My kids do not have baby books. Namely because scrapbooking and organized memorabilia freaks me out. My wedding album is so bad (it literally looks like a six-year-old’s school project—lots of scotch tape, stickers, and unfinished pages), my husband made me promise I wouldn’t attempt another memory book with our kids. Fair enough. So what they do have are large decorative photo boxes, one for each boy. In these boxes, I throw miscellaneous things accrued over the years: the blankets they were first swaddled in, hospital bracelets, pictures, cards, first birthday candles, and other odds and ends we’ll no doubt collect over the years.
Today my oldest boy is four years old. This is a letter I will place in his box, the first I have written:
Five years ago, I stared in amazement and joy as two pink lines appeared on a test stick. I remember lowering my hands to my tummy and thinking “I have a baby inside of me.” That baby is you.
For nine months, I braved the NYC subways and buses, the unbearable heat and the smell of body odor, takeout food, and urine. After a ninety-minute ride stuck in traffic every morning, the first bathroom I could run to was in Port Authority bus station. To me, there was no greater hell on earth than those early months. But I did it for you, my boy.
Four years ago today, I waited on a stretcher at NYU Hospital, numbed from the chest down. With tears streaming down my face, I watched the doctors lift you up: bright red, shiny and even chubby, you fairly howled, all nine pounds, one ounce of you. Oh, how gorgeous you were! And you looked so much like your daddy, it was unreal. All the way down to the teeny little cleft in your chin. As I held you close to me for the very first time outside of my body, I thought how right it seemed. Yeah, you were my boy. You were my little man. I kissed your head and with my finger, I traced your cheek. I couldn’t believe how soft your skin was. I inhaled your new baby smell and I smiled. Thank you, Lord, for this baby, I prayed.
And then, I cried. And I didn’t stop for five long months, until my postpartum depression was diagnosed.
Three years ago, I watched you toddle around on your first birthday. We were celebrating with your daddy’s familia in Colombia, and watching you take your first steps was truly remarkable. I think it paralleled the first time someone saw a world-famous sculpture take form, or a new building being raised. I was watching history, and you, my boy, were making it! Your chubby legs found each step haltingly; then, as you gained confidence, you walked from me to daddy, and back to me again. When you fell and cried, I wanted to cry with you.
Actually, I did.
Two years ago, I would have gladly given you to the first person I could find. No, not really, but kind of. From emptying your drawers into the toilet, to dumping out the fish bowl on the floor over and over again, to peeing on a WWII Memorial at the library … spitting on the cakes displayed at the bakery counter and shushing the cashiers at the grocery store, I was ready to ship you off to one of your grandmothers. When you broke not one but two paper shredders by trying to shred toys, I wept.
I think I started mumbling to myself when you broke both car CD players by feeding it quarters. When you did the same on our new stereo in the living room, feeding the five-disk player a jar full of change, I began mixing vodka with my morning coffee.
The day you threw our new digital camera into the toilet was the day I considered having my tubes tied.
And one week later, when you threw my new cell phone into the same toilet, I tried to talk your daddy into getting a vasectomy.
But at night, when I would tuck you in after reading you a story and saying prayers, you’d wrap your chubby little arms around me and kiss me over and over again. “I lub you mommy,” you’d say
And I’d cry.
Three years ago, I was in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy with your little brother. I’m sure you’ll always remember how weak I was, how I couldn’t stand for more than five minutes at a time. I’m sure you’ll never forget all the days we had to lay in mommy and daddy’s bed, watching movies, reading books, eating PB&J crackers and applesauce, since mommy was too sick to make you a real meal. Daddy worked almost ninety hours a week and we were always alone. So often I wanted to take you to the park or on a walk, but I didn’t have the strength. I would lay awake at night missing your daddy, and wishing I could do more for you.
And I would cry.
Your birthday that year was simple: Just a trip to Chuck E. Cheese with one of your best buddies. We didn’t have a lot of money, and our gift to you was a truck from Target and a used movie. We wanted to give you more, especially since it had been such a hard year on you.
But you know what, Gio? You were so thrilled with what we gave you that it wouldn’t have mattered.
“Oh! This is so cool! Thanks mommy! Thanks, daddy!” You yelled as you ripped off the paper, grinning a mile wide. I looked into your shining eyes and saw pure happiness, pure innocence.
And I cried.
Today, four years after your birth, I’m seeing there is another number four to celebrate: There are four of us in our little family. Four sets of arms to hold each other, four mouths to giggle and laugh together. Four people who love each other desperately, madly, truly. And tonight, as the four of us sat in your bedroom and mommy and daddy sang “Happy Birthday” one more time, I cried.
Giovanni, my boy, you have made me happier than I could ever deserve—there’s no way I could ever earn something as wonderful as you. Your existence is how I know God is good, and He loves me.
You are the reason I was born.