Newsletter: Dear Butterfly

Dear Butterfly,

Today you turn seventeen months old.

It’s been something of a tradition between your older sister and I for me to write a monthly “newsletter” in which I chronicle her adventures for the month.   As I suspect that your adventures will very frequently intersect hers in nontrivial ways, I shall in the future address our monthly newsletters to you both, but I wanted this first one to be just for you.

You have been part of the Komplexify household now for just a little more than two months, and I am unfathomably relieved to say you’re now pretty settled into your role as “The Baby” of the family.   As such, you’ve pretty much carved out the routine of EAT-SLEEP-GIGGLE-REPEAT, with an occasional DEFECATE_EXPLOSIVELY thrown in   for good measure.   You are, for the most part, a happy, inquisitive, and utterly silly little girl.

Superficially, you’ve changed very little over the past two months.   You’ve still got a covering of fine hair that, despite being so thin it is impossible to style in anything other than a little tuft we affectionately call “the palm tree,” still manages to tangle itself into a ragged mop at the first hint of perspiration.     Though you continue to be a voracious eater*, you’re still fairly small for your age, even by Chinese standards.   You’re face is still wonderfully expressive, with your deep blue-brown eyes, square chin, and adorably toothy ear-to-ear grin more than compensating for your Whoopi-Goldberg-esque lack of eyebrows.   (In point of fact, you’ve added three new teeth for a total of seven, making your grin even more adorable for its new asymmetry.)

* Voracious appetite is something of an understatement.   You’re the personification of the Southern Chinese culinary palette: you’ll eat anything with legs or wings, except for tables and planes.   On the one hand, this means that you’re pretty much willing to eat any meal we prepare for you, which is awesome.   On the other hand, it also means that when we’re not feeding you, you’re busy trying to stuff anything else into your maw, be it toys, clothes, books, magnets, or in extreme cases, your sister.   You mother is amazed at the kinds of foods you’ll eat, and proudly attributes this to a healthy appreciation of cooking on your part.   I, on the other hand, suspect your indiscriminate palette is due to the fact that you were born without taste buds.

You still love taking baths, or more appropriately, you enthusiastically put up with the “bathing” aspects of what you otherwise understand to be HAPPY HAPPY SPLASH SPLASH TIME.

You’ve also remained amazingly proficient with what the Ladybug refers to as your “little hand.”   You can hold heavy objects, pry open plastic containers, read board books, climb vertical surfaces… you name it.   I am perpetually amazed at both your unflinching persistence in dealing with, and novel solutions to, the various difficulties you face in an otherwise two-handed world.   My only concern is how you climb up on people, in which you dig your little hand to the flesh and wedge in between adjacent bones like an organic grappling hook.   My concern is not for you, worrying whether that this is an ineffective or dangerous method of ascent: I’ve never seen you slip yet.   Rather, my concern is for the climbee, who will invariably end up with a sequence of quarter-sized bruises up the length of there torso, like a painful, purple connect-the-dots puzzle.

However, in all other aspects, the difference between you now and then over these two months is staggering: you’re a completely different person.

One example is your general disposition.     Back then you were a frail little girl who had been uprooted from her home at an orphanage in Luizhi and deposited (albeit with a little pomp and circumstance) into the hands of a bunch of strange white people and their hyperactive Chinese daughter. When we met you for the first time in that cramped little office at the Guizhou Adoption Center, you were nothing more than a sweaty little thing with a mop of brown hair and and index finger permanently hooked into the corner of her mouth, whimpering quietly and continuously.   That first day you cried all day, a sad, quiet and empty cry that we almost had to strain to hear.   You shied away from touch and refused to make eye contact, instead looking continuously for anyone to take her back home.

Over the next few days, your emergent personality might be summed up as having exactly two states: “cautious happiness” and “homicidal rage.”   That is to say, you could manage to be happy provided (a) you were being held by a parent who was (b) non-stationary and (c) bearing food.   However, should any of these conditions fail to be met, you would almost immediately begin to cry, yell, cry, pinch, cry, hit, and cry.   (By the way, given the anatomical uniqueness of your arm, you’ve got one hell of a left hook.)   To say that you fell into hysterics at the drop of a hat would be misleading: the mere sight of a hat or the simple act of saying “hat” had the same effect.

The worst was bedtime: you would absolutely refuse to lay down, and would cry and scream and kick and punch and swear (yes, swear!) at anybody in earshot rather than submit to sleep.   The only way we could get you to sleep was to put you in the crib and then shut off all the lights in the house in the hope that you would succumb to sheer sensory deprivation and pass out.

Now, on the other hand, you are a healthy and happy little girl who realizes she’s a part of a family.   While you still have a tendency to burst into tears when things don’t go your way, it usually takes more than, say, an immobile parent or an empty snack bowl to make that happen.   More often, though, you smile and giggle and are content to play with your toys without the requirement of physical contact with mommy or daddy.   You’ve got an absolutely beautiful smile, one that seems to take up your entire face.

Indeed, when you’re especially happy you also squint your eyes in what can be best described as a comical impression of George W. Bush, and the result is that your head appears to be nothing more than a giggling mouth.   Now, this isn’t to say you’re not still a bit “clingy,” particularly around snack and bed time, but at least nowadays I can pry you off of me without a hydraulic jack and a crowbar.

Part of this change has been due to your rapid assimilation of basic sign language.   Just like your your older sister the Ladybug, we’ve been using sign language to help bridge the language barrier, and you’ve absorbed it like a sponge.   Within the first two weeks you’d learned the signs for EAT and MILK and MORE; you’ve since added SLEEP and CRACKERS and FISH and DOG and DUCK, among others.   I am particularly impressed by DRINK, which I don’t think either your mommy or I deliberately taught you, but yet you’ve picked up anyways.   I view this as a testament to either your intellectual prowess or your aforementioned extreme appetite.

In fact, just like your older sister,* it seems signing has also helped you seemingly mastered English comprehension in these short two months as well.**   For example, when told “You cannot go outside until you put your shoes on,” you immediately trotted off to your closet, fetched your sneakers, and then stood by the door signing GO; or when your mother asked you to throw some magazine clippings away, you gathered up the crumpled paper, walked into the kitchen, and tossed them into the rubbish bin.   Of course, the flip side is that when you utterly ignore my instructions to “put your toys away,” I now know it’s less a matter of your language skills than your stubbornness.   (This might also explain why, just like your older sister, you keep finding yourself in time out.)

* Speaking of your sister, your relationship with her has also undergone a significant change.   Early on in China, you viewed your sister largely as competition for foodstuffs and lap space, and as such interacted with her only insofar as to punch, pinch, or scream in her general direction.   However, over the past two months, you’ve realized that there’s more than enough food and lap space for you both, and have since then started following your sister around everywhere she goes, imitating her every action.   Presumably the Ladybug should find this flattering, except for the fact that it means you keep touching all her stuff. ( Ah, sibling headaches.   I remember the good old days…)

** It’s also worth noting that, while you understand spoken words very well, you’re still not particularly interested in using them yourself.   Right now your vocabulary consists of two phrases.   The first is “THAT,” which is usually accompanied by a pointing index finger, and loosely translates to “I want that object.”   (If your index finger alternates between pointing at the object and curling up into a fist (a sort of digital blinker, as it were), then a more accurate translation is “I want that object NOW.”   The other phrase is “AAAAAAAA,” which seems to have a wider spectrum of interpretations, although most seem to be variants of the “I don’t want to give that back.”

However, while signing has helped, certainly the biggest breakthrough we’ve had in calming you down was the accidental discovery that you really, reallllly like polyester blankets.   Put a soft piece of fabric in your hands, and you go from hysterical panic to transcendental calm in seconds.   You have the habit of sliding the fabric across your cheeks and lips while making a quiet cluck-cluck-cluck noise that sounds like a piece of Swiss clockwork winding down.   This has completely revolutionized bedtime: now I simply kiss you goodnight, and you a mini-blanket, and set you into your crib.   At that point, your arm shoots up in expectation of a second blanket for your body, and as soon as I place it on you, your arm snaps down to lock it in place, and you more or less plunk off to sleep before I leave the room.   I can only imagine how laid back you’d be if I bought you a leisure suit.

Another example of your staggering change would be in the area of motor skills.   Back in China, you were completely immobile.   Partly a consequence of orphanage life, and partly a consequence of Chinese tradition, at fifteen months old you were able to maintain a sitting posture, but pretty much nothing else.   As a result, you demanded either to be carried to your toys or have your toys deposited into your lap, demonstrating an almost pathological unwillingness to even reach for anything not already in physical contact with you.

During our stay in China, we encouraged you to move about on the bed and the carpet, and within a week you’d mastered “the Worm,” which in addition to giving you a basic locomotive prowess, also gave you a chance to audition for the upcoming season of “So You Think You Can Dance.”   After another week, you’d pioneered a basic “crab crawl,” a sort of slow, diagonal crawl in which you’d use your little hand as a sort of anchor, and then pull yourself towards it.

Nowadays, however, you are a fully ambulatory kleptomaniac, roaming freely about the house while simultaneously pocketing anything shiny or expensive you happen to find along the way.   The transition from crawling to walking was incredibly brief.   By the time we returned to the U.S., you’d become a fully proficient crawler, so you then set about learning to walk.   In just two short weeks, you went from walking-with-assistance to a basic form of Frankensteinian clomp to full-fledged bipedal locomotion.*   From there the transition to petty theft was, I suppose, inevitable, although it still amuses me that you’d rather risk a reprimand for, say, swiping a ballpoint pen or a drink coaster rather than play with any of the toys I find scattered liberally around the household.

* Interestingly enough, the real challenge for you in the walking process was not the actual walking itself, but the transition stages from sitting-to-standing or back again.   Your attempts to work through the former problem were funny as hell, and consisted of you apparently frozen in mid-somersault, trying to figure out how to get you hands off the ground without putting your face there instead.   The latter problem (getting from a standing to sitting position) in particular befuddled you. The simple notion of just sitting down on your rear utterly failed to register with you, and you would instead simply stand in one spot for up to a half hour at a time, crying and shaking your fists in a comical fit of apoplectic rage until I’d finally come over and (with love in my heart, mind you) knock you over.

In fact, ever since you figured out how to safely fall down from a standing position, you’ve become increasingly fearless.   At home, you spend more and more of your free time trying to climb up onto things, be they toys, furniture, or even appliances.   At the park, your initial love of the swings has been replaced by a fascination with the slides, which you love to climb upon and, occasionally, remember to actually sit down on before attempting to descend.   Other times you simply step off the slide, which results in you tumbling head over heels down the inclined plane like a fleshy Slinky. ( Having watched your older sister do all these same stupid things when she was baby and survive, I am far less terrified whenever you do them, which means we both tend to enjoy our trips to the park immensely.)

So, to sum up, you are a happy, fearless, and silly little girl, and I am so happy that you are finally a part of our family.   Welcome home, little Butterfly.   I love you!

Ba Ba


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