Today is your birthday and you turn a brand new number, 24. Outside it's drizzly and overcast, the wind picking up from the south, blowing in the rain that's supposed to be here by suppertime. I woke up at 2 this morning, thinking that we were on our way, Daddy and me, to becoming brand new parents 24 years ago today. I had no idea that you were busy taking your time to get here, finally arriving late in the afternoon, just as the Washington Redskins were on their way to winning their one and only game of the season.
You've been their number one fan ever since.
The day that you came to us was brilliantly sunny and sharply cold. We shared a room with three other Army wives at Walter Reed Hospital, one of them with the same last name as us. The nurses who helped me with you couldn't get over what a good baby you were, never making a peep in the nursery, but just watching everything around you. That first night, I elected to have them take care of you overnight, but the second night I began missing you something awful and walked down to the nursery about midnight and asked if you could come sleep with me in my now empty room.
I remember rocking you and staring in your big blue eyes that seemed to go on forever. I knew in my bones that you held all the answers to life in those beautiful eyes of yours. I began whispering to you, just little nothings at first, but then I got up and began walking around the room, eventually winding up over at the windows that overlooked the parking lot far down below. It had begun raining, that cold Washington, DC winter rain that chills you to the bone as soon as you step outside. We watched the rain coming down and I began telling you everything that I knew about rain, why it's good for the earth and how it makes plants grow.
Rationally I knew that you couldn't begin to see the rain coming down or even see the raindrops on the window right in front of us, but I like to believe that you could. The water streaking down the glass outside was lit up with the security lights below, making blue and red sparkles on the window. We stayed at the windows for quite a long time, me talking to you about the rain and plants and how we would grow our very own plants and flowers when you got a little bit bigger, you all the time watching my face, soaking in all my words and nonsense.
That smile . . . . That smile hasn't changed since you first learned how to smile. The first recipient of that smile was my old teddy bear, Pandy, that I put at the foot of your crib to help keep you company during the night.
Pandy is good for that.
You didn't throw that smile about casually, though. You had to inspect everyone closely before deciding whether or not they could be entrusted with that smile. Nana got the biggest kick out of watching you perform your little inspections. She said that the look on your face was saying, "Explain yourself". You would get this little deadpan poker face on, scan the new person's face from their hairline down to their chin before deciding if they passed muster.
But I got to see that ear to ear grin every morning when I'd come to pick you up from your crib. You'd be on your back, busy babbling away to your little Paddington the Bear mobile above you or you'd be busy talking to the stuffed animals that kept you company. Then you'd see me peering down at you and your whole body would light up from within and your little round face (the one that our downstairs neighbor described as having "some very serious cheeks". She also caught onto your little inspections and would meet your seriousness with her own serious face. You never quite liked her, I think, because she was on to you.), your little round face would split into the most delighted grin.
That was a wonderful way to wake up each day.
But here you are now.
You are twenty-four, have an apartment that you share with a monster cat that thinks he's an attack dog, you have friends everywhere who love you. You have a grown up job, pay your own bills, grocery shop, and have found a new martial arts class you love.
You are coming into your own.
But just like the momma bunny always told her little baby bunny in one of your favorite books, The Runaway Bunny,
I will always and forever be your tree with my branches spread wide to take you in and love you.
Happy Birthday, my sweet girl. I love you so much.