Inevitably tardy letter to Neve on her first birthday

Neve at her first birthday party

Dear Neve:

In this age of blogs, when we share every (warts and all) experience as it happens, I sometimes wonder about how we will feel about all this openness years from now.

For eventually, despite my good intentions, you and Lily might be annoyed – perhaps justifiably – about your childhood being parsed and recorded and analyzed in this blog.

And when you finally read something like the post I wrote about not being at all sure about whether or not your dad and I should have a second child, as well as the panicky pre-partum blues essay I wrote while pregnant with you, you might feel stricken with worry about whether I feel I made the right choice.

But you shouldn’t for even a second, baby girl; I fell head over heels for you during your first 24 hours of life, when you firmly insisted that we both sleep right through what was supposed to be your 3 a.m. feeding. “A thousand blessings on your little head, Neve,” I said at the time, as you snoozed the night away. It sounds stupid, I know, but from the start, you seemed like an old soul baby who, for example, knew we could both use the extra rest after a crazy, eleven minute delivery (check out that story here); and this past year has only reconfirmed this idea, frankly.

For it often seems like it simply doesn’t occur to you to throw a fit. Generally, you accept the circumstances you’re in; you play with what you have in front of you; and you smile and laugh easily. Yes, you often suffer separation anxiety when I leave for work – which is hard on us both – but really, this underlines the fact that we have a healthy attachment to each other, and you recover quickly. And while Lily, as a baby, often wigged out when I put her in the stroller – which is why she sat on my shoulders as I walked her to daycare every day for months and months – you make peace with that and just about any other situation (longish car trip, running errands, restaurants) in which you find yourself.

Now I know this may be partly because, as the second child, you don’t really have a choice. Because you’re not, and never will be, the sole center of our family’s world, you just hang on and find enjoyment when and where you can. Plus, you have a highly entertaining big sister to watch. But regardless of why you’re the way you are, your low-key “roll-with-it-ness” makes me and others around you feel calm and at peace – an unexpected gift, to be sure.

For although I’m usually an optimist about most things, I spent my pregnancy with you mentally preparing myself for the worst: a colicky, inconsolable, sleepless child that broke Lily’s heart with jealousy and seemed wildly unhappy in this world. Instead I got you. And because I wasn’t so freaked out by everything during this go-round, I’ve had the chance to revel in the baby stage. Each time I laid you down for a feeding, I nuzzled and kissed your neck, smelling your new baby-ness, and just whispered, repeatedly, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

And the way you flop your hand up and down and sweetly say “hi” again and again melts me every time. (Your other current words are “uh-oh,” a sort-of “ma ma” and “da da”; you shake your head “no” vehemently; and Daddy claims you once put something on your head and proclaimed, “hat.”) Your pigtails, which you’ve had since you were about seven months old, kill me with cuteness; I loved the way you rocked out with daycare’s guitar toy (that played “Message in a Bottle” and “All Star,” for heaven’s sake) from the time you were only a few months old; seeing you giggle with your sister fills me with contentment like nothing else; your default “squnchy face” expression, as I’ve come to call it, cracks me up; and I must have kissed those full cheeks of yours about a million times over the course of the past year. I just can’t resist them.

Yes, I hit an exhaustion wall at seven and a half months, so we had to sleep train you; but by the third night, you got it, and you’ve slept through the night pretty much ever since. And shortly after that, you began crawling. I was pretty excited, as you can tell by my voice in this video chronicling one of your first forays into crawling.

What was amazing was seeing you journey from sitting Buddha baby to a little person who could express her desires through movement. Suddenly, we could see where you wanted to go (often to me or your daddy or Lily), and guess at why. And this became even more profound as you began to walk a couple of weeks before your birthday.

For your first birthday, we hosted a baby birthday brunch (celebrating the birthday of you and your cousin Kara, who was born the day after you) for relatives out on our back porch. You napped in your crib upstairs through the first part of it, but you woke up for your first taste of chocolate cake, which both you and your cousin LOVED. You were a little tentative through much of the party, but as the crowd thinned, you had fun playing with your new toys (a shopping cart, a Curious George book, a bubble machine, etc.) and, of course, your sister.

Neve and Lily

Which is another gift you’ve given us: allowing us to see Lily as a sister – a role she has embraced and run with. From day one, she’s been nuts about you. And while we had to teach her to be gentle with you, and establish an oft-repeated rule that says, “If it’s not a hat, you can’t put it on Nevie’s head,” the love and affection between you is so evident that when you’re giggling and playing with each other, your father and I look at each other with an expression that says, “This is the best.”

One of my biggest wishes is that you girls can maintain the close friendship you have now throughout your lives. Easier said than done, I know, but this is nonetheless my hope.

The last gift you’ve given us is the feeling, however fleeting, of parental competence. Because your threshold for all things is high, you make me and Joe feel like we know what we’re doing, which, if you ever become a parent yourself, you will realize is rare and invaluable and exactly what you need to push through the tough parts. Admittedly, as soon as I think, “Hey, I know what I’m doing now,” I also often think, “I can’t remember when I last gave this baby a bath” – but nobody’s perfect. And you’re so forgiving that I’m reminded to forgive myself, just knowing I’m doing my best – one of many things you teach me, even as an infant.

Recently, you woke in the wee hours of the morning with a small fever and a bit of a cough. We gave you medicine, and in the darkness, I laid on my side, my body in the shape of a V, with you in my arms. You grew calm and quiet, and I thought then, I will miss your babyness as you grow older. I’ll miss problems that have such an easy answer (a vial of infant fever reducer and a cuddle from me). I’ll miss the dimples in your arms and legs. And I’ll miss that Godzilla-crushing-Tokyo toddler walk you’ve been honing for the past 6 weeks.

But all this isn’t to say that I’m not looking forward to seeing where you go from here. At times, when I look at my two daughters, I think that Lily’s the embodiment of my spirit – with her intense curiosity and the way she (sometimes overwhelmingly) embraces the world around her – and that you’re the embodiment of my heart in its most open, thoughtful, patient, forgiving and accepting form. Thanks for giving me a last baby experience to remember fondly and treasure.

See? I really can’t stop smooching those cheeks.

They say that babies are never easy, but you’ve come pretty close to proving that wrong – and that, combined with a family that can’t stop smooching you, seems a pretty promising precedent for a life. Though we got you gifts on your first birthday, I feel like you’re the one who’s given us more than we ever could have imagined. I love you, Nevie-Neve, and I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’re here. But I plan to spend a lifetime trying.

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