This week, my baby is turning 1. And I couldn’t be happier.
It may sound strange to feel elated. For the past few months, friends have looked at my youngest son and shared a pitiful frown. “Are you depressed that he is growing up?” “Can you believe your little one is turning into a toddler? You must be so sad that he is no longer a baby.” “He doesn’t even have a baby face anymore…how do you feel?”
One year ago, I would have embraced their sentiments, curled up with my children, and cried over the idea that the days of bottles, pacifiers, infant carriers, and sweet little coos and gurgles seem so very far away.
But instead, as my youngest of three reaches his first birthday, I find tears of joy running down my face.
After a Yom Kippur break the fast, congregants at my synagogue asked me how I felt about my children (then ages 4 and 2, and I was pregnant with my third) starting a new school year. My eyes cast downward and I muttered, “I just wish they would stay little forever.”
Another congregant attending the celebration sternly looked at me and said, “Nicole, that is exactly what you don’t want. You always want them to grow older.” She explained that she chanced upon this lesson 20 years ago, when her then-16-year-old son learned about a tragic, sudden death in his high school class. The entire grade came to the funeral, the first funeral many had ever attended. Sitting before them was the coffin, impossible to imagine the little girl resting within. But the presiding rabbi wouldn’t let the students forget. He somberly looked at the casket and said, “She will forever be 16 years old. Which means, no matter where you are in life, be grateful… that you get to move forward.”
Emerging from the details of the story, my congregant looked at me and said, “That’s why I don’t cry out of sadness at graduations or bar mitzvahs or weddings. Nicole, you always want them to grow up. You want them to be 17, 18, or 19. Embrace what your child is going through. Even if the road is a little bumpy; bumpy is better because bumpy means they are here. Appreciate the milestones. It means we get to see another day.”
And one year later, here I am. Ready to celebrate my third child’s first birthday. My fingers caress his newborn blanket. My eyes linger over the handprints we took shortly after his coming home from the hospital. I look at those initial pictures where we wondered who this little miracle resembled and who he will become. But all through the reminiscing, I smile. Because my baby gets to move forward. I get to move forward. Together, we are gifted another day.
I have so many hopes and dreams for my children. Hopes and dreams I pray that my husband and I get to witness. We want to see our baby walk across the room. We want to watch our children enter kindergarten, graduate high school and college, and one day walk down an aisle, get married, have children of their own.
It may be hard to see time go by so quickly…but God knows, it would be even harder to see time stop.
One of my teachers shared with me that the people who don’t want time moving forward are people who don’t know how to grow. That is all we should want in this world. The ability to see another day means we aren’t stuck in the ground or a pine wood box. Growing means we’re alive. Another day. Another year. Another chance.
The Talmud tells us, “Every blade of grass has its own angel that hovers over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’”
And while I am no angel, I know that on the eve of my son’s first birthday, I will be cradling him in my arms, whispering, “I love you,” in his ear. A familiar sadness is bound to swirl around the room. Yes, my baby is getting older. But I will let that sadness sit for all but a moment and smile, because my baby is getting older.