It didn’t hit me until I was sitting in the café above Loblaws (a grocery store in Toronto) that something big was happening inside. The stroller was wet from the rain and filled with party food I had just bought—frozen hors d’oeuvres, expensive cheese, sparkling water. The only thing that was missing was the candle—a big “1” with a wick on the very top.
As I contemplated running downstairs to buy the candle, I started to cry. Then the floodgates opened and suddenly my cheeks were stained with tears. Crying was my body's way of heaving a huge sigh of relief. Making it to one year was an accomplishment that I had taken for granted until that moment--but it is a big deal to give birth to a child and to yourself as a parent.
On the heels of the first cry came another. This one felt like tears of joy, mostly because Ayla is doing so well and has been such a beautiful, happy and engaged baby. Then there were tears of sadness—that Ayla was growing up and it was all happening too fast, and soon she would be all grown up. And then tears of love surfaced--with a purity and power that recalled my tears after giving birth. The tears were cleansing--I felt my love for her grow even deeper and wider than it had been for the past year. I peeked inside the stroller to watch Ayla sleep and felt like I was falling in love with my baby all over again. I knew what would happen when she awoke--she'd look for me, nuzzle my breast for some milk and then smile, or even laugh, in response to my loving gaze. Reflecting on all of those things is when I really started to cry. I felt reborn as my tears ran down my neck and soaked my hands.
Turning one is a big milestone—for parent and child. I have heard parents talk about children being overwhelmed, and even a bit scared, by the gathering of friends and family at their first birthday parties. Children are perplexed by the song “Happy Birthday” and unsure of what to do with the big cake (touch it? blow on it? eat it? all of the above!?) As I carefully planned Ayla’s first birthday, I didn’t think about anything other than who to invite, how to craft the menu and the notion that I wanted to have a “welcoming ceremony”—something to mark the occasion of her birth and her life (which I hadn’t found the time to do yet).
But the day before the big day, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. Turning one, as a mother, was a joy, and such sweet relief. I could do this mothering thing, I mused. I might even be good at it. But for me, turning one also meant that I had morphed from an independent individual to a nurturing mother, without trauma or regret. In the past year, I had let go of my old life with little resistance. I had moved to Toronto to rejoin my family of origin. I had joyfully relinquished many of my career ambitions. My worldview had shifted. Now, at the center of everything, was Ayla. And it felt right and good to be in Toronto, with Ayla, surrounded by a web of loving friends and family. Every strand in that web felt like spun steel--it took a full year to realize how lucky we were to have such extraordinary people in our lives.
And so I cried and cried before, during and after Ayla's birthday party. I didn't realize how much I needed an occasion to pause, reflect and celebrate a milestone that Ayla and I shared--one year of being fully alive, together. And so when everyone sang Happy Birthday, it was me who made a wish before blowing out the candle. What I wished for is a secret. But I think you can guess what a happy mother wishes for herself and for her child.