Happy Birthday, Abigail Grace

Dear Abigail –

You are one. As in “One-Year-Old.”

This calls for a drink. Or several.

How do I even begin this letter? How do I even articulately discuss what the past 12 months have meant to me, to your Dad? I just spent the past hour re-reading all of the letters from the past 11 months. In addition to feeling ridiculously grateful for having had done them, it sent me spiraling from the pressure of putting together The Big Finale for the year.

It is true, so true, that the days are long, but the years are short. I will amend that to say that within the first three months, the days are awful, slow-sucking exercises in what is the emotional equivalent to slugging through molasses up to your waist, with 10-pound weights buckled to both ankles and no end in sight, though everyone tells you that you get to wash off the sticky muck, drop the weights, soon. Soon! Soon!

Admittedly it’s only now, having had about 275 days of great sleep since those days, that I find myself wistful – SO WISTFUL – for those slow unencumbered days. Remember how we used to fall asleep watching Law & Order? No? I do. Remember how you’d only stop screaming and fall asleep if the vacuum white noise was turned up, to full blast, while we rocked you while bouncing up and down and up and down on a balance ball, for hours? Literally hours? No? I do. Remember how upset I was that, if I wanted to get some sleep in the afternoon, I had to leave you sleeping on my chest, for hours, without moving an inch, because I couldn’t put you down without you waking up? No? I do.

And yet? I miss those days. Well, I suppose I don’t miss those actual experiences – because God they sucked – as much as I miss having my days wide open to you and you alone.

I am grateful I had the presence of mind back then, all evidence to the contrary, to make many mental notes to how precious that time with you was, no matter how tough it was the majority of the time.

(What? You’ve read about the first three months. They were no picnic. They were more like a trip through a Wendy’s drive-thru that ended with cold fries and a pop that spilled all over the console.)

Because here we are.

You walk. You sign. You talk. Well, you mimic but these days we hear a lot of “Hi!” and “Mama” and “Dada” and “Bye Bye” and a lot of hard tries to say “Glinny” and “Thank you!” You have preferences – music. Lots of music. You’re drinking from a sippy cup with a straw. You eat regular ol’ foods all by yourself. When we finish off your bedtime bottle – which we are soon doing away with– you are so far from being asleep that I don’t ever care about making a noise or creaking a floorboard after I put you into your crib. You’re not going to be asleep for another 20 minutes or so.  I cannot remember the last time you fell asleep in my arms. You’d rather have hot pokers stuck into your sides than cuddle, not that you were ever a cuddler as a baby.

Strange enough though? The other day I was home from work, on a vacation day, and was trying to juggle some work things that came up – Work stuff comes up a lot, I know – and after the dust had settled, and there was only an hour left in the day, I was thinking about heading straight to the couch to fight a cold I’d been battling, and catch up on some Downton Abbey while you and your nanny hung out as usual. Instead, I said, “Fuck it, I’m playing with my kid,” and headed back upstairs. You bounded over to me, all gangly and stumbly and tumbly, and made a leap into my lap. You draped your right arm around my neck, casually, almost as if to tell me a secret, and popped your thumb in your mouth.

She’s gets really cuddly around this time of day,” your nanny said. I take this new information in stride; I love that you are with someone so kind, so loving, so attentive, that she knows this about you. Sometimes it makes me wince, these things I don’t know. These assumptions I have about you that aren’t true.

So maybe she *is* a cuddler…

I grabbed the nearest thing – a puzzle I think, maybe a book – and there we sat together. You with your tiny, chunky arm slung around me, me with my right hand cupping your belly, pulling you in closer. You turned pages, pushed buttons, but mostly you just wanted to show me. You wanted to experience something with me.

Oh God. Had I ignored my gut and spent that hour watching TV! Oh God. What I would have missed!

I will never not be conflicted with being a mom who has another job besides being your mom. I will never not be OK with knowing that this first year of your life went by – as will I feel about the subsequent years – without me there for every moment to experience it with you. I know there will be moments that you’ll resent this or wonder why, but the most I can say is that we’re all wired one way or another. And our life experiences tie us up in these near-impenetrable knots and when you combine the two, you get what you get. My wiring and my experiences mean I work at another job outside our house. The short answer to the question as to why I work the way I do is that it means that you don’t spend your childhood with your stomach twisted in knots as to whether asking for ice cream is too frivolous of a request. The long answer is…well the short answer is the long answer summarized best.

I will short-change you somewhere. It is the price we both pay for being human. I am so sorry for not only short-changing you, but also for being so miserably human. You deserve so much more. I hope someday you’ll forgive me for it.

I read the most brilliant post recently, and from it came this truism:

Then I remember what my most important parenting job is. And that is to teach my children how to deal with being human. Because most likely, that’s where they’re headed. No matter what I do, they’re headed toward being jacked-up humans faster than three brakeless railroad cars.

There is really only one way to deal gracefully with being a jacked-up human, and that is this:

Forgive yourself.

Oh sweet Lord, if there is a gift I can give you on this, your first birthday, it is that you forgive yourself for being human. You are the product of two people who, by sheer genetics, and inevitably by example, have bestowed upon you two awesome traits – stubbornness and perfectionism. Your Dad and I are both two people who spend an exorbitant amount of time honing and fine-tuning and agonizing over whether we’re really good enough. Though you are obviously not plagued with our anxiety, oh sweet girl, you are stubborn, too. If I could bottle the confidence you exude and inspire, at this moment, I would. Eventually, though, you’ll be really tested, really challenged. It may cause you to doubt yourself, it may cause you to wonder why you’re not better/smarter/stronger/whatever…maybe just wonder why you can’t be perfect. All that I want from you, all that your dad wants from you, is your best effort. Do we want you to try to win? Hell yes. Winning is a great feeling, and it’s worth the effort.

Just know winning is not the most important thing.

You came into the world during a winter lightening and thunderstorm, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to any of us what a little firecracker you turned out to be. You’ve challenged everything I thought of myself – in only the best of ways – and forced me to take a long hard look in the mirror and keep myself accountable to those things I say I hold dear, those things I want to improve on and the kind of person I say I want to be.

I am so eternally grateful for you. This has been the best year of our lives. Thank you. A thousand times over, thank you. Happy birthday, Monks.