On her birthday morning, I woke her up by singing “Happy birthday.” She stirred, ever so slightly, and then pushed the blanket down off of her face. Before her eyes even opened to the sunlight, a smile lit up her face.
Birthday pancakes and singing. A crazy birthday card with cats singing to her. A present from her aunt and a promise to take care of it if I’d just let her wear it to school. A radiant grin when I agree.
In the car, we discussed what happened on the same day four years earlier. “I’m going to tell you all of this because this is what mamas do, sweetheart. Four years ago this morning, I woke up from a very restless, uncomfortable night’s sleep, knowing this would be one of the best days I’d ever live.”
I told her about how I felt – the pain and the joy and the excitement. I told her about the stream of visitors – family members who, like her daddy and me, couldn’t wait to meet her. I told her about the nurses and the doctors and the medicine to make it not hurt so badly. I told her about the first shadows of evening and the promise that my baby girl was almost here. I told her about hugging her for the first time and crying into her already-damp hair. I told her about seeing Daddy so proud of his girl, and how he was right there with her every moment. I told her about getting everyone back in the room and tearfully telling them her name for the first time. I told her how everybody gasped and cheered, so excited to meet her. I told her how they all clamored to get by my bedside, trying to see her face – touch her fingers – kiss her head.
I paused as I remembered it all. Such joy. Such ridiculous, heaven-sent joy.
Such gifts…….. Amazing………..
“Tell me more, Mommy. Tell me more about the day I was born.”
I look at her in the rearview mirror, astounded by how she has grown over the past four years. My memories are so vivid that I am at once in the hospital room holding my newborn, and yet still am driving my preschooler to school at the same time. How can this big kid be the same tiny baby……?
The day continues with bittersweet nostalgia. Watching her run off to play at school, wearing her birthday tiara and special birthday outfit. Driving away, realizing that it was the first birthday she’s had that we didn’t get to be together all day. Remembering the emotions and events of that day….
At nap time, she asks me to stay with her. She hasn’t done that in months, and my plans for a productive afternoon fall away as I consider how rare and special it is that she wants me to rest with her. We read a birthday story and she – my big four year old – nestles against me much like she did years earlier. Our breathing intertwined, we drift off to sleep.
She awakes. The usual scrambling to get her clothes back on, and then I have an idea. I get out her teeny-tiniest baby clothes from the top shelf of her closet, sit down on the floor with her, and tell her more about that precious first day as she chimes in with commentary. The blanket the nurses swaddled her in: “It’s really not very soft at all, Mommy.” The little knit hat they put on her in the nursery when they took her to check out some things they were concerned about: “It kinda looks like I’ma go play in the snow!” The little mittens we put on her so she wouldn’t scratch herself: “My hands won’t fit in here anymore. I think maybe I can put them on the kitty?”
We look at the scrapbook of her first month. We laugh at her expressions; she has always had such an expressive face. I answer her questions about her belly button (“Why’s it look so funny there?”) and her tears (“But I like baths now….why was I crying?”).
It’s a day of one gift after another, so full of rich blessings that I almost think the day is more for me than for her. I relish the chance to go through it all again, thinking again and again of the day my life changed forever. I embrace the opportunity to celebrate her, telling her even more than normal how thankful I am that God chose me to be her mama.
It’s funny… I have always known, of course, that she was a gift herself, but on her birthday, the truth of it all came flooding back to me. The chance to relive it all in my memory was a gift…a gift to remember the original gift of it all.
Every time I looked at her then, four years ago, I whispered a prayer of thanks. It was all so fresh and new to me then, and though my body was still healing from how it all happened, my mind was still struggling to comprehend the miracle of it all. She….my child….from within my own body………..and here she is………………………….
That’s how it was then, but today….too often, it’s just not like that. There are moments, yes, when she is particularly beautiful and well-behaved and sweetly eating her supper without complaint, and in those moments I look at her and am wholly grateful for her and for the chance to be her mother. All too often, though, I am too concerned with the drudgery of it. I focus instead on her unending needs…my longing for time away with my friends…her refusal to settle down and take a nap… On and on ad nauseum, and the clamor of the bad drowns out the sweet melody of all that is good. Like a gentle symphony, it sings in the background unnoticed: She is a gift. She is a miracle. This whole thing is a gift, Jess. Don’t forget… Please, don’t forget…..
But the melody goes unheard and the warning goes unheeded. I forget how miraculous this whole motherhood thing really is. I forget sometimes how this is what I prayed for, weeping as I considered our real fears that a baby might not be possible for me. I forget how my husband – her daddy – and I jumped and danced and laughed in the doorway of our bathroom the night we found out we were pregnant. I forget, as I long for a moment alone, how for months I whispered to her how I couldn’t wait to see her face.
What makes things change? Why can’t I remember it always?
I could berate myself for my unfaithfulness in remembering, but that would only rob me of the gifts of today. Instead, I smile and whisper a prayer of thanks. This realization is a gift, and there are unnumbered gifts still awaiting me today. I don’t want to miss it.