Heather Armstrong began writing monthly letters to her daughter, Leta, when she was just 8 weeks old. She kept it up for five years, chronicling the milestones and surprises of their lives together. Armstrong’s dispatches are captured in her new book, “Dear Daughter: The Best of the Dear Leta Letters.” Here is an excerpt.
Today you turn eighteen months old. Did you know that all I ever wanted was a baby who would snuggle with me and grow up to be a starting forward on a professional basketball team? This month, YOU’VE STARTED SNUGGLING! One goal down, one to go.
I fed you a container of strawberry yogurt and anybody would have thought that I was feeding you liquid happiness, so I went to Costco and bought 4,000 containers of strawberry yogurt. All 4,000 containers are still sitting in the refrigerator because I didn’t get the memo that food only tastes good once. You won’t even eat French fries. FRENCH FRIES, Leta. I promise you that there will come a day when you will look back on your eighteenth month and you will lament ALL THOSE FRENCH FRIES you could have eaten without guilt.
“Sesame Street” is now our favorite television show. Both you and I could sit and watch it for hours. Your babysitter and I know entire skits by heart and can act them out for you, even though you look at us strangely like, Stop, you’re not doing it right, please just turn the real thing back on. The best part is when you watch it while lounging on the couch like it’s the end of a really rough day at work. Oh, and when you hum along with the songs and move your shoulders up and down, I just know that this is the beginning of your break-dancing career.
Your vocabulary has exploded in the last few weeks, but there is nothing you like saying better than Mama. This is simultaneously heartwarming and heart-wrenching because, hey! You know who I am. Except, rarely do you ever say Mama as if you are going to follow that word with something nice like, My! How you smell like a flower! Instead you say it like a beer-bellied construction worker who wants his dinner now, and so he screams, “WOMAN! Bring me them there pork rinds!” The part where he says WOMAN!, that’s how you say Mama.
You’ve made a lot of progress in terms of walking upright with assistance, moving from coffee table to couch and back without freaking out. You can walk relatively long distances while we hold both your hands, but you still prefer crawling and demanding to be carried. Yesterday you heard three of the little girls who live on our street playing in the neighbor’s yard and you crawled to the door to let us know that you wanted to be wherever that action was. I’ve never seen you giggle so heartily as when you watched those girls run around chasing each other, and for several minutes you had your father run with you after them, holding your hands so you wouldn’t topple over. It was a pretty funny scene, your father running around holding the hands of his Mini-Me.
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I had to hold back my tears because I wanted you to be able to run with them by yourself. I know you will be able to soon, but this also makes me sad. I’m torn. I see that you want to play, and yet, I never thought this was going to happen, that you’d be old enough to hear their laughter and want to be a part of it. I always thought you’d be this caterpillar that I’d have to carry around in a car seat. And yet, you’re here, right on the cusp of this scary socialized network called friends, a world full of happiness and a lot of heartache, and I don’t feel ready to send you into it. Once you start walking you won’t ever stop, and you won’t ever understand the magnitude of that notion until you have a child of your own.
Growing up, I was very sensitive about this small mole on my forehead, but it wasn’t lost on me that this mole made me unique and was very much a part of my appearance. When I was a kid I used to imagine that one day when I had children, I would teach them that if they ever felt lonely and needed a hug or kiss, they could come up to me and touch the mole on my forehead and I would give them as many kisses as they needed and then more. It would make having this mole worth the teasing I endured in my youth.
Last week I was teaching you about your nose and your mouth and your eyes, and you were able to mimic me when I touched each feature. Just as I was about to go back to the nose you stopped and got this puzzled look on your face and then you reached up and touched my mole like, Do I have one of those, too? Without hesitation I smothered you in kisses and you
laughed with your entire body. Now, whenever we do the face game you go straight for the mole on my forehead and I kiss you and then you stretch your arms out and hug me. Leta, you will never know how many years of my life you have healed with this one gesture. Thank you.
Copyright © 2012 Heather Armstrong. From the book “Dear Daughter,” published by Gallery Books. Reprinted with permission.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive