It feels wrong to address you this way, to call you a baby, even though it feels like yesterday that I was splayed out on a hospital bed with my insides mangled, my pelvis sliced open and then glued back together (I assume that’s how they do it, why else would it cost $9000?), peering over at this strange, terrifying, insatiable little creature in the acrylic bassinet two feet over, unable to start a sentence without flooding with emotion: relief that you were healthy and alive; exhaustion at the 39 hours of labor and subsequent surgery; utter terror at the fact that apparently the nice people at the hospital were going to entrust me and your father with keeping you alive when I didn’t even know how to put clothes on you, or give you a bath, or even really hold you.
It feels wrong to address you as a baby, to think of you as “the baby,” to tell people that I’m sorry my house is so filthy/my writing is so late/my late writing is so shitty/my hair is sticking straight up/I forgot to return that library book/I had to leave the restaurant/I have not been able to keep a single appointment for the past 365 days because, well, you know, I have a baby. (Everybody understands. Will everybody still understand?) You’re not a baby anymore, even though when I close my eyes I still see this ridiculous one-month-old sweetie, still an insatiable beast who sometimes nursed for six hours in a row, who gave me thrush that wouldn’t go away (especially because of the antibiotics I had to take when my C-section incision got infected), who didn’t really recognize that I existed outside of my giant engorged excruciating boobs, who was just starting to fall deeply and madly in love with her shapes.
You’re not a baby anymore, which means you’re no longer an immobile lump of breastfed fois gras, a Peak Fat two-month-old whose neck has disappeared entirely under seven chins, and who has at long last discovered that her parents are human beings who enjoy being smiled at once in awhile when you’re not gracing us with another diaper-shattering crap. (We threw away more onesies than I’d care to admit, and there were always three or four freshly-rinsed ones, still with that tell-tale yellow tinge, hanging in the shower).
Now you sit up all by yourself, and you don’t need a Boppy (which you are using here on the six-month setting at three months, stuffed into nine-month clothes). You play “by yourself” sometimes, too (so long as we watch you and make sure you don’t impale yourself on anything, which would be your number-one pastime if we let it), as opposed to mugging for the camera grasping one of your brand-new “enriching” expensive toys, which you didn’t actually like and would soon jettison onto the street on a walk without us even noticing. We saw a neighbor kid playing with an identical toy, and said, “Hey, our kid has that toy,” and the neighbor said, “We found this one on the street.”
You are no longer a Jabba-the-Hutt-looking four-month-old who takes three hours to be put down for a 45-minute nap, who has learned to play games and sit up unassisted, and has even been snuck a finger-full of mashed banana against doctor’s orders. Now you eat anything and everything you can get your filthy little mitts on, chomping it down gamely with your eight teeth, throwing it all over the kitchen (or restaurant). Your favorites are: blueberries (frozen and fresh), broccoli, oranges, and frozen peas, but you also enjoy pancakes, hummus, beans, crusts of bread, potatoes, eggs, bacon, leaves, twigs, lint, and all forms of paper (though lightweight cardboard remains at the top of the list).
My little five-month-old baby, sitting up second nature now, who sprouted teeth and loved to be toted around in your grandma’s garden wagon upstate is but a memory now, though I can still remember what you looked like the first time you sucked something successfully through a straw (that may or may not have been kombucha, which you still enjoy in small amounts, in case anyone from Child Protective Services is reading this).
My six-month-old baby, no longer Peak Fat but still topping the charts at the doctor’s, who loved nothing more than to watch me stack some blocks and knock them down (well, nothing besides gardening with her grandmother, or being with her grandmother in general), has given way to a lither toddler (toddler!) who loves nothing more than to bulldoze her way through a bunch of other kids stacking blocks and rudely knock over their creations (I have no idea where she learned that). Today at Toddler Time at the library, a bruiser of a 2-year-old named Leo was so unimpressed with you that he subjected you to your first ever act of intentional violence (you accidentally near-death yourself on a daily basis and only by the grace of all deities and your relatively quick-reflexed parents are you still alive and all-limbed), a big fat shove, which broke your heart and scared you and set loose a wail that shook the library. “She’s in a grabby phase,” I tell everyone. They all understand. “She’s just a baby,” they say. But you’re not really, are you?
You’re no longer the pensive, interactive seven-month-old who withstood an entire month of your mother having a nervous breakdown after she wrote what she thought was a cute tribute to your four-month sleep regression (that lasted until seven months). I spent most of that month apologizing to you, for being a terrible parent, for being a woman on the internet, for being “abusive” and neglectful while I looked down at my phone at the latest death threat instead of into the open, longing face sitting right across from me on the bed.
You bear a slight resemblance to the eight-month-old beauty who started to crawl and wouldn’t stop, and went from super-fat to regular-fat in Oregon, who delighted your other grandparents in their house, in the beautiful new room they built just for you, who withstood countless lunches at Morning Glory and the Glenwood, who sat gamely in the high chair gnawing on bagels (which were only sometimes stolen by Billy Budd the dog) while your parents chowed down on their feelings, I mean innumerable sweet treats from Sundance Natural Foods, and then wondered why we weren’t losing the baby weight (or the sympathy weight) even though we worked out at the Y every day.
You still deploy the signature high-chair move of the nine-month-old who fed Cheerios to her “ah-ah,” the word you coined to describe your father before you could say your “p” sounds. The nine-month old crawling tornado who said “mama,” who started recognizing pictures of teddy bears in books, who leaned down and kissed the picture of the baby from Bhutan in Global Babies — that creature I recognize, though you have still grown so much since. You learned your “p” sound, for one, and now you say “papa” no less than ninety thousand times a day, when you are not saying one of your other many dozens of words, so many that we’ve lost count and couldn’t begin to try. Right now your favorite things to say are “up…down” (though you pronounce it “daaahyn”), “cute” (though you pronounce it “toot”), “cat,””car,” “block,” “shoe,” and the alphabet and numbers. When we say the alphabet (or read you one of your eighty million alphabet-related books, which are currently your favorite books), and pause for “P,” “S” and “T,” you supply them. When we count, you can supply all the even numbers up to ten; you can also recognize the symbols for 8 and 10 and identify them wherever you can, and yell them out. Every day you gain a handful of new words and I think, Jesus H. Christ, if I multiplied my knowledge and cognitive abilities like that every day I’d have just learned Swahili while writing this post.
You are indeed quite similar to the ten-month-old who lived in the Lafayette Hotel in San Diego for a month, who kicked and splashed in the pool, and who learned to love her stroller as we walked you back and forth from your grandmother’s every day. Like that ten-month-old, you still gravitate toward whatever in any given room happens to be the deadliest — but unlike that little girl, who pushed herself uncertainly to a stand for twenty seconds at a time and then crashed down to the floor, you can now walk. You took your first step unassisted at the Denver airport, between flights on the final day of 2015, the year of your birth, the year I will always and never remember, because it is the most important year of my life and simultaneously was the biggest blur of endless nights, sore boobs, wrecked houses, exploded butts. We got home to St. Louis around midnight, and you politely climbed into your car seat (something you have literally never done and before or since) and watched as we unpacked manically, until, at 1:30 a.m. (!) you let your unfit parents know that you were fucking tired by way of melting down into sobs, and we tucked you into the bed that served as your first cozy resting place when you came home from the hospital with us all those months ago. All that one entire year ago.
You are not unlike that beautiful eleven-month old child who started with a few uncertain steps every other night, and then quickly escalated into full-scale lumbering, now using your feet as your sole (as it were) mode of transport, walking and talking from the moment you wake up in the morning (“CAT! ASHER! CAR! S! TURKEY! CUP! UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN!”) until the moment you collapse at night, which is usually preceded by an hour of “Drunky Bean” drunking around the bed, kicking your little legs and being ridiculous, sometimes doing your “dance moves,” which is one of the few times you sit voluntarily. Your “dancing” involves sitting on your butt (which you pronounce “BUP!”) and bouncing up and down; you haven’t discovered that it’s possible to dance standing up yet. Unless you count the awesome game your father made up where he throws a muslin blanket over your head and then you go tearing around the room bumping into stuff like the world’s most reckless ghost. (It is a terrible game. It is no longer allowed.)
You are a year old. You are a toddler now. You walk. You talk. You play (which you pronounce “PWEEEEEY!”). You hug and kiss (which you pronounce “HUK!!!!!!!” before doing). You have the biggest heart. You’re still not the greatest napper. You have this awesome habit of getting up and running away whenever I try to change your diaper (which I can’t do on the changing table for obvious reasons). You are my entire life, the greatest entity I have ever had the honor of being anywhere near. I am so lucky to be your mother. We have all, you, your father and I, grown so much since that terrifying, dark night we brought you home without the slightest clue what to do with you. (Technically your father and I have also shrunk, having given up eating our feelings shortly before the great Norovirus outbreak of Christmas.)
Now, on your very first birthday (other than your Birth Day, my Birthing Day), I still don’t think I’ve managed to capture you, your you-ness, how I feel about you, how you feel about you (and about everything else). But I did my best. Just like I’ve done for every second of every day since you came into my life. I still can’t believe you’re here. I still can’t believe you ever weren’t.
And now you’re one. You’re not a babby. You’re a little girl. And I love, more than anything that has ever existed, that you are mine.