To My First Baby On Your 8th Birthday: The Things You've Taught Me

To my first baby on your 8th birthday,

Happy Birthday!  I can hardly believe you are eight years old!  I remember so vividly when you entered the world 8 years ago today. 

I was working from home and had eaten maybe half a box of Cheez- Its (they’re just so good, as you know), when I started feeling contractions.  I was naïve to the telltale tightening and pains, so I waived them away in my mind.  Your dad was busy doing a very long surgery and didn’t get a single text from me because there was no cell phone reception in the basement-floor operating rooms at Georgetown hospital in Washington, D.C., where he worked and where you were born.  I went to my weekly dr. appt and decided I should throw my bag in the trunk “just in case.”  There had been a massive ice storm, so the D.C. roads were horribly icy.  I carefully navigated the roads and then the sidewalks as I made my way into the hospital for my weekly appt.  At my appt., my dr. confirmed my water had in fact broken and I wasn’t just peeing on myself.  I stood up with a giant gush of water, and at that exact time, your dad entered the room.  We walked over to labor and delivery while I felt intense waves of contractions, which left me gripping the wall as I went.  Labor came and went, and at 10:04 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, you entered the world.  You were crying so hard, but when they placed you on my chest, I said, “hi, baby!” and you became so still and quiet, turning your face towards mine as if to say, oh, thank goodness, I've been looking for you. Everything felt so surprising and new and surreal, but I will never forget that moment. I knew, and you knew, that you were mine.  My perfect little Valentine’s Day baby girl. 

I wanted to share with you some things you’ve taught me about parenting—and life in general—in your eight years.  I think you’ll be surprised how much I’ve learned from you.

Trusting my gut and listening to my mom and big sister are the best parenting resources I could ever have.  I bought so many books during my pregnancy and your first year.  And during subsequent years, too.  I read about crying-it-out, not crying-it-out, co-sleeping, positive discipline, redirecting, and everything else.  I tried to follow all the advice.  But, now that I’m eight years in, most of the time I wing it and trust my own instincts.  As your mom, I know you better than anyone else, and I usually have a pretty good idea of what you need.  And if I don’t know, I ask Liz or Grandma.  They are great moms and always have better advice than all the books I’ve bought.  I’ve also learned that Grandma was right when she said everything is a phase—before too long, we’re on the next big thing, issue, or goal.

The gift of perspective.  You’ve shown me how incredibly fast the years go by.  It almost makes me wince to think about all the things I’ve done right or wrong with you, since you and I did everything as parent/child for the first time together.  But, we’ve learned together.  And while of course some days seem endless, they’re not, and it feels as if I’ve blinked and another year has gone by.  And then I look at you and see how you move, so gracefully, so poised.  You seem… almost too grown up to be my daughter in that you’re definitely not a little kid anymore.  You’re solidly into big kid territory, and it continues to amaze me.  Where did the time go?  How did you learn to sashay like that?  How did you learn to braid your own hair?  Where did you learn those song lyrics and that hand jive?  It’s so bittersweet to see how fast you’ve grown, but, in doing so, you’ve given me the gift of perspective in knowing how fast time will pass with you and your younger sisters.

How closely you pay attention.  You notice everything. Everything.  Good and bad.  You notice when I curse.  You notice when I get my toes painted without you.  You notice when I’m impatient.  You notice when I’ve worked really hard to make things special.  You notice when I’m wearing my nicer clothes and look ready to take on the world (or at least look semi-presentable).  You notice when I’ve cleaned my car.  You notice when your dad and I are trying to talk in code and have a serious conversation above your head.  It’s not really possible.  You notice it all.  And you make me conscious of the fact that I must lead by example; what I do matters A LOT more than what I tell you to do.

How much you can be like me, and how different you can be, too.  You love coffee.  You would drink a decaf latte every day if I let you.  You also love Cheez-Its just like me (and way to go giving them up for Lent!).  And yet, you love your long hair and so many girly things, like ballet.  I, on other hand, I’ve always been a short hair girl, and I can’t really understand the obsession with doing your hair a different way every single day.  I was more of a tomboy and didn’t really care about girly things.  But, I’m learning to appreciate you for your own interests.  You are your own little person, with your own thoughts and ideas about life, the world, and your hair.  I may have brought you into this world, but you are your own person with your own ideas about the world. 

How much you still need me, and how independent you are at the same time.  You love to play outside all day long with the neighbors and go on sleepovers to your best friend’s house.  You also love to snuggle up to next to me whenever you have the chance.  You need me to hug you, kiss you, and be close.  You always come back for a tight hug and solid, serious goodbye every day before you go off to school.  You always look me square in the eyes and tell me you love me.  If you forget, you run back to me to tell me, saying you forgot something, before you grab my waist and hug me tight.  There’s a constant push/pull of independence, almost like a rubber band, where you stretch farther away and then bounce back next to me to make sure I’m not going anywhere.  I hope you know that the farther you stretch, it’s ok—I will always be right here whenever you bounce back and need me.  

How resilient you are.  There have been many life changes in your eight years: five new sisters, the loss of your grandpa, etc.  With each change, you have adapted and thrived.  I think the biggest change in your life was the arrival of your three baby sisters and everything that came with them--mainly, less of my time and a more hectic household.  You are patient when I have to tend to them and change their diapers, etc.  You are understanding when the babies are sick and I can't lay with you.  Not only are you patient and understanding, you love your sisters deeply.  You love to snuggle with them, mother them, play with them.  I admire your resiliency, patience, and understanding.  

In the end, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve really grown up together.  I’ve grown as a parent, and you’ve grown up right before my eyes.  I’m so grateful to be your mom, and I hope you know how much we love you.  Happy birthday, my sweet first-born baby girl.