Birthdays are bittersweet

Why do we sometimes feel the need to apologize for our tears? After all, aren’t tears just as natural as smiles?
My daughter’s tiny fingers wrap around one of mine and she moves with the unsure but simultaneously determined march of a new walker into the child watch at our gym. She lets go of my hand to grab on to the teacher’s, and as the door closes behind them, I see Eliza turn her head toward me to offer me a toothless grin. She turns back and walks on her own to play with her little bite-sized friends.
I linger at the window until I can no longer see her chubby little legs wobble under the weight of that big belly and seemingly bigger eyes.
And then the tears come.
Almost immediately, I am embarrassed. Other mothers behind me are eager to drop off their children and start sweating to some ridiculous dance-Zumba-weight-cardio thing. “Rookie,” they must be thinking.
But I’m not a rookie. This is my second baby and the thousandth time I have watched one of my children wander away from me with a smile.
So why the tears? Why now?
Backtrack a few nights, and my daughter’s legs are trying to scale the bathtub walls. She raises a foot a few inches then laughs as it slides down the smooth, white surface, making that squeaky, wet friction sound that causes my son to giggle. She tries the other leg with the same results. Her resolve is strong, and she continues this squeaky, splashy march in place for the entire bath.
I sit behind her, occasionally pouring a cup of warm water over her shoulders. I am reminded of the night of her birth, when I was in a comfortable, blow-up tub just 10 feet from where we are now. My doula poured warm water over my back to soothe powerful contractions.
Eliza came into this world as all babies do: naked. Her skin was so soft and perfect. As I bathe her almost a year later, I notice her skin is just as smooth and flawless as the day she was born. Her older brother, of course, had been to the emergency room several times by the time he was a year old to get stitches or address some other calamity.
But not my baby girl. She has been able to hold on to so much fresh innocence. No scars. No fears. Not even any teeth.
She turns one this week. It has been a year since she came into this world, peacefully swimming through the water and into my arms. She immediately cuddled into me the way she still does when it’s time for a nap.
That night last May, she opened her eyes right away as if to say, “Well, I’m here, now what? Should we play or something?” She does the same thing now in the mornings, lunging for the floor as soon we get her out of her crib.
But for as many similarities as I can draw between now and then, there is no doubt that 12 months have slipped past me. It does not matter that she has yet to have any physical or emotional scars, because I know they are coming.
As I wipe my tears away and turn toward the gym, I keep my head low so no one will see. I don’t want to answer the familiar faces when they ask why I am so sad. What would I say? My baby just walked on her own into child watch? My baby is growing up? My baby is blissfully ignorant to the fact that I won’t always be able to keep her so innocent and carefree?
My baby is turning one, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. My baby will continue, I hope, to have many more birthdays. Each one will be undoubtedly marked with bittersweet feelings. My love for my child grows with each passing day, but each passing day means one less day of the way things are right now.
Time will march on, but at least for now, that march includes those adorable, jiggly little thighs.


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