Dear Leaf Baby,

You are eleven months old. More than that. We're counting down, now, until you're one year, and I remember that with Kid A I thought that was so old. What a big boy, I thought, as I looked at him then, and now I see you and I think, what a tiny, tiny boy.

Uninterrupted sleep has become like a distant cousin to me, one that I haven't seen since I was twelve. The details of his face are fuzzy. This is because you are teething, and to give you credit, uninterrupted sleep is to you like a cousin you've never met, and now barely have the hope of meeting, now that small white razors are pushing their way through your gums. I'll introduce the two of you, one day, and you'll like him, I promise.

Lately you've really begun to recognize that you are part of a crew, a pack, a niche group of people under four feet who live in our house and eat without paying. You want to fit in with that group, and when Kid A and the YaYa Sister are playing, you are perfectly happy to sit alongside and have some minor role in what they're doing. Today they were playing with dinosaurs, and you desperately wanted one, so I made sure that they gave you one, and you sat and watched them playing their dinosaur games (YaYa is always making her dinosaur say, "I'm not bad!" as Kid A makes his dinosaur fight with it. Her version tends to be a little more of the mama dinosaur and baby dinosaur kind. Sometimes she plays with her dolls, but mostly she plays with the mama truck and the baby truck, the mama block and the baby block, the mama sword and the baby sword) and waved your little dinosaur around in imitation. Every once in a while you forgot that you're not a baby anymore and you stuck it in your mouth. Probably to make your gums feel better.

Just this morning I noticed that you have the really real crawl down. As in, the alternating hands and knees crawl, rather than the pull your belly along the floor crawl. I'm kind of glad that you've learned this, since it means that maybe there's a chance that only the knees of the clothes you wear will get dirty, rather than the whole entire front of you, as you scoot yourself along the wood floors that I try so desperately to get clean, but well, we live in the muddy woods and pine needles abound and we are in and out about a thousand times per day. (When Chinua and I were talking about getting a Christmas tree he was accentuating the fact that he really wanted a real one, and I was trying to decide whether it was wasteful or not, and he was totally against fake trees, and said that real ones smell so good, and they're real, and they're farmed, so it's not like logging old growth or something, and besides that, they're real. And then someone mentioned the pine needles that they shed and I did a double take and then I laughed, and laughed, and laughed. Pine needles? I get the whole forest floor tracked into my house every day. I can handle a tiny tree and its pine needles. And yes, I've considered having a shoes off house, but when it comes down to it, I can't handle taking my shoes on and off fifty billion times a day. I have to leave my house even to do laundry. So, sweeping it is.)

What I want to know, about the whole crawling thing, is how do most babies arrive at this one style of crawling? (Except you, Frannie, of course.) Maybe someday you'll explain it to me, Leaf, because it doesn't look at all comfortable to me, and you do it with such style. And Kid A, today, said, "Number 4 is, he'll be walking." Your daddy said, "What's number 1?" And Kid A said, "Crawling." "What's number 2?" "Learning to walk." "What's number three?" "Learning to walk more." I can't wait. And I can, because not only does it signify a little more of the end of your babyhood, it signifies just a little more vigilence necessary on my part. And I can only be so vigilent.

Last night Saddam Hussein was executed. And wow, if we wanted to (which we most certainly don't) we could watch raw footage. Yesterday an ice shelf broke off of the Canadian Arctic, one of six left, most likely a result of global warming, something we've learned could immensely effect all of our lives, forever. I remember that when I was about eleven, someone predicted that they world would end before I was fifteen. I was devastated, thinking I want to have kids! My parents reassured me about it, and here it is, eleven years since, and every so often I look at you, Leaf, and I think, what have I done? There is virtually no stronger instinct in my body than the one to protect you, and I don't know if I'll always be able to, and this is heartbreaking for me.

The world is a strange and difficult place, and babies just like you have been left alone in countries where AIDS has rendered most of the population orphans. I find that I don't even want you and your brother and sister to KNOW about some of the world's wrongs, let alone experience any of it. Your dad and I have always felt that we want to insulate you guys, not isolate. We want our family to be a filter for the needs of the world, not a wall. I've always felt like I wanted to be on the front line, like I'd rather be out there fighting than sitting at home, waiting for it to reach me. For the first time in my life, I find myself second-guessing this. I want you to be safe. I need you to be safe.

When a bunch of us sat around talking about this last night, someone said something that made a lot of sense to me. He said, "the world may be crazy, but the world needs my kids." I found that very comforting, and kind of like a little smack on the face too. It's like, wake up, Mama, this parenting thing is not only about what you find most comfortable for your kids. I'm the mom, the protector, and if I had my way, you'd be a baby forever. You shine to me, you are perfect. I can't imagine anything ever happening to you. But God has his way and you grow up and maybe you'll be a hero.

The world needs my kids. What a responsibility, raising the kind of people who may be able to turn outward and touch things, make them better. Right now it is so simple. We love each other, we teach you to be gentle. I kiss you and hold you and laugh at your silly faces, and you are building the kind of bond that will make it possible for you to leave, to walk through dark places and touch emptiness. And the change inside me needs to be a willingness to let you do that. It's probably the same for every mother.

I don't know when you'll read this letter. It will probably be many years from now. But what I want you to know is that even if I act overprotectively, even if you want to push my kisses away, even if I cringe when you mention going somewhere dangerous, I want you to be what God put you here to be. You are my glowing baby, soon to be a toddler, soon to be a kid, soon to be a man. I can't wait to see who you become.


Photos by Chinua. (I am absolutely baffled by this photo editor. All of these were the same size when I started out. Don't worry, I'll get it.)