It was my daughter’s 4th birthday the other day. I still can’t believe it, she’s already 4!
My baby, who was born what seems like maybe a month ago, has been with us for four years! It was a rough start when I was pregnant with her – coming off of a miscarriage, and losing two more babies within a couple of months. Her whole beginning was a roller-coastery up and down of hormones and emotions.
But it all worked out. She’s here. And she’s awesome.
Her crazy loud cry has been causing long-term damage to my eardrums since the day she was born and she’s been saying, “NO” without explanation basically since birth. But, she’s still snuggly and giggly and tiny enough to carry around on the side of my hip. She’s learned how to smooth over any ill effects her loud cry or her loud NO might impart with a silly face, an infectious giggle, and a coy little bat of the eye. She is a fiercely strong person, independent and mighty, but who still looks up to her mama so much that when asked what animal her patronus would be (she loves Harry Potter and got a wand for her birthday) she replies, “you, Mama!” In case you weren’t aware, the patronus is the animal spirit that protects you. So, it makes sense that it’d be me.
Because she’s only 4.
Before her birthday party, we went to church. The girls took communion and after the liturgy the Greek school students were awarded their end-of-year certificates. It was a proud moment for our oldest, who has been doing her best to learn Greek language and Greek culture, even though she is only exposed to bits and pieces in her mixed-heritage home.
She’s almost 6.
Everyone was at church on that day, but not to watch her get her certificate. Our family had another reason to be there. A forty-day memorial for our cousin who died. Way too young. Suicide. My husband’s cousin’s baby who had a wide smile, an infectious personality, and a giving nature. I don’t know what animal his patronus would be because I never got around to asking him. Even if I had asked him, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a serious answer, it would’ve been just be for fun.
Because he was 23.
It’s chilling to realize that parenting doesn’t get easier with time, it gets harder. Sure, we get to sleep in a little longer on the weekends as they get older, but like my friend Jane always says, “little kids, little problems . . . big kids, big problems” meaning the hectic minute by minute demands that make raising small children so profoundly difficult is nothing compared to the less frequent but more intense issues that arise with parenting older children.
It doesn’t always work out. It isn’t always awesome.
Her birthday felt surreal. In the morning, I was rocking my baby while the church choir sang a beautifully haunting, “Memory Eternal” for our cousin. I held her in my arms and inhaled her cinnamon-scented head, clutching her to my body and etching her skin with my fingertips as if this were the last time I would ever touch her.
Because you really never know.
Our little family of four found time to celebrate as a small unit, a few moments amidst the chaos that was celebrating with extended family. We sang, “Today is Your Birthday” by the Beatles. We bounced together – just the four of us – in the rented bounce house, and we cheersed with plastic forks as the four of us ate the leftover cake straight from the platter before bed.
That same day as 40 days since death.
Throughout the day our family laughed and we cried. We passed around bracelets with our cousin’s name etched in the band, a memorial we could wear. We sang to my daughter before she blew out her candles – a tribute we could hear. We celebrated together, we mourned together, back and forth so many times it felt more like a lifetime than a 24-hour day.
The minutes pass and the moments are counted from birth until forever. There is no end date to parenting. There is no greater joy, there can be no greater grief.
They’re always our babies, no matter what.