You’re roughly 18 months old now

Dearest 3B,
You may have noticed that this letter to you comes at the end of a gap of several months since my last letter. You might have also noticed that it comes a few days after your actual 18 month birthday. Of course, by the time you’re old enough to read this, you won’t be surprised by either of those observations about me.

But this letter isn’t about me. It’s about you. It’s about all the things that you’ve got going on now, like how your vocabulary has exploded over the last few months. For the last two weeks, Ms. K has confirmed what Mama and I feel like we’ve been observing for several weeks–that every day you’re acquiring new words, and not just speaking them and picking them out of conversations and song lyrics, but also comprehending their meanings. Words like “back,” as in “I want to go back to A’s house to play more.”

Sure, some words are missing from that sentence when you speak it–namely, all the words except “back,” but through your tone of voice, facial expression, and gestures, it’s clear to us what you mean. It’s a little less clear to us when you’re pleading, negotiating with us about a helicopter: “Bucky! Bucky? Bucky.” Do you want to see Herky, your toy helicopter? Are you thinking of your cousin R, who flew his radio controlled bucky for you? (I doubt that, since you would say his name if you were.) Or, are you imploring us to produce one on your demand?

So, speaking of “buckies,” yeah, your pronunciation isn’t always the best, but you do work on it from time to time. There was the night that we were walking in from the car, across the lawn, and I was showing you the moon and stars. I clearly articulated the word, and I could hear you repeat after me, trying hard to wrap your mouth around the “r.” I pointed out Mars–we can get into planets vs. stars later–and we both stood out there, next to the sapling oak tree, you on my hip, gazing up at the red planet, going back and forth in a one-word dialogue, each of us speaking our part slowly and clearly.

“Star.”

“Staw.”

“Star.”

“Staw.”

“Mars.”

“Maws.”

“Mars.

“Maws.”

At times, it was hard for me to speak, as I got choked up thinking about FunkDaddie–you’ll know him as Uncle P–and the obituary he had to write for his dad, who was so good to me over the years, and who Uncle P loved and admired as a son does a good father who is a good friend. The obituary described how Uncle P’s dad, just before he passed away, had wrapped his strong arms around his grandson, Uncle P’s nephew, and taken him out into the cold, dark night to show him the stars and the constellations they form. In a few words, your Uncle P also brought to mind your grandfather, my father, who had loved Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.”

Stardust
And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we’re apart

You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by

I thought of how soothing it is to me to hear Cassandra Wilson gently shape the notes of that song [or Skylark, which is the Carmichael/Mercer song that she actually sings, as Brother #2 points out…”Haven’t you heard the music in the night,/Wonderful music,/Faint as a will-o-the-wisp,/Crazy as a loon,/Sad as a gypsy serenading the moon”], and how watching Carmichael noodling at the piano in To Have and Have Not reminds me of watching Dad’s deft hands dance across the keys of the cherry wood Chickering in the conservatory. As I lifted my own hand to point out the stars to you, I felt the weight of Dad’s watch on my wrist, and I thought of how fortunate you are to carry forward the invisible inheritance of Dad and Mom’s talent, intellect, and love for you.

That talent and intellect come through in your interest in and facility with words, like “back,” that are easy to say, but hard to understand and explain, but that you’re slowly wrapping your mind around. In this category, “soon” has been on heavy rotation this week. Ms. K, whose name you started saying this week, worked with you on some of the same words that we’ve been working with you on due, I’m sure, to your fascination with them: up, down, over, and under.

She also mentioned that you read Mother Goose a couple of times, and your tractor book “endlessly.” Not surprising, since “trackies” have been at the top of your top 40 words for weeks now. Also on heavy rotation since our last trip to the farm has been “Pete,” which leads to conversations about the barn, cows, and hay–which cows “munch munch,” a verb you’ve learned to apply to goldfish crackers as well.

Even though you were too scared to ride on the tractor at the barn on our last visit to the farm, you have seen footage of your previous visit, during which you did ride with Pete on a tracky. Since we’re almost strictly enforcing a no-screentime rule, I’m not sure how you got on to YouTube to see that footage. It’s also a mystery why you associate the computer with Boobah. Perhaps Barky showed you those sites. Oh well, at least you haven’t been scarred by Barney, Teletubbies, or the Spears sisters’ antics. Then again, neither have your parents, since we’ve been so busy enjoying your company.

But I digress…

Back to tractors…Ms. K mentioned that she was thinking of buying you a riding toy, as were we, since you’ve been straddling and trying to ride everything from Barky to Matchbox cars. Mama and I debated quite a bit about what kind of riding toy to get you–there are cartoony ones, edumacational ones, there are those that look like cars or tractors or bulldozers, there are simple ones, and those that light up like the Vegas Strip. As we stood, weighing the merits of each, you walked up to us, “Tracky? Tracky! Tracky. Tracky! Tracky! Tracky! Tracky! Tracky!Tracky!Tracky!Tracky!Tracky!”

OK, then. A green John Deere tractor it is. It was a bonus that it came with a second set of farm animals that matched the ones you already have and love so much. If only it had come with a stunt double for the one and only Pete we have; heaven forbid we ever lose that little doll. I do admit that my recent lessons in how to look for something that is lost are as much an act of self-preservation as they are about words like under, over, down, up, look, and lost. In a way, these lessons are an echo of the sage advice that your Grandmother gave me when I was admittedly older and more capable of helping myself: You look with your eyes, not with your mouth.

Mom would be even more mortified to have me repeat that to you than she was to hear me recall it to her, but it would be as apropos applied to you now as it was applied to me then. When I recounted her comment to Mom, I was laughing, because it had clearly had an effect on me when she said it, causing me to remember it vividly years later. And wasn’t her goal to get me to act on my own, to get me to take care of my own needs? And isn’t that your goal now, every time you snatch something away from us and declare “Self!” as in, “I’ll do this myself, thank you very much!”

Mama did note last week that she thought all of these demands for “Self!” might come a few months from now, but now that you’re literally up and running everywhere you can, why should we expect you to slow down in any aspect of your development? Not that we would want you to. As you’ve started to make your dolls, particularly little, pajama-clad Curious George, walk everywhere and as you shower them with kisses when you are so moved, you remind us that we are running forward with you, showered with your love, laughing all the way.

I love you with all of my heart, tiger, and I can’t wait to see where you lead us in the rest of our months together. All my love,
Papa

P.S. In the event that you are looking for a tune to hum when pointing out Orion’s belt and sword to your children, I can’t recommend a more apropos song than Stardust. If, however, you’re looking for something to play that reminds you of your old man while you’re, say, stargazing at a rooftop party or during an all night drive across the Mojave, try this.

Stardust
And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we’re apart

You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
But that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song

Beside a garden wall
When stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
of paradise where roses bloom
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain

Skylark

Lyrics: Johnny Mercer
Music: Hoagy Carmichael

Skylark,
Have you anything to say to me?
Won’t you tell me where my love can be?
Is there a meadow in the mist,
Where someone’s waiting to be kissed?
Skylark,
Have you seen a valley green with Spring
Where my heart can go a-journeying,
Over the shadows and the rain
To a blossom covered lane?
And in your lonely flight,
Haven’t you heard the music in the night,
Wonderful music,
Faint as a will-o-the-wisp,
Crazy as a loon,
Sad as a gypsy serenading the moon (Oh)
Skylark,
I don’t know if you can find these things,
But my heart is riding on your wings,
So if you see them anywhere,
Won’t you lead me there?

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  • Your baby sounds like he is growing up. What a sweet letter.

  • You are so good to each other and for each other. It makes me miss all of you more. I like it better when you write than when you twit.

  • We need to get that boy up to the ranch in Nevada to drive around a p-p-p-p-plower in the sun. We’ve got a couple of Deeres for him to choose from, plus a McDon or two (swathers, not plowers), some old New Hollands and a selection of other classics.

    Does he like wrenches? We can get him working on water lines if he does.

    And if you’re looking for Stardust (or Skylarks), at night it’s hard to find a better perch to watch it fall.

    It’ll be fun to see what his generation comes up with that will go further than the Beasties to set their parents’ teeth on collective edge.

    Beautiful piece. He owes you some thanks.

  • I refuse to believe that he’s 18 months old already.

    Someone must have cooked the books because he was just a little baby only YESTERDAY.

  • Sweet. Sweet.

    I just walked down memory lane myself trying to remember all those important milestones for our Waldorf school applications. How old were they when they first spoke? Unbelievably long ago.

  • that is very sweet!

    …and I’m sure the John Deere Riding Toy is perfect!!!