I didn't realize the true depth of my denial until yesterday, when my friend Natalie playfully (and accurately) observed that Gracie was getting a little big to be called a baby. Now, you should know that I love Natalie's guts, and I'd gladly
At two years, two weeks and two days old, Grace has quite thoroughly shed her baby ways, and is a full-fledged little girl. You can see it all right there: The flowing locks, the impish grin, that self-satisfied awareness that the camera is aimed at her. And it's not just that she's lost her baby look. She runs, climbs, jumps, steals, teases and copies Sam's every move. Her facial expressions betray complex thoughts like "I wonder if I can get that apart" and "my mom's an idiot." She's a formidable tantrum thrower. She has her own favorite licensed characters. Perhaps most impressive, she asks for what she wants with words, with new ones arriving every day.
But with a kid like Grace, you can't say it all with words. You need pictures.
Luckily, we have hundreds and hundreds saved on our hard drive. And as I sorted through them, I was struck at how well her personality can be captured on (digital) film.
Look here, for example.
Grace loves animals. With exuberance. Malcom is her most frequent target, but she'll gladly harass anything with fur. Or feathers. Just before Halloween we went to a local farm with a small petting zoo. There were the usual animals, plus those vending machines full of pellets to feed them. Gracie quickly used up every last one of her pellets, and then Sam's. And then she scrounged some off the ground. When those were gone, she took apple slices from her own lunch, and the apple peels discarded from Sam's and fed those to the animals. I was a little worried that she'd get nipped through the fence. But all she got was a huge grin on her face every time a furry friend came near. In the end I had promise her a cookie to get her away from the goats. (And even then, she probably only came because the thought she'd have a chance to sneak back and give the goats half.)
She's good at sharing. But she'd even better at eating. Cookies, of course, but pretty much everything else too.
Unlike some other children I know, she'll cheerfully eat anything I put before her. And while her cohort is busy complaining that his meal is too spicy/mushy/sour/orange, she's cleaned her plate and wants "moey." She's such a good eater, in fact, that I had trouble coming up with a menu for her special birthday dinner a couple weeks ago. She just likes everything. I rattled off a list of options (pizza, spaghetti, broccoli, chicken, corn, peaches, applesauce), and she said yes to every one of them. I finally settled on home-made mac & cheese, steamed broccoli, applesauce, and juice boxes. I must have guessed right, because when Grace came to the table she literally cheered. At that moment, I would have given her anything she asked for.
And what did she ask for?
One of her favorite activities is to stand on a chair next to me while I work in the kitchen. She helps me roll out dough, sampling unbaked wads when she can. She adds ingredients, stirs pots, and (of course) licks spoons.
Here she is helping me clean up after a baking extravaganza. With every lick of the bowl she yelled "mmmmm," even though the residue was just cream of chicken soup. (This series of photos is best appreciated when flipped through quickly in a photo viewer, but maybe if you move your eyes really fast you can get the same effect.)
This willingness to clean up occasionally puts us at odds with each other. Like the time last week at McDonalds, when some innocent jostling overturned her bottle of chocolate milk. Not one to cry at such tragedies, Grace simply climbed under the booth and began slurping up the puddle. The good news is she inadvertently mopped most of the mess up with her shirt before she even got her mouth into position. But she did get in a couple good gulps before I swooped in with the extra napkins. Eventually I persuaded her to use those (not her tongue) to help me clean the mess up.
So, she's not afraid to get her hands dirty. Or her face. Or her hair. Or her clothes. Or her digestive tract. Makes you want to just snuggle right up to her, doesn't it?
And here's where the misty eyes and guts-of-goo come in. Because no matter how sticky those fingers get, no matter how many tantrums the day may bring, she's still as affectionate and cuddly as, well, as a baby. And even though she's all grown up now, nearly every night stillends like this:
And it doesn't get any better than that.
Happy birthday, sweet Gracie-Ku. I love you!