Tonight is the eve of my boy’s first birthday. It’s a night rich with sentimentality every year, the eve of my children’s birthdays, but the first is especially reverent. I think about their birth story. I think about what I was doing at exactly this moment a year ago. I think about the way my child used to be, this breathy, silky, bundle of a thing resting upon my chest like a magnet.
I promised myself I’d trace every detail this time: I’d remember every new bit of information, no matter how discreet. But I kept this promise in the way you might soothe a child: with thoughtless agreement grounded in a need to make everything okay.
Shhhh, honey, it’s okay. We’ll find it tomorrow. It will be somewhere. I promise I’ll find it. Come over here. I’ll read you a story. We’ll play with some blocks.
Billy, I’m here. I see you. I won’t forget this. That laugh. Today’s date. That time you smiled. That tuft of hair. That look. I see it. I will not forget it.
The thing is, we fall into those we love, and we do so in a way that makes it difficult to see the way they might be different every time you sit down together to eat breakfast. What I know is that change, like all things really, can seem like the surface of water: though it looks still and untouched, there is a force, a very primal current which moves beneath it — the source of the movement being the source of life itself.
And so now, a year later, I don’t know when it was he lost his intoxicating newborn smell. I don’t know when it was he said ma ma ma ma for the first time and knew exactly what it was he was saying. I don’t know when Extraordinary lost its extra — when the magic of new life was given over to the steady hum of routine.
I was frantic to hold my moments of this past year well. To take them in with the full weight of their worth. Everyone told me how fast it goes. I didn’t really need to be told — I knew. I knew how fleeting babyhood was. I’d been through it before. And so my wild promises were an act of self-preservation — an instinctive respond to the threat of pain: the passing of time, the loss of our babies and even more than that, the loss of our memories of them.
How silly of me.
It’s true. We do lose our babies. They will grow up. They will no longer fit into the nooks of our necks. They will no longer lie across our chests, their breathy sounds filling our ears like church bells. There is so much we lose, yes, and there is so much value in drinking in every little aspect of life and love which brings us pleasure and fills our hearts.
But how silly I was in thinking of change solely as something we lose. In all honesty, babyhood is intense. And now it is phasing itself out of my life, quite probably for the last time, I am becoming better at loving who my children are right now. I am noticing the millions of things I gain when time carries me with it, instead of all the things I’m losing.
And right now? Right now is beautiful, too.
The curl tufts that stick out from behind his ears.
The bond he shares with his sister.
The way he is loved.
His ma-ma-ma’s — little hands reaching upward, begging to be held.
The weight of his body as he drops into my chest, his arms wrapped around me, gripping ever so slightly.
His affection. His closeness. His softness. The way he looks when he’s sleeping. The lullaby I sing him at the end of each day. The smile he gives me when I massage him. There are reasons I love right now as there are stars in the sky. And my hope is that every passing year, I only find more.
Maternal love changes as our children change. Soon it will be less coos and kisses and sweet lullabies sung at night, and more the journey of knowing them — knowing who they are, what kind of love they need, how they best receive it, and all the ways we can best distribute it. Love moves from cocooning them, to guiding them away – to themselves, to each other, and to the great wide world. No type of love is better. Every stage of maternal love is a loss-gain. Like everything in life, really. Because one day, your child will not tuck themselves into the nook of your neck. They will not fold their tiny body around you, a little hand resting upon yours. But one day, they might sit down beside you. They might ask your advice. They might slip their arm around yours. They might hold you tight. And the difference is, it will be their choice.
I cannot fathom anything more beautiful.
You, my darling boy, are the brightest of stars. You’re a ticket to the happiest of places. You’re sweet and cuddly. You’re smiley and affectionate. This last year has been the best I’ve lived and I can’t begin to tell you how lucky I feel to have you as mine. Grow, sweet boy. Spread your wings and soar.
I love you so.
Happy birthday, sweet boy. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. For being you. For being here.