This is my new writing space. For the year we’ve lived in this house, this room has been unused, mainly because the blue paint on the walls was so ugly I couldn’t stand to be in it. With my mom’s help, we painted. Then my husband and I finally unpacked some boxes, organized, and hung pictures. Now it’s my favorite room in the house.

Some of the best features:
* my mom’s old desk
* my favorite painting, Rooms by the Sea
* a great big white board, the hanging of which my husband valiantly conquered
* the green paint, which is my spirit color (my son keeps petting it and saying, “I love this green wall.”)
* a cool collage print with found phrases
* an old bulletin board made new with teal paint
* one of my husband’s typewriters
* two shelves of craft books

So, I am pretty much in love with it. It feels so good!

I took my two-year-old for a well visit today. I always get kind of anxious during the part where the nurse asks questions about development. Does he throw a ball? Does he respond to his name? I can’t explain why, but I always have this minor fear that he won’t be doing something “normal,” like that time she asked if he blows kisses at nine or twelve months, and I thought, I’ve never blown a kiss to him! How would he know that?

Maybe this explains why I became a smug little shit when she asked, “Does he know fifty words?” and “Does he put two words together?” I made this little sound, a kind of righteous scoff, and told her, “He uses coordinating conjunctions. So yeah.”

He is “perfectly normal,” the doctor said of his height and weight. Which is what every parent basically wants to hear, at least as a baseline. He is right at the 50th percentile, not extraordinarily tall or short.

During the whole visit, my kid said only one word: No.

I used to bristle when people assumed, because he doesn’t say hello or goodbye on command and gives strangers a death stare, that he wasn’t talking yet. At home, with people he knows, he talks a lot. He uses compound-complex sentences. He knows the names of at least as many kitchen gadgets as I do. He can identity about fifty animals, maybe more. After reading a book a couple times, he starts filling in end rhymes.

A woman in the waiting room spoke up during a lull while my kid was sitting in every chair in the waiting room to say, “I don’t even know why people get Dr. Seuss books for little kids. They’re so long. No two-year-old has that attention span.” And I nodded and said, “Oh, for sure.” I didn’t say my kid regularly requests The Cat in the Hat, two or three times in a row.

When I take him shopping, if we pass close to another shopper, he says, “Oh, sorry.”

I am always apologizing. I see that with clarity now.

When my kid talks to his stuffed animals, he says, “Aw, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” He tells me, out of the blue sometimes, “I’m okay. I’m okay.”

I get anxious about the nurse’s development questions because I feel like a “wrong” answer is a reflection of me, of my parenting. What if he can’t really jump off the ground? What does that say about me? Should I be creating obstacle courses to foster jumping? Should I bring him around other kids who jump? Should we read books about jumping? It’s exhausting.

At the end of the interrogation, I get to say, “Oh, he knows much more than fifty words. He uses coordinating conjunctions.” So there.

Today I went shopping with my mom, who is visiting for several days. I was looking for a dress for an event next month, and she bought me that one and another for a date tonight with my husband, which we have yet to plan, other than the fact that we are going on a date.

This is how it is now, still, two years after having a baby. Shopping for myself is hard to justify. If my mom wasn’t paying, I wouldn’t have even gone shopping in the first place.

And when it became apparent that I need real bras with actual shape and support, as opposed to stretchy, worn nursing bras, I was struck with the overwhelm of buying for my body. I still nurse, so I cannot commit to normal bras all the time. Thus, they feel extravagant. There was a sale: two for $59, and I thought, Jesus, that’s half a week’s groceries. So when the sales lady tried to push a third bra on me, because I “can’t wear the same one every day,” and I said I didn’t want to spend much, and my mom offered to buy them, and I said that wasn’t necessary, and the lady said, “She just wants you to be beautiful”… I just couldn’t talk for a moment.

A) How would three bras make me more beautiful than, say, two?

B) I don’t need a bra to be beautiful. No one will see it, and even if I will be more supported and perkier, the location of my boobs on my chest factors very little in my own sense of my beauty.

Sure, she’s trying to sell more product. And sure, that product is tied up in assumptions and stereotypes about gender, beauty, and worth. But still, I was kind of stunned. There I was, working to accept the cost of something nice for myself, something I wouldn’t normally buy, but something relatively basic, and suddenly it was as though my moderation was some reflection of unwomanliness.

I explained that I still nurse regularly, so I will still be wearing my other bras. I felt like I was trying to get away with something. For awhile, she stared at me, but I didn’t relent.

Later, my mom tried on some bras, and the sales lady came in to check on her. I was nursing my son in the corner of the dressing room. She told me about her daughter, whose baby likes to fiddle with the other nipple while nursing, and I said, “Oh yes, he does that too. It drives me crazy.” I softened toward her because she didn’t look away from me nursing a toddler, didn’t make me feel like an aberration for that. Still, I wanted to say, “Tell me I’m not beautiful as I am right now, with my stretch marks and puffy stomach and my boob hanging out, comforting my kid.”

I find it very tricky, the way my body is at once something I accept and respect and mostly love, post-pregnancy and post-birth, while how my body fits in the world is often at odds with that. I care less about flab or stretch marks than I used to, but the world is shouting about baby weight loss and stretch mark cream, specifically shouting at women like me, women who are mothers. I feel the urge to shop at maternity stores because their clothing is functional and accounts for a sagging stomach. During pregnancy and for awhile postpartum, I felt really free from the pressure to be sexy in the ways society deems sexy. I have held on to that most tangibly through extended breastfeeding because needing access to my breasts means making certain, limited choices about clothing.

But the moment I decide to treat my body less like an empty vessel and more like a body that’s my own, if only for a date, I am confronted with all these extra ideas: If you’re going to wear a pretty dress, your boobs should be perky, your saggy parts should be contained.

Your body should not be the body of a mother.

Your body should not be your body.

On this, the eve of my son’s second birthday party, I am reminded of his first few months. Most of the parents I talk to, whether new or old, say infant/toddler growth happens quickly—too quickly. They plump up, they get teeth, they roll over and crawl and pull up and walk, and they fall, and they fall, and the next thing you know, they can open the silverware drawer and come running into the living room with knives. Some parents I talk to say things like, “They grow so fast!” and “Uh-oh, you’re in trouble when he starts walking.”

My son’s first few months were a blur of screaming and an ever-present sense of panic. He wasn’t unhealthy, though he had some physical ailments. So did I. Breastfeeding was such a challenge that I began counting the days until he could be fed solids, until he could take a bottle with less risk of nipple confusion, until I could leave him for longer than an hour. He had colic. He was/is “high need.”

I fell in love with him for real, for the first time, when he laughed. I felt closer to him when he could interact with me, when he started to look like me. His first attempts at words bowled me over with pride—and relief. He was happier and easier with every milestone, especially walking and talking. I spent so much time when he was a baby waiting for motherhood to let me breathe… The things other parents didn’t want to pass, the things they mindlessly told me to cherish, were the very things I hardly missed as he outgrew them. Each new stage, though they all come as a mixed bag, meant my kid had a little more independence, which meant I could too. I am far more comfortable with toddler tantrums than I was with colicky screaming, and I’m pretty sure that’s because now he is communicating clearly, if somewhat irrationally, whereas infant crying feels so mystifying and one-sided and overwhelming.

At two, my son has conversations with me about animals, swimming, recycle trucks, his birthday cake. He likes to affirm everyone for everything. (“Good job singing!” “Really good walk!” “I love that book!” “Good job watching West Wing.”) He recites parts of his favorite books. (“There’s a clatter in the tree.”) He loves all animals, but especially bears, hedgehogs, meerkats, and goats. He likes to hug my waist while he rides in a shopping cart and says, “Aaw. Sweet Mommy.” He likes to make up stories.

In some ways, he still takes up as much of my energy as he did two years ago, but now, he replenishes it with his curiosity, his sense of humor, his sweetness, and how he loves so many things that I love too. So, instead of worrying about the fact that he can now unlock and open all the doors and run out of the house, I’m looking forward to all the new experiences Year Three has in store for us. Bring it on.