My sweet Ryland,
So this is a little late, but it’s taken me a few days to feel ready to sit down and try to put into words all the million things you mean to me, my beautiful girl, all the ways I’ve seen you grow, all the life you’ve lived in the 730+ days you’ve been on the planet.
It’s such a cliche, to be that weepy mom staring at old pictures on her child’s birthdays. I swore I would never be that person. After working with sick kids, I have a somewhat unique perspective, in that, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling sad about aging. And I haven’t, not when it comes to myself. I’ve welcomed birthdays, even the big 3-0 and the two that have come since then because it felt utterly wrong to complain about getting older when I saw so many kids and their families fight so hard for that privilege, when I saw so many lose that privilege.
And I told myself I would never get weepy about you getting older, because I know what a tremendous gift time is. And I didn’t get weepy, even a little bit, when you turned one. I was excited and proud, and for whatever reason, it didn’t feel like any kind of loss in my heart. You were still a baby after all, crawling and scooting, but ultimately round and fuzz-headed and all, sweet, dependent baby.
But then, well, two kind of snuck up on me. And against my better judgment, despite my hard-earned wisdom, I felt a small but distinct sense of loss, the sensation of something shifting and changing. And of course, this change didn’t happen the morning of your birthday like a sudden pop. Of course, it’s been happening, little by little, bit by bit. But something about the occasion of your birthday made me see it clearly, how different you are, how brave and bold and separate from me you’ve become.
You know how babies don’t understand the concept that they are a distinct being from the people around them? For the first part of their lives, they think mom is just an extension of their own bodies, one big blob of a human, all connected and inextricably tied together.
They have an excuse for this lapse in reason because they’re teeny babies with teeny brains. I’ve realized, however, that mothers also suffer from this failure in judgment. For the first part of our child’s life, we, despite common sense and knowledge of basic science, feel like they are an extension of ourselves. They fall down and it hurts us. They cry, and we feel it vibrate in our bones. We wake up moments before they do, even if it’s the middle of the night. And if we ever wake up early, inevitably they wake up too, like we share a brain. There’s so much physical nearness with babies, from the obvious of pregnancy to (if you choose/can) breastfeeding, to all the time spent rocking or babywearing or cuddling. You memorize the way their skin feels, the geography of their tiny bodies, the length of arms and legs, the chubby folds, the birthmarks and rashes. You close your eyes and see theirs reflected back at you. You know each eyelash in detail, the tiny details of their faces, the crooked teeth, the way they smile and laugh and cry. They refer to the newborn phase as the “fourth trimester” but in some ways, it extends much longer. Because even though they are outside your body, there’s a gravitational pull between you.
And it continues this way, for a long while, until one day you look up and realize with a jolt that your sweet baby is no longer simply an extension of your own body. It might happen when you see them on the other side of a playground, totally independent and unconcerned about your proximity, or in your house, when you stumble upon them in their room, reading books to themselves. It might be when you drop them off at preschool and they don’t look back, or when they run down the sidewalk, you jogging to catch up.
The moment is different for everyone, but everyone has that moment, when suddenly you look down and you’re missing a limb. Your baby is her own disntinct being, with her own thoughts and opinions and inner universe, of which you will only have access at her invitation.
Ryland, for me, this wasn’t one distinct, easy to recall moment, but a collection of them, a hundred little fragments, times when I saw you clearly as someone apart from me, and when I knew you felt the same.
It is probably the ultimate contradiction of parenthood, our greatest sorrow and our greatest joy, to see your child grow away from you.
You, my girl, even though you still love to be held and snuggled, even though you’re still in diapers and cry for mama when you get hurt, even though you hold my hand and reach out your arms to be picked up, you are unmistakably growing away from me, like a flower toward sunlight. It destroys me. And I could not be prouder.
You are so brave and funny and wild and wonderfully weird. I could watch you endlessly, especially when you don’t know you’re being watched (do I sound creepy? I think I sound creepy). But you have such a wide open heart for the world, such a curious mind. Your dada and I are introverts, and sometimes you have some introvert tendencies, a tendency to cling to a parent’s leg or watch from the sidelines, but those tendencies are becoming rarer as you get older.
I took you to the Children’s Museum recently. The first few times I took you there after you were able to walk, almost a year ago, you clung to me. You wouldn’t take a step without me right there with you. I had to follow you everywhere, be right by your side.
The last time I took you there, a few weeks ago, the moment we arrived you took off running. You didn’t wait for me or look back. And you didn’t for almost the entire time we were there.
You are so excited by so many things, watching bigger kids play, touching everything, taking things apart. You love to feel things, the sticker and dirtier the better. Per your preschool teachers, finger painting is your passion. You come home every Monday covered in green or purple paint residue.
You love to run and climb and do anything physical, and even though you’re much more coordinated than you were a few months ago, you still have a wobbly, precarious gait. You run with your entire body, arms and legs out wide, a whir of motion and bouncing.
You are not a serious or solemn child. You smile often and easily, at other kids, at animals, at funny movies. You also love to dance, and at the slightest hint of a song kick your legs out and twirl and basically do your best imitation of the Elaine from Seinfeld. You laugh, and I’ve got to say it is like one of the Top 3, at least, of the very best sounds in the universe, a deep, bottomless, cackling laugh, elicited by tickles or George running in circles or pretty much anything involving your dad being silly.
Even though you aren’t serious, you are so watchful. I love to stare at your face when you’re watching a movie (again, I know, creepy, sorry) and see your features shift and change with every thought and reaction. And you seem to actually really watch movies, not simply pay attention to the funny parts or songs. You get up close, like you’re trying to cimb into the world of Trolls or Moana or Sing, and you listen to the conversation, to the quiet scenes with a deep and intense concentration.
The world is a puzzle to you. I see that clearly, and you want to figure it out, and to do so you use every available tool at your disposal. You pick things up and inspect everything, rocks and sticks, books and water bottles. Everything is new and amazing to you, each blade of grass, each duck that lands in the pond near our house.
You are not meek, and sometimes that makes life a little difficult for your parents, but I wouldn’t trade it, because it means that you will be a strong and willful woman, the only kind I want to raise. Out of all the words in your vocabulary, “no” is without question the one you enunciate best and use most often. If you don’t like something, like what I served you for dinner (even though you liked it the previous night), you absolutely let everyone know.
But when you do like something, like when mama reaches for a “gogurt” or someone gives you a cookie or lets you play outside, you also let everyone know it. You clap and jump and shimmy and act like nothing in the world has ever happened that is quite as good as that moment in time.
You were a little unsure about the whole baby sibling thing at first. In your defense, you had no idea it was coming. You thought mom and dad went on vacation for a couple of days and then we showed up with a squirming, crying little ball of a newborn. As a result, there were some dicey moments. You may or may not have tried to poke Bobby in the eye a few times when he started to cry. You also tended to scream every time he screamed, which made for some fun first few weeks.
But now that he’s less of a newborn and more of a baby, you seem to have really warmed to the idea. Watching you be sweet and gentle with him, like the times you bring him a blanket or even one of your own beloved lovies, are some of my proudest mom moments. I love when you make him giggle, which makes you giggle, until you’re both just a big mush of giggles. I hope so much that you will be such good friends, that you’ll be a team, even though I know that will be just one more way you move a little bit further from me out into the world. I know you will have secrets and jokes of which I am not a part. And I will be so happy about that (but maybe also hide and cry a little bit).
You are such a neat mix of wild and gentle, content to roll in the mud one minute and hoard stuffed animals in your crib the next. You want to be a little mom one second, help with Bobby and be sweet and gentle as a lamb, and the next second you are tossing blocks in the air or running in circles around the house. You are not going to adhere to any one type clearly and I love that so much about you.
You are so fearless, sometimes alarmingly so. You run straight at the ocean, stick your hands in the mouths of giraffes, jump off things and climb under others. You have the heart of an explorer, a wandering soul.
Oh Ryland, there are so many things left to say, so many things you bring to our lives. You can be such a handful and on your really cranky days, I have to be honest, I count down the seconds until bedtime. But you know what? Even on those days, even on the worst of days, I still miss you. I still get excited the next morning when you wake up (provided it’s at a somewhat decent hour).
I still sometimes want to run, not walk to your room, fling open the door and scoop you up, snuggle you closely, breathe in your last few remnants of baby smell. And I do, of course. I hold you close, as much and as often as I can. We snuggle in my bed, watching movies, and those uneventful moments are literally some of the best I’ve had on this earth.
You make us laugh so hard, harder than anyone. Even when your dad and I go out on date nights, half the time we spend talking about some funny or weird thing you did recently. At night, when we’re in bed, we frequently end up passing our phones back and forth, sharing photos and videos of you.
Because while we had a life before you, and still have lives separate from you, jobs and passions and thoughts and goals, the truth is you and your brother are still at the center of it all. You make the other stuff, the stuff you have nothing to do with, brighter, more vibrant, like a glowing filter applied to every moment of our days.
I’m going to get really mushy for a moment so bear with me.
You make me want to be a better person and a better mom, and the love I have for you and the love you give me are more than I deserve or could ever deserve, even if I lived a million years.
You inspire me. You challenge me.
Watching you grow and change is the great miracle of my life. When you get a little older, you’ll understand my love of stories, of movies and books and shows. It’s why I write, because I see all of a life as part of a story so worth telling.
You, daughter of mine, Ryland Elizabeth, are the best story I will ever create, the truest and most beautiful. As a parent, the reality is that every day that story will belong less and less to me. Already I feel it start to shift, see you create your own paragraphs and chapters.
And one day, it will become yours and yours alone. My voice will no longer be the narrator, but merely a background player.
Oh, what a story it will be. You’re only two, and I feel like already the story of you is beyond my wildest expectations.
Happy birthday my girl, my sun and moon and stars, my wild, fierce, stubborn, playful, joyous, smart, sassy, loving, beautiful Ryland.