To My Daughter on Her Fourth Birthday,
You and I have a running dialogue about age. Every time someone remarks on how big you are or another birthday comes and someone comments on your years, you look up at me and ask, "But I'll always be your baby, right?"
"You will always be my baby," I tell you.
Sometimes, there are follow-questions:
"Will I still be your baby when I'm 30?"
"Will I still be your baby if I turn into an elephant?"
"Will I still be your baby when I get married?"
"Will I still be your baby when I have my own baby?"
"Will I still be your baby if I go to Mars?"
The realistic nature of these questions varies. But the response never does:
"You will always be my baby," I reassure you.
Last night, however, on the eve of your birthday, I hugged you goodnight and whispered, "Happy birthday, Jane. I can't believe you'll be 4 tomorrow."
You looked up, and with the utmost innocence, you said, "But, I'll always be your baby. Even when I die, right?"
You've had so many questions about death lately.
"Yes," I told you. "Even when you die."
"How?" you asked.
"Because our hearts are linked forever, and my heart will always be the mama's heart and your heart will always be my baby's heart," I told you. This explanation fit your need for the night, and off to sleep you went.
This morning is your birthday, and you are outside playing Play-Doh with Daddy. And I am writing, reflecting on where I was four years ago. Reflecting on your question last night and what it means to have you, this child of mine. I think back to Ann Druyan's words on her husband's death. In response to people who questioned how her husband, Carl Sagan, could face death as an atheist, she focused on the miracle of their life together, the miracle of finding "each other... in the vastness of space and the immensity of time." And that's how I feel about your question last night and about your birthday today.
Today marks your fourth rotation around the sun -- the human-constructed "time" you have existed and brought immense joy to many people, but especially to your Daddy and me. And though you're too young to understand it now, a parent's love for a child (and the child's love back) is so mysterious and so lucky in a place where time doesn't actually exist anyway and all life is indeed miraculous. For four years, you've transcended the boundaries of many things I hadn't realized were possible. Absolute joy, absolute fear. A battle of wills. Affirmation of all things good. You are what grounds me to the universe.
That's what I mean when I say that you'll always be my baby. That's what I'm trying to say. And one day, you'll read this and be able to understand all that I want to express when I sing that happy birthday song to you. That song is really just my way of saying thank you. For the miracle of your love. For the miracle of your existence.
Happy fourth birthday, my girl.