One of my favorite short stories is "Eleven," by Sandra Cisneros. I have used it every year in my classroom instruction since I became a teacher. The idea behind it is such a novel concept, and my students have always enjoyed it. The viewpoint is from a little girl on her eleventh birthday and she makes a thought provoking observation. She begins by saying that,
What they don't understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you're 11, you're also 10, and 9, and 8, and 7, and 6, and 5, and 4, and 3, and 2, and 1. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel 11, but you don't. You open your eyes and everything's just like yesterday, only it's today. And you don't feel 11 at all. You feel like you're still 10. And you are -- underneath the year that makes you 11.
When I reread that story today, my feelings toward it completely changed. With all due respect to Sandra Cisneros, I may have to disagree with that opening thought. You see, today is my daughter's first birthday. And today, while she can't tell me if she feels any different, I sure feel different. I feel emotional. I feel nostalgic. But most of all, I feel proud, because under that twelfth month, is the first day of her life, when my life changed in drastic ways that words can't even describe. And underneath that twelfth month are the first two weeks at home, when my husband and I had absolutely no idea what to do with this tiny human being and learned the importance of trusting your instincts. And underneath that twelfth month are the first three months of crying, colic and reflux when I realized that no book I could've possibly read would have prepared me for that. And underneath that twelfth month are the endless smiles, giggles and cuddles that melt a mother's heart. But most importantly, underneath that twelfth month, are 365 days that my love for her grew as each day passed. I can't imagine my life without my daughter, and I can't even remember what life was like before her. The truth is that I'm OK with that. At this point, those days before she came along are meaningless. In twelve short months, she gave meaning to my life, she taught me a love that only a mother can know, and she showed me to have confidence in myself in a way that I never thought possible.
We will have a birthday party to celebrate her big day this weekend. However, as I reflect on the past year, I am starting to think that a child's first birthday should be equally about the parents as it is about the child. Sure, she has grown up so much in the past year and it is absolutely worth celebrating, but her growth and milestones came naturally. She didn't question herself, or doubt herself, or wonder every second of every day if she was doing things right, or making the best decisions. I did. I worried, I fretted and I questioned myself and decisions to no end.
And I survived.
So today, on my daughter's first birthday, I will celebrate my accomplishments, as well. There were times I didn't think I could do it. This day seemed like an impossibly faint light in the distance that I wasn't sure I could reach, but here I am, a parent of a one year old.
And I refuse to ignore the twelve months that are underneath that year that makes her one.