My dearest Tala,
Feliz cumpleano! That’s how they say ‘Happy birthday!’ here in Madrid, Spain, where we’re celebrating your second birthday. How special is that?
Today we’re celebrating your birthday with brunch and a visit to one of the world’s most famous museums. But I also want to celebrate your birthday by telling you what a wonderful little girl you are growing up to be. I can’t capture all the ways in which you are so very special, because you are changing so fast but I will try. I hope when you’re older, you will read this and smile as Mama tells you what you were like at the age of two.
You know how to express what you want, and your language has really blossomed in the past year. You understand Dutch, English and Tagalog, and even more amazingly, know when and to whom to speak which language. I’ve stopped taking note of all your new words each week because I can’t keep up anymore.
Even if it drives me bananas sometimes, I’m secretly proud of the way you firmly say Ayaw! (Don’t want!) because it takes the guesswork out of so many things. The way you use language makes us laugh sometimes. I cherish the way you stumble over words as you try to grasp them: ‘t’ is your default consonant (polka dots are ‘totatots‘), and you haven’t quite gotten an ‘r’ yet (chair is ‘chaiw‘).
You love to cook at your little kitchen, and to dance when you hear music. You love singing: Twinkle Twinkle, Incy Wincy Spider, Happy Birthday, Gabing Payapa, Ili-Ili, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Fly Butterfly. You love when I bounce you up and down on my knees to This is How The Gentleman Rides, and stand oh-so-still to keep your balance when we sing I Can Put My… (Beanbag, Bunny, Ducky) On My Head.
You love counting—one to twenty in English, isa hanggang sampu sa Tagalog. Dutch kids don’t learn that at school until the age of four, but you have a competitive Asian Papa who is really good at numbers.
You are a compulsive arranger and rearranger. I wonder where you got your compulsion for neatness, but I’m more than grateful for it. You love Nijntje, flags, cars and trains, dogs and cats, polka dots and hearts.
And oh, how you love books. You can read quietly by yourself around Mama, but when Papa is home you insist he reads to you. He must have read The Cat in the Hat to you a hundred times by now.
Like any other toddler, you have your meltdowns when you’re tired or when you don’t get what you want. You hate shoes, and you’re shy around other kids. You thrive on routine and repetition, two of the very things that can drive Mama up the wall.
But I like to think you’re special in the way you understand certain things: that you need to play quietly for a while so Mama can work or rest, that Papa is crazy about you and you can twist him around your little finger.
Your sleeping times are changing—fewer naps and much later bedtimes—because you find the world so very exciting and it’s hard to calm down. I know, because I can hear you chattering to yourself in the dark after we’ve laid you down to sleep, practicing the new things you learned that day.
My beautiful baby, you are het poppetje in Holland, la bambolina in Italy, la maniquita in Spain. Total strangers come up to us and tell us what a little doll you are, which makes Mama not-so-secretly proud.
You teach, exhaust, surprise, delight, and amaze us constantly. I wish I had an inexhaustible supply of patience, energy, and love, because you deserve all of what I have and more. When I’m running low I try to remind myself that I’ll never have you, as you are right this very moment, ever again. I’ve never worked harder in my life than I do to take care of you. And every time you hug me, kiss me, learn something new, or call me Mama, I feel as if I’ve been rewarded with an infinitely precious jewel.
Happy birthday, my love. I wish you many years of happiness, and that the world you are so excited to discover is generous and kind to you.
I love you so much. Now let’s go to brunch.
Your teary-eyed loving Mama