Letter to Bella, month eleven

Dear Bella,

You're a real girl! Gone is the roly-poly baby whose life is a series of accidents. In her place is rough-and-tumble tiny girl who acts with deliberation and intent. You spy a cheese cracker crumb from across the room and dart over to grab it up with your precise pincer grasp. You see movement outside the window and toddle over to see what's happening.

And that toddle is spectacular. You spent your tenth month testing out your balance and wobbly legs. This month was spent practicing. It's still quicker to crawl from point A to point B, but you spend more time on two legs than hugging the ground. You stand up in the middle of the room and make your way to the toy bin. You hear someone getting food and pop right up to go see what's to eat.

Oh, girl. No one could ever deny you are a Quinones with your appetite. I remember your grandma lamenting once that she could be eating a bowl of poo and your aunts and I would still beg for a taste. Don't I know that feeling? Whether it's salted and buttered grits, a sweet potato, celery stalk, cup of yogurt, bowl of minestrone, or simply a handful of blanched almonds, you show up with gleaming eyes and an open mouth. If I don't find something to pop in there, you rail at the world for being so harsh on your poor soul.

Yes, drama is in your blood, too. Hence your deepening passion for being in the spotlight. A new person enters your orbit and you draw them in with a wide smile. If they pay enough attention to you, you'll hold their finger or clap for them. If they ignore you, you'll go through a series of tricks to capture their attention, including patting cake, bobbing to commercials, clicking your tongue and walking towards them as if they are the salt of the earth.

Your milestones have rolled in hand over fist. You've been "clapping" for months, but this month you learned how to do it correctly and will pat cake on command. Unfortunately, to master this you had to say goodbye to bye bye. You rarely wave to people any longer. I'm not worried, though. You'll be waving by prom. :)

You've also learned to search for things. Missing a pacifier or book? Let's look under the pillow. Let's peer into the toy bin. Where is it? And, you're pretty good at finding. Daddy helps you hone your skills by purposefully hiding things for you to find. Of course you clap for yourself when you uncover the prize.

The Boppy pillow is your favorite toy these days, next to books. You'll spend long stretches with your books: turning pages, pulling up flaps, dancing to musical ones, clapping for surprise ones. But that pillow? It's amazing. If someone says, "That's my pillow!" You'll lunge for it and lay your body over it, peeking at the person who made the mistake of trying to claim it. You'll also try to roll your body over a person if they have the audacity to try to lay on even a portion of it.

There are some things you're struggling with. Mainly, the Sippy Cup. We have three different varieties: two soft spouts, one with handles and one more like a bottle, and one hard spout. You chew on the soft spouts, which leaves you with a wet shirt but probably feels fantastic on your gums - which are still only sporting two teeth. You try to chew something out of the hard spout, but when no juicy water rolls out, you just use it as a toy.

What you really want is to drink out of a big person cup. If you see one, you zoom for it - and if no one gets to it before you, you'll have drink all over, but your mouth is right where it should be. Hopefully we'll find a middle ground before your 12-month well baby check when your pediatrician will most likely cast me to hell for both the lingering pacifier and the inability to hydrate yourself without a bottle.

However, I have made a few resolutions: 1) your 19 lb 14 oz body is perfect and another month or so on a bottle won't kill you; 2) the pacifier has to and will go, but while you're teething and sickly, it can and will be your comfort; and 3) what the pediatrician doesn't know won't hurt her. As a second-time mom, I'm not as concerned with the shoulds and shouldn'ts of babyhood. As long as you're safe and healthy, I'm going to let you grow at your pace - not a textbook's.

I am continually amazed that your first birthday is right around the corner, but the signs are everywhere. You had your first cold and even that was handled like a big girl. No tantrums or inconsolable crying, just a gentle laying of your head on my lap when you needed comfort and strong-willed determination when you wanted to play despite the wheezing.

The past eleven months have reinforced that I do not want another baby - and knocked me over the head with how wonderful you are and how happy I am that you chose to join our family. I can hear you murmuring 'mama' as you begin to enter the day. You will spend the next few hours showering your world with giggles and pokes. How lucky I am to be the one who gets to join you.

Love, Mama


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