I’m writing this on the eve of your first birthday. We are going to celebrate you with flamingo yard ornaments and a pink tutu (which your Aunt Kaili got you in Seoul the day I found out you were a girl); this is all really more for me than it is for you. My girl, my girl. Still, sometimes I can’t believe you’re here, and you’re ours.
You were born into a hard, hard time. I know there have been plenty of years in history where women thought, similarly, how could I have brought such a precious innocent into such a wild, desperate, sad, terrifying time? The solidarity of knowing how other mothers have shared this sentiment helps me, because their babies have grown up and turned into the brave, brilliant, world-changing people of the next generation, and the cycle turns over. I wonder what you will learn about twenty-fifteen in history class — or if twenty-fifteen and sixteen are just stepping stones to other times. I wonder who you will be. I often pray for you to have strength and courage, to be unafraid, the same prayer with which God covered Joshua as he put his head down and moved forward into Israel before it was Israel. It wasn’t easy, but it was the promised land. Some day you will be old enough to talk about the things you hear on the news, from your friends, out in public, and I hope you do. I hope you talk to dad and me. I will try to have listening ears, and not give you all my answers. I hope you come up with your own answers. I’m so fascinated by you, I can’t wait to hear what you think.
I wasn’t trying to have a natural birth with you, but it worked out that way because the meds didn’t take. That’s what the doctor said to me, when you were about to make your debut. “Well, there’s nothing I can do at this point.” So we battled it out, and there you were, with a head of black hair. Imagine my surprise! There were two days where we sat together in the hospital absolutely still in this private little hideaway, clinging to each other, wrapping ourselves together, and then we went home.
The first couple months with you, we were all figuring it out. I think you were very uncomfortable being ‘on the outside,’ so you screamed a lot. Mae, I’m talking, you screamed most of your waking hours for nine months. I’m telling you this so we don’t forget, and maybe when you have your own child some day, who has similar vitriole toward the planet we call home, you can take heart reading this, because now you are delightful and very rarely scream at us. People warned me that having a second child would be a challenge, but I was not prepared for the demands of two kids, a husband, a job, a house—and, truth be told, the expectations I put on myself to be all things, in all situations, to all people. I had a hard time, your dad had a hard time. I want you to know that your brother loved you with every shred of his little heart from the moment he saw you in my lap at the hospital. He was probably having a hard time too, but he handled it best. He speaks to you with more tenderness than I could drum up in a lifetime. He’s got your back, little one. I pray it’s always that way.
It’s possible you had colic. It’s possible your digestive systems were very painful. It’s possible you are very obstinate and vocal with your frustrations, which will serve you beautifully as an adult. Whatever the reason, it was very challenging for all of us, likely most of all I can say now, for you. A flood of tears we couldn’t stem. So we clawed our way through the months, and prayed over you, and walked around like zombies. Again, I say this to you in part because some day, when you read this letter, you might be considering having a baby, or a second baby, and by then I will be older and removed from this stage of life, and I’ll probably try to make you see the gift of having babies, the joy that it is. But in reading this I hope you can see that I also understand the day-to-day battle it can be.
Hear this: having you and your brother is the best part of my life with daddy. I pray you know that as you grow up, that you always know that for me, being your mother towers over every other role. And I loved you with a ferocious love from the moment I felt you move inside me, a polar bear love, tough and warm in the cold winter.
You finally got past whatever was ailing you. Phew! And what can I say about you? You’ve got a sense of humor! You are always making me laugh. That big, big smile, the way you scrunch up your nose and show off your teeth. How do you already know that’s funny? You’re also very affectionate, and often lean your head into the crook of my shoulder when I’m holding you. I don’t know what you’re feeling in those moments, but I imagine you pressing in just to make sure I’m still there, to re-connect, to get back to those first two days when we were meeting without anyone or anything else around. If I could bottle that affection I would, it fills me up. You are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. You look so much like your daddy and his side of the family, which I love because it feels new to me. Your straight, strawberry-blonde hair is the hair I dreamed of as a child, and your eyes! Everyone comments on them. Tiny little feet (mine were always huge!), perfect button features on that wide, adoring face. It makes me ache, how much I love you. I can’t get you close enough, I can’t squeeze you tight enough.
There were many years when I thought I should only have sons, if I could have children at all, because I wasn’t sure I would be soft or kind enough for a daughter. I was afraid of not knowing the right things to teach her, or the balance of loving-kindness and discipline. But then, like a shock of electricity in my mid-twenties, I wanted a girl so terribly. I asked God all along the way we were trying to get pregnant with you if he would give us a girl. And then, the day we found out about you, I stopped asking for that because I knew you were what you were. Well, we cried in that ultrasound seeing your little face, when Doctor Valaoras told us you were a little girl. It was a sense of disbelief in that kind of goodness. How could it be?
Mae Connelly, you’re named after your daddy – Mark Andrew Evans – and I hope you identify yourself with his initials proudly. I pray you inherit a heaping portion of his humility, his kindness, and his unique eyes which always see past the surface of a man and straight into his heart. And you’re named after your grandmother Claire Connelly, and I pray you have a dose of her grit and determination as you grow up and face the world.
I will sign this letter with a quote by the author Frederick Beuchner which hangs above your crib, a print your godmother gave you when you were born:
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
Happy birthday, goose.