Dear Jack Marshall,
Today is your birthday and we are celebrating your first year on the planet. I am celebrating the best year of my life. I didn’t know when you arrived on Saint Patrick’s day it was because I was the luckiest girl. You are the funniest, most enjoyable, best looking person I have ever known, and I never want to go back to life before you.
You have grown so much. I thought you looked enormous when you came out because you had rolls on your arms, that’s what I remember. When I held you the first time you felt heavy, like a solid paperweight, and that was a relief because you never seemed fragile. Everyone wore green beads and hats that day, and your Uncle Buddy brought a backpack of Guinness to the hospital. It was rainy and very cold, and when we were alone in the hospital room with your dad asleep on the plastic table they called a sleeper couch for just a moment, when there were no doctors or dietitians or photographers or family, I snuggled my nose into your head and counted all of the wrinkles on your face and neck.
You’re not into snuggling, even though I try to force it on you. If you aren’t sleeping you’re usually trying to scramble away from me, unafraid of heights or the hardness of the ground. I’d like to blame the time I dropped you on your head on your being squirmy, but it wasn’t that. You were wearing a slippery track suit and I lost my grip. I wasn’t standing up straight though, so there’s that. You have a sense of humor. Sometimes you make a new face for the first time, surprise yourself, and then make it again. Usually it’s when you’re eating in your high chair. You look at me, make the face, then smile and laugh. I didn’t know that some people were naturally funny! You are. You make me laugh, laugh, laugh. You love the dog–climbing on her back all the time. You try to grab her teeth, which scares me half to death, but she just rolls over and licks your head so your hair, which I think is coming in curly like mine, sticks out from behind your ear. You’re a good boy, Jack. Always on the move. You army-crawl. The comparative mom dragon in me wants you to crawl upright, walk, grow into a higher percentile, but the intuitive part of me knows that you are just fine. You are happy.
You are teaching me a lot about myself. I was afraid to be a mama because I wasn’t sure if my heart was big enough. I didn’t know if I would have the affection, the patience, the kindness, the space in my heart that can be so selfish and dark sometimes. And there have been so many times in my life that I was sad and felt so small, and that made me afraid that if I felt like that, how could I ever teach you to be brave, kind, confident and strong? I thought maybe your daddy would have to teach you that, and that I could get by with cooking you dinner and waking you up in time for school. But this year as you grew and grew, my heart grew and grew right alongside you. In some mysterious generosity you brought back the carefree joy I had when I was just a child, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever have again as a grown-up. I’m sitting here, writing this letter to you, crying. That’s how happy you have made me.
My favorite thing is rocking you to sleep for a nap. You rest your head in the crook of my left arm and let me wrap you up in a blanket. You sort of buck until I start singing. Usually I sing Long Ride Home, and then Sweet Baby James. You watch me with those blue saucer eyes, and then when you start to get sleepy you close them and hum along with me. You rest when I sing, and you love to sing yourself, and this brings me joy upon joy. Here is a secret, Jack: after you fall asleep, I just hold you and rock you. Sometimes I hold you for a few minutes, but sometimes it’s longer. Half an hour. Forty five minutes. An hour. Sometimes I fall asleep holding you in the rocking chair your great grandfather Jack bought for you. Usually I watch your face. When you twitch I imagine what you could be dreaming. I trace the ridge of your eyes with my nose and kiss your forehead. I do this every day, usually twice, and it never gets old.
This year did not go by too fast. Three hundred and sixty-five days with you that I soaked up like sunshine. You’re the best for me, Jack. For your dad and me. You’re making us better, helping to refine us. Thanks for being so darn sweet.
This year was perfect to me, and I want you to know that even though you won’t remember a second of it, I’ll never forget it.