I went totally bananas on your birthday. I sat down in front of your dad (he was putting something together on the floor, being productive or something -- ugggggh) with bags of party supplies and tried to justify why I spent so much on decorations for a baby birthday party. And that's really a loose term -- birthday parties for our family are normally me calling someone up and being like, "Hey, you want a piece of cake?" But I went to get birthday balloons (say what you want about me, Ben, but I always keep my children well-ballooned) and I walked through the aisles of Party City and decided to get more things. I found an aisle completely dedicated to babies turning one. And I even had to pick a theme. Was Ben an animal kind of baby? Cars? Elmo? Mickey? (Truth be told, you totally do not care. I remember thinking that Adam and Avery sort of liked things, like balls or Elmo, but you don't seem to. You like: to be held, to smile at people, to put things in your mouth, to dance, and when we say "Soooouuup" in high voices. Put those things on banners, Party City.)
But I picked the car theme (not because of the last name thing -- I honestly forget that our last name is a noun most of the time), and bought banners and swirly things and some fan things and paper lanterns and a thing to put on your high chair and I had to sit down in front of your dad and explain why.
Babies only turn one once.
He won't be a baby much longer.
I broke his leg and I feel bad.
He won't be a baby forever.
He will never have a first birthday again.
We will never have a baby have a first birthday again.
I will never have a baby have a first birthday again.
I will never have a baby again.
Ben, this is a little tonally inappropriate for baby-reading, so just skip the next few paragraphs and I'll just talk to the nice people on the internet.
If I could pick a perfect world, it'd be full of babies. I don't mind the sleep deprivation, I like that they don't talk, and I like the faces they make. I like chubby babies and skinny babies. I like the way diapers look when they're stacked up next to the crib. Poop doesn't really phase me. I'm really good and catching spit-up in my hands. I like to praise them for the mundane things that they do. Good job for looking over at the window! You're so smart! Good job eating that book! I like to make them dance. I like when they fall asleep and look tipsy. I like to pretend that newborn babies are singing opera and I like to hold them up over the shower door to scare Jeff when he's in there. I like to make up stupid songs for them (If you wanna be my favey, you gotta be more like Ben. Babies are my favies, babies are my frieeeends.) and I like to make up words for them and I kiss them about every 3 seconds.
I love babies. And honestly, I always have. I didn't have a lot of exposure to babies as a kid, but when I did, I'd feel a quake inside me and I'd honestly feel like that baby was the cutest thing I had ever seen and there was a small part of me that just wanted to start shouting for joy because that baby was so freaking cute. And I was always a little bit frightened by that feeling, that exultation that babies gave me. I never correctly diagnosed it as, "Oh yeah, maybe I should have kids." I always wanted kids, but more in a vague way. I wanted to wear dresses, read books and fall madly in love more. Kids were just something that came after the happy ending.
But then kids... well, kids were the happy ending. These little humans who take so much from me and maybe literally are driving me insane and stealing my brain power are also what I wanted most in the world. And we'd talk about what I'd do when they were older (write, maybe teach, more school) and it be this vague and fuzzy thing because it was something to think about later. It was something for after the happy ending.
And I've had this gathering dark feeling that keeps growing as Adam started school and as Avery learned to read and it spilled over on Ben's first birthday. That day is coming. I am exiting the days of "no pants because the baby peed on them and because pants are the worst." I'm going to have to figure out how to cut oranges up for soccer practice. We currently just kind of peel them and let the kids go to town, but I'm going to have to cut them and put them in coolers. DO WE EVEN HAVE A COOLER? We're going to start watching regular Disney Channel. That Jessie girl is too young to be a nanny, dang it! And I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm going to have to learn how to throw a frisbee. I think frisbees are really dumb and not at all fun to catch.
It's ending. I won't always be a mother to small children. I'm going to be a mom to just children. And they talk a lot. And they don't always like my songs. They're continent most of the time, but that just means I have to clean bathrooms.
And I feel like such a narcissist, making the idea of my kids getting older about me, but I just don't know if I can do it. I feel like having babies has brought out the best of me and I just don't want that gone. Can I muster the same wonder that I feel when a baby laughs even as I spend my evenings helping with math homework? Will it be gone? Will the unconditional love I can feel for a teething baby still be there for a kid who is talking back? How can I bear the heartache I'll feel when the babies who blew spit bubbles make bad decisions? Will I look at them and wonder what happened because I held them and they were perfect? Does the sun have to set on that emotion? Why are we given the human experience of feeling complete unconditional love and watching that love never leave you, but instead vacating your arms to take slow steps toward the bus stop?
I think I'm getting it. I hope I'm getting it. When Adam and I talked about this beggar we saw in Sarajevo and I had to explain to him that the world wasn't kind to everyone, but we could try to help and he got it -- he got it. And when I see Avery laugh with her friends at school. When I see Ben smile as he figures out how to stick magnets on the fridge. I think love might be a chemical reaction. My joy at a baby smiling will turn to joy at my child, who once was unable to even lift their own head, ride a bike and make friends and solve problems and give love to others. My love for Adam as he builds with Legos is made up of the same components of the love I felt when he looked up at me the first time. Maybe that love has been mixed with time and anxiety and different responsibilities and growing minds and Legos left on the floor, but the love isn't diluted. It wasn't wasted. It's there as he smiles at the bus driver and in the cards he writes his dad. It's there in the squeals he made when he heard the ice cream truck. Or maybe we feel love in such a concentrated way in the beginning to get us through the disappointments and disobedience. I don't know. Maybe I don't get it yet.
But Ben, I accidentally made this about me and I accidentally tried to voice one of my many existential crises instead of express what I came here to say. I will probably do that a lot in your lifetime. But I just wanted to tell you that I cried the night before your birthday. And some of it was about me, but a lot of it was about you.
Ben, you are the last part of my happy ending of having children. You are the last little human that I will hold and look at and think "Oh, there you are." And yes, that makes me sad. But I also cried because you are such a beautiful ending. Really, you are the chubbiest, drooliest, most beautiful ending I could have ever imagined. I love a perfect ending.
Ben, I will teach you how to walk, I will teach you how to read, and I will teach you how throw a frisbee, once I get the knack of it. I will agonize over the wrongs you make and I will always give you balloons on your birthday. And yes, I will miss the years of holding babies in my arms.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that the next chapter of our lives will be amazing.