Dear Riley: You’ve Grown So Much

Dear Riley,

You’re only four months old and already I can imagine you on your first day of kindergarten, on your last day of elementary school, graduating high school, going off to college, dating, working, traveling, starting your own family… It’s not that I’m jumping the gun, really. It’s that you’re growing up so quickly, I’m scared that I’ll turn my head at the dinner table tonight and meet my grandkids.

It took only 25 minutes of pushing to get you into the world; that’s a fact I announce just as proudly as I would talk about winning a Pulitzer. Something about it feels like a foretelling of the future: you’re so quick to go to the next step, to do something you and the world may not yet be ready for, to boldly go where no 1-day old or 1-month old or 3-month old has ever been expected to go.

Just minutes after you were born, all slanty eyes and ink-black hair, you were bearing the weight of your head. The nurses were in love with your easy personality and muscle tone: you hardly cried, hardly pouted, hardly fussed. You begrudgingly cooperated when the doctor forced you to cry. You were so happy to cool out in your new environment and take it all in. I’d heard that babies were like this after birth, that they’re too tired from the birthing process to make noise, and that they sleep the whole time. But the nurses assured me that, no, you were special.

Five days after you were born, we went back to the hospital for your first check-up, and the doctor and all the nurses oohed and aahed over how cute and strong you were. We were in a sea of other newborns, all having been given the same time to meet with their pediatricians, and I expected to hear medical professionals gushing over every newly-birthed baby. But no. Only your doctor and nurse, and the nurses that your nurse called into the room to see how strong and adorable you were – those were the only ones making a fuss.

You showed off your skills: lifting up your head, flexing your limbs to reveal your muscles, never fussing or crying or screaming no matter what uncomfortable test or procedure the staff subjected you to. Everyone in that room was enraptured by you.

When you were nine weeks old, you were baptized and christened*. Your Grandma Nanette’s house was filled to the brim with family and friends, and each and every one of them (except for the sick ones) got to hold you. You enthusiastically went along with each of them, and babbled uncontrollably while doing so. A lot of them, especially the twenty-something year old guys, were too afraid to hold you, or hug you, or even look in your direction. They were reluctantly persuaded that you weren’t quite as fragile and delicate as they thought, and once you were in their arms they looked at you with warmth and affection.

You’d been “talking” for a few weeks by then, and everyone was amused at the way you attempted to communicate. Even more impressive was the fact that you didn’t cry the. entire. day. From 8 a.m. till 9 p.m., no matter who was holding you, no matter what kind of oils were dabbed onto your body or how much water was sprinkled on your head, or how quickly you were changed out of uncomfortable clothes, or how much noise and commotion was going on, or how bad your hiccups got, you hardly napped and yet only ever fussed when you were hungry.

This amazing behavior continued in the plane. You were 10 weeks old, and on a 20+ hour trip to the other side of the world, and despite an incident when a child stole your pacifier, despite the weird smells and sounds, despite the inevitable popping of your ears, you stayed calm and happy. Before you and I knew it, we were in the Philippines, being shepherded out of the airport terminal, facing the blazing noon-time tropical heat. The air conditioning in our SUV was on the fritz, and I frantically fanned you the whole way home. Yet there you were. In your carseat. Smiling and relaxed. Seemingly unaware that you could very well have been baking.

We’ve been in the Philippines for two months now, and in that time I’ve watched you grow bigger, stronger, more confident, and more aware. Now, at four months of age, you’ve more than doubled your birth weight and grown almost 8 inches. With lightning speed, you roll over and over and over in your crib or playpen or on my bed. You’re apt to spend an entire hour on your stomach as you try to negotiate the coordination of your arms and legs, and when you only manage to move an inch from your starting place, you cry out of frustration. Funny enough, even though you can’t move forward or backward, you’ve figured out how to turn in circles; one second you’ll be facing me, and the next second you’ll be facing away from me. You already sleep through the night and take naps on time, even though we never tried to sleep train you. And you play: by yourself, with everyone else, with your toys.

You love to grab everything, and my most favorite thing for you to grab is me. When I come home from school, I call your name, and you look for me, look at me, motion for me to pick you up, and fuse yourself to me. Sometimes you wrap your fingers around the strap of my shirt or a lock of my hair; sometimes you poke or pinch my cheeks. Always, you shriek with excitement and anticipation for cuddle time.

You know your name, and you turn when someone calls you. This is especially awesome since your dad often calls to you from the computer screen. You stare at him and you smile, and I know that it’s the most beautiful pain your dad’s ever felt. It’s the same way I feel when I lift you in the air and play “airplane” with you, and I’m well aware that in no time at all you’ll be too big for me to lift over my head. It’s the same way I feel when I hold you by the hands or the sides and you stand on your own two feet and you emanate the joy and pride of accomplishment. It’s the same way I feel when you’ve grown tired of cuddle time and you want nothing more than to sit in your bumbo chair or play by yourself like a big boy. It’s the same way I feel when your entire body booms and shakes with laughter, and you cause everyone around you to laugh along with you. You’re growing up, Riley. It’s happening so fast, so soon. I’m basking in the glow of every second that you’re awake and I’m home. I’m waiting eagerly for the time when your dad’s here and can do the same.

I think of your first four months of life, of all the unbelievable progress you’ve made, and all the happiness you’ve granted to all those lucky enough to have met you. I remember the smiles of your pediatrician and nurses, the love pouring out of people who had previously believed they’d never be ready to hold a newborn, the family and friends who have cooed at you and fussed over you and continue to love you because they just can’t get enough of you.

I get nostalgic about a time that’s seemingly so close to the present, when I was still anticipating your rolling babble and turning over and incessant touching. It all seems so perfect, so surreal, so amazing. One day, I’ll be left to sniff your newborn socks and reminisce about when you were small enough to fit into them. But now, as you’re asleep in my arms, I’ll only think of how amazing you are, and how lucky I am to have you.

You, Riley, make us believe that anything is possible.

You, Riley, are a miracle: the stuff of dreams, made real.

You, Riley, are loved. Especially by your dad and me.

And no matter how much time passes, no matter how much you’ve grown up, those three facts will never change.

Love,
Mommy

* Riley was christened in a Catholic church then baptized in a spiritual yet secular ceremony at Rob’s mom’s house. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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