Birth Day (Happy!)

My oldest turns 5 today. Unbelievable. I had no idea what I was in for.

Although all the photographic evidence suggests she slept adorably, and often, I remember the hard, sleepless reality of those first few months. I went back to work full time when she was 5 weeks old. I fell asleep at my desk more than once. I forgot my social security number at the bank and wept softly while the teller stared.

“I just had a baby,” I sobbed, “and I am just so tired.”

Still, as endless as those nights seem, the time passes quickly.  She talked early and walked late. By her first birthday I was visibly pregnant with our second; my belly grew and grew and still, she crawled, asking or demanding to be carried, rocked, held. Sometimes I would peek around the corner from the kitchen into the living room and see her taking tentative steps. She would sit down immediately if she realized I was watching, refusing all my attempts to praise, encourage, plead with her to please, please, please, start walking.  It was July when she finally walked, and October when Lucy was born. Dorothy sang the Itsy Bitsy Spider and the ABCs in the car on the way home from the hospital.

When D was about 3, she asked what a brain was. Tyler and I tried to explain:

“Your brain is in your head, and it’s in charge of your body. It tells your body how to work, when to breathe, what you’re feeling. And you think with your brain. When you imagine or pretend or think or wonder about something, you’re using your brain.”

“It’s in my head?”


“My brain is in my head?”


“With all the tiny people?”

It was impossible not to laugh. Turns out she already had a very clear idea of what was in her head: lots of tiny people, building houses and playing games.

This was perhaps the most surprising revelation about parenting, more surprising than all the conversations I have had about poop, more surprising than the realization that cosleeping is awesome because it means more sleep for everyone, more surprising than my apparent willingness to cook individual portions of everybody’s favorite foods rather than deal with hunger-induced crankiness:

Whether or not I had thought to tell her what was in her head, she had her own idea of what was going on in there.

Before becoming a parent, I had grand plans for my children. I thought about the books I would read them, the stories I would tell, the transformative experiences I would chaperone them through, the ways I would teach and influence and guide. I had no idea that children are full-on people from the moment they are born.

D is fierce, stubborn, smart, intense, imaginative, thoughtful, empathic. She is afraid to ride her bike and desperate to figure out how to get past her fear. She dresses the dinosaurs up in the My Little Pony skirts for the dinosaur ballet. She sings constantly, songs from my childhood and lately from the Muppets, songs like She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain and A You’re Adorable and You Are My Sunshine and Mana Mana. She screams bloody murder in time out, angry and frustrated not just that she isn’t getting her way but that she is being denied the opportunity to show us all that her way could work if we would just let her be in charge. She throws temper tantrums. She cries at the drop of a hat. She is learning to read, recognizing words and sounding them out, writing her name, her birthday list, little messages I find on folded scraps of paper all over the house. She talks to strangers, telling everyone within earshot how many cats we have, how many days till her birthday, Margueaux’s 2 middle names, her favorite princesses.  

We are celebrating her birthday today with butterflies, puffins (the food, not the bird), a fruit rainbow, chocolate cupcakes, and rainbow sprinkles. I hung paper lanterns and bought her a birthday girl pin and a special cup and a Muppet CD. I’m postponing all the grading, all the laundry, all the email, all the phone calls, all the bills, all the worries. Today is a birth day, a day my heart and soul and body opened up and this amazing gorgeous being emerged.

Happy birthday, D. I hope all the tiny people got together to build you something awesome.



8 responses to “Birth Day (Happy!)

  1. I can relate to so much of this. Like Dorothy, Robin has her own theories about the way things work. She’s pretty obsessed with anatomy lately: we spent Sunday afternoon looking at pictures of babies in utero and talking about what a placenta does. She decided it “scrubs out the pee” of the baby. Which is kinda true.

    I will also be writing about fatigue this week.

  2. Obsessed with anatomy is AWESOME! Dorothy is obsessed with mermaids, dolphins, and rainbows. Also with being in charge. She just asked me, “since it’s my birthday, can I choose EVERYTHING today?” I’m going to pull up some dolphin videos and drink some more coffee.

  3. Oh, I love this, Jen. And the sleeplessness with our second is making me weepy. 🙂

    Aaron is also obsessed with being in charge. Or being the boss. These are two different things in his head. He also is trying to figure out worms and loves watching our newest additions, four tadpoles.

    • My days of weepy fatigue are mostly over, thankfully. But the need to BE IN CHARGE is exhausting in its own way. Sometimes endearing, sometimes not. I just keep telling myself that it’s my job to help her find her way to adulthood without losing her sense of power or empathy.

  4. Puja Master Turner

    Oh man, I remember those horrible, weepy moments (or hours)!! My boys are 15-months old, and I can’t imagine celebrating their 5th birthday. It must be surreal that your baby is already a whole FIVE years old. Happy, happy birthday 🙂

    • When I was dragging myself around work totally dysfunctional, an amazing coworker with grown children said to me, “I know it seems like it will never end, but this is really just a tiny portion of their lives”. And it turns out she was right!

  5. happy birthday!! and what’s a puffin?
    for the anatomy-obsessed, play The Bloodmobile by TMBG for them. my kids are currently listening to nothing else!

    • Puffins are another Pinterest success story, actually: bisquick, water, syrup, baked in muffin tins. Like a combination of muffins and pancakes, but all done at once, so no standing over the griddle. They are awesome.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s