In two weeks and four days our baby– third baby, last baby– will be one. One: the lilypad from babyhood to something more. Not quite toddler, but getting too big to nurse, outgrowing booties, grabbing the spoon from my hand.
Not always, but plenty of times, I have held her in dark rooms rocking her to the shushing of white noise and willing my body to memorize hers. To know her weight at each age, knowing how my memory changed so quickly as my older children grew, my brain somehow erasing the previous stage to replace it with the child-shape in my arms. I have held her wanting to hold onto the moment, to her, or at least to know I was fully there, taking in as much as I could.
Not always, but a lot, I felt pure happiness just holding her, not wanting to lower her into her crib.
I haven’t planned her first birthday party, haven’t called it a party, even. It will be her, and me and her daddy and her siblings, and Nana and Poppy. A round little cake, a balloon, a candle, her crinkly-eyed smile. The crinkle of paper and her pudgy hands, clapping. It will be four days after Christmas, in that bridge of time between the biggest parties of the year, and I want it to be quiet. I don’t want anything to distract me from that one small flame. I’m so grateful for her, and for my motherhood, for her brother and her sister. The magical thinking of: if I can just love each moment enough it will make up for all the times I held my babies and wasn’t present, was angry or tired or hopeless, and didn’t love the moment enough. I didn’t know how fast it would go and that it would eventually be over, each babyhood year.
What does it mean that she is our last baby? Didn’t I think each baby was our last? I never bought a tiny cake pan to make their first birthday cakes. Each time I borrowed one, thinking, Oh, why buy something I’ll use so rarely, but also, I couldn’t possibly be this lucky again. Maybe that is the mark miscarriage leaves. Surely this was just a fluke. Or the strange insatiability: will I always want another baby, the way a child always wants another ice cream cone? Maybe it’s a type of hungry math– if I add and add and add, it will cancel out the heartbreak of those zeroes. Love doesn’t work that way, but hunger doesn’t understand that.
A mother of four, Maya Rudolph described herself in an interview as “addicted to babies,” and sometimes I feel that way. Not fixated, not obsessed, but habituated. To what? To the possibility? A mother of four. I’m exhausted with caring for three, and the road to Iris’s kindergarten year looks long, and still I find myself folding and storing away a few pairs of threadbare maternity leggings, a stack of my favorite onesies. Not in the keepsake boxes I’ve started for each child, but in an unmarked, mostly empty box in the basement. As if, like the unplanned first birthday, if I don’t think about it too directly I don’t have to face its meaning.
The keepsake boxes are labeled, layered. At the bottom there is the pink sweater Sky wore at four months, and on top are the pair of ballet shoes she just outgrew– too beloved to toss, too worn to save for her sister. There are the brown fuzzy booties that warmed Robin’s feet from January to May of his first year, turning him daily into bear cub, and there’s the orange astronaut jammies he loved so much, wore so often I can’t imagine them on Iris. And somehow there’s a box, too, for Iris: her going-home outfit that now looks improbably tiny, her first bathing suit that won’t fit next summer. I wonder how it could be over so soon. I wonder how to explain to myself that having another baby doesn’t bring the other babies back– not Iris as a newborn, not Sky at six months, not 9-month-old Robin, not the babies that faded away before they could be born.
How do I explain this to my heart? Not the organ, but very much the organ, too– its terrible, incredible pumping. The heart is the first thing I knew of each of my children, as a little feathery beating on a grainy screen. The heart is the part of me that has physically ached, each time I crossed the threshold of birth, with the weight of a love no one could have explained to me. And my heart is also something that isn’t flesh and doesn’t understand flesh’s finality. My heart wants to go back and forth through time, or suspend it, and linger in the nursery rocking each baby again.
This part of me isn’t rational. She’s very persuasive. I won’t give her the keys, but I also trust her to show me where to pay attention.
The baby is almost one and I haven’t planned a thing. Already she is pulling on my hands, pulling herself up to stand, laughing and wobbling into her next year.