Monday, December 1, 2008

The first year approaches its end

River’s first birthday is fast approaching and it’s time for me to accept that he truly is almost a year old. That doesn’t seem like it should be such a difficult task, but I find myself contemplating it with wonder.

When he was born, one year seemed so far away. I knew he’d grow so much, learn so much and develop profoundly in that time. And here it is – what I see in front of me is just about what my one-year birthday boy will be like.

This past weekend we visited a friend and her two-week old baby. Seeing a newborn only reinforced the vast changes that have taken place in the past twelve months. That little baby’s wrists couldn’t have been much more than an inch in circumference. He glanced around but was still so fragile and new. He relied completely on his mother and father, who gave him the security and love he needed.

River in contrast is strong and solid, has rolls of baby fat, has an incredible ability to search out food, and will establish eye contact and throw his complete trust onto whoever is nearby, making people want to help him. We left him with relatives for the entire day on Saturday and he had a blast, seemingly not even noticing our absence.

“I think that if River was somehow abandoned, he’d find a way to survive,” Mark’s mother commented this weekend. “He’d find food and an animal would probably adopt him.” I’ve always known that River didn’t need me in particular, that he’d be perfectly happy with anyone who showered him with love. It makes me sad to know that I’m not indispensable, but also proud to see his adaptability, which continues to increase with time.

River now eats the same things I do. He moves with confidence and enthusiasm. He went up and down stairs independently for the first time today. He’s on the verge of walking and we expect it any day now. He understands what I’m saying and is able to respond to some questions and requests. He’s able to make his desires clear. He’s just about 27 pounds and is a hunk of soft baby flesh as smooth and white as marble. He can hug me repeatedly within a matter of minutes, falling into me with a laugh and making me feel better than almost anything else I could imagine. He has made me a better person – more patient, more empathetic, more focused on spirituality, community and doing small things to help others, more capable of love than I ever imagined.

We’re hosting his birthday party this coming Sunday, so it’s time to start planning a bit. We don’t have family nearby, so we’ve invited our friends with small children and requested no gifts. I plan to make one of River’s favorite dishes, borscht, and a carrot cake.

I’d like River to be able to see photos from the party and to know that we acknowledged his first birthday. At the same time, I recognize that the party is mostly for us, that the anniversary of his first birth marks a great milestone for us and we want to celebrate it. I wanted to treat it as an informal gathering of friends, one which I’ve been meaning to host for a while but haven’t gotten around to it. I would provide some food, drinks and cake; my friends would each bring a side dish. We picked up a few toys for free from freecycle that we’ll give River as his gifts and we’ll buy him a helium balloon. It wouldn’t be fancy, nor would it cost a lot.

But as I thought about the balloon that I know would make him so happy, I thought about maybe getting a balloon for each baby or child in attendance. I’ve always thought gift bags were a silly idea and an added expense for a parent trying to host a child’s birthday party. But here I was actually wanting to give gifts to the babies who come. I think I appreciated their coming to share River’s special day. I wanted them to be as happy as I am that River is in our lives.

I knocked that idea out of my mind. I’m not going to spend $4-7 a piece on babies. But I started to understand where the urge to spend comes from. I’m trying hard to control it now while he’s young and doesn’t care.

Several times a day now, I look at him and try to take in – this is my almost-one year old. The face that is now looking more like a little boy’s than a baby’s is growing up. I hope this will be just the first of many birthdays, each bringing a rich collection of changes and experiences.

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