She has started to jump, after weeks of frustration of her feet not leaving the floor. She holds onto my hands after I lift her onto the bed and she bounces, giggling, head thrown back, alive.
She never stops moving, this one. After a couple of toddling months of walking, she began running, at full tilt. We chase after her all day long, all three of us laughing (except when she’s tempted to run toward the street, and then there is no laughing). She finds her joy in movement. She would sit on our laps and have us fling her backwards on our knees, then back up again, all day long, if we didn’t grow so tired after awhile. (“Upside down! Right side up. Upside down! Right side up.”) She hangs from any available surface, gripping her fingers like she is rock climbing, then lifts up her legs and dangles. This happens everywhere, whether it’s on the edge of a restaurant table or on a monkey bar on a play structure ten feet above the ground.
She’s fearless. Maybe it’s because of her major skull surgery that she barely complains when she trips and skids sideways, picking herself up after a beat and running again. Everything else feels like no big deal. (That’s what we tell ourselves, too.)
Everything fascinates her, whether it’s the cool feeling of the fog off the front porch, the sound of the plastic bottles from the recycling bin hitting the floor, the texture of raspberries in her mouth, the sound of airplanes high in the sky, or how crayons pressed onto paper makes colors. (“Circle!” she shouts as she draws one after another.) She never stops looking and listening and taking it all in. She is always there.
She laughs at prat falls and spilled milk and silly tickling sessions. Just lately, she has started laughing first, rather than following our lead when something cracks us up. Mostly, Mr. Noodle makes her scream with laughter, when he puts his elbows in the sink instead of his hands or tries to roll over a drum to pick up the sticks. She loves Mr. Noodle and Elmo and the characters on Sesame Street and the Wiggles with a joyful intensity it is impossible to describe.
She talks, babbling words dozens at a time, some of them still a little hard to decipher, most of them clear as day. When she says please, she still makes the sign and says, “Plea-pul-e-pl-ea?” (I sort of hope she never says that word properly. We love those entreaties.) Thank you sounds like Seck u! But she says them, every time, and that we love. The last month or so, she walks around the house chanting from 1 to 12, counting everything in sight. Thanks to Sesame Street and the hundreds of books she has heard by now, she knows about 3/4 of the alphabet, and likes to sing the letters wherever she goes. She read her first word last week: charcoal. (She read it off the bottle of charcoal briquet lighter on the porch.) Yesterday, it was yak. As much as she loves to move, she loves books just as much. Several times a day, she needs her space to study the books splayed out on her bedroom floor, one after another absorbing her. Several times a day this brings me to tears, thinking of the joy I have found in books, and watching her find that joy too.
And boy, does this kid love to eat. We lucked out. Sure, maybe we did a few things that helped her love food more. But we know from friends that it’s a lottery: some kids seem to be born disdaining fruit or meat or all vegetables. She eats everything: avocado slices falling from the knife, quinoa with poached eggs and prosciutto, pizza with caramelized onions and leeks, noodles with pesto, whole carrots, warm peanut butter cookies. We eat together, at the table, at nearly every meal, telling stories and reading books, talking about our days. It’s my favorite part of the day, eating with her.
We also lucked out because it seems she can eat gluten. We started giving her Cheerios, then letting her eat off her dad’s plate when we go out. So far, so good. This was my fervent hope: that she didn’t have celiac. However, I know that it can rise up at any time, so we’ll keep an eye on her. We’re just happy that she could have French toast at Daddy’s restaurant the morning of her birthday.
(By the way, she owns that place. We stop by in the late afternoon several times a day to see Danny, and she runs toward him, standing on the line. He carries her into the back rooms, into the cold walk-in for a carrot, or she runs toward the box where she knows the apples are and grabs one. Dick has taught her to say Ciao! She gives Tino high fives. She loves Amy fervently and chants her name when they see each other near the espresso machine. She’s a restaurant kid now.)
She picks up her dolls and says, “Hi, baby!” then gives them all kisses. She wakes up at 5:30 every morning, on the dot, awake and excited to start the day. (We’re still not thrilled with the early hour, but at least she’s sleeping through the night now.) She turns somersaults on her own, at a whim. She stands on a chair at the kitchen counter and helps me bake or helps Danny cook up breakfast. She opens her mouth wide in amazement, astonished by the sight of her friends, green leaves on the trees, being at the beach, and every moment of every day.
Our little Lu turned two this week.
She is, in so many ways, like almost every two-year-old in the world. We don’t think she’s more extraordinary than anyone else. In fact, one of the joys for us of being parents is watching this child, and the other children around her, and seeing how much alike we all are. We don’t want her to be a genius or better than anyone else. She is alive, and we are daily grateful for this. We just want her to be herself.
So far, that’s what Lu is: utterly herself.
Happy Birthday, Little Bean. We love you so.
Cherry Chocolate Cupcakes with Almond Cream Cheese Frosting, adapted from this recipe by Chockylit
Lu’s birthday this year fell on a Wednesday. Danny and I met on a Wednesday, so we still say happy Wednesday to each other every week. Wednesday is also one of the two days that Lu goes to preschool in the afternoon. (Whoo hoo! We have a second car now! I have a couple of afternoons to work!) This little school is run by one of my former students, a lovely woman named Jenny who is even kinder now than she was at 16. Lu adores her time there. She runs! goes down the slide! plays with the boys! plays in the water! (She tells me the highlights of her two hours there on the drive home.) After the first week, she stopped crying when I left. Instead, she bounces away toward the green grass and her friends.
I knew I wanted to make her cupcakes for the day of her birthday. As my friend Tara told me later, now I really know I’m a mom: taking birthday cupcakes to preschool. After much fun deliberation — considering cupcake flavors is hardly work — I decided on these chocolate cupcakes filled with dried cherries, topped with almond cream cheese frosting. The recipe comes from Cupcake Bakeshop, a beautiful website created by Cheryl Porro, also known as Chockylit. She’s amazing. I knew I could trust her recipe.
These cupcakes were soft on the teeth, then filled with a quick chew from the cherries. You make them like you create a flourless chocolate cake, melting the chocolate and butter together, then add a little flour. This makes them light and airy, unlike many gluten-free cupcakes, which have the density of a brick. I would highly recommend you allow them to cool fully before you frost them, however. Rushing, I frosted them too soon, and the tops grew a little ragged. There were crumbs in the frosting.
The kids didn’t care, of course. Lu told me, in her own language, about the birthday hat Jenny made for her, and how all the kids gathered around her to sing Happy Birthday and eat cupcakes with her. She hasn’t stopped grinning since.
100 grams unsweetened bittersweet chocolate, chopped
210 grams (15 tablespoons) unsalted butter
185 grams (1 1/2 cups) baking sugar
4 large eggs
110 grams all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon guar gum
12 grams (3 tablespoons) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
110 grams (1/2 cup) dried cherries, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Melt the chopped chocolate and butter in a large bowl set over a pot of boiling water. Stir occasionally, to avoid burning, until both are melted together.
Take them off the heat and add the sugar. Stir well. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes.
Mix together the AP flour, guar gum, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Sift the mixture into another bowl. Add the salt.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Let it run for a few moments to make the mixture lighter. Add the eggs, one at a time, letting the mixer run for 30 seconds between each egg.
Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in the dried cherries.
Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners (or, if you’re like me, straight into the tin). Bake until the cupcakes are firm and browned, and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes about clean, about 25 minutes.
Makes 12 standard-size cupcakes.
Almond Cream Cheese Frosting
115 grams (about 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces (about 3/4 a package) cream cheese
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
Mix the butter and cream cheese together in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the almond extract and mix. Pour in 2 cups of the powdered sugar and mix. If the frosting isn’t the consistency you want (some like it soft, others more stiff), add more powdered sugar.
This makes far more frosting than you will need for these cupcakes. We kept the extra for the carrot cake we’re making for Lu’s birthday party this week. You could cut this in half, if you don’t want frosting sitting around.