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Challenge: Life Changes

A Letter To My Daughter on Her First Birthday

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Dear Norah, on your first birthday,

It’s been a year since you burst forth into this world, with your tiny squinting eyes, your body clenched against the brightness, against the cold, against voices strangely amplified from the muffled hum you were used to, against the raw air filling your tiny lungs for the first time.I remember thinking: I have never loved anything as much as I love you.

The next thought I had was, How will I ever keep you safe?

The thoughts, mostly in question form, have not stopped since.

Why won’t you sleep? What do you need? Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you going to hold this against me? Can I put you down without waking you up? Why are you crying? What is that in your diaper? Why does gas make you smile? When are you going to gain control of your limbs so you stop hitting yourself in the face? Are you cold? Are you hot? Why are you biting me? Why are you so angry? What’s in your mouth? Am I doing this right? Any of it??!! Am I crazy? (I need to pause here and say 'thank you' to Ted for never once calling me crazy in the last year, when I most certainly was.)

I went from being a serenely pregnant balloon, wandering through baby departments of stores in a calm, peaceful, lazy bliss, to the lady who grabs whatever might still fit you from your closet, knowing it will be a matter of minutes until it’s covered in something. In fact, the last time I think I felt really prepared when leaving the house was when I went into labor.

You started out as our little earthworm and grew quickly into a soft, sweet smelling baby in what seems like the blink of an eye in hindsight. You went from that, to being a chubby, rolly-polly giggler who could sit up and clap, to a mini-ballerina pulling yourself to standing at every opportunity. From there, it was only a matter of seconds before you could crawl, or rather, scoot around (with your cast, I’m so, so sorry).

And here we are: you look more like a toddler than a baby, all of a sudden. You are this close to walking, you have four of the cutest (sharpest) little chicklet teeth. Your voice rings out in our home with the words you know: Dada, Mom, Bop’n (your name for your sister), Bam (your word for your brother), dog, ball, lion. If someone says to you, “Are you a little beast?” you will growl. You know sign language and you will use it in place of whining. Seeing a dog, especially your dog, makes you shriek with joy. You have the best, most crazy hair that curls in humid climates. You have dimples and a mischievous grin. You love books and you will “read” to yourself, to Clancy, to anyone. You love to fly, mostly because of the captive audience. All of this is cliché, and anyone who has children in their lives nod with the understanding of the experienced. But at the same time, none of it is cliché, because you are you and I am me and there is no other combination like us.

I will be the first to tell you that I have made so many mistakes in the last year; and I will forever be thankful for baby-amnesia. But I also had a great many successes. You went from being a wakeful, light sleeper to a little girl who sleeps all night and takes two naps a day. You taught me that I needed to teach you how to sleep.You taught me to trust you as you explored your world. You taught me how to let go of a messy house once in a while. You taught me that being present with you is far better than trying to juggle too much at once. You taught me to revel in the learning of new things—colors, animals, words, foods. With you, I can experience all of these things again for the first time.

This last week, when we were standing on a beach in Florida near your grandma’s house, we looked out at the beautiful sea. I whispered in your ear, “Norah, that’s the ocean. Can you say 'ocean'?” Your gaze didn’t waver, but you pointed at the waves and with your tiny voice you said, “Mama” exercising your power to bring tears to my eyes with the things you do and say.

I’m okay being your ocean. I will be what you can see in front of and behind you. The depth of my love will forever be immeasurable. I will rock you softly on sparkling waves and I will surround you and buoy you. You can mark time to the rhythm of my heartbeats, as predictable as waves lapping at your toes, first one, then another. I will carry you to far away lands and safely home, with tales of adventure lighting the way. You can look back into our days, oh so quick, and our nights---often so long---and you can see the curvature of the earth. I will glow with violet warmth, long after the sun sets.

For you have altered me, you have made me enormous with all I contain now: the love, the fear, the wonder, the pride, the sacredness of your hands on my chest when I say, “Where is mommy’s heart?” You have blown out the walls and torn off the roof of who I was before you, and left an openness that is vulnerable, fierce, and free.Thank God for you, a force of nature, a force of love.

And as you grow into a little girl with a Montana edge, bare feet and dirty knees, sun on your face and in your hair, your sarcastic eye-brow raise will be ever-more perfected, you'll figure out how to cartwheel, and you’ll learn new words. New things will make you laugh…and cry.Echoing in my heart since the day you first gasped for air in my arms and looked into my eyes the question remains: How will I ever keep you safe? A daunting task.

On your first birthday, I wish for you that you keep your sweet disposition, your ease of smile, your curiosity and your watchfulness. I wish for you that you see around you examples of strong, smart, thoughtful, kind, loving people. I wish for me that you stay small enough to curl into my arms before bed for just a little while longer, your hair still damp from a bath, your breath warm on my cheek as we read together, your chubby little fingers wrapped around my wrist. Let’s just pause, here, now…for a little while, or forever...on your birthday.

I love you, always,



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