Three years ago tonight, I checked into the hospital to have you. Always a planner, your mama packed her monogrammed Vera Bradley duffel weeks before your arrival with everything from citrus-scented face wipes to my favorite La Leche League nursing jammies to my fabulous pastel rainbow striped delivery gown and matching headband, which I loved although it never made it onto my head. I packed my X’s and O’s retro ice pack, your delicate little floral onesie to wear home from the hospital and a basket of moonpies for the nurses who would prove to be my cheerleaders during your journey from my belly to the wide wide world. We had your room freshly painted key lime pie green, with a custom mural courtesy of your already-doting daddy. For months I’d been preparing for you, even ordering a ladybug print birthday hat for your first birthday to go along with my pre-determined theme of ladybugs, given your nickname was already Milliebug. And sometimes Rosebud given your middle name, although that never stuck.
The day you were born, I woke, well rested thanks to an ambien from the night before- the nurses were merciful in ensuring one last peaceful slumber, knowing it would be my last- and I carefully tucked my freshly blown out hair from the day before under a shower cap so I could wash up before my scheduled induction. I changed into my soft, colorful birthing gown, satisfied, as ever, that I’d found the perfect outfit for your arrival (and to this day, I’m grateful for my efforts, because I’m the only mama I’ve ever known who continues to be pleased with our first-ever, baby-fresh-from-the-womb family photographs.) You came leisurely-like, dawdling in a way I have now come to know, love and plan for. I got my pitocin, I had my water broken at 9 a.m. and by noon I’d had my epidural and was napping- we do love ourselves a good nap! I woke up at 3:45 and less than an hour later out you came, to the tune of Salt and Pepa’s Push it, or possibly Hey Ya! By Outkast, or perhaps Eye of the Tiger- I’m not quite sure, but all three were on my Pushing Playlist that your daddy dutifully played for me. You arrived right on time for your very first birthday party, surrounded by laughter and nurses dancing and I’m pretty sure your first tears were just requests for us to tuck you into your first party outfit- a stripy hospital swaddle blanket that we now use as a dishtowel- and get you a drink- which I worked on directly, despite my body’s inherent stubbornness.
Even with all the bullet points on my to-do list checked, all the careful planning, birth class, product reviews, maternity massages, prenatal yoga, a luxurious babymoon and a scheduled induction could not have prepared me for you. The first moment we laid you down in your crib when we brought you home, I couldn’t last 2 minutes before scooping you up again and I’ve struggled to lay you down ever since. Each passing night over the past 3 years that I have held you and rocked you we have grown more and more attached to one another, such that tonight, you clinged to me, your little hand over mine, cradling your face, your little body becoming more limp and relaxed as we rocked in the darkness, softly saying to me, Mommy I want to go to your bed. Not an unusual request, of course- we have literally shared almost every nap you’ve ever taken at home, even the one earlier today- and yet I had to insist that I lay you down in your crib. Yes, you’re my almost-3-year-old sleeping in a crib, but you’ve never once protested, or climbed out and risked falling to certain death (or, at the very least, certain injury) and to be quite frank, your daddy and are still trying to catch up on all the sleep we’ve lost since your arrival into our lives, and we didn’t want to rock the boat. But tomorrow, for your birthday, you’ll get your big-girl bed (really, we’re turning your crib into the toddler bed, but for you it comes with shiny new Ariel bedding and you can hardly wait.)
Tonight, knowing it was the last night I’d ever lay you down in your crib, with its pottery barn crib sheeting I picked out excitedly while perusing the PB Kids catalog in the hammock one hot lazy pregnant afternoon, knowing I would no longer lean over to rub your back with your fuzzy polka dot blanket as you snuggled into your Luna Lullaby swaddle blankets, knowing that tonight in so many ways marks the end of your babyhood for me, I just could not let you go. Could not put you down. The tears came- and keep coming, truth be told. Some, I must admit are tears of resignation, knowing that the coming days and weeks will be filled with trotting you back to your bed as you try out your newfound freedom, knowing that if you make your way to my side of the bed in the middle of the night it will crush me to have to turn you away in the name of good parenting, let alone a good night’s sleep. But mostly they are tears of loss and love. My heart truly aches with love for you, my precious girl. Being your mother is the most overwhelming, wonderful passionate exhausting delightful breathtaking frustrating scary amazing incredible thing I have ever done. Every day I am challenged by you to find my patience, my compassion, my sense of humor and my sense of responsibility- all traits I hope I am instilling in you. And every day I am delighted and amazed by how you do demonstrate these traits. You are an incredibly funny child. You tell jokes and you love to laugh. You like tickles and games and jumping on the bed and when we wake up from our weekend naps, we often lay in bed giggling. We play chase games, and hide-and-seek, and we play pretend and we play I’m Gonna Git You and we play. And play. And play. When I am sad and you can tell, you will wrap your arms around me and tell me it’s okay. And sometimes you’ll randomly belt out Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, ‘cause every little thing’s gonna be all right. I sing this to you over and over when you are sad or hurting and there are no other words of comfort to offer, and you too, my darling girl, are compelled to offer comfort whenever and however you can- provided you’re not in your own state of distress, of course!
My Millie, you are so strong. Physically, yes, you climb on everything from furniture to countertops to the monkey bars and each evening I count your bruises silently and say a prayer of thanks for your adventurousness and for soft landings and for the fun you are having as you learn about yourself and your limitations, of which there are fewer with each passing day. But you also know what you want and aren’t afraid to speak up, especially when you witness unfairness. You are just and fair and indignant in the face of unfairness and I hope to nurture this in you and let your voice be heard so you can call out for justice whenever and wherever you see it lacking, and on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves.
You also are a girlie-girl like your mama, and love a fresh pedi (luckily most nail salons will paint your lil piggies for $3, making it an easy and fun excursion for us girls to share.) You like princesses and sparkly things and playing dress up. You love dresses and up until recently, loved your flippy flops so much the only argument I could make to wrangle you into sneakers was that your new teacher wouldn’t let you climb in sandals.
You are incredibly helpful- with the dishes, with the laundry, and especially in the kitchen, where we make dinner together almost every night. You love baking with me, sometimes in our matching aprons, and we have made so many memories licking spatulas. Some of my favorite pictures are of you laughing, a spoon in hand, with brownie batter or frosting splashed across your nose and cheeks, joy radiating from your beautiful little face. And you are beautiful, Millie. You are so so beautiful. Your sparkling brown eyes, a gift from your daddy, look around in wonder and expectation whenever you step out of the car. Your little hands brush your bangs out of your eyes impatiently as you take in your surroundings- and often you share your observations with me and I am amazed at what you’ve noticed that I so readily overlook- a beautiful butterfly, a ladybug on the sidewalk, helicopters in the air, snakes in the stream… thankfully, you noticed that one, Tiny Child, or else we’d both have been in trouble. You notice every little thing and I hope that when your keen eyes someday look upon yourself for appraisal that you will be kind to yourself and see the beauty in your platinum curls and the occasional freckle, and in your sense of humor and in your sense of adventure.
We have already shared a lifetime of memories, Little One, swimming in Cascade Lake and hiking, together as a family, to the top of Moore Cove Falls in Pisgah National Forest. We have already seen so many last’s- the last time I nursed you, the last time you had a bottle, the last time you wore diapers, the last day you said chlocolate instead of chocolate, and ka-ka- instead of kitty cat. The last time I could dress you without your input, the last time you wore your squeaky shoes that had us in fits of giggles, the last time you slid down your tiny Kangaroo Climber. And tonight is one more “last” and I am mourning the fading of your babyhood, and fighting the inevitability of the last day I’ll rock you, the last day we’ll nap together, the last time you’ll cry for me after I tuck you in. This passage of time, these precious days with you that I’ll never get back, these fleeting moments that I’m so afraid of forgetting and losing forever, it is terrifying to know that already three years have gone by, more than a thousand times I’ve kissed your punkin head and tucked you in at night. And yet- we have a magical future ahead of us. Tomorrow we get your ears pierced (well, that’s the plan at least!) we’ve booked a snowy, wintery Christmassy vacation in New Hampshire this December where our entire family will ski for the first time. I can’t wait to watch you in your upcoming swim and dance lessons. I can’t wait to hear you read your first words, sounding out each letter and stringing them together. I can’t wait to climb more mountains with you and see more of the world with you and plant our garden and years from now, watch you grow into a young woman and find your confidence and your path and fall in love and stumble and recover and try new things. I can hardly wait to see who you’ll become, Amelia Rose Herchel. But I will try to be patient, because who you already are is amazing and we have a wonderful abundance to be thankful for in this beautiful time of now. I love you more than cupcakes, my precious, darlin’ girl and more than I ever thought possible. Happy birthday.