Today, the day before your twelfth birthday, I was shopping at the grocery store for a few odds and ends, and I suddenly heard the screams of an unhappy toddler. I spotted his young mom; she was deploying all the old tricks to get her son to calm down. Nothing was working, even scooping him up and cuddling him close against her, all while she pushed the cart further past the cereals and canned goods. As she got closer to where I stood, considering chocolate chip options, we made eye contact. She grimaced and said, “I just can’t win.”
In that moment, seeing this young mom with her first child, barely hanging on during an interminable-though-as-fast-as-she-could-accomplish-it grocery trip, I felt transported back to when you were that tiny. And although it’s a cliche, I felt like it was just last week….
I remember shopping in Pathmark in Newark, pushing a cart full of food and just praying that you’d hold it together until I could check out and get you home. There were more than a few times that I wrapped up shopping while you squawked and screeched and screamed your way through the aisles.
The last few days leading up to your twelfth birthday I saw babies everywhere. At cafes, in parks, at the grocery store, in prams and carriers and held, in carseats and bouncy seats and bike seats. I spotted nursing babies and crying babies, toddling babies and grinning babies, babies in various states of meltdown and curiosity and delightfulness.
When I see these random babies who I’ll probably never see again, I see you. I see your beautiful eyes as they are now, smaller but just as expressive, but in your baby face. I see your dark brown fuzzy hair, long before it was thick and long enough to give us both headaches. These babies are snapshots of the shortest, fastest (and slowest) days of my life, when nursing, changing diapers, kissing toes, doing endless laundry, singing silly songs, soothing midnight crying jags, and feeling amazing love for another tiny person filled my whole existence.
Never have I felt prouder than I do at who you are, who you’re becoming. Your sincerity as a child has blossomed into a deep, abiding integrity. Your concern for others enriches our family and your friendships. And while I sometimes still wish you’d fall in line and go along with things more easily, your intelligent, creative approach to life is serving you well and I trust will continue to do so as you grow up even more.
Charlotte and Calvin both look up to you, and in the past year in New Zealand, you’ve totally stepped up and become a mature help to your dad and I. Not everyone may “get” your personality, but the people–teachers, friends, neighbors, family–who do “get” you adore you.
I admire so many things about you and feel incredibly thankful that you joined our family in 2004; it is truly a gift to get to walk alongside you as you continue to grow and learn and inhabit the world. Happy 12th birthday, my compassionate, vegetarian, tall, brilliant, socially-conscious, funny, and slightly irreverent Evelyn.