I'm haunted by this nightmare where you come to me as an insecure preteen and ask, "Mom, can I see my baby book? I need some dates and things for a school project."
Choking back tears of shame, I dig out a dusty blue and yellow book. You pluck it from my guilty hands. A few souvenirs and ragged coloring pages slip out. To you, they look random, unimpressive, disorganized, but I remember: That's the first time you drew a circle. That smiley-faced blob there? The picture you drew of me on our third Mother's Day. That thumbprint collage? Your first preschool art project.
You flip through, and I know what you're seeing: A handful of haphazard photos, too many half-empty pages. I try to distract you with the highlights: There's an ultrasound photo -- that grainy peanut is your very first picture.
There's a coming-home-from-the-hospital shot. You're swaddled, pink and scrunchy, in the striped hospital blanket.
Look, 26 pictures from your epic first birthday party... A few playdates at the park... And then we skip ahead to your first day of preschool (that stain there? definitely raindrops, not tears)... er, there aren't any from preschool graduation... OK, let's keep moving.
In the margins, you'll find a few handwritten notes:
7 weeks: Still not sleeping, but oh, that smile!
5 months: You must be teething. You drool through four outfits a day.
8 months: You love bananas, your daddy, the dog, and screeching at the top of your lungs.
11 months: You lunged forward today, trying to pinch the dog. First step? Maybe?
22 months: You got into the magic markers. I need a new kitchen table.
29 months: I wish I could give your pacifiers back. You miss them so much.
7 years old: Pinkeye AND lice on the same day. I'm still twitching.
You flip to the back pages. The tooth chart is woefully empty. I managed to jot down the month when your first tooth came in -- not the day, I couldn't remember which day -- and then I drew a sad little frowny-face when it came back out again, five years later.
The how-we-celebrated-your-first-five-birthdays section? Well, I did a killer job on the first birthday -- see the pictures? See the cake I spent three days researching on Pinterest and sculpting in the shape of Elmo? After that, the birthday party pages are all blank.
Worst of all, I picture you flipping to the chart of firsts, that page where I'm supposed to write down every first from your First Year of Life, and even some milestones from your toddler years. Your baffled gaze runs down the page, finding only a few scattered notes. You'll never know the exact date you spoke your first word, or which day that first pointy tooth poked through, or how much you weighed at your 18-month doctor visit.
And I picture your expression crumpling in confusion, an accusation etched in your eyes as you glare at me, mystified and hurt: You don't love me enough. If you really loved me, you would have made me a baby book I could be proud of. You would have written down all of the things so we could remember them. Didn't you care?
And I'll try to explain, to help you understand:
I didn't write down exactly which day you spoke your first word because I was too busy clapping, too busy savoring the sweet sound of that voice I'd been trying to coax out of you for so long. You were so excited, so proud of yourself, and you wanted me to listen. And I did.
There wasn't time to mark down which day your first tooth came in, because you were so fussy that you wouldn't let me put you down. You just wanted me to snuggle you and rock you and sing to you. And I did.
I forgot to record how much you weighed at every doctor visit, because after all the prodding and shots, you were always tired and grumpy, and so was I. And so I got my coffee and you got your chocolate milk and we called it a day. We just cuddled on the couch and watched Elmo until we both felt better. And we did.
I didn't write down what we ate at your second birthday party, because I'd learned my lesson from the first party -- a blur, the whole grand cake-sculpting affair. So for the next few years, I got a store-bought cake, inflated balloons with my own breath, blew some bubbles, and crazy-danced with you and a few friends. I put down my camera and watched joy twinkle in your eyes while you played silly games and tore open gifts. When it was all over, you wanted to ignore your presents, ball up the wrapping paper, and have a wrapping-paper fight. And we did.
I didn't actually forget to take pictures of your preschool graduation. It's just, my eyes were so cloudy, I couldn't focus the lens right. But I tried.
And every time I found a spare rainy afternoon and thought to myself, "I could catch up on the baby book today," a chubby fist tugged on my pant leg, a sunbeam smile flashed up at me, and a little voice lisped, "Come play with me, Mommy." And I did.