Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

August 27, 2001

Lucy is 1: Reflections on a first birthday

Lucy turned 1 on Sunday. I had her all to myself for a while in the morning, because Adam needed just 20 more minutes of sleep — 20 minutes that turned into an hour, but that is another story altogether.

As Lucy scurried around the carpet, playing with her new toys, I started leaking a few tears. I can’t believe a year has passed. It’s been the longest of years, and the shortest of years. It’s been the best of times. I suppose I could steal from Dickens and say it’s also been the worst of times. But that wouldn’t be true.

During the last year, I feel like I’ve been a part of a miracle.

A child has come into our lives, from no place I could see or feel. We watched her move on ultrasound. I felt her kick and tumble inside of me. We held her when she could not lift her head. We cheered when she rolled over the first time. We propped her up with pillows so she could sit and see the world from new heights. And we gasped with wonder, delight and fear when she started pulling herself up in the crib.

And now here she is, a year old, flipping through her Touch and Feel Puppy book, and barking like a dog.

When Adam finally came downstairs (the very loud “educational” toy phone woke him up), we talked a little about the baby woofing at my feet.

“She’s so alive,” he said.

And really, that sums it up so well. She’s alive.

This is what stings my eyes every time I think of it -– that something so beautiful and difficult, something so fragile, and so resilient, is cruising around the living room, trying so very hard to grab a handful of cat.

From the cat’s perspective, all of this is a pain in the tail.

And if I didn’t stop every once in awhile to catch my breath, I can see myself thinking the same: that a baby is a real pain in the tail. The work is endless, unglamorous and messy.

But this is why I need to take a break every now and then. I need to watch the creature that takes so much effort, and to be amazed that she’s here. I try to do this every day. It makes me feel as though I have a front-row seat at the world’s most ancient and mysterious show, that I am witness to the dawn of time.

I’m sure all of this hovering and weeping will annoy Lucy when she’s, say, 18. But I don’t think I’ll be able to restrain myself.

Since I’ve become a mother, I have a different perspective on everyone around me. Everyone is somebody’s child, somebody’s miracle, deserving of love and awe. Even the shirtless beggar waving the giant cardboard mug on the sidewalk, the one that says, “Why Lie? I Need a Beer.”

I don’t give him any money, of course. His mother wouldn’t want me to. But I think of him with compassion every time I drive by, just because once upon a time, he too was a 1-year-old crawling around somebody’s carpet.

Sometimes I wonder how some people end up waving cardboard beer mugs, while others end up driving by them on their way to real jobs that require the wearing of shirts. For now, though, I’m not even going to worry about where Lucy ends up. That’s just as problematic as focusing only on the day-to-day work of taking care of a child. It makes you miss the magic along the way.

Keeping a journal has inspired me to notice what Lucy does. It’s also helped me to remember it later, when exhaustion otherwise might have erased that part of my brain. Inevitably, I missed some of the magic of this first year. But not much.

I read a quotation recently in a collection of essays by E.B. White that captures some of what I’m feeling:

“When my wife’s Aunt Caroline was in her nineties, she lived with us and she once remarked: ‘Remembrance is sufficient of the beauty we have seen.’ I cherish the remembrance of the beauty I have seen. I cherish the grave, compulsive world.”

In just that way, I cherish the memory of Lucy’s transformation from mysterious infant to understood child.

Take the memory, for example, of Lucy’s expression when Adam held her birthday cake in front of her. Her face glowed in the light of the lone candle burning atop the tiny, pink cake. But instead of looking happy, her face said, “How awful! I’m the only one here who doesn’t know the lyrics to this song!”

She didn’t really know what to do with the cake, either. We put her in her high-chair, and set the cake in front of her. She leaned forward and started biting it, tentatively. So much for the Hollywood-style birthday cake smash.

Lucy handled her first birthday as she handles other new and unfamiliar things.

She just isn’t the kind of kid who plunges headfirst into whatever’s in front of her. She’s an observer. She doesn’t like to do something unless she’s sure it’s going to work. She was like this with talking, and she is the same way with walking. She’s taken steps, but only at our urging. Otherwise, she prefers to crawl, or to cruise in the safe shadow of the living room furniture.

The more she does, the more I start to understand the person she is, and the kind of mother I need to be to help her have a full and happy life -- one where caution is balanced with courage.

Just thinking about it, I am once again in tears. How quickly this goes by. How magical it is to watch. And how wonderful it is to love this much.


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