Last January, freshly one year old, Genevieve was self-evidently still a baby. Her cheeks and chins and thighs were plump with delicious chub, her toddler gait unsteady, her language an inconsistent mess of syllables and grunts. She was not quick to smile, but once you got her giggling, there was no music like the sound of her laughter.
And then things started to evolve. Evie’s baby double chin disappeared. Her mouth filled with teeth. The chub-ruffles on her wrists and the wrinkles on the soles of her feet smoothed out. Her hair grew thicker, and longer, until I could pull it up into a pigtail on top of her head.
And then she started to talk. For a long time she had one word, “el-la,” which variously could mean “elephant,” “gorilla,” or a person named Ella. Then her sister became “Natchie,” the cat “Mokshie,” and, one by one, other nouns appeared. “Milky” was a favorite, “mommy milky” in particular. An elephant became an “ella-chint.” The very hungry caterpillar, a “holler-pillar.”
Evie’s speech came later than Natalie’s, and with more effort, which made it that much dearer to me. Winnie the Pooh was “Pinny da Poo.” A peacock, a “key cop.” I don’t recall her elder sister ever exhibiting any of the standard speech impediments of toddlerhood, but Genevieve developed (and still has) the cutest one I’ve heard. A kitty cat is a “killy tat,” the potty is the “polly,” and water is “wallet.” I’ll miss that last one the most.
She grew hair enough for two separate pigtails, and she also grew phrases: “Need hewp?” “Dis one!” “Evie turn!” (And repeated requests for her favorite song, “Meemee Happy!”) Of our autographed copy of Llama Llama Red Pajama, Evie gleefully declared every time we read it: “She sign it!” The villain in the movie How to Train Your Dragon 2, a creature named Drago Bloodfist, became “Jubba Wumppits.” And when Evie nursed — which, oh by the way, is still happening; even ten days apart from me did not convince her to quit — she would unlatch from one breast, whisper “Udder side!”, re-latch onto the other, and not even be aware that she’d made a pun.
She is generally a serious kid. That’s not to say that she isn’t a happy kid; she lives deeply, with great gusto, and I have no doubt that she enjoys her life immensely. But she’s not all smiles and sunshine like her sister was. More often she’s curious, or perplexed, or simply deep in thought.
She’ll ask you a question in her inimitable toddler monotone, then repeat it. “What dat, mommy? What dat, mommy? What dat, mommy?” and, if unsatisfied with your answer, will simply ask again. “What dat, mommy?”
Give her an object for her focus, though, and she’s instantly immersed. She is a problem solver, my Evie, in love with shape sorters and jigsaw puzzles and toys with moving parts. Her play is physical, not pretend; just watch what Evie does when Natalie attempts to have a tea party with her.
For Halloween, Natalie decided that Daddy was going to be a king and Mommy a queen. We held our breath, dreading the inevitable “and I’ll be the princess!”, but it did not come. Instead Noodles elected to be a knight in shining armor, and her sister, naturally, would be the dragon she’d slay with her foam sword.
Happy to oblige, Genevieve embraced dragonhood wholeheartedly. She insisted on wearing her costume several times after Halloween, until we hid it. To this day, at random moments, she will volunteer this information unprompted. “I a dragon! A dragon!”
(She’ll also tell you “I go pumpkin patch!” This too was true.)
As her birthday approached, I decided it was time to take a great cultural leap forward. So with great fanfare at our family Christmas dinner in New Jersey (several weeks before Christmas), Genevieve got her first taste of bagna cauda.
For her actual birthday, her desires were simple and few.
“Evie, what do you want for your birthday?”
“I will make you cupcakes. But is there anything you want for your birthday?”
I had my marching orders.
We didn’t have a separate party-with-friends for Evie this year. Our time to coast on her Christmas birthday, to get by with a family celebration in the early afternoon after the Christmas presents have all been opened, is limited, but we will treasure it while we can. Soon enough she’ll want something more in honor of her birthday than a few pink cupcakes. Until then, we won’t push.
My Christmas baby, my remarkable, unbelievable Genevieve Amelia. Your arrival blew my mind, and every day since then, you’ve kept it up.
What an amazing kid you are. So fervent, so potent, so fully committed to your joys and rages and fears and fascinations. At age two you are an authentic introvert; you bury your face in my neck and cling to my shoulder for the first half hour of any interaction with a new acquaintance. But once you open up, you engage with your customary intensity, and now that person too knows that you were a dragon and went to the pumpkin patch and that Ella tried to bite you and that no, your name is not Stinky Cheese, it’s Jenna-beeb.
I love everything about you, my magnificent youngest child. And you’re still only two.