Your clothes didn’t fit you when you were born. They swallowed your tiny body resulting in pools of fabric and folded waistbands, pictures of which make us now laugh at my silly attempts to get those cute outfits on you, whether or not they fit.
It’s not that you weren’t the right size. It’s that there isn’t a prepping-for-baby act in the world—clothing included—that’s appropriately fitted for what you really get, but how could there be? How could you possibly measure the space that’s carved in a heart—a space you don’t even realize exists—one where you and only you were made to fit? How could you summarize a feeling you’re supposed to feel when that first breath—a mother’s inhalation of her child—is as unique to a mother as her fingerprint?
It’s not that you weren’t the right size. It’s just that from that tiny body, we couldn’t have imagined the great breadth that you would take up—the great breadth that you already were the moment I held you and we spoke with our eyes in a secret language only known between you and me—“Hi Mom, nice to meet you.” “Hi, Baby. I love you.”
You crawled until you were almost two. I can still hear the slap of your palms against the tile and remember how quickly you could scurry from one room to the next—the sight of wayward pigtails skittering away and tights hanging off the ends of your feet, creating tails that never seemed to bother you. You kept up with the walkers, no problem.
It’s not that you didn’t meet a milestone. It’s that there isn’t a term in the world that could possibly stand as an average measurement of victories that are anything but average. The way you grow, the way you decide to take in the world and the way that you express understanding of all those incredible synapses happening in that beautiful brain of yours—why, that’s yours, baby. And nobody else can do it like you. Your smile, your “soul hug”, your superhero lock-eyed gaze that melts hearts and freezes time–those are the greatest milestones, and you already had those mountains summited with your very first breath, so you’re good.
On the evening of your fourth birthday, I cried while I kissed you and told you that you were everything I ever wanted. “Happy Birthday, I love you so much,” I said. “Do you know how much I love you?” I wanted to hear you say “yes.” I wanted you to ask me to tell you the story of your birth and then stop me ten times in the middle to ask silly four-year-old questions like “But why?” and “How did the baby get there?” But you didn’t answer me. You didn’t ask any questions. Instead you smiled until your eyes squinted into half-moons, and you brushed your hand against my cheek and laughed a soul-filling sound.
It’s not that you can’t talk—you can. It’s that you understand one of the greatest secrets of the earth—that words aren’t as powerful as actions. You’ve learned to speak a dying language of deep emotion, and your fluency and expression is remarkable, something brilliance can’t come close to defining. The words you use are prefaced with looks and gestures that tell the world you not only see it but you love living in it. You listen with your eyes and your heart, and you respond—yes, with words—but more so with your grin, your little quick-step skip, and those arms thrown out beside you to hug the world while you swing your hair and twirl, twirl, twirl.
You turn five today. The earth has made its long journey around the sun not once but five times since the moment you took your first breath. The thought of that journey can be overwhelming sometimes—such a long trip for the earth to make and such slow progression around that sun. But while we wait for it to make its big cycle, we have small more important progression to celebrate. It spins! The earth spins while it moves, giving us days—and lots of them. Sunrises and sunsets and forward movement that is so recognizable, you have to grab on to the things that don’t move to stay grounded. We spin together—our family and our friends—and we hold hands and celebrate every turn of the earth, every moment of life that we gratefully absorb. For you, that means we celebrate thousands of kisses—on your lips, on your cheeks, at the top of your head and in the little hollow right above your nose—the valley of soft milky skin that was made just for our kisses. We celebrate endless high fives and “Knuckles!” victories—the games you win and the losses from which we learn something. We celebrate all of our adventures—from scouring, ankle-deep, the edge of Michigan lakes for Petoskey stones to venturing up to our waists in our ocean at home, searching for sand dollars, sea stars, the chipped remains of opalescent shells. We celebrate the little moments of every day—the tilt of the earth’s spin that we feel in your smile when you first catch sight of us at preschool pick-up, your hair floating in curls that dance on the surface of the water when you lean back in the tub to let us wash it, your lyrical chatter to the dolls that become alive when you play with them. And we celebrate your favorites. Handfuls of cold plump grapes, skirts that twirl and swish while you walk, stick pretzels, baby dolls, music on the record player and dancing—anywhere at any time. We clap when you dance and we run to grab our craziest outfit so we can dance with you—the most colorful ensemble we make. Oh, how our earth spins with you in it.
It’s not that we don’t realize that five years is just the beginning, a sliver of beauty for all that is to come. It’s just that it seems you’ve been here our whole lives, and five years makes the most beautiful eternity.
Happy birthday, Nella. You fit perfectly.