Genevieve turned one yesterday. I am not at all good at celebrating the first birthday. Maybe because I am terrible at decorating cakes or throwing parties. Maybe because I am never sure the amount of effort I should put into the party (Should there even be a party? Should you decorate? The kid won’t remember, but they will see pictures). Maybe because a one-year-old never appreciates the presents you buy (Miles really liked the wrapping paper better than anything, and Evie’s favorite was the sippy cup I almost didn’t even wrap because it is more of a practical necessity than a gift). Or maybe because, for the past month or so, since I started answering strangers’ questions about her age as “Almost one!” I’ve had this sad feeling in the pit of my heart. It’s a weird, clingy sort of feeling where I just want to hold her and feel her little pudgy arm around my neck forever.

My friend had an altogether different reaction to her girls’ first birthdays. Hers was more of a “Thank-God-We-Made-It” feeling. I think they actually had that phrase printed on the birthday banner. Is there a section for banners like that at party supply stores? If not, there should be. (Do you hear that, Party City? You owe me some sort of finder’s fee for thinking that up.) Either way, Gob from Arrested Development could definitely craft one for you if you’re in the market.

I get that feeling. I told my friend that there was a tiny part of my heart that also felt that way, but that was, perhaps, a gross understatement. First birthdays come with complicated sets of feelings, much like parenthood itself does, and there are miniature gospel singers that appear sometimes in my imagination when I think that we are just a little bit closer to my children sleeping through the night, or being potty trained, or being able to dress themselves, or leaving Scott and me free to go on cruises or out to dinner at a place that doesn’t happen to have chicken nuggets on the menu.

The first year of a child’s life is usually his or her most needy year. Or so I believe right now, since I’ve not yet raised a child through middle school. If this kid is not hanging on my breast, she’s hanging on my legs. Here’s proof:

This is the view I have of her much of the day. It’s her most annoying habit right now to want to cling to me whenever possible—especially when I’m trying to make dinner. Since she’s not really great at the walking thing yet, this clinging makes me feel like I am perpetually partnered with a bag of rice in a three-legged-race.

While I say that this is her “most annoying habit,” I do so with the knowledge that yes, I will miss this. I will have a little tinge of nostalgia later in life when it’s difficult even to get her home for dinner. (Full disclosure: I just made myself cry. Excuse me while I collect myself.)

OK. Better.

Because the first year is usually a child’s most needy year, you learn about self-sacrifice. Because you have to; you are forced into being virtuous. As much as you want to turn the baby monitor off when they’re napping because OH MY WORD, I DON’T CARE IF YOU WAKE UP AND I DON’T HEAR YOU BECAUSE I NEED THIS HOUR AND A HALF. THERE WILL BE NO WAKING UP, AND IF THERE IS, YOU WILL JUST WORK ON DEVELOPING YOUR LUNGS AND NOT PASSING OUT FROM THE VIOLENT WAILING WHILE I FINISH MY SHOW!, you don’t.

Self-sacrifice is not a virtue of American culture. There is a lot of talk of self-love—of taking care of #1, of working hard to create a good life for yourself, of learning to love YOU. Now: this is not to say that the effort to be in a healthy place when it comes to self-esteem is wrong-headed. Please don’t hear that. But every good thing seems to have a negative extreme, and I think our culture might have reached that point. Whitney Houston sang about how loving yourself is “the greatest love of all.” And as much as I will belt that song out in the privacy of my own Ford Focus, I think I respectfully disagree.

I am beginning to believe that self-sacrifice is what makes parenting such an amazing endeavor. Jesus said that there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for his or her friends. Some would interpret that to mean jumping in front of a moving train to save someone. This is probably a good interpretation, but, since most of us won’t have this opportunity, I would extend it to mean laying down our lives in small moments for people we love. Cutting up meat into miniscule pieces for someone with only a few teeth before eating ourselves. Reading a kid ONE. MORE. STORY. when we just want to be finished for the evening. Changing poopy underpants in a public restroom and not cussing like a Jersey Shore cast member all the way through it. Carrying a baby through Toys R Us whilst also holding a toddler’s hand, pushing a cart with your elbow, and lugging a diaper bag over one shoulder in search of a perfect present that is probably nonexistent and will definitely be upstaged by the wrapping paper. Getting up—AGAIN—in the middle of the night to sing and pat and sway and hold.

Parenting is one long exercise in self-sacrifice, and I would argue that this is what makes it so incredibly meaningful. (There are other examples, to be sure! I’m not limiting it—you’ve seen it if you’ve ever had a very dedicated teacher, or watched a hospice worker care for someone who is dying, or noticed an old lady daily take her little terrier for a walk in sun or snow or rain, or felt grateful for any number of acts of selflessness on the part of people who exist around you.)

So a kid turning one doesn’t at all end the exercise. Rather, it celebrates a milestone. It says “Thank God we made it!” as it also makes you realize how much overflowing love you have for a little person you have had to lay your life down for on a moment-by-moment basis.

You won’t be breastfeeding much longer because she’s beginning to enjoy new foods more and more.

You won’t be waking up in the middle of the night as much because she’s developing stronger sleep habits.

You won’t have to hold her all the time—she’s excited to walk and go and be and do.

You won’t have to meticulously interpret each type of cry—she’ll be getting words any day.

She won’t need you quite as much. You can have a little bit more of yourself back, which is a wonderful feeling. But also, somehow, a little heartbreaking, too.

Happy birthday, Genevieve Grace. You are so loved.


15 thoughts on “one.

  1. Happy Birthday, Miss Evie!!! And congrats, Mom and Dad. You did it! And yours raising such a smart, funny little lady. Katie, you captured my first birthday feelings so perfectly. I cry at every milestone, because, while I’m proud and in awe of my daughter’s amazing growth, I’m also sad that she’s taking one more step away from needing me and being my baby. Your self sacrifice parenting resonates with me in so many ways. My heart hurts when people criticize parents for giving things up to meet the needs of their children. It is long, hard work to meet those needs sometimes, but it’s also such precious, short time that we get to do it. Blessings and love!

    • Thanks, Lauren! Glad it resonated 🙂 It’s so difficult to write authentically about parenting without falling into cliche again and again. It’s why Maria needs to make sure she fights to get her book on motherhood published! (Bug her about this.)

  2. Just remember how fast life goes.. and enjoy those clinging times.. There will be a day she’ll ask for the keys and be gone for the day with her friends or off to college.. It’s such a short window of time when they are so little. She’s a doll Katie.. Just a sweet little face.. Enjoy each moment, even though I know it can be exhausting…

  3. Happy birthday Evie! So I have a hunch the “thank-God-we-made-it” mom is me. If not that’s definitely how I felt and am still feeling. I totally agree about self-sacrifice- being a mom has made me a better person, although some days I honestly don’t care much about being better. But the older Jude gets the more amazing it is to watch him be and move and feel in the world, and that’s pretty cool. 🙂

    • Haha- You weren’t actually the person I had in mind, but I do remember a similar discussion with you! I think every mom has a certain stage they cherish most– it’s really OK if it’s not the baby years for you!

  4. Tears! That was so sweet. The self sacrifice really hits you like a ton of bricks with baby number one. Baby number two I just kinda got into the grove. Now that Logan is the same age as Molly was when I had him, I realize just how big he is. I could cry about it. Molly is going to be 5 in two weeks! Where does the time go? I am starting to realize that sweet time that we have an abundance of is truly limited. She will start kindergarten next year and suddenly her mornings will be in the hands of someone else- 5 days a week! Motherhood goes too fast and at times too slow all at once! Happy birthday sweet Evie!

  5. My gosh, you sure know how to tug the heartstrings and get the waterworks flowing. This is beautiful, and I hope she sees it one day.

    It’s really crazy, isn’t it, how thankless parenting is? And how we have no concept (even once we’re adults) of the sacrifices and laying down of lives our own parents did until we start doing it ourselves? Some of us, fortunately, are lucky enough to live long enough to learn to appreciate it and go back and thank our parents. We can only trust that there’s grace for those who don’t have that privilege.

    Finally, a question… In the last pic, was that the day she was born? And did you wear your swimming suit to give birth? Because that’s what it looks like, and if that’s the case, you are even more my hero than you were yesterday. That is awesome.

    • You really do begin to see your parents in a different light once the fog of adolescence wears off and you start having actual responsibilities!

      As to your questions, yes, that was the day Evie was born. And yes, I wore my swimsuit, but only the top part. She was born at home, in the master bedroom, in the birthing tub. Such a great experience.

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