The minute you were born and I held you to my chest, I could feel myself melt away. The woman I was suddenly seemed like a girl, and the woman I became felt like an old soul. Your skin on my chest felt so new, and as I danced my fingers all over you and gently pulled on your earlobes, I realized that I had created that earlobe. My body had grown you for nine months, and now the cumulation of those nine months was nestled into my neck, quietly breathing hot, new breath. You were perfect, and I was terrified.
For the first month of your life, I didn’t say your name out loud. I called you everything else in the book: Baby, Sweetie, Honey, Bean. But I never called you Arlo. I think I was afraid that if I actually said your name, it would make you (and me) vulnerable. Once I allowed myself to fully accept that I was your mother and you were my daughter, somehow everything would stop, and it would be only us for the rest of my life.
In a way, I was right.
When your grandma left to go back to Germany, I cried for days. Your father went back to work, and suddenly here I was, a mother, alone and afraid. I quietly changed your diapers, I rocked you to sleep, I put you on your stomach and watched carefully as you squirmed. But mostly, I just cried. You were my first baby, and I mean that in every sense. Often in those first months I thought you might as well have been an alien…or maybe I was the alien. Maybe I was so far out of my depth that there was no saving me. Maybe my motherhood was already doomed.
But we made it through, together, as we always will.
The past year has taught me so much about myself, of course, but also so much about you. How you are so easy to smile but so hard to laugh. If you don’t go outside at least once a day you’re grumpy. You love dogs and green beans but you’re confused by cats and apples. You kiss by licking, and you hug by nuzzling your face into my neck, just like the day you were born. You’re a Momma’s girl, but when Daddy comes home from work you glow.
I think a lot about the inevitability of your birthdays. For now they’re small, easy, a cake and some pulled pork sandwiches with my friends and our family. The older you get, the less control I will have. This year we did a themed party, next year we will do it again, but when will you finally have a voice in the theme? When will you decide to stop having parties all together?
When will I have to let you go?
One, Arlo. One is so big and so small. I look at you and I see someone who has grown tremendously, but someone who has so much more growing to do. You have learned how to walk and wave and clap your hands, but there are so many things that you still don’t understand. There is so much more to experience, good and bad, and in the grand scheme of things, one is not such a big number after all.
But to me, it is vast.
I always thought I would spend the day of your first birthday crying, mourning the loss of my infant. But instead, I find myself bursting with pride and admiration. I’m proud of myself, of your father, of how far we’ve come individually and as a family. But above all I am so tremendously proud of you, my tenacious, delightful, funny, curious, and kind one-year-old.
One is not just your age. Before all of this, we were one. I remember when I grew you, when I nurtured you, when I felt you move and kick from inside my belly. The minute I found out I was pregnant with you it all changed. I knew I would be enamored with you for the rest of my life. Did you like the music I played for you? Could you hear me singing along? Could you feel the love I radiated for you, like a flower in the sun?
In one year, I became a mother. I learned everything for the first time with you. They all told me I looked so cool on the outside, that I seemed like a natural. But nothing feels natural when you’re a first-time parent. Nursing is awkward, waking up at night is exhausting, losing all of your free time is daunting. But at the core of all of it, there is you, my beautiful girl. There is a love I feel for you so deeply that it flows through me like the blood in my veins. In the one second after you were born and they put you on my chest, I knew I would be forever yours, and you are forever mine.
Happy birthday to you, Arlo, with all of my unconditional love.