Would you excuse me for a moment? I just have to grab something from upstairs.
The theme was polka dots. Our closest family and friends congregated around the Pinterest-perfect room. Assorted colors of paper plates were affixed to the ceiling, streamers artfully strewn, creating a whimsical ambiance. The hallway was lined with 12 carefully selected photos capturing a smile from each of the first 12 months. And there was one perfectly constructed smash cake. We were ready to celebrate.
Except I was upstairs, in my closet, crying uncontrollably. Alone.
At this point in our story, my daughter could not yet sit up. She tested in the 0 percentile on her occupational therapy skills test, barely babbled, and did not appear to understand us. We were already three months into speech and physical therapy, had seen three specialists, and were no closer to an answer.
But this was her 1st birthday party, and we had over 30 guests waiting downstairs to celebrate her. Every child has some delays. Don’t worry about anything. My friend’s cousin’s neighbor’s son didn’t talk until 2, and he went to Harvard. She’s fine.
“I’ll be right down. I’m just searching for something to wear that doesn’t make me look like one giant polka dot.”
But I couldn’t go down. I only had one thought.
This day is a celebration of everything she can’t do.
Every book, every blog, every post, every conversation at the water cooler was about the milestone a child should have by their 1st birthday. Some days, I would lie. Some days, I would redirect the question. Most days, I would just smile and comment on the challenging adjustment to parenthood. But I never let them see my fear.
But in my closet, barely large enough to hold the oversized, stained sweatshirts that had become a wardrobe staple, I was huddled in a ball, trying to find my brave face. By March 5, I had hoped that all the things we were waiting for would just magically occur.
This was my first time having a birthday for my baby girl. I did everything a mother was supposed to do. Our story started like everyone else’s: Just 365 days ago, she came into the world. She was received by a loving family. Her entrance was marked by an excessive amount of photos. I whispered the words to “Happy Birthday” as she purred in her sleep. Welcome to the world baby girl. We are going to make an incredible life for you. I learned to nurse. I learned to change a diaper. I learned how to make her laugh. But while my friends continued to turn the pages in the prerequisite handbook, I was floundering.
Maybe it was true fear that stopped me from going down the stairs.
Maybe it was anger that this was our story.
Maybe it was being afraid to ask for help.
Maybe if my beloved guests saw my vulnerability, I would expose how terrified we all were.
I don’t know what finally made me move. Probably the giggles I heard coming from the party. I splashed some water on my face, pulled on an excessively large sweater and some very loud polka dot socks for a distraction, and walked down the stairs. With a deep breath, I grabbed the smash cake, found my husband’s brave face in the crowd, and walked toward my beautiful baby girl.
And again, it is March 5.. I am crying. I do it every year. But somewhere around age 3, the tears turned from pain to joy. A birthday celebrates a milestone. My child just follows a different trajectory, and it took me about half of her life to get on board with it.
On the evening of her 6th birthday, my husband and I tuck her in with seven of her My Little Pony Equestria dolls. She tells me all of their names and asks me to tuck them in as well. I breath in every minute of March 5. I watch her giggle eating purple pancakes. I inhale her joy watching a performance that didn’t cause a sensory overload. I witness her accost a stranger to cheer going “Pee pee on the potty!” I marvel as she reads her name from the birthday card. I celebrate every morsel of this incredible child, and everything she continues to achieve.
Her birthday is no longer a litany of the things she cannot do. I have learned how to truly celebrate it. It is my once a year reminder to breath. Welcome to the world baby girl. We are going to make an incredible life for you. No matter what.
Now, I just have to work on my baking skills.