Or, so I think, biased as I am. I have been a lover of all my babies, and have acted like the man in the New Testament parable who invited all his servant could find to attend his banquet, to fill up his table in celebration. For Oldest’s first birthday, our home was jam-packed on a humid June day. Twenty-five or thirty friends and extended family members, most over voting age, were invited to watch and cheer as our one-year-old bit timidly into a chocolate-frosted cupcake for the first time, as her fingers flirted with the satiny paper wrapped around a book, or a bag of blocks.
It was the same dimension of celebration with Middle, in frigid November. Her wisps of blond curls flipped out over her ears as she toddled and tripped over ribbons and bows scattered on the floor, and all the adults roared with laughter as we listened to the pre-recorded song on a battery-operated toy about a farmer and his hybrid animals: You put a pig in front, you put a horse behind. Put them together and what do you find? A Pig-Horse! Little Middle stared at us crazies, giggled, and toddled away.
But yesterday, for Tiny, it was different. Our local family has grown enough to make for an adequate number of guests: Two big sisters, a grandpa, and his GF, who is also a lover-of-Tiny. And I, well, I have grown so scattered, so stretched thin from loving the first two babies-turned-children who have so many wants I am working on fulfilling from day to day. And so many needs. There’s the obvious, such as laundry, and food in their bellies, and direction on bathing, or spelling, or chores. There’s haircut, doctor appointment, and dentist scheduling times two. And then there are Deep Talks, where one of them goes philosophical and analytical and reveals her possession of more self-awareness than most grown-ups I know, and needs to ask questions about my childhood, about what it means to grow up, about the etymology of swear words. The other needs Snuggling and Book Reading and relentlessly pursues accomodation.
So yesterday, the day of Tiny’s birthday, it turned out I had to take Oldest to her Annual Allergist Appointment where they performed Not-Fun Tests and made her eat peanuts, which made her sick, which made them make us stay in the clinic for observation, which meant we were late getting home. I had not made frosting for cupcakes, had not checked our supply of candles, had not wrapped the Eric Carle book I purchased for Tiny. By previous-child standards, these were parenting fails.
Thank God for Grandpa and his GF, who watched Middle and Tiny, and cleared our dining room table, grilled burgers, and boiled corn so we could sit down, ravenous, and watch Tiny squirm in her highchair. And Grandpa’s GF dressed her in a special one-time-outfit—a pink birthday tutu and white t-shirt—that would be stained with chocolate chip frosting the second we brought out her first cupcake. When we sang happy birthday, Mark holding a plateful of cupcakes in front of her, she looked at us like we all had a touch of fever and then ripped into a cupcake, crushing it into chocolate smithereens on her highchair tray. Soon after, she let us know she preferred popcorn instead.
Now that the third child has come along, the fanfare is dulled—at least for us. Even so, my love couldn’t be more resplendent. And this same love is more prophetic than ever it was with Middle and Oldest. I can see into Tiny’s future and love her as six-year-old Tiny and as almost-nine-year-old Tiny because now I know what it means to parent not-just-babies, but children at the entrance to that long tunnel called Growing Up. So at night, when I nurse her, I stare into her stained-glass-blue mosaic eyes and imagine her someday-fuller face, her someday-sloping nose, the someday-forehead that I will bend down to kiss goodnight or lean toward to kiss goodbye and my breath catches in my throat at all that expanse of change and time.