Today my baby turns three. Three!
As children grow, people like to talk incessantly about how they just can’t believe how fast time is passing. “Can you believe he’s already THREE?!!” Well, yes, I can, actually. 2013 felt like it lasted at least ten years, and 2014 felt like another five, so he should be graduating from high school soon, right?
This year his birthday is different, though. For the first time, he’s really not a baby anymore. He understands that it’s his birthday, and what that means, and he’s old enough to be excited about it and understand cake and candles and parties and presents and celebrating with friends. And all of that helps, immensely.
I’ve shared elsewhere that L’s first birthday was difficult for me. For us, the anniversary of his birth was not the same kind of celebration as it is for most people. We wanted to celebrate him, of course, but that celebration was differently shaded.
An onslaught of (very warranted!) cliches tends to surround a baby’s first birthday. “On this day one year ago my life changed forever!” the mother will say. “On this day one year ago I met my son and learned what love really is!” Or, “One year ago today was the best day of my life!”
The day Lucas was born changed our lives forever, there is no doubt about that. Oh, how our lives have changed! And in that first year I learned what it truly means to love someone in a way that I could not have understood before. But the day Lucas was born was the day we were completely and totally blindsided by a diagnosis we should have known months earlier but didn’t, a surprise diagnosis that will follow all of us for the rest of our lives. It was the day the world we thought we knew fell apart, and left us unsure if we could put it back together again. It was the day my body failed him. When I looked at my tiny helpless baby hooked up to tubes and wires and machines, I didn’t feel the instant miraculous overwhelming love that a mother is supposed to feel. I felt fear. And doubt. And anger. And guilt. I think I was in shock for quite awhile. The day he was born was the day I became a mother, but it was not the best day of my life; it was quite possibly the worst.
As Lucas’s first birthday approached, all of this was nearer the surface than it had been for some time. The first birthday is at least as much about the parents as it is about the child, and for us, his birthday was a strange, complicated thing to celebrate. It was jarring to throw a party in May for a birthday that should’ve been in July, and to rejoice on the anniversary of my first experience with real trauma.
Last year he kind of sort of knew something was happening, but we just had dinner with grandparents and baked a cake he wouldn’t touch, and tried to get him to tell us he was two amidst much toddler protest and an adamant single finger insisting he was still just one. It was low-key, and it was better.
This year, though – this year his birthday is all about him, as it should be. We started talking about it weeks ago, and he has been practicing holding up three fingers. We had a small party in the park, with family and friends, and I paused several times to marvel at the fact that he is a real human who can speak whole paragraphs and climb to the top of the tallest slide and play with friends and imagine things and obsess over fire trucks and Paw Patrol and Lightning McQueen. We ate pretzels and cheez-its and pizza, because he is old enough to have favorite things and those are at the top of the list. And he is old enough to have almost unbearable excitement about opening presents, but also old enough to begin to understand why we’re also giving toys to the children’s hospital, because giving is important too.
It wasn’t spotless. It was the first really hot day of the year, and I spent the afternoon with a mild but persistent dread that he would overheat and dehydrate and wind up back on fluids. He has had massive pukes each of the last two weekends because of (suspected) bacterial overgrowth in his gut, so when he told me his button hurts and his belly hurts I spent the rest of the day on high alert, with extra outfits at the ready (spare fire truck shirts, of course!). I let him eat a cookie (because he still won’t touch cake, even though he insisted on blowing out his candles half a dozen times), and spent the evening wondering if his loose poops were my fault because of the sugar. And I still have to suppress an awful lot of very real germaphobia to take him into a bathroom in a public park.
But, it’s better. It’s about him. It’s a celebration, and that’s all. Maybe this is another place I’ve gone numb, but it feels like some of that pain has just dropped away. I’ve gotten better at it.
Babyhood was hard for us. HARD. Every day that passes takes us further from the worst parts. Three is an incredibly fun age, and it’s also an age that can tell me when something hurts, and exactly where it hurts, and start to understand why we have to do unpleasant things that are necessary (even if he is already a master negotiator). Three gives me hope that even if things don’t get better, they can keep getting easier. And, three brings SO MUCH JOY at seeing a fire truck that, at least for that brief moment, nothing else matters.
Happy birthday, L. And thank you for making me a mother, and for showing me that I am both weaker and stronger than I had ever known.
Follow @ThisGutsyLife on Twitter