There’s much I wish to tell you today, though you’re not old enough to hear it, or better to say, not old enough to remember it. I wish you could remember the big party your parents are throwing that celebrates your great love of dogs — what you call DA — I wish you could remember the hot dogs and corn dogs and the ‘PUP-peroni’ pizza and what I know will be the sweetest little doggie cupcakes anyone could bake. I wish you could remember the forty or so people who have paused their own lives to show up today in yours. And not to forget the gifts they’ll tote with them – the toys and the books and the clothes — most of which you’ll outgrow, too quick to remember.
But as much as I wish you could remember every delicious detail about today, there are other things I wish you to remember more — things about your first year of life that no one knows because they concern just you and me. They grew out of that special six weeks we spent together last April and May when your mother returned to work after her maternity leave was over. Knowing that I won’t always be here to help you remember these — I’m taking time today, to write them down just for you. Because I wish you to know, in grown-up words, how special you are to me — and most of all — how special you’ve made me feel this year.
Let me begin by backing up, to the summer before you were born, when your mother asked if I’d be willing to babysit so she could return to her kindergarten class to finish the school year. While I was quick to say ‘yes,’ you should know that the thought of caring for you really scared me. Not because I thought I’d drop you or anything. It was more complicated than that, though less substantial too, since my fear rested on a false self-image of myself. You see, I’ve never regarded myself as particularly maternal — I’ve never considered myself a good mother or, for that matter, a good grandmother either — I use to often joke how no one would ever think of nominating me for a ‘mother of the year’ award. Maybe it was those standard sixty-hour weeks I worked for years that had me writing this bit of fiction. But writing this now makes me wonder whether they even have these kinds of awards anymore — and for that matter, what a ‘good’ mother looks like? Today I’d say that I couldn’t have been too bad to have ended up with four great children — one of which is your lovely mother.
But how it happened, that all those long-held fears and insecurities evaporated in days, I can’t really say. As I look back on that time, it’s funny that I began our six weeks together believing I was doing your mother a big favor but ended the six weeks realizing how it was you and she that had favored me. And it wasn’t long after I began watching you before I forgot all my shortcomings and even forgot myself. As proof, I share with you a note I wrote to a friend last April 19th:
My saving grace these days is time spent with new granddaughter Reese. Already two weeks into my six-week stint, time is chipping away at my front-row seat which allows me to observe Reese awaken to the marvelous world around her; Reaching clumsy hands towards rattles, cooing along with Baby Einstein’s version of Mozart, and studying her own wiggling fingers with intensity and wonder, I am reminded all over again how I too often sleep-walk through life.
I won’t ever forget those days when I cradled you in my lap as we’d sit in your mother’s rocker — how the rest of the busy world would retreat as I read stories to you or sang songs to you and feed you your bottle. Even now, I can recall how you’d always look up to my face and study it intently — enough so that I sensed that unwavering gaze deep within my soul. And somehow, you doing this simple thing — this natural thing, really — made me feel both worthy and loved. By May 9th, I wrote these words to the same friend:
I find myself letting a few fat tear drops fall down my face fairly often these days as my daily time with Reese is drawing to a close. We’ve only eight school days left, and then my daughter Kara will be officially on leave. I tell myself it will the good to resume my own life again, to have more time to paint, to maybe get a head start to garden puttering — but somehow, my heart’s not buying what my mind is rationalizing away.
Of course, even after our six weeks was over, your Mom invited me to babysit or drop in for a visit. You were sick when I watched you one afternoon, the week before Christmas — it may have been a combination of teething and allergies and maybe even a virus — but that didn’t stop you from playing with your many toys. I watched you crawl from one to other — and whenever you encountered something soft — what your Mom calls one of your ‘loveys’ — you would pick it up with one hand to cuddle it close to your face while sticking the thumb of your other hand in your mouth for a little suck. I watched you do this over and over that day, with first your stuffed animals and then your soft animal-shaped reading chairs and even most of your mother’s A-Z teaching puppets. More than once you cuddled into me and began sucking your thumb — though it took me a few times to notice that your other hand held tight to part of my shirt — your way of letting me know that I was one of your inner circle of “loveys” too. That you did this to me almost undid me — but then, true love always does undo us — and redeem us — and remake us — when we give it a free hand in our lives.
On this day for making wishes, I wish you to know you’re my lovey too. But without need of these grown-up words, I know you know. Because you’ve read it in my eyes.