Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dear Ellie - One Year

My dear Ellie,

Today is your first birthday - you are officially one year old. One year ago tonight we spent our evening staring at you, taking literally hundreds of pictures, calling our family to share the news of your birth (and your name!) and trying to soak up every last second of you. If we're being honest, even though you are a whole year older, we still spend our days doing those very same things! Even after 365 days, we just can't get enough of you. I don't see that changing any time soon, either. But still, I can't believe that an entire year has passed us by since that night when we first met you.

Yet somehow, here we are. And it feels so bittersweet, but I have had a hard time pinpointing exactly why. It seems silly to be sad, because I am so insanely in love with the little girl you have grown into over the course of these 12 months. If we're being completely honest, your newborn days were quite challenging, but I love this age for you. I love to play with you and interact with you in ways I couldn't 12 months ago. I love to see your smile and hear your laugh. I love to see your silly faces and watch you learning before my very eyes. And aside from my thorough enjoyment of the present, I am so incredibly excited to watch you continue to grow. I can't wait to see you become the person you are meant to be and find out what life has in store for you.

But even still, as I watch old home videos of your newborn days, or look at those photos of teeny, tiny you, tears come to my eyes. I think maybe it's just the realization that this major stage of your life - your babyhood - has passed by seemingly in a flash. That stage is already over, and although your Daddy and I have tried so very hard to be present and appreciate each moment, some memories have already gotten fuzzy. No matter how hard we tried to remember every single detail of those early days, they simply passed by in a blur and there just wasn't anything we could do to help that. More than once I thought, "no way will I ever forget this!" only to be proven entirely wrong when I stumble across a picture to jog my memory months later. I think any sadness I may feel quite possibly stems from the feeling of being out of control - time is flying by and I'm doing the best I can to keep up, but some moments just get away from me. And I don't want a single moment with you to get away from me.

But really, I think my tears today are not so much sad tears but rather happy ones, tears of gratitude and overwhelming joy. Ellie, I am so, so blessed to be your mama. I still look at you and can't believe that I got so lucky as to have you for my daughter. I am so humbled that it is my responsibility to care for such a beautiful person, and am so overcome with love for you that it takes my breath away. How can I not cry? I have been given the greatest gift I could ever imagine. How blessed I am!

At one year old, you have become quite an extraordinary little girl. You have such personality, and people are always quick to take notice. You love to meet new people, reaching out to strangers, smiling and waving. While the children in line both before and after us cried at the mere sight of him, you contentedly sat on the Easter Bunny's lap a couple of weeks ago, and smiled your biggest smile for the picture. At your birthday party last week, you totally worked the crowd, crawling all around the room to greet all your guests. You are just so playful, sociable and fun!

You are so interested in the world around you, though this is hardly a new development. Even in your younger days you refused to let us sit and instead demanded that we carry you around the house so you could look at everything. Now, as we carry one-year-old you around, you constantly point in all directions, exclaiming in excitement as if to ask "what's that?" about anything new that catches your eye. You want to inspect everything and figure it all out. You pay close attention as we play, and often remember things your Daddy and I did with barely a thought (such as placing a ball on top of a toy) and try to recreate it yourself later (sometimes even days later!). This month some things you have especially enjoyed are: bunnies (see above re: the Easter Bunny), putting things in and taking them out of containers, Cheerios, stuffed animals, and of course, your beloved peek-a-boo. You also love to dance and have started doing this new butt-wiggle move that is too cute for words. I love that you love music!

You have also started using your walker toy for its intended purpose. You had no interest in any such thing for the longest time, then one day Daddy stood you in front of it and off you went, and you haven't stopped since. You tear back and forth across the house, hollering as you go. I love to watch you do this. You are also getting so much better at standing and can stand alone for quite some time now. I'm sure your first steps are imminent so I will continue to keep my video camera at the ready!

You have four teeth now (with more possibly in progress), and continue to be an excellent eater. We're wrapping up our time with purees in favor of all finger foods, which you enjoy quite a bit. The one food you haven't particularly enjoyed this month, however, was your birthday cake. We expected an epic mess of a cake smash, but you very daintily sampled some frosting then called it quits. Very unexpected, but quite sweet!

We are also still nursing, so I am very proud to say that I have met my goal of nursing you for a year. And I don't see any reason to stop as long as it's still working out so well for both of us, so we'll continue onward for the time being. This month you also learned how to sign when you want to nurse by lightly tapping either my chest or your own, and it is the sweetest thing in the whole world when you climb into my lap and gently tap my chest to let me know exactly what you want. I just love those quiet moments with you and I am so grateful that breastfeeding has worked out so well for us. I have loved every moment of it.

And, aside from all your developments and changes, what a year you have lived! You have toured New York City, flown on a plane several times, walked (well, stroller-ed) in two parades and won two contests, watched the New York City Fourth of July Fireworks, been baptized with so many friends and family there to witness it, strutted around town with fellow fashionistas at Fashions Night Out, lived through a hurricane (and power outage), met the Vice President and several other celebrities, met Santa Clause (three times!) and the Easter Bunny, experienced both snow and the beach, been to festivals and fairs, celebrated your birthday in rather fun Alice-in-Wonderland fashion, and developed relationships with your extended family. I'd say that's a pretty successful first year of life, wouldn't you?

I just look at you now and your newborn days seem like such a distant memory. Sometimes I remind myself of the endless hours spent bouncing you on the exercise ball to calm you and get you to sleep. Or how you would only really nap if you were cuddled up next to me, so we would spend hours in my bed with me on my laptop while you dozed. Sometimes I was trapped there for so long I would get hungry, so I started stashing food and water in our usual nap spots. There were days when I couldn't take you out into the world without a meltdown, and I felt so isolated and discouraged sometimes.

Ellie, having a newborn can be tough. What surprised me most about new motherhood was the depth and range of emotion that came with it. Your Daddy has said (and I wholeheartedly agree) that when you have a new baby, everything is so much more intense - when you're frustrated, you feel frustrated to your core. But when you look at your little one and feel that joy or pride or love, it's just so indescribably great. And the funny thing is, you can flip-flop from one extreme to the other in a matter of seconds. I remember days when you would be just a mess, crying and crying and refusing to sleep and I didn't know how to help you. I would cry along with you and feel so discouraged, so desperate, so helpless, sometimes even asking myself what I had gotten myself into. And then I would look down, and as if you knew I needed it, you would flash me that gorgeous gummy smile with that little dimple on your cheek and in a split second, everything would fade away and I would feel such overwhelming love, such joy, such happiness and I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be. It really is an amazing thing.

Even with a year of experience under my belt, it's just so hard to put into words what motherhood is really like. It is at once both deeply frustrating and incredibly uplifting, both heart-wrenching and joyful, both hard work and tons of fun, both humbling and empowering. It really is like nothing else I have ever experienced but even with all that fluctuation, it is by far my favorite experience of my life. Being your mother has fulfilled me far more than anything else I have ever accomplished and I am so, so proud to do this job. I hope I can be even half of the wonderful mother you deserve.

Ellie, I love you more than I can ever say. You changed my world infinitely for the better one year ago today and I just adore you. I love being your mama and I am so looking forward to seeing what the coming years bring for you as a person and us as a family. I love our family so ridiculously much.

Thank you for a wonderful year, Sunshine, and for being so perfectly you. You're far better than I ever could have imagined. I love you. Happy birthday!

All my love,

* * * * *

Dear Ellie,

Happy birthday! I can't believe we made it to a year already. One of the biggest mysteries of parenthood is how the months seem to pass so quickly despite each day doing the opposite, measuring one play, change, feed and nap at a time. It's crazy to look back on this past year and see how very much you have grown and changed. There are just so many cool things you do now that hardly seemed possible a year ago today. For example, in no particular order of cuteness, you can, and regularly do, ask to be picked up or for milk, point directly at the things you want, crawl, walk (with help), say "mama" and "dada" and feed yourself. You are such a big girl already, but I know there are still so many good things to come. It's all just so awesome and I am very excited to continue to watch you grow.

If I seem to be rambling in this letter, it's probably because I can't decide what I am supposed to say to you. Do I simply talk about where you are and what you are doing as we celebrate your first birthday? Or should I wax poetic about my hopes and dreams for your life, seeing as this is my last monthly letter to you? Honestly, I am having a hard time thinking clearly at this point. Despite one year being such a clean interval, we are just too deep in the middle of a transitionary period to set down clear descriptions or expectations. To say nothing of the fact that I am in between careers and cities, you are on the verge of walking and sound like you are trying to say more words. You are also in the early stages of using sign language, including those for "milk" and "dog," which is crazy precious. You also managed to change your morning wake-up time recently, which is forcing us to try and adjust your nap schedule, with mixed results. Suffice it to say that despite the enormous progress you have made and the numerous parenting challenges we have solved, there are always as many new ones right around the corner.

That said, I am so grateful to be raising you with your mama. Honestly, one of my absolute favorite things about your first year of life was watching my Meghan be your mama. Ellie girl, let me tell you, we are blessed. From your earliest days, when everything else in her life went completely against plan, she was always gentle with you. She may recall having the same insecurities and frustrations as all new parents, but it has never seemed that way. When it came to dealing with you, Ellie, she always exuded peace and her voice was always soft and kind. I know that everyone loves their mother and most kids turn out okay regardless, but I would be willing to bet that you are a very lucky kid. Your mama seems more natural at caring for you than I have ever seen anyone at anything. She has always encouraged you to figure things out on your own, while letting you know she was there, ready to comfort and support you when she could tell you needed it. From my understanding of new parents, many seem to find themselves, rightly or wrongly, favoring one thing over the other. Not her. I believe that balance has helped you become so well-adjusted at one year old. You are not afraid of new people or being apart from us, but it still feels like you love and trust us completely.

My dear Ellie, I hope the past eleven letters help you understand how special you are and how much you are loved. As long as you know those two things, I think you will be okay. But then again, what do I know, except that I am crazy in love with our little family.

Happy birthday!


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