and will “read” to herself, either narrating pictures as she turns pages or actually parroting lines of text that she knows by heart. She still naps two hours a day, sleeps through the night, and just doesn’t have meltdowns. “First tantrum” remains the only blank in her baby book. She is not without her fussy moments, but those are so seldom and pass so quickly that we are still in awe of our incredible luck. If this next kid is a difficult baby, we are screwed. We have no idea how you deal with one of those.

Because all Natalie has taught us is how amazing life is when your child is everything you ever dreamed she might be.

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