Dearest Maggie Love:
Today we are marking one year of glorious life with you. I have so many things I want to tell you, stories I want to remember, moments I’ve tucked into my heart to ponder. You will rise early in the morning tomorrow and your cheeks will be rosy while you hold up your arms from the corner of your crib, expecting us. Someday when you are all grown, I want you to know for certain just how much we all have loved you in these days so here I am.
You are my last little baby, an unexpected gift to this family, and so that makes this whole first year of your life feel like both reclaiming something I knew so well and yet realising how much I have to learn. I had given away all of our old baby things from the first three tinies, only hanging onto the few keepsakes that survived the torrent of three-babies-in-four-years before the surprise of you. I laughed for the first few days of my pregnancy with you – laughed in disbelief and in delight. Then came the days of wondering if we were going to be able to actually hold you, and then came what I can only call a miracle, the miracle of your steady heartbeat and then the miracle of movement and then your eventful but ultimately safe arrival. And then here we were again.
Your father is the one who chose your name, you know. He was so sure that you were our Margaret, our pearl. We looked for a long time for a middle name that meant “love” or “beloved” but finally we said, well, that’s silly, let’s just name you for what matters most and stop being subtle about it.
When the other babies were born to us, I always burst into laughter after their first breath. But with you, I wept. I cried and cried when I held you in my arms for all we had endured to get to that moment and all of my relief and joy felt too strong for simple laughter. We were more complicated, us two. In that moment, I remembered a passage from an old favourite book of mine, Anne’s House of Dreams, when the heroine receives a ring with a pearl instead of the traditional diamond for her engagement.
“But pearls are for tears, the old legend says,” Gilbert had objected.
“I’m not afraid of that. And tears can be happy as well as sad. My very happiest moments have been when I had tears in my eyes—when Marilla told me I might stay at Green Gables—when Matthew gave me the first pretty dress I ever had—when I heard that you were going to recover from the fever. So give me pearls for our troth ring, Gilbert, and I’ll willingly accept the sorrow of life with its joy.”
Everything about mothering you has been different. I think it’s taken me the entire first year of your life to finally admit it – that you are different, that I am different, that everything about our journey together is just a bit different and I think it’s good to learn that now. You will be different and I want to make room for you to forge your own path. I have spent too much time – my entire pregnancy, your delivery, so much of this first year of your life – trying to make you have the same sort of experience as your brother and sisters. It took me too long to realise that this was impossible: you are you and I am no longer the same woman who even raised those first three babies. I’ve grown and changed and evolved. And you are you, not them. We aren’t diamonds, we’re pearls.
We’ve learned how to be ourselves together, perhaps. I’ve had to untangle my expectations and my “this is the way I do it” from you and I think this might be one of the most beautiful inadvertent things you’ve already done for me. I love you for the very differences.
You disrupted me, Maggie, in all of the best ways. You disrupted my plans and my life, my expectations and my trajectory, my sleep and my career, my practices and my methods, and I am so much stronger and more compassionate, more fully myself, because of you. You are the holiest interruption of my life so far and I want to rise to be your mother.
I love being your mum. Everything about you is a delight to me and it has been since the start. Maybe it’s because I had all those babies in a blur and then they started to grow up on me, maybe that’s why I have cherished your days with such intensity, why I have revelled in your very baby-ness and your needs and your demands. I know that this is my last time and I’m acutely aware that this is your only time – I didn’t really get that with my other three. I forgot that it was their only time to be a baby and with you, I have understood that all too well. I’ve loved sleeping with you, loved holding you longer, loved hoisting you onto my hip, loved walking you and playing with you and rocking you to sleep and staying just a bit longer because you are so beautiful and sweet and this moment won’t keep.
Right now, you are convinced that the world is a place of delight and love and warmth and comfort – I long to protect this innocence for as long as I can.
Every day, it’s as if you are holding court in this house – the tinies all call you Princess Margaret. You are the delight of their lives. When you learned to sit up, they clapped and cheered. All of your milestones this year – rolling over, lifting your head, first steps, first bite of food, crawling – have been met with the laughter and cheers of your entire family. I never could have imagined how fun it would be to bring home a baby to a bunch of big kids. Because of them, you go through life with wide open arms and an expectation of friendship already.
Your entire extended family dotes on you – you’re the last little baby, it seems, and all of the kids will make sure that you know how they loved these days. They all consider themselves the Baby Experts now. I imagine someday when you try to go on dates how they will all give you a hard time, reminding you of how they held you in their laps and helped you learn to walk and picked up the soggy Cheerios you blithely tossed onto the floor. Someday you will maybe feel like everyone treats you like a baby but that’s because you were our baby. (I promise we’ll try to be reasonable.) Every person you meet from the park to the grocery store to the airplane is a joy to you, you offer up your little toothless smiles and your cunning waves as a gift to everyone you encounter. You bring such joy to so many.
You’ve had a busier first year of life than I would have expected myself to allow or embrace for you: two busy working parents, we moved to a new house, lots of travel together, and loads of new people. I don’t think I put your siblings on a plane until the youngest was almost four but you’ve been to London and Virginia, San Diego and Austin, stamps in your passport already. I want to do right by you.
The day will be bittersweet, I admit that. I feel that wistful joy with you – I have loved every stage of your life so far and I know now how wonderful it is to watch a baby grow up: if you’re anything like your brother and sisters, I also know how much joy is ahead.
But here it is: you’re our last baby. This is the last time I am rocking in this old rocking chair with a baby at my breast. This is the last time I am laying down with a warm and sleepy milk-drunk baby in our bed. This is the last time I am planning a first birthday party. It feels like all of the sunrises of your firsts are tinged with the shadow of my lasts.
There is still so much ahead and I know that now in a way that I didn’t with my first baby. But this moment is fleeting and so I want to remember how it feels to sing old Anne Murray songs into the cavern of the bathtub while you knock baby toys off the ledge and obediently sit back down into the little well of water when I say “bum down, Mags!” I want to remember how your smile looks with just four little white teeth and how you reach around to pat my back so sweetly when I hold you close and how your nose gets red when you’re tired. I want to remember how your baby hair is still so wispy and fine, how everyone who sees you exclaims over how much you look like your dad, how your little feet are still so pudgy and round, how you climb into your little toy basket and perch there for a solid hour, how you laugh so hard when you’re crawling away from your brother’s chasing that you fall over, how you roll around on the floor laughing until you are gasping at the antics of the rest of us. I want to remember how we all have danced to your attendance – we don’t believe you can spoil a baby with love, you see – and how you have brought such joy to our lives simply by your very existence.
When I was pregnant with you, I determined to not tell you or anyone else that your arrival was unexpected. I worried that kind of knowledge would make you feel unwanted or undesired when nothing could be further from the truth. We always wanted you – I remember how your dad told me that you were my “desire of the heart” baby. I carried the dream of you because I didn’t think I would be given the reality of your life and so the surprise of you – the miracle of you – is probably one of the greatest stories of our family. Now I think it’s important to say it out loud: I couldn’t have imagined how beautiful and necessary and healing it can be to be disrupted by unexpected life.
Tomorrow we’re having a little tea party for you, just a quiet family party. I’ll bake a traditional Victoria sponge cake for you because you’re our Princess Margaret, charming and bright and joyfully alive. Everyone will be here to celebrate you, it’s important to celebrate beautiful milestones, isn’t it?
You were meant for this life, Maggie Love, and we were meant to love you. We are so grateful for the gift of your life and we delight in you, just you, as you are.
You’re our pearl.