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Dear Henry: An open letter to my son on his first birthday.

My sweet sweet boy, today you are one. In a way, it feels like I’ve known you forever and in another, it feels as if they handed you to me just a moment ago.

You came into this world much like you’ve dealt with it every day since your arrival. Calmly.

We checked into the hospital at six o’clock in the evening with the last light of the day hanging warmly in the sky. I was excited about a January baby. A winter baby. But, it wasn’t as cold as I’d hoped. Not a lot was as I’d hoped. You were so comfortable you were showing no signs of coming anytime soon, and my blood pressure had started to rise. Nothing crazy, but enough for our doctor to schedule an induction.

Our first night was a long one. I tossed and turned through the pain of the medicine meant to break my water. Your dad was sleeping next to us on a hospital sofa with plastic vinyl lined cushions. They were a worn out shade of red and the friction of them against his jeans made a slow grating sound every time he rolled over. The only other sound in the room for 6 long dark hours was the sound of your little heartbeat on the monitor, strong and quick.

I watched out the big rectangle windows as the sun returned casting shadows in its path and wished to God the damn thing could open and I could get some fresh air. The windows in the hospital you were born in don’t open. I assume this is the case with most hospitals. I’m not sure if they’re worried about suicide attempts, or contamination entering or exiting or what, but if there is any wing of the hospital that you don’t have to worry about someone deciding to take themselves out of this world it’s likely the one full of women busy bringing someone else into it.

The nurse came in to help me to the bathroom and on the way there my water broke. At first, I thought I was just peeing my pants, as pregnancy can do to you from time to time. I know that’s probably not part of the story you’re too keen on me sharing with you, but one day you will have a wife and one day she will be pregnant, and it helps to know these kinds of things. The nurse looked so ecstatic she actually clapped as she exclaimed: “A baby’s coming today!”.  All I could say was “oh shit, oh shit”, because the contractions had already started and that’s all anyone really says about contractions.

I’ve never felt a physical pain like the pain of those contractions. It was another long day. Longer than I’d hoped and most of it was a blur. First, they guessed you’d be there by mid-morning, then by early afternoon, but you didn’t show up until 5:35 in the evening. You cried for such a brief second and then they handed you to me and you were quiet. Time really does stand still. The clock that was my life stopped ticking while I memorized you. Your face was soft and round, you smelled inexplicably good for a guy who’d just come through a birth canal, your brown hair swirled on top of your pointed little head and your cold blue eyes were alert and observant, moving back and forth between my face and the noises you could hear around you. Cold and icy blue. My winter baby. Everyone in the room was still moving and talking but for me, there was only you. So quiet and calm, and so much more than I could have hoped.

The next morning after everyone had gone it was just me and you. You slept soundly with your head pressed against my chest. Our window that wouldn’t open faced the water in this room. It was gorgeous, teal blue glistening in the bright morning sunlight. I’d never acknowledged it until then but I’d never felt content with my life. I’d always felt adrift. Adrift between people, between paths, between places. Always searching, churning internally. Burning for what’s around that next corner, because surely that’s where I’d finally find my place in this world. The only thing I’d ever committed to with any certainty until then was your father. It washed over me like a realization and at once a memory of a girl I no longer knew, because here in my arms was my place in this world. You casually yawned as if your very existence hadn’t just completely changed the world. In that moment I was painfully aware that it would all go by so fast. That one day not as far away as I believed you would begin searching for your own place and you wouldn’t need me like you do right now.

It seems like just a moment ago we were laying in that bed, and now you are one. The first year of your life has been so fleeting it’s almost melancholy in its beauty. Already in some ways, you don’t need me like you used to. You’re walking on your own, you have a whole vocabulary of two syllable words and a range of tones to use them in depending on your mood. You love french toast and you hate green beans. My baby isn’t a baby anymore.

Today, we had breakfast in bed and snuggled while we watched Moana for the 8 millionth time. We went to Chuck E Cheese and ate astronaut ice cream. You rode on a merry go round, a spinning saucer, a cop car, and a big red dog. You won 387 tickets with only the slightest bit of help from your parents. You kept trying to steal the balls from the alligator game so we cashed in your tickets for a couple you could keep. We came home and put you to down for the night with your robot in a pretty killer pair of cookie monster jammies. As I watch you sleep in your own bed in your own room you’re almost unrecognizable from the baby I brought home a year ago.

You are surely proof that magic does exist in this world. On your first birthday, I have SO many wishes for you. I wish you love and adventures. I wish you health and strength. I wish you faith and to know the glory of God and his unfailing love for you. I wish you joy and so much laughter. But most of all when you find yourself in a hospital with the girl you love holding a tiny person who’s stopped time for you, I wish that you cherish every moment, because someday sooner than you think, sooner than seems fair, they won’t need you in that same way anymore.

It’s undeniable there something a little sad about saying goodbye to my first year as your mom. You’ve taught me parenthood is a cycle of growth, of learning to let go and let grow. BUT  you’re only just one, and with those goodbyes come so many sweet hello’s.

and oh Henry, to watch you grow.