Dad and I are a few weeks late with this newsletter. You (and the people we share this letter with) will have to forgive us: your 28th month was a difficult one"not because of you, but because this past month saw the death of a longtime family member: our beloved kitty Camus.
I’m going to start there. He died near the end of the month, but his death has colored the entire month. January 2008 did not start out well for our kitty. He became sick while we were in Pennsylvania, and the Feline B&B, where we boarded him, had to transfer him to the neighboring animal hospital. We were able to pick him up on Jan. 2, and he was scrawny and anxious"but I held out hope that he would bounce back. He always had. Alas. Camus spent much of his remaining weeks on the couch on a little red cushion that you and I picked out for him. He got up to eat now and then, but seemed to have lost his taste for food. Towards the end, he would eat only out of our hands"yes, even yours. I often had to remind you to keep your palm flat so that Camus could get to the morsel of cat food, but even then, you and Camus showed remarkable patience with each other.
One day, during his final week with us, I found you sitting next to him on the couch. You had a book on your lap, and I asked what you were doing. You said excitedly, “I’m reading a book to Camus! It’s the Carnival of the Animals!” An excellent choice, Sammy. While domesticated cats don’t figure in Saint-Saen’s carnival parade, I’m certain our kitty appreciated hearing about the March of the Lion. Camus was surely just as proud. And the fact that he seemed to not only tolerate, but also appreciate your companionship during his final days means that he had accepted you into his pride.
That brings up a memory for me. Prior to your birth, Dad and I were concerned that Camus would rebel against your presence. He had been the baby of the family, after all, and now he would have to put up with a howling infant. We did not think it would go well. The day we arrived home from the hospital, Dad went into the house first, carrying one of your blankets. The plan was to let Camus sniff it, and start to learn your scent. Camus was right at the door as Dad came in, ignored the blanket, ignored me, and most importantly ignored you. The only thing on his mind? Food. Are you still planning to feed me? We were. Good, he seemed to say. As long as you feed me, you can do whatever you want on your own time.
But he was always around. Middle of the night feedings? Rocking and shushing you to sleep? Camus was right there"hoping to be fed, of course, but providing companionship in his own way. He would sit on the couch with me while I nursed you. After we moved to California and he became an indoor/outdoor cat, he would always come outside with us, whenever you and I would go play in the backyard. He was always right there.
And now he’s not. That’s a very difficult concept for you now. Even though you were there in the room when the vet administered the fatal dose to our dying kitty, you do not understand what happened. Out of the blue you’ll ask, “Mommy, what’s Camus doing at the vet?” Of course you expect him to come back. He always had before. And the permanence of death is not something that you can cognitively grasp. “What’s Camus doing right now?” is another frequent question. When I start to cry, you say matter-of-factly, “Mommy you are sad about Camus?” You know that I will say “yes.” You know that the tears of your parents signify sadness, but you do not yet get the sadness. Maybe it’s better this way for now. Someday you will know grief like we do. I can’t prevent that, nor would I"it’s part of the human experience"but the sad, mournful part of me takes some small comfort in your equanimity.
Equanimity? Wait, did I just imply that as a two-year old, Sam, you exhibit emotional stability and composure? As I write this, my tears are turning to laughter. And so it goes, baby girl. There’s the human experience for you. Equanimity? Oh my. While you seem more puzzled than upset at Camus’s passing, you spend a great deal of time being upset about other things. Like getting dressed in the morning. Or eating breakfast. Or leaving the house. Or wearing shoes outside. Or eating dinner. Or any of a number of mundane things we do every single day. Sometimes these tasks are odious to you. Sometimes you throw a tantrum. Sometimes you try to negotiate. I have a dim memory of driving us to the grocery store while you screamed over and over “I don’t want to wear sneakers!” I pulled over, took your sneakers off, then resumed driving. That made you more upset. The screaming intensified. I was trying to figure out how to give you a “time out” in the car, when I pulled over, had a good scream myself, and then somehow we both pulled ourselves together, and eventually had a fine outing.
So even-tempered? Not so much (I wonder where you get it from ;-). Defiant, willful, controlling, capricious? Yes. Standard two-year old stuff. So you’re developmentally right on track. (Me? Not so much, I guess!)
But lest you think that this month was filled with nothing but the sad and the bad, let me regale you with the glad. And there was a lot of glad. And a lot of play. You love to draw with markers"you will imitate circles and straight lines. You even drew a picture of Pop-pop for his birthday that looked remarkably like a stick figure. You are still crazy about singing. Sometimes towards the middle of the month you finally stopped belting out “Deck the Halls” at every moment. Current favorites include a set of Thomas the Tank Engine train songs that you learned from a musical book, and the French chicken-plucking song “Alouette.” You still love to read, and you select longer and more sophisticated books. The hands-down favorite of this month was Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go –a copy that belonged to Daddy. It takes a good half hour to read it, though, because not only is it a lengthy book, but you interrupt constantly with questions and remarks.
You are quite a chatty girl, which we enjoy. Here’s a sample conversation in which you used your new favorite word:
Mom: Sammy, are you enjoying your crackers?
Sam: Actually, they’re not crackers. They’re goldfish.
Mom: Did you say “Actually?!”
“Actually” is the word of the month. You pronounce it “Akchally” which just increases the cuteness factor. This is good, because you abandoned other cute mispronunciations this month: “snake” is no longer “nake,” and “stepping stool” is no longer “depping doo.”
You love your stepping stool. Its main function this month was to allow you to put your crib animals back in your crib by yourself. For a couple of weeks, you would insist that all 7 of them come out of the crib and join you in your little play tunnel. You would set them up inside, give them snacks and milk, and then put them to bed. Over and over.
If that seems like typical girl play, then you also enjoyed engaging in typical boy play. Grand-mÃ¨re sent you two bags of wooden blocks that belonged to her and her brother when they were little. Block play evolved into a game that you call “Cars and Things that Go Under Bridges” (you really do like that Richard Scarry book!). We would build bridges and a parking lot, and then one by one your little matchbox cars would drive under the bridge and then park in the lot.
Finally, and this is probably the most exciting development this month, you now actually play with boys and girls"“akchally!” Out of the blue this month, you started to relax at our weekly playgroup with Meri and Dante. We had Meri over for a one-on-one playdate and you did fabulous. And I don’t mean that you shared your toys and played nice (which you did). No, what excites me and Daddy is that you are no longer as afraid of other kids. You even try to engage them in conversation. You ask questions, offer toys, show off toys, give directions and commands… in short, you are starting to talk to other kids the way you talk to us.
It’s such a heartwarming thing to see you open up, to see you take chances. I have no idea what has brought on this sudden transformation, but it is such a good reminder for us. We needed that, Sam. In a month filled with sadness and grief and loss, it is a blessing to be reminded that not all change is pain. We tearfully said goodbye to a dear companion. And we"thankfully, happily"get to say hello to a growing, changing You every day.