“She’s up now. You want to do it?” I heard Mabel’s babbling through the monitor. If she naps just right, she’s a happy girl. We must have hit that sweet spot today. Not too long. Not too short. Today her nap was just right. And shouldn’t it be? After all, today was very special. It was her birthday. My baby, the fifth and final baby of our family, was turning one. “Sure,” I told my husband. “I’ll gather everybody around. Get the cake and candles. You grab Mabs.” One, two, three—break!
Earlier that morning, we’d been at my older son’s soccer game. With a full day of activities planned, this game, this hour, gave me some time to gather my thoughts. In between cheers for him, I went through my TimeHop app. I blew up my friends’ feeds with photos of newborn Mabel. (You’re welcome, friends.) I felt simultaneously elated and down. I believe that’s called, bittersweet? Yes. Because for me, the first birthday is monumental. While I know nothing much changed from one day to the next—that 11 months, 30 day is about the same as 12 complete months and that she’d still be a baby in many ways—that first birthday? BUDDY. It’s the demarcating line. Technically infant no more. Goodbye, sweet baby. Hello toddlerhood.
And since she is our last baby, I knew I was saying farewell to more than just my baby. I was saying so long, see you never to an entire era. Five kids over the course of a decade means having babies and rearing small children has taken up a huge space in my adult life. It’s done a number on my heart.
Now, I’ve talked with other moms who say the first birthday meant little. They were still in the first year haze and it wasn’t until much later their baby days were behind them. Instead other milestones, like the first day of school signaled much more. I understand. Then there are others who say, I don’t even want to think about it. Not there yet. Not ready. And I get that too.
I know how it is. You want to cry. You want to rejoice. You want to reminisce. You want to stay still. You want to move on. You say silly things like, “Where did the time go?” And, “How did this happen? How are we here already?” Even though you know exactly where the time has gone. Weren’t so many of those early days with your baby--all your babies--sometimes so agonizingly slow? Monotonous? Maybe you wished for them--just a little wish—for them to be over and done? I did. And yet here you are. Here I am. Left with some pretty big feelings as we move forward.
All those emotions mixing, like some kind of funky cocktail--no wonder I felt like exploding there in the dining room as we gathered around Mabel to sing happy birthday, our last first birthday song. She looked at us wide-eyed, confused. She smiled. Her big brothers helped her blow out the solitary candle on the gigantic cupcake in front of her. We all watched and guessed if she’d be dainty or smear it around her highchair tray. And I was glad for her. Glad she’d had a good nap. Glad she was surrounded by her family. Glad that she is growing up and forging ahead just as the rest of us are. We're in this together.
I’m guessing others have felt this mixture of crazy and calm. How did you handle the end of your family’s baby days?