Your mom, Jason, and I came home from Jason's birthday trip tonight, and although at first you were upset that that meant that Nana would be leaving, before the end of the night you'd given me two hugs and a kiss. I always treasure it when you decide to show affection, because I know that it's truly your choice.
This is the thing that everyone notices about you: that you have a big personality and strong opinions, and you are not shy about sharing them. You are smart and strong of will. You don't give up, although you do sometimes change your mind. You have learned to write your name, and you are excited to write it every chance you get. I hope you never run out of opportunities to put your name on things, and that you never lose the willingness to do it. I call you my little bear, and I think you're every bit as powerful as that name.
Today is your birthday, and I hope that it's a great one for you. I love you so much. Happy birthday!
Soundtrack: “Not Over (Instrumental),” by Kid Prism. Licensed from Marmoset Music.
As I write this letter, you are asleep, having spent the day running and playing and having lots of fun. Earlier this evening, you and I sat next to each other when we went to a restaurant for dinner, and just before the food came you climbed into my lap—completely unprompted—and let me give you a hug and a kiss. It was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one—most of the time when I ask if I can give you a hug or kiss you say no. But, honestly, this is one of the things I love about you, that you have a sense of your personal boundaries and that you are independent and strong-willed.
You've had a big year. This was the year of your first dance recital, the year you discovered CookieSwirlC, the year you learned the words to every song from the soundtracks to Moana and Steven Universe, and the year you started potty training. You always have a ton of energy in everything you do, and you've been proud of your accomplishments, and for good reason! In the fall you'll be starting pre-school, and you're looking forward to it already. You're smart, funny, and very strong, and I know you're going to do great.
Happy birthday, Mary. I love you, my big girl!
Soundtrack: "It's Well (Instrumental)" by Bekah Shae. Licensed from Audiosocket.
Three days ago we celebrated your brother’s birthday, and today it is your birthday. Birthdays being what they are, this is how it’s always going to be, and sometimes your mom and I worry about letting your day turn into an afterthought. I don’t think you’re going to let that happen, though.
Because you are a force.
You may be the youngest member of our family and—for now—the smallest in stature, but in will and determination and sheer size of personality you are a giant. You are mighty. You know what you want, and you go for it, every time. I think of all the times I’ve lifted you over my head and listened to you cackle, your gleeful shouts of “Again! One more time!” I think of the way you will just climb into my lap and push your smiling face right into my line of sight; you are playful, but you demand to be seen.
And even though sometimes that means your mom and I—and your sister and brother—have to reckon with your displeasure, I hope that you hold onto that spirit, that ability to stand up for yourself, never taking a drop of disrespect from anyone. Because if you can do that, nothing is going to stand in your way. You’re smart, you’re strong, you’re funny, and you’re fierce. You will go far.
Today is your day, my girl. I love you. Happy birthday!
Soundtrack: "Nightglow (Instrumental)" by Beachcomber. Used with permission.
So here we are, the last night of your first year. As I'm writing this, you are about eight feet away from me on your mom's lap. You've just finished a last little snack before bedtime, which is part of your normal routine. Unlike most nights, though, we're in a hotel room more than a thousand miles from home—your first trip to another country. It's funny for me to consider that with you, I'm going to be seeing a lot of firsts for the last time. But I'm glad that you're the one I'll see them with.
Before you were born, your mom and I thought we knew what we were doing as parents, and we thought we knew what to expect from you. But from your very first day, you have demanded to be reckoned with on your own terms. You are strong-willed and determined. You are a girl on the go. Today, for the first time, you decided to stand without holding onto anything for balance. I'm sure it's only a matter of weeks or even days before you take your first steps. None of your family is surprised about this; you have always had places to go, things you wanted to be doing, and you are not one to let anything stand in your way. It's a big world out there and often a tough one; I think your grit and drive will serve you well as you continue to grow and find your way.
You're sometimes a handful, and sometimes a sweetheart. You're goofy, like your brother and sister—you love to make people laugh. You're little for your age when it comes to height and weight, but like you might hear in stories about another adventurous soul, you're bigger on the inside.
Tomorrow is your birthday, and you are going to be surrounded by family celebrating your first year. For you, I think tomorrow is going to be no big deal, maybe just something you'll see pictures of when you get older. For me and your mom, though, it's a pretty big deal: you're one year old, and you're the one who's made our family complete.
I hope you have a great day, baby girl. I love you.
Soundtrack: "Train Tracks" by Marmoset. Used with permission.
At Two Months
The thing that strikes me the most about this picture is not how much different she looked then, nor how much the same she looks now. It's not the way she still sometimes sleeps with her arms raised and hands in little fists. It's not even the swiftness with which the past eight, nearly nine months have passed. All of those things do cross my mind when I look at this picture, but mostly what amazes me is seeing her at 6:10 in the morning, sleeping soundly enough for me to take her picture—or even enter the room—without waking her.
Child, I love you very much. I love your energy, your inquisitiveness, and your impish little smile. I love that you are motivated, that you go after what you want, and I hope that you stay that way when you are older.
But please, at 2:30 in the morning, this is the only thing I ever want to see you doing.
The boy took one look at the new floors and started to cry. "I think I'm going to throw up!" he said. I always thought that my sentimentality and resistance to change had to do with the fact that we moved so many times when I was a child, but he's the same way—perhaps even more so.
The girl took a few steps in, turned her head to take it all in, and with a sunny smile declared, "I like them!" Though, it was not immediately obvious whether she actually liked them or was just saying the opposite of what her brother said.
The baby hasn't given an opinion yet, nor do I expect her to. By the time she's able to say anything, she will have long since forgotten that there was ever carpet in the living room—if, indeed, she hasn't already. Her knees slip a bit more when she tries to crawl in her pajamas, but she takes it all in stride, like everything. Onward and upward, that's her motto.
A Quiet Moment
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.