Hello, Baby. Not “a” baby or “the” baby anymore, but still “my” baby. Perhaps “Toddler” is a better name for you now. After all, when I turn on your bunny shaped light in the morning, and its light awakens your sleepy, dark room, there you are, standing in your crib with your disheveled hair and expectant grin, waiting for me to pick you up so you can start your busy day. You usually hand me your momma bunny — the lovey I gave you so that you’re not alone every night. I slept with momma bunny tucked into my shirt for two weeks before I gave it to you, because she needed to smell like me. And then, when I panicked and thought we might one day, years down the line, lose her, I slept with a duplicate momma bunny for two more weeks and began your momma bunny rotation. I’m glad you can’t read yet, because you probably don’t know that there are two momma bunnies. But there are, in case you lose your original (and which is the original, anyway?).
So yes, you’re my Toddler now, but you’re still my Baby. You’re about to turn one year old! In less than two weeks! Can you believe it? Probably not. I can hardly believe it. You’ve been with me your whole life, and yet you’ve only been with me for about 3% of mine. But it feels like you’ve been with me for my whole life, too.
Before you came, I had a full life. I had (and still have) a great career (which seems remarkably less important than it did before), a loving husband, a house, a dog, the whole nine yards. I thought you would be the icing on the cake. The gift bag at the end of the party that you don’t expect but are so excited to receive. You are those things, and so much more. You didn’t make my already complete life more complete; you added an entire dimension that I wouldn’t comprehend how to miss if I didn’t have it. You’re my answer to the question, “what is beyond the universe?” There you are, sitting with your porcelain legs dangling over the edge, your big toes dipping and dancing into the black abyss. Your round eyes, deep and dark wells of hazel ink, which are framed by your oversize rosy cheeks, observe with unadulterated curiosity the stars and planets and galaxies whizzing past you. And you laugh.
When you were born, we called you “Pinky”. You had quite a set of pipes on you, and I think you wanted to announce your arrival yourself. You certainly accomplished that goal. You wailed and howled and screeched and screamed, all while turning pinker and pinker. They say newborns are quiet and sleepy. That characterization continues to confuse me. Not my Pinky, my Toddler, my Baby. But in between those wails and howls and screeches and screams, there you were, nuzzled into that small indented place between my bosom and my shoulder, making those sweet little ticky tacky sounds that only newborns make sound appealing when they open and shut their mouths. I remember looking at you there, wrapped up in a blanket that I didn’t know how to swaddle (but which your dad had somehow mastered), feeling strange that your dad and I had created you and overwhelmed that we were now tasked with keeping you alive. And then your eyes would peek open, just for a moment, as if to say, “You’re there. Good. I’m good.” And you were and we were and we are.
There were times when I was scared that I would fail you though. Like when you continued to wail and howl and screech and scream, and I didn’t know what to do, and I couldn’t stand to call anyone because I wouldn’t be able to hear them over the wails and howls and screeches and screams. I felt so alone, there with you. So I did what any logical person would do. I put in ear plugs, and I looked at our dog, who seemed confused with and annoyed by this tiny, loud lump in my arms, and I would beg him, “please, make her stop.” He wasn’t helpful. He would just walk away from us. I envied him.
I was scared I would fail you when you stopped gaining weight. You were a textbook sized baby — perfectly average in all accounts (don’t worry, average is a good thing when you’re born). And you never lost weight and you thrived and I patted myself on the back, congratulating myself on what a good mother I was. And then you stopped gaining weight. And I worried that my milk wasn’t fatty enough, and that you didn’t like it, and that it wasn’t good enough for you, and that I wasn’t good enough for you. Those worries took over. So I made the gut wrenching decision to stop breastfeeding you. And it was the right decision, but it still caused my heart to feel like it was sitting deeper and heavier in my chest, because while I know I didn’t fail you, I still felt like I did. I still feel like I did. And yes, it still hurts. What a simultaneously illogical but understandable thought. You’ll have lots of thoughts like those in your life. It will be okay. It will be okay. It will be okay.
I did eventually figure out what would help us through those times. I joined a group of other moms and babies, and we all met every Friday. Do you remember your first friends? Their moms helped us (and by us, I mean me) through the fog. They saw me cry. They certainly saw you cry. And they saw us laugh, and we saw them laugh. And I talked to some of my best friends and I reconnected with old friends. These women are an integral part of our beginning. I’m sure that motherhood — whatever that looks like — is a sisterhood that is only rivaled by, well, sisterhood.
Your dad is pretty special, too. When you were Baby (“a” baby or “the” baby, depending on who you asked), he would come home from work, and ask how his Goose was. You’re his Goose, and my Goose, too. He loved you from the moment he saw you. And as you got older, and your Pinky days subsided, shouldered out by your own sense of exploration and happiness to be here, he loved you more and more, and so did I. How is that possible? I still don’t know. Now when he comes home, or when I come home with you, the first thing he does is say, “Hi, Goose!” And then he reaches out to you and you reach out to him, and he holds you and kisses your neck, and you giggle and put your hands up to your face, and you melt our hearts and whatever noise from the day we carried home with us. You love your dad. You point to him and exclaim “Dada!” all the time. You also point to the refrigerator and say that, so the jury is out on whether you know what it means.
You also love your dog. He still walks away from us sometimes, mostly to escape your stampede of attention. You used to crawl to him and smack him on the face. Now you walk to him with confidence (even when he tries to make his escape), your feet pounding into the ground and making it shake like a California tremor. You find him, yell “Dog!” and then gently pet his face before delicately placing your face onto his, and then look up at us, expecting our reliable “awwww”. We’re suckers and you know it.
You’re a good little girl, my Goose, my Toddler, my Baby. You have given me inexplicable joy over the last year. When you hand me your momma bunny every morning, and wait for me to put it on the rocking chair so that you can hold it while you drink your morning bottle, I know we will have a good day. You will stomp around your daycare room, and eat your meals at a little toddler table while sitting in a little toddler chair, and play on the playground and look at butterflies and grass and clouds, and talk to us in your baby (excuse me, toddler) language on the way home.
One day, you’ll be a big girl, and then a young woman, and then a grown woman. You might have a baby of your own, or you might not. You get to be whatever you want to be and have the life you want to have. Isn’t that exciting? That thought might scare you one day, but surely it doesn’t yet. What a special time for you. Hold on to that for as long as you can. Growing up is not a trap, despite what some might say, but there’s a lot of magic that exists solely in childhood.
One day you might ask me what I remember most about this special time we have — the good times I know we are in, the youth that is not being wasted at all. And maybe I’ll tell you about those middle of the night feedings, when I felt your hot baby breath on my neck, as I rocked you back to sleep. I might try to tell you about that indescribable scent your head had, which always seemed to calm my anxious heart. I could try to describe the way it felt to kiss your bouncy cheeks and to nuzzle my nose into your neck. Or I’ll tell you about the time when I asked you for a kiss, and you stood up out of your warm bath, and put your hands on the side of the tub and got on your tip toes, and looked at me and brought your face to mine and laid a big, wet open mouthed kiss on my lips. Or maybe I’ll just give you this letter. Who knows. Memory is funny. If you ask me that question, of what I remember most, I might go meandering through the dark and dusty hallways of my mind, in search for a smell, a feeling, a tone, and get lost along the way. So I’ll have this letter to bring me back to reality. I hope I’ll always remember the way these things made my heart feel, and not just the words.
As I mourn the end of your Baby days (but don’t forget, you’re still “my” Baby), I’m comforted by the fact that there is more to come. There’s a movie where a party, or an era, or something is ending, and a character says, “more to come, more to come” with a hopefulness and eagerness, and that’s how I feel now. I don’t remember what movie it is, but I’ll see it again someday and will remember to remember. Memory is funny.
I love you, my Goose, my Pinky, my Toddler, my Baby. You are my best and only girl. Happy birthday, Baby. More to come, more to come.