I open the oven and pull out the cheese squares, steamy and bubbling. I nearly collide with Lucie who is putting the big “one” candle on top of the chocolate cake on the counter. “Whoooahh!” “Watch out!” Almost. “Es-çe que ça va?” I hear Mimi shout from upstairs. “Yeah, no casualties,” I answer, setting down the tray and transferring the little squares to a red ceramic platter I picked up at our neighbor’s garage sale last summer. “Everything going ok up there?” “Ya, I think he needs a new diaper but I’ll do it.” Lucie and I meet eyes. “I’ll go,” I said. “Just put these out so there’s room on the counter to do the mango bean salad.”
Upstairs, I relieve my sister-in-law and pick up the birthday boy, giving him a kiss and a squeeze. “Gotta make sure you greet your guests smelling fresh and clean, Boy Wonder,” I say, setting him down on his changing table, moving through the now familiar motions of ripping the diaper strips with one hand, opening the diaper pail with the other, depositing the dirty one and grabbing a clean one, blocking the baby with my body. It takes me about two minutes and eighteen seconds.
A year ago, Lucie and I changed our first diaper together. It took us 15 minutes. Yes, that’s right, 15 minutes, two parents, one baby.
I stop and think about it. Exactly one year ago, I gave birth to Alexi: 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8760 hours and 525,600 minutes ago. The last number, in retrospect, is the most accurate way to describe how the three of us have moved through this most extraordinary year of life. Today is also Lucie’s and my first anniversary of becoming parents, which meant the weeks leading up to today contained numerous reflections, memories, and even awe at what we’ve lived.
Standing over my babbling kicky 12-month-old, I’m tempted to try to sum it up, to draw some tidy conclusions about what becoming a mother has meant to me. But I can’t. It’s too messy, too full of contradictions and mood swings, too full of ambivalence, positions, and revocations of those positions. There’s too much beauty and agony and body fluids of all types, too much worry and instinct and learning. Becoming a mother has meant coming face to face with the raw truth of who I am and the opportunity to work on my flaws, to grow as well as accept and love what I have to offer my child.
I pull on Alexi’s white turtleneck with the frogs and his bright green overalls while he improvises a soundscape, “Bababa babebe bebebebe BA!” He’s smiling but a little pale and I feel his forehead and behind his ears. A little warm, but no fever. “Are you hungry, sweetie?” I think about the fact that six months ago, he had never experienced solid food. Lucie and I were so excited after we put together the high chair and mixed the classic rice cereal with water. We attached a bib to our extra-large toddler who was looking with faint curiosity at the bowl and spoon we placed on the tray in front of him. Lucie dug in with the size-appropriate spoon and plopped a little mound on his tongue. And it just sat there. Alexi’s mouth stayed open. He looked at us, puzzled, as if we were conducting some type of strange experiment. After a few seconds, he looked down and the milky-white mound fell out onto his tray. Not what we were expecting, but we nearly peed our pants laughing.
This is just one memory. There are so many more. All the days, hours and moments home with my baby seem both self-similar and full of profound differences, large scale and microcosmic. One day I was so frighteningly wasted from lack of sleep that I couldn’t understand Lucie who was standing two feet away from me; another day that week we delighted in hearing our baby’s first giggle after an improvised song involving Little Bunny FooFoo.
With Alexi, I have been my most loving and generous, my most immature and wounded, my most dangerous and my most responsible. I have faced my pride and started the process of melting it down with the particular swelling of my heart that only this child can elicit. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I will, as all parents do, hurt my child as well as give him everything that is good inside of me. But this year makes me hopeful that the percentage of good can be significantly higher than the bad, that I can be, in the words of one of my therapists, a “good enough parent.”
The doorbell rings. Alexi’s first birthday party has begun.
I carry my boy downstairs in his special outfit to greet his family, my family, some biological, some chosen. I feel him squeeze my neck and I relish the feel of him wrapped around my torso. The one thing I continue to practice, over and over, is staying in the present moment, something so easy to miss in that first year which is hard core boot camp for new parents. While picking his clothes for the party yesterday, I burst into tears when I found Alexi’s old baby clothes, understanding in my body that I would never wear him in his magenta cotton sling again. I couldn’t wait for him to walk but now that he’s mobile there are daily accidents and tons of nay saying that drives all of us a little batty.
I have even learned to appreciate and occasionally cherish our nursing naps in the afternoon, something I was initially resentful of. Nursing was the only way I could get him to nap for longer than a half hour. So every day, sometimes twice a day, we lie down together, often for an hour and a half, sometimes longer. I have a book by the bed but there are more and more days when I don’t read or take notes or do anything. Sometimes I just lay there with him on the bed, watching his body slowly expand and contract with breath as I feel my own rhythmic breathing. His sweaty head of dark curls smells like a hot day at the beach and he still has fat creases around his wrists and ankles.
The other day as we were laying there, his eyes opened and he stopped sucking for just a few seconds, looking up at me with those inky blue eyes, and he gave me a heart-stopping grin. The sunshine hit his hair from behind, giving him a reddish glow, and I felt part of something warm and quiet and pure.
As I join the party, I kiss the top of my boy’s head as I put him down, knowing that this, too, like all other moments from this incredible first year, shall pass.