Month twelve

Dear Eleanor,

Today you turned 1 year old. Happy birthday, my beautiful girl! A year ago, we met for the first time, and my life split open. Even after all those months of waiting for you and imagining your face and feeling your punches, I wasn’t ready. Nurses kept bringing you into the hospital room and talking about my baby, but it didn’t sink in. They told Dad to change your diapers and told me to feed you, and I just wondered why they were foisting this baby on us. Who were we to take care of this little stranger? She should be with her parents.

Then they sent you home with us. My gosh, these crazy people are giving us this human! Learning to be your mom was the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced, bigger than calculus and moving away from home and enduring food poisoning in foreign countries. Did I just compare having you to getting food poisoning? I mean that in the most loving way.

Now we have survived a year together, and your needs seem small compared to all the joy you give back. And I’ll probably regret saying this, but you are at your funniest when you disobey me.

Our baby book says that you can understand “no” at this age, but if you get it, you’re not letting on. You have become obsessed with the bathtub. You constantly crawl into your bathroom, stand at the tub and smack your hand against it. This is your way of demanding things. If you want more food, you smack your high chair. If you can’t reach a toy, you smack the table it’s on. I might as well buy you a gavel because you are Judge Eleanor and this home is your courtroom.  You really don’t need a bath twice a day, so on a few occasions, I’ve set you in the empty tub with your toys. This, of course, did not satisfy you. You smacked the faucet to demand water.

Even more troublesome than the bathtub is the stairs. Whenever you get quiet, I know I’ll find you halfway up the stairs to the second floor. How can someone so short scale them so quickly? You could lead mountain expeditions. I follow you up, and when you get to the top, you crawl into your room and slam the door. The only problem with this is that you can’t open it, so you have to wait for rescue. You don’t even think about it though because you’ve crawled into your bathroom. To bang on the tub. Again.

Dad, who is excited that you’re climbing the stairs (and incidentally, isn’t in charge of watching you ALL DAY LONG), has started chasing you up. You squeal with glee as you try to get away from him. You’re always up for a game of peek-a-boo. You like to hold kitchen towels over your face while Dad and I pretend that you’re invisible and call out, “Eleanor, where are you?” A few nights ago, you tried to play peek-a-boo with Abe when he licked you on the face. You don’t like his licks, so best to become invisible, right? Sadly, Abe could still see you.

Given my talk of calculus and food poisoning and other hardships, perhaps you’re wondering why you’re here. I’ll back up a little and see if I can explain. A few years ago, your dad and I went to Alaska. It was the most fantastic time we’ve had, day after day of brand new things. We watched glaciers crack into the ocean, grizzlies lunge for salmon and puffins flutter about. That part of the world holds an orchestra of color and sound. We talked about how even though we were having a great time, it would be even better if we could share it with other people. And we wanted to share it with someone who had fresh eyes, someone who would be even more awed than we were.

Eleanor, every day with you holds a little bit of that awe. We took you to the zoo recently, and I kept thinking what it must be like to see a lion or a wolf for the first time. I’m so used to them now that I sometimes forget how magical they are. Yesterday I gave you ice cream for the first time, chocolate. And you frowned! Why was I giving you this very cold food? It stung. But after a few more bites, you realized that it melted into creamy perfection in your mouth. Every taste and object and person is new to you. Watching you reminds me to savor the ice cream, to wonder at the lion, to race up the mountain. To live.