Today is your birthday. I know that you are aware of this, because for the past two months you've been saying "I want that for my birthday" whenever you see a commercial or a toy or an article of clothing that you like. I have a suspicion that you won't remember everything you've asked for—or maybe it's just a hope.
Since your last birthday you started pre-school. You've impressed everyone at your school with your personality and your intellect; the director likes to say that you're "tiny and mighty." I think that's apt. You're smaller than just about everyone you meet, but you have spunk, and you make your opinions known. (Sometimes, maybe, Mommy and I might wish that you could be a little less, shall we say, forceful in your opinions, but we also love that you have so much to say.) You hold your own, even amongst kids who are bigger and older.
But you're also still our sweet girl, and nowhere does that show more than in how you are with your baby sister. Every night before you go to bed, you insist on getting to hold her, and all day you pepper her with kisses. You try to comfort her when she's fussy, sing to her in the car, and just generally do your best to take care of her. It makes me so proud.
We have our challenges, too, which is only to be expected for a girl about to be three. You're growing into yourself, bouncing off the boundaries we put in place for you. You're not always thrilled with me and Mommy. But every day I'm thankful to have such a funny, smart, affectionate, wonderful girl in my life. I love you, sweetie.
Soundtrack: "Love and Oceans" by The Dimes. Used with permission.
Where to begin? It's hard now, three weeks and some later, to separate out the pieces of the story, and all the more so since I start work again tomorrow, and my mind is caught up with looking ahead. But this is not how the story starts; let me begin again.
It was dark when we left the house. The kids had spent the night at their grandparents' hotel room, the dog was at the kennel, our bags had been packed the night before. Passing through the empty office parks on our way to the hospital, we passed a police car with its lights spinning, parked beside a tree that had fallen into the street. Over and over as we drove, Juliette and I marveled that we would have another baby in mere hours, and also that this would be the last time we'd make this particular trip.
There was a certain sense of relief that we shared. We'd made it through Jason's birthday—just three days before—without Juliette going into labor. And, of course, she was looking forward to being able to breathe again. But there was a bit of apprehension, too. Not because of the impending sleepless nights; we'd been through that before and we knew we could handle it.
The first time we had made that drive, Juliette was curled into a ball in the passenger seat and I was just trying to hold it together, and despite all the classes and reading, we were both unprepared for how things went. The second time was more like this one, calmer and a little surreal, but later I would be holding her hand while she gasped and moaned from the pain of an incompletely anesthetized surgery. This time we felt more experienced, but that experience had taught us that things would probably be different in unexpected ways.
Things started in a familiar way. We filled out paperwork, we waited. Eventually Juliette went into the OR to be prepped, and I stood outside in the hall, alone, pacing nervously and cracking my knuckles and taking pictures of nothing.
But then things were different. Juliette had a smile on her face as the doctors started operating. The anesthesia worked this time, so instead of hearing Juliette's pain, I heard the pings and whirs of the machinery, and the doctors' voices as they discussed recipes for salmon.
And then, all of a sudden, there she was.
And just as I had both times before, I marveled at how loud she was. She looks like Eva, I thought to myself as I brought her to meet her mother for the first time on the outside. "Hi, Mary," I said. "Hi, baby girl. Happy birthday."
There are lots of little details that spring to mind from the next few hours and days. The surprise in the doctor's voice when she saw that Mary's umbilical cord had a knot in it. The little spurt of blood when I cut the cord, that shot out and hit one of the nurses in the eye. The surprise and joy at finally having a big baby—and the way I pumped my fists in celebration at the first visit to the pediatrician's office, when she'd regained her birth weight in just six days.
And now we're a family, all over again and newly and differently. We're still learning what that means and how we live together. It's strange and new and more than a little bit exhausting. And it's wonderful.
By This Time Tomorrow
By this time tomorrow, my life will be different. In itself, that's nothing out of the ordinary—every day brings something new, every day I am different from the day before. But tomorrow is a big one, because tomorrow is the day that my new daughter will be born.
One of my co-workers said to me last week that I must be an old pro at this by now. And it's true that I am comfortable as a parent now. I know that I can handle the sleepless nights, the diaper disasters. I even know that I can take care of my two older kids and a baby at the same time. But as much as I do know what it's like to have children, all I can really say is that I know what it's like to have my children, to have the two that I know already.
Leading up to Eva's birth, I remember feeling a certain sadness. I knew that I would love her and that I would some day reach a point where I couldn't imagine life without her. And both of those things were true. But I still felt a sense of grief at the loss of the family that we had right then. When it was just me and Juliette and Jason, it was wonderful, and when Eva came into our lives it was wonderful, too, but in a different way, and knowing that that first experience would be ending was bittersweet.
And so it is tonight. I know that it will be wonderful to have another daughter. I know that I will love her, and laugh with her, and that I will have a bond with her that is similar to the ones I have with her siblings, but one that will be unique to her and me. I'm looking forward to that. But I can't get away from this small sadness that what I have now, which I also love, will be ending.
Little girl, I don't know you yet. And you don't know me, not really. Maybe some day you will read this and wonder about my feelings for you, and if that happens then I'm sorry. But I will tell you this: as I'm writing this we are strangers, but by the time you're able to read this, I will love you so much that it makes my chest hurt, and I will have held you and kissed you and taken care of you so well that you will not wonder long. You will know that I will always love you. And I hope that some day, when you are waiting for your child to be born, that knowing how I felt now will help you know that everything will be OK, and that if you feel something like this, that you are not alone.
I can't wait to meet you.
In just a few days you're going to have a new baby sister, but today is your day. I know you're still disappointed that you're not going to have a brother, but I have been so impressed with how helpful you have been to your mom and Eva and me. You are a really good big brother—having a little sister is frustrating sometimes, but you are always looking out for Eva and trying to do things for her, and I am so proud whenever I see that.
This past year has been a big one for you. You started school and had a great kindergarten year. You made lots of new friends, but still kept in touch with some of your old pre-school buddies. You have made a lot of progress in learning to read and write, and I've been so proud of how hard you've worked at it, even though you don't always want to. You work hard at practicing lots of things: swimming, tying your shoes, karate. You even do a great job of keeping your room clean.
We went to Legoland this weekend for your birthday, and what I really love about how grown up you've gotten is how much fun we have together now. We had a blast going on the waterslides together, and going on rides, and looking for the little people in Miniland. I love that you get so excited about things like explaining the Star Wars scenes to your uncle, or explaining Pokemon to your grandfather. I hope that you never lose that enthusiasm.
Today is your birthday, and I hope it's a great one. Happy birthday, pal. I love you.
Soundtrack: "Trees to Stone (Instrumental)" by Fremont. Used with permission.
Little fingers, how did you wind up there? Were you reaching for something as your eyelids drooped? It almost looks like you are pushing your pillow away, holding it back from your face. Of course, by the time I come back, after putting my camera away, you'll have moved. I wonder if you'll ever sleep still. But then, I suppose I don't, either.
I fret a lot about how to raise my daughter to be a strong, empowered individual, a person who doesn't value herself solely based on her appearance, and so I used to imagine my daughter as a tomboy. As it turns out, what she really loves is nail polish and dresses and princesses and pink. Maybe this will change when she gets older. Maybe not. Ultimately, it's not up to me to decide what femininity or even feminism means to her. In the meantime, at least I can be happy that we like the same snacks.
I've been getting up earlier for the past couple of months, which means I've been able to take Jason to school in the mornings. I like having the little bit of extra time with him, and getting to see him with his friends and in his new environment. Walking back to my car by myself after the bell rings, though, is a little... lonely, I suppose.