I always knew I needed to be your mother. I knew I would take care of you. I knew I would be permanently glued to your life. I imagined I might gain some happiness out of the arrangement, but I had no idea what that would be. I knew I would love you, because that's what Moms do.
Even knowing this, even knowing that motherly love was "guaranteed", knowing that biology would ensure my attachment to you... even then, you would surprise me still. See, I knew I would love you, and yet I had no idea how much I would like you.
And I do like you, Jack, I like you so very much. You are just the neatest kid around. You are one year old, and I am exceptionally proud of who you are and who you are becoming.
You are one determined, busy little guy. It all started when you were growing inside me. You would kick and kick and kick and kick. All. Day. Long. I had no idea a baby could kick so much! I felt you kicking early on - around 15 weeks - and that’s when you and I really started to become pals. That’s when I started understanding what kind of person you are. You were always stretching and moving, pushing your boundaries, testing. I could count your hands and feet as you flexed your limbs inside of me. Even then, I learned about you. Now that we’re a year into this thing called “family”, I know a little more.
More than anything else, you like new things. When you were a little tiny guy and you would get upset, all we ever had to do was pick you up and do something new. In the beginning, we could just walk into a different room, turn on a light, show you a mirror, or change your diaper. All of these things would capture your attention and cheer you up. As you got older and smarter, we had to get a little more creative. You liked going outside for walks, being carried around the house, looking at the dog, watching a ball bounce, seeing cars go by, new toys, new sounds, new flavors, new people, new games. Then we realized we had to teach you things. You would point to everything around you, as if to show us something we didn’t already see, something new about that clock that we’d already forgotten. You wanted to know the names of things and how they worked. Now, whenever you inspect something, you expect it to move or change or be interesting. You want to interact with your world, and so you expect your world to interact with you; we do our best to oblige.
One of the things you like the most is being startled. You love it when we jump out of a corner or do something unexpected (your dad is the best at this). You always react the same way: first with a little jump of your own, a surprised face, and then a huge grin that spreads from ear to ear. If we do something really surprising, you start laughing, and then all we have to do is look at you sideways to start a gigglefest. And now that you can do a few signs, you like to sign “more” and have us jump out and scare you all over again. You love being tossed around, going upside down, and exploring space with your feet as well as your hands. You are an active toddler, and we won’t be surprised if you want to play a sport one day. You are endlessly fascinated with mechanical things, like doors and knobs and drawers. Sometimes you get a little shy around new people, but once you warm up to them, you want to play with them just like you play with us.
Here are some other weird things you like. You like lemon slices and wasabi and seltzer water. You seem to find lemons interesting (and continue to chew on them long after the first, sour bite). Wasabi made you laugh the first few times we gave you some (now it seems to be old news). Giving you seltzer water is always a hoot, because you keep going back for more (in spite of your obvious confusion about the bubbles).
Your favorite food continues to be fish. If something came from the sea, you love it. You eat an adult portion every time, and it is often with a sigh of sadness that I dump half my dinner onto your plate to enjoy.
But I can’t complain about that. Seriously, Jack, you’re the best eater I could have asked for, and I am counting my lucky stars that the food thing has been easy so far. You’ll try anything, and some of your favorite foods are so healthy. You eat kale and spinach, peas, beans, whole grain pasta and bread, every kind of fruit under the sun, avacados, blueberries, almond butter, yogurt, and hummus like there’s no tomorrow.
Just as you want your world to be interesting, it seems that you want your food to be interesting, too. The more spice and flavor it has in it, the more you’ll eat. I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for heat in food. I expect certain foods to be spiced enough to make me sweat. A couple of weeks ago I made something spicier than I meant to – spicy enough to make me pause and question whether I could keep eating – but you kept asking for more until we’d finished the bowl (it was srirachi coconut tofu, by the way).
This next thing is no surprise to me. You just love music. You’ve got great rhythm (good thing, because I can’t keep a beat to save my life). Since you were little, even before you could roll over or push up onto your belly, you would kick your legs and swing your arms in time. Now you bob up and down in a little dance. Your Aunt Jen and Uncle Pete gave you a musical walker, and it is probably your favorite toy. It plays all different songs, and the more you walk, the more it plays. Sometimes you go over to it and push the buttons without walking: when the music starts going, you get really, really happy.
Here are some things you do not like: green bell peppers, blocks, and books, the blender, the vacuum and sitting in one place. I figure the bell peppers are a little bitter, but I am surprised that you don’t like blocks or books (because I like them exceedingly well). Perhaps when you are older and can build big towers or understand the story in a book, you might find these things interesting. The blender and vacuum are really loud. About the sitting – well, let’s just say that airplanes are quite a challenge.
You are stubborn, Jack. You are very determined: you know what you want and you will not relent until you get it. Sometimes it is frustrating, and sometimes it makes me proud. I can tell that no matter what you decide to do with your life, you will be determined about it.
You had some big changes this month. You started talking for real! You say… mama, dada, daddy, doggy, woof-woof, eyes, more, night-night, nae-nae (nursing), uh-oh, and the ever-memorable, “doh” (which pretty much means anything you want it to). You also started walking! You take a few steps at a time now, usually toward your dad or I when we stretch out our arms to you. I just love watching you walk. You look like a little zombie, cautiously teetering across the floor with your arms outspread.
Nearly everything about your looks and personality remind me of your dad. There is very little of myself that I recognize in you, but here are a few things. 1, you have a little chin and a round face, and that’s kind of like me. 2, you like new things, and that’s like me too. 3, you are somewhat cautious about your physical space – that is, even though you like to explore and are very determined, your attempts are always careful, and if you think you might fall, you sit down before it can happen. You and I share these things together. (Your dad was once playing kickball and took a diving jump to catch the kickball with both hands… he shattered his shoulder and has a metal plate with several screws holding his collarbone together, as a result. The fact that you’re cautious about your physical space… well, I’m glad for it!)
What reminds me of your dad? Well, nearly everything else! You are so funny. You love being tickled and teased. You are so SOCIAL. I like people a lot, but you and your dad take “gregarious” to a whole new level. You like things that move and far prefer the world of people to books and stories. You are energetic and active. You never stop moving. You are a light sleeper. You look just like your dad. You are loud and dramatic. You are fidgety and impatient at times. You are up for a joke or a laugh any time day or night. Even if you are crying, we can usually get you to smile through it all. You are just so playful and happy.
Did you know, Jack? We have some big family news. We’re moving. We’re moving across the country. We’re moving so that I can take a job. Your dad is going to stay home with you during the day We are leaving the forest for the desert. I am terrified of this move: it is a big decision. It will impact all of us, and even though you won’t really know the difference, it will probably impact you most of all. I worry about things. I worry about the political climate, about food and the environment, about skin cancer, about the city, about so many things. And then I get excited about other things. I think about how close you and your dad are going to become, about how you will get to grow up next to your grandparents and great-grandparents, about how easy it will be for us to be outside and be active. About a job that I think might just enable us to have a good family life. I can’t guarantee that we made the right decision, but I want you to know that we made it as best as we could. We will be together, and that’s all that matters.
Your dad and I love each other and you very much. Very, very much.
Happy Birthday, Jack.