No love like toddler love

[This originally appeared in The Journal, a daily newspaper in Seneca, S.C.]

Over the weekend, my parents and I flew up to Maryland to celebrate baby K turning one on Saturday. There wasn’t too much fanfare – a homemade cake with help from big sister, a unicorn candle I found at the last minute, a few gifts and a lot of snuggles.
While we all enjoyed extra time in person with the girls – and I’m sure my brother and sister-in-law enjoyed having a few rare moments of peace with extra adults around – what really struck me was how big these little ladies get when I’m not looking.
K may or may not have said, “Bye, bye, Dada” while we were sitting in the living room and the almost-3-year-old M may or may not know every word to “Let it Go” from a Disney movie I have yet to see. Of course, that didn’t stop me from donning my Else cape and gloves that were actually toddler socks and dancing around the living room.
I know kids grow. That’s essentially how being a human works — until you get old enough and start shrinking. That’s a topic for Norm to cover, though.
Whether they intended to teach her or not, my brother and sister-in-law have taught M a thing or 12. For instance, she knows how to take pictures on my smartphone and requested to do so several times. Of course I let her and now cherish the pictures of her forehead and blurry toes, but what floored me was her recognition of other apps on my phone.
“That’s Chick-fa-way!” she announced upon spotting the red and white fast food icon. “And that’s mommy’s coffee,” she added when she saw the Starbucks logo next to it. Luckily, she also recognizes the Aldi logo, so there’s some semblance of budget balance going on in her brain.
I later downloaded two new apps just for M — an ocean-themed puzzle game and an Elmo alphabet thing. She would periodically bring my phone and ask if she could play the puzzle game.
It’s sweet that she asks, because we all know she could find the game all on her own if she wanted. And that’s not all she can find. Every night when I closed out the apps on my phone, Chick-fil-A was hiding in the background. Even on Sunday, she was determined to eat some chicken.
She also knows how to work the nap time system.
When we were reading books before her Sunday nap, I told her she could pick one more and then it was time to turn the lights out.
She picked the thickest book on the table.
I opened to the index to browse my 5-minute story options and wasn’t surprised when she opted for “Toy Story.” When I finished the 3-minute version, she put the book away, crawled back on my lap and asked for snuggles.
Known for not being a very still sleeper, I jumped at the chance to get some extra love from my eldest niece. She wriggled and wiggled and kicked her feet despite multiple warnings that I’d get up and leave if she couldn’t be still.
In one last hoorah, she rolled over to face me, squeezed her little eyes shut and buried her face in my arms. Success, I thought.
Her head popped up and her deep green eyes searched for mine. Unsuccess, I thought.
“I love you,” she told me before continuing to kick my shin.
“I love you, too, Little Bird,” I replied.
“And Chick-fa-way.”
I kissed her forehead and decided to call it a draw. At least she loves me as much as chicken nuggets.

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