Four years ago today, you were born.
I’ve written about that day already; told you how scared I was that I’d irreparably damaged you with my distance, my fear, and my inability to feed you in those first weeks. And I’ve also written that I am grateful for what we went through, because it made me the mom I am today, and – I like to think – the resilient, strong, passionate little man you are today.
Being the smarty pants that you are, you know mommy wrote a book. You call it “our book” and like to check out the one page you can read, the one at the front that says yours and your sister’s names. (Give it a year, babe – you’ll be reading the whole damn thing.)
I realized the other day, though, that I’d never really explained to you what the book was about. We were sitting at our favorite ice cream shop, eating sorbet, yours covered in Boba which you kept trying to get me to eat, knowing full well I am seriously creeped out by the stuff. We’d just been in the car, where I’d insisted on turning off your beloved Beauty and the Beast soundtrack in order to listen to myself being interviewed on the radio. Selfish, I know, but you were a trooper, and you got a kick out of hearing your name on the airwaves.
Sitting there, mouth ringed neon orange by your icy snack, you asked me: “Mommy, what were you talking about on the radio?”
“Our book, sweetie.”
“But what’s it about? What’s the story? The story of me and mommy?”
“Well.” I cleared my throat. This was like my personal version of the dreaded “where do babies come from” question – where do babies eat from? And why didn’t I eat from there? And why would you write a book about how I couldn’t breastfeed – for godsakes, woman, don’t you want me to date in high school? “You know how Fearlette used to only drink bottles when she was a baby? You were like that too. Babies can’t eat food when they are very little. They can only drink a special milk that comes from their mommies, or a special milk called formula. Many babies drink from their mommies’ bodies, from their breasts, like how J’s little brother did – remember? But some babies drink from bottles instead, like you and Fearlette. And sometimes, mommies really want to feed their babies from their bodies, but they can’t, and they feel bad about this, because it’s something that is supposed to be very good for babies. My book is about how you and I had trouble getting you to eat from me, so we had to switch to formula and bottles. I wrote it so other mommies wouldn’t feel bad when they were in a similar situation – because you know, they shouldn’t feel bad, because it’s just food, and they love their babies very much and are just doing what is best for their families.”
You nodded, eyes like golden saucers, and licked your spoon, Boba and all.
“Do you understand?” I asked.
“Want some Boba?” you said, impishly, and broke out in laughter so loud and adorable that the entire store turned to look at you, and smiled.
Today you are four. You can understand more than I give you credit for, and yet there are some things you won’t be able to understand for a long time. You won’t know how the first year of your life changed the course of mine; you won’t see why it mattered if I breastfed or bottle-fed you; you won’t understand why I spend every day trying to make up for the mess of a mom I was in our first days.
As I toweled you off after your bath last night, I commented on how grown up you were going to be, now that you would be four.
“Mom,” you said, taking my face in your small hands, your Thomas towel wrapped around you in what you refer to as your toga. “I will always be your baby.” I think you thought I was sad about your growing older, but the truth is, I’m anything but. I love you more each year. I love watching your autonomy develop, letting you gain more independence, and seeing the person you’re becoming. But that’s not the only reason I’m glad you’re not a baby – I’m glad because I wasn’t a very good mom when you were an infant. The day you got off formula was the day I started loving motherhood. It was the day that how I fed you became a footnote. It’s just a shame that it took me years to see that it should have been that way from the beginning.
I celebrate each year you grow older because I see the “you” coming out, the you that would have been there no matter if you were bottle-fed or breastfed, attachment parented or Baby-Wised, birthed by c-section or at home, cloth diapered or dressed head-to-toe in Pampers or allowed to poop on the carpet (which I think you did, a few times…). I celebrate you getting older, because it is an absolute, unspeakable gift that I get to watch you grow up.
And that is what I should have said, when you asked what my book was about.
Happy birthday, my sweet love, my beautiful boy, my Fearless Child.