Last night Peeper had a hard time going to bed. We’d spent a wonderful weekend at a cabin with family celebrating the 4th of July and her birthday, so she must have been amped up on the residual excitement.
In her twilit room, she braced herself against my chest and stood on our rocking chair to face me. She half-opened her mouth and leaned in. Knowing what she expected, I planted a big smooch on her. She laughed, leaned forward a second time and smack, I kissed her again. I knew I was supposed to be winding her down, but I couldn’t resist her snorting giggle and the toothy open-mouthed kisses. Within moments, we were both laughing so hard that sleep was the furthest thing from my mind.
It seemed perfect that we spent Peeper’s final hours as a baby trading kisses instead of going to sleep. The puffy-faced, helpless, mystifying newborn has turned into a one-year-old with an outsized personality. Although she still rocks her signature furrowed brow, these days she more often crinkles her nose and juts her jaw out in the goofiest expression as she laughs.
I spend our days together inventing new ways to make her smile. I make the cat hand puppet crawl toward her and tickle her neck. I put stacking blocks on my head. I stick out my tongue and shake my head until I’m dizzy.
She creates her own humor, too. She chases me in circles around the room. She peeks above the ottoman to surprise us. She tickles my armpit when she’s nursing. Peeper seems to want to make us laugh as much as we want to crack her up.
In the days leading up to today, Peeper’s first birthday, I’ve been repeatedly blindsided by an unidentifiable emotion. Just as I’d take bite after bite of a delicious meal seasoned with a surprising combination of spices, I try to puzzle out precisely what contributes to this feeling. It’s part nostalgia, part amazement and part gratitude with a tantalizing helping of something else I can’t quite put my finger on.
This important day also brings me back in time. It prompts me to remember the before, as the day Peeper was born divided my life in two. Everything that came before 9:21pm on July 7, 2013 was completely different than everything that came after.
One year ago, we blithely headed out on a long walk, expecting early labor to take all day, just as the childbirth classes and books say it will.
One year ago, my water broke on the drive home from that walk, and all of a sudden labor got serious and nothing about the experience seemed fun or funny.
One year ago, I endured the most harrowing and difficult stretch of my life as my baby and my body worked together to bring her into the world.
One year ago, my midwife placed a squalling and purple infant on my chest, and we learned that we had a girl.
One year ago, we met our daughter.
One year ago, our lives changed in the most fundamental, irrevocable and unimaginably joyous way.
The other day, Peeper was nursing when she looked at me out of the corner of her eye. She smiled and went back to nursing. But her smile made me smile, and that made her smile, and on and on until we had to give up nursing and give in to the laughter. One year ago, I could never have predicted moments like this and like last night’s kiss-fest. They are at once so simple and so profound that nothing could have prepared me for them.
Peeper has so many birthdays ahead of her. They’ll be much different than this one, I’m sure. I imagine I’ll end up planning princess-, ocean- or dinosaur-themed parties. Maybe later I’ll spend them trying to explain why she’s too young to get her wish of a body piercing or tattoo. Even later I’ll stay up worrying as she celebrates in a bar.
One thing will stay the same, though. I’ll spend the rest of my life doing what I did last night: looking for the right combination of silliness and sweetness that will light up her face in the happy abandon of a smile.
Happy first birthday, Peeper. You are my everything. I love you.