Category Archives: Letters to my Children

Dear Kavya, I had…

Dear Kavya,

I had planned to write you a letter for your first birthday, kunju, and for every one thereafter, until you turn twenty-one. But here I am, a day late already. I hardly saw you on your birthday; I left early, while you were still sleeping, to go to work, and by the time I came home, late at night, you were already down for the night in your crib. I'm afraid this won't be the first time that I don't live up to my ideals as your mother, so you might as well get used to it now. I can take a little consolation that you won't notice that I missed your birthday, this first time around -- you probably didn't miss me at all, though I sure did miss you. I called you and sang your current favorite lullaby, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" over the phone; did you hear me? Did you know it was me? Hopefully next year, I'll be there for you, baby.

And it's not as if you weren't celebrated, little girl. You had two birthday parties, one in Chicago with lots of friends, and one in Connecticut with lots of relatives. There were balloons, which you loved, and cake, which you weren't so sure about, and eventually presents, which you were almost too tired to unwrap. Your favorites were the bead maze and the soft knight on his rolling horse. There were lots of hugs and kisses -- sometimes more than you wanted; you seemed a little overwhelmed by all the people. But your daddy and I kept sneaking you away to be alone with us, and then you were your smiley self again, full of giggles and snuggles and eager to show off all your tricks. This is some of what you can do right now:

  • You can say 'dada' and 'dog' and sometimes 'mamamama' which we think means me, but we're not sure. 'Dada' you use for almost everything -- the table, the photos on the wall, the sky. 'Dog' means Ellie, or sometimes other dogs. You do know more words than that -- when we say Ellie's name, or yours, you turn and look in the right direction. But you don't want to be bothered saying the words yet, it seems. We're so eager for you to actually start talking, baby, that it's driving us a little crazy, but right now, you seem to think 'dada' suffices for almost all your needs. Fair enough; we'll try to be patient and tell ourselves that everyone learns to talk eventually.

  • You can wave bye-bye, and clap hands, and raise your arms high in the air when we say "So big!" or "Yay, Kavi!" This weekend, daddy taught you to take his hands in yours and make him clap, which you think is the funniest thing ever.

  • You can walk! This is a new development -- a week ago, you could only take a step or two before falling down. Now, you can totter across the room, turn, and make it all the way back to us! Sometimes, anyway. Right now, we're still finding it utterly charming -- soon, I think, we'll be cursing your increased mobility as we race after you. Yesterday, you climbed up onto your stroller, and tried from there to climb onto the aquarium. The stroller is now safely away in the closet, but how many new hazards will you find in the next week?

  • You can sleep through the night, almost every night, for which your parents are so very very grateful.

All in all, we are very impressed with your accomplishments. I wish you could see how excited we get when you do something new, as if no baby in the world has ever done that new thing before. Your grandparents are even worse. You're the first grandchild in both families although your cousin Brooke was a close second, and you are very much adored. You are regularly assured that you are the cleverest, cutest baby in the world, in both English and Tamil. We would say prettiest too, but a) we don't want to teach you to obsess about your looks, and b) you're still somewhat lacking in hair. I'm sure it'll show up eventually, though, so don't worry.

Mostly, you are just a very good baby, Miss Kavya. To be honest, we had a rough time at first, since you refused to breastfeed, and took an awfully long time to start sleeping through the night. There were days, especially in the first weeks, when your daddy and I seriously wondered if we'd made a terrible mistake, if we were just too old and tired to do this parenting thing. Those first six weeks were the hardest thing we'd ever done, and surviving them was like running a gauntlet. We weren't sure we'd make it.

But then you smiled at us, and then you giggled, and snuggled into us, and learned who we actually were. With every passing day you became more of a real, fascinating little person. We can't wait to see who you'll become. And while I can't speak for your daddy, I can say this for myself -- I absolutely know that I did the right thing for me in deciding to try to have a child. Becoming a mother has been the biggest transformation in my life, and I suspect I will spend the rest of my days trying to put this experience into words. You make the world new, Kavi, each and every day.

You've been an almost-perfect baby. I'll keep trying to be an almost-perfect momma for you, okay? Okay. Deal.

love and hope and kisses,
Amma

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Dear Kavya, I can’t…

Dear Kavya,

I can't quite believe it's eighteen months already. Almost a week past, actually -- you keep us busy enough that it's tough remembering to mark and celebrate the milestones as they rush by. It's only because you're napping now that I have time to write this at all, and I'd better be quick, since this is also when I get to clean up, feed myself, answer all my e-mail, write stories...

It's not really as bad as all that. These days, you can entertain yourself pretty well for an hour or two at a time, especially if we break down and put the tv on. You're not so enthralled by actual shows, but you do love your theme songs. The look of delight on your face when Bob the Builder comes on is quite adorable, and your sheer enthusiasm as you holler out, "Yes, we can!" (or rather, "ess ee an!!!") is so damn cute that we both end up singing you the theme song several times a day. Your dad has seriously weakened on his reluctance to sing, because you love it so much when we do. You're particularly fond of songs where you can come in on a chorus -- when we sing "Pop Goes the Weasel" you love singing "pop!" -- sometimes jumping as you do it. You did that for Venu when she came over for Friday night poker, and she almost fell down, she was so startled and delighted.

You're pretty much delighting everyone these days, your parents included. After a brief bobble around sixteen months, you're back to sleeping through the night, reliably going down at 7:30 and most days, sleeping until 7:30. *Plus* a 1 - 3 afternoon nap. This makes your parents so much happier than they were, I can't tell you. It's not that we don't enjoy your company, munchkin -- we just enjoy it so much more when we, and you, are well rested. Nowadays you wake up smiling and chattering, and while we can't quite understand most of your conversations yet, you're still perfectly happy to keep up a steady stream of what is clearly intended to be language. We're going to get there, baby, I swear.

So far, here are the words we understand: hi, bye, mama, papa, ai-yee (Ellie), nigh-nigh (night-night), owl, doggy, ruff-ruff (what the doggy says), ook-ook (what the monkey says), nana (from banana, for food), wa-wa (water), eeze (cheese), baba (your favorite bear)...and probably quite a few more I'm forgetting. We're trying to get you to say chalk, because chalk is your new absolute favorite toy, and you get quite distressed when you want it but we are slow in figuring that out and getting it to you. Your artwork is very creative, but perhaps you could confine it to the chalkboard instead of decorating our furniture, clothes, aquarium, toys, safety gate, stroller...and, well, pretty much everything at Kavi-height? Let's work on that. (Yes, I know Daddy encourages you (note blue chalk on toenails). I'm working on him too.)

I'm not really complaining, cutie-pie. Because here's a secret -- at around fifteen months, you started being really fun. Making us laugh all the time, smiling and giggling and singing and dancing. Your mood improved dramatically (maybe finishing up the teething?), and you often go through an entire day now as a cheerful angel baby. Especially if we're willing to help you do some of your favorite things, like splashing water in the sink, or going outside, or jumping on the couch. You still make it hard to get work done, but now it's because it's so tempting to just sit on the floor and play with you, which is a vast improvement over all the frantic-trying-to-soothe-fussy-babyness of earlier months. We love it. Keep it up, kiddo, okay?

And now here I am, knowing I ought to get work done while you're sleeping, but a bit of me is just looking forward to when you wake up from your nap, so we can play again.

love,
Mama

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Dear Kavya, You’re…

Dear Kavya,

You're twenty-one months today -- one year and three-quarters. You're such a good kid these days, at least most of the time. You sleep through the night (except when you don't, which is usually if you're sick or in pain from one of those last molars coming in). You give lots of hugs and kisses. You are crazy fond of bathtime, and water in general. Also of outside, which sadly you're not getting so much of right now, but soon, baby, I promise. Lotta is still your favorite doll, although you have fun dressing and undressing and telling stories and putting to bed all the dollies (and the bear, and the bunny, and...)

You love daddy and mama and Ellie. Sometimes you love mama a little too much, but mostly I can handle it, except when I'm not feeling well or it's the middle of the night, when your insistence on mama-only can kind of suck. But you're so good the rest of the time that it's hard to stay upset. Especially when I remind myself that you're not actually trying to make me crazy.

Compared to other toddlers, based on my friends' reports, we've gotten tremendously lucky. For one thing, you eat pretty much everything -- we don't give you super-spicy food, but you can actually handle medium spicy okay already -- better than some of my friends can, in fact. Of course, there's no guarantee that you'll eat anything on any given day, but you're pretty reliably fond of pancakes, eggs, hot dogs, cheese, applesauce, yogurt, rice, pasta, tomatoes, grapes, berries, bananas, and cookies. You get most excited about rice, proving that even though you look pretty white, you're a brown girl at heart.

Mostly these days, you talk. Talk and talk and talk and talk. We don't understand most of what you say, but we're happy to listen to the running monologue anyway. You're a little parrot, able to copy and learn almost any word we say, and you remember and can name some of our friends when they come over -- Lori and Ursa, Simone. My current favorite thing you say is "All right!" which you offer up when asked if you want rice, or milk, or tv (especially Caillou, which you still adore beyond all reason). You can also almost count to ten, although you do miss 3 and 4 on occasion. Your alphabet's a bit spottier, but you like singing it to yourself, even if half the letters are missing. You recognize lots of letters now, which makes it a little slower reading you books, since we get interrupted lots by your pointing out and naming letters. But that's okay.

Basically, kid, life with Kavi at twenty-one months is pretty grand. We hear the terrible twos are coming, and we're braced for it. But for now, we'll just enjoy you while we can!

love,
Mama

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Dear Anand, I meant…

Dear Anand,

I meant to write you this letter when you turned one month old, on Saturday, but I was too tired. Sorry, kiddo, but I suspect that will be the normal state of affairs around here for quite a while. Even though you are, as babies go, an astonishingly easy baby, and even though we have a tremendous amount of childcare here for you and your sister, we're still barely coping. Infants are just hard. It's the whole 'wake up three hours after you fall asleep because the baby is hungry, then spend two hours trying to get him to eat and then settle down to sleep, which he only does for three hours before he wakes you up again, rinse and repeat' thing.

But aside from having a stomach the size of a pea, which is really not your fault, you have been a very good baby. You cry when you're hungry or uncomfortable, and that's about it. Oh, or if you want to be held. You like snuggling. So there's a fairly predictable routine to run through if you start crying -- feed you, check diaper, bounce you for gassiness, walk you around, snuggle. One of those will pretty much always fix the problem, and most of the time, we can even fix it with just food + snuggle. Which is pretty sweet.

I meant to write out your whole birth story, but it was very similar to your sister's, so perhaps you can just reference hers. The only big difference is that my water broke in the early morning, and after I dragged Kevin and Kavi out of bed, and we got me to the hospital and Kavi to Jarmila's house, your dad and I sat around for a few hours waiting for labor to commence. Which it didn't. No contractions, no dilation, no effacement, nothing. So after four or so hours of that, they came in and said that since I'd had a previous c-section, they didn't think it was safe to try to induce, and that after the water breaks, there's a much increased risk of infection, so they generally want the mom to have the baby within twenty-four hours. But you showed no inclination to actually come out. Hence, another c-section, which was a bit disappointing, but which was also in many ways a relief. I knew what to expect, and it was very much like the first time around (which a bit less shockiness and a bit more sleepiness and no vomiting, hooray), and at the end of it, there you were, loud and happy. Apgars of 8 and 9 and you peed on the doctor on your way out, I hear. Well done.

At the hospital, a little later on, one of the nurses said that you had the softest baby skin she'd ever encountered. I can't compare as much as she can, and I can't remember how soft Kavi was as a newborn, but your skin is certainly incredibly soft. This second time around, I've taken a lot more time to just snuggle you, with as much skin-to-skin contact as possible, which is supposed to 'promote bonding' which I think is just a fancy way of saying that babies feel insanely good against your skin. I didn't understand with Kavi what people saw in babies -- they just seemed like a miserable amount of work and worry, and the first six months with her were a brutal gauntlet we were just trying to survive. But with you, I've been finding some of the pleasure, some of the joy. Which mostly comes down to you being soft and warm and fragile.

Although you're already much less fragile than you were. You're making excellent progress on holding your head up by yourself (not quite there yet, but so improved!), and you've put on weight awfully well. The doctor was impressed at your one month visit, so good job! I'm not as afraid of breaking you as I was, and I have to give at least some credit to how good you are at eating. You, like your sister, spurn my left breast, but at least you, unlike her, have very little trouble latching on (hard) to the right one. Admittedly, there are times when I'm feeling chewed to pieces when I'm grateful to have the option of pumping and giving someone else a bottle to feed you (and I'm still pumping the left to try to maintain some milk supply there too, mostly in case you ever get strong enough to deal with that inverted nipple and latch directly), but mostly, breastfeeding is just so much nicer than pumping.

(Little boy, when you read this in ten or twenty years, you may be embarrassed to read your mother talking about you breastfeeding. I don't know if you will be, but if you are, deal with it. That's just life, I'm afraid, and I'm quite sure, given my history, that it will be far from the first time you've been embarrassed by your mother. So it goes.)

The first few days of nursing were horrible, as expected -- lots of difficult getting a comfortable position for both of us (why did I not remember to bring a boppy to the hospital?), especially with the c-section making it very difficult to move around much. And then, once we'd gotten that part down, a few days of yelping pain every time you latched on, and with every suck (those sucks were more like bites, let's be honest). If it had kept on like that, I don't think I could have kept doing it. But, as people kept telling me, about a week in, it got much, much better.

Thank god I had people telling me to give it a week, because I'm pretty sure I would have given up otherwise. And then I would have missed out on how good it can feel, having you latch on and suck, and how sweet it is, when you fall asleep at the breast. When you're stressed out or unhappy or sick (you have a cold today, all sniffly), it's nice to have the option of giving you the breast to suck on. It's wonderful to be able to be that comfort for you, even if, at the same time, there are times when I resent being a milk cow. Times when I'd really rather be up and accomplishing things. Between moving in here and starting to renovate there, not to mention teaching and e-mail and phone calls and the like, there are so very many things to do. My to-do list is long, and I am still tripping over boxes.

I try to remind myself that nursing you also counts as accomplishing something, even if I can't check it off a list. And that since we're not planning on another child, this will likely be the last chance I have to experience this, and that perhaps it would be best to try to relax and enjoy it. When I stare into your eyes, you stare back. In a few weeks, you'll learn to smile. There's a transient beauty to these moments, a grace, that I am trying to remember to savor.

Most days, I do okay at remembering to enjoy you. It's so much easier, this second time around. And if you are a good baby, I suspect it is in large part because I am a much more relaxed mother. Not nearly as terrified as I was with baby Kavya that we would, through our ineptitude, do lasting grievous harm. Though I do still periodically check to make sure you're still breathing, just in case. I trust that we are decent parents, and that Jarmila is a wonderful nanny, and that you will be surrounded by care and love for many years to come. I'm sure that isn't all there is to make a good parent, but it's most of the job, I think. Paying attention, being there, loving you and letting you know you're loved.

That much, I think we can do.

Although, boy, it's definitely harder now that there are two of you!

love,
Mama

P.S. Dear Kavi, I know I owe you bazillion letters. You've been so good and patient, letting us take care of baby Anand's needs first, entertaining yourself and mostly not getting into too much trouble while we're distracted. Be patient just a little longer, angel-girl. Mama really needs a little nap...

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Dear Children, You…

Dear Children,

You may get separate letters again someday, I hope you do, but right now mommy is tired. I know you've been hearing that a lot lately but that is because it is true. It is so very true. And my darlings I am afraid that the blame rests squarely on your teeny tiny shoulders. Mostly Anand's. I am told that this is not his fault because he is still very wee (just past three months on Christmas Day), but I am so tired that I no longer care whose fault it is I just want it to stop. And give me my commas back.

People keep asking me how I'm doing, especially this week as I see lots of old friends in concentrated doses. And I say terrible and they laugh uncomfortably and I say no really the last six months have been pretty much sheer hell and they say but at least your children are adorable and I admit that this is true but how is that relevant? Cute and hell are not measured on the same axis. My children, you are overflowing with cuteness, your adorability quotient is sky-high, especially when dressed in the little butterfly and alligator outfits that aunty and grandma got you for Christmas but that has absolutely nothing to do with the hellishness. Which also has nothing to do with your personalities, I must note, which are, as children's personalities go, pretty good. (Oh look, my commas have come back, how I love, them.) It is really all about the sleep, or lack, thereof. Comma, stop.

I know new parents are supposed to complain about lack of sleep and we are all supposed to nod and smile and change the subject because that is the social contract but this is truly maddening. I read an article although probably it was just a summary of an article now that I think about it because I can't remember the last time I had the time to just read an article for fun but anyway I read an article about how new parents and interns on call had similar sleep patterns -- being woken up at unpredictable intervals far too often and for far too long. The article said the human brain was not well suited to handle that kind of unpredictability and given that maybe we shouldn't be so quick to put patients' lives and fragile babies into the hands of those who are being slowly driven mad by the interrupted and inadequate sleep. Which all makes total sense to me but doesn't appear to be stopping this from happening.

And Anand, I have to pause and note here that this really is mostly your fault. Your sister still wakes up occasionally at night, especially when in a strange place, and certainly will argue ferociously that it is not sleepytime yet and she is not! tired! even when manifestly, both of those statements are untrue. But mostly, she sleeps for ten to eleven hours a night + three in the afternoon which is a miracle. Whereas you. I can't remember the last time I slept well, and admittedly, some of the lack of sleep was the housing craziness which I can't blame on you but much of it was the pregnancy and subsequent infancy which is entirely your doing. And yes you can come back and claim that your father and I did in fact knowingly make the decision to make you in full understanding of what it would entail but here is the thing -- once you are past this misery this torment this hell on earth, you forget.

You forget that your body wants to collapse, that your stomach wants to turn itself inside out, that you break into tears daily and sometimes only because the last piece of bread is moldy and you cannot handle any breakfast more complex than dry bread and you are so hungry that the dizziness threatens to knock you down. Which is partly also the breastfeeding so as you can see it is all your fault. And speaking of breastfeeding, why did you decide two weeks ago that your mother's breast was a torture device? Why did you scream as if Cerberus and his legions of hounds were at your heels every time your head came near my flesh? I suppose you did better than your sister who nursed perhaps three or four nights total; you managed two months or so. But what is with your sudden aversion to my breasts? I have been told back in the day that they were quite nice, but apparently, you do not agree. And so we are back to the double-time aggravation of exclusive pumping and I am going to try to last out to six months again but I go back to work full-time in two weeks so I may not make it, in which case you are just going to have to suck it up. Or not. Ha ha.

And dear Anand you are fretting right now, even though I JUST fed you and it is VERY late and you should be SLEEPING in your swing. I will ignore you long enough to finish this letter and say these are the things that are letting me (and you) survive these three long months:

  • the softness of your skin, which is like unto a drug -- maybe when we go home I will just turn the heat up to eighty damn the gas bill and carry you around naked
  • the smiles and yes little gurgly laughs that you give us when we smile at you or, sounding like idiots, actually say 'gah gah gah'
  • the adorable roundness of your face and the solidity of your body which nestles so perfectly against ours
  • the promise that this too shall pass
I think that's what gets me through it. Also, looking at Kavya, who is neglected and moody and loves her daddy a lot more than her mommy right now (because mommy is so distracted), which occasionally breaks her mommy's heart. But Kavi, you are so beautiful and so sweet and so funny with your little phrases and transparent ploys to turn bedtime into cake and chocolate: "I have an idea!" I love you, baby girl, and sometimes when I just can't take it anymore I pick you up and hug you despite your squirmy protests and while that doesn't make it all better the way my kisses magically fix your boo-boos, it makes it better enough. And reminds me that yes someday Anand will let us sleep again and then we will be glad we picked up this gauntlet and ran with it. Even if we lost our commas along the way.

love,
Mama

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