One of the greatest privileges of parenthood is witnessing your child experience something for the first time. In the early months of life it seems there’s a new “first” every day. Even the somewhat mundane firsts can seem mystical to a baby. Sharing many of these moments has taken on special meaning lately, since it struck me Brooke’s firsts will be my last firsts.
When she’s eight months old, I begin the task of trying to savor each of her firsts as they happen. Pictures and video are important, but this time I want to really soak in the magic of the moments. In October Brooke rides on her first tractor, sees her first goat, agonizes over her first ear infection, spits out her first antibiotics, and dons her first Halloween costume. Then one day two more big firsts not surprisingly coincide: exploring a giant leaf pile and bathing in the big tub.
Once the large maple in our front yard has turned a beautiful crimson and begins dropping its leaves like jewels, it’s time for fall’s right of passage. The boys go right to work making the pile as high as possible. Though I place Brooke ten feet from the action, she b-lines her way to the center of the flurry. She doesn’t seem to mind leaves thrown in her direction or the feeling of the soggy mass beneath her. Brooke proves bold and inquisitive.
Playing in leaves is an autumn pass-time not to be missed but so is the bath afterwards. I admit poor Brooke has not had many baths yet since she’s only now getting into the messy aspects of life. We’ve bathed her in the blue bathtub in the kitchen sink up to now, but tonight I’ve decided it’s time for her new digs. I forget about bath toys or anything other than shampoo and her towel; she doesn’t know to miss them. The look on her face as she slaps the water is pure joy. She splashes with one hand, then the other, then in front of her. And the space…she can finally move in all directions and stretch out--Wow! Hey, what’s this shiny piece? Oh, hey Mom, you’re still here? Check this out! Splash, splash, splash. I’m watching her discover the properties of water for the first time; I’m not sure who’s more mesmerized—she or I.
The months march on and with them more last firsts. She feels real cotton in the field for the first time, meets her first cousins, touches her first snow, gets her first close-up of Santa, discovers the joys of unrolling toilet paper, tastes her first chocolate fountain, and revels in her first frenzy of Christmas morning. Each day she tastes a new food or texture--a whole new world beyond mushy apples and sweet potatoes. Her eyes delight with each new discovery and say, “What’s next? Bring it on!”
Unfortunately Brooke endures her first allergic reaction and overnight in the hospital as well. Watching a penicillin-induced roving rash and swelling virtually attack my baby is a first and hopefully a last for me. I witness her first look of betrayal as she realizes Mom has allowed yet another stranger in a white coat poke her. And I for the first time imagine how tragic it would be if she suddenly stopped breathing. For 24 hours I don’t leave her side.
Thankfully kids are so resilient and in no time, Brooke is back to checking off a long list of firsts. Eleven months of age is Brooke’s time to move from crawling to standing, from cruising to walking. Every day I’m trying to capture another mobile milestone but she’s wary of my camera. “I will not perform on cue!” her face reads. Honestly it’s hard to determine what actions “count” for walking. When she rocks back and forth with a slight shimmy forward…is that her first step? Does leaning for Daddy and bracing her fall with a step count? Does she need to take three independent steps before we can consider her “walking?” I’m just grateful that I’m here to witness her skills and confidence blossom.
Bob has a very different take on my sentimental journey of “last firsts.” He’s focused more on the “last lasts.” When is the last meal Bobby will limit himself to pasta, chicken, and baked beans? When is the last time Devin will wait too long to go potty? When is the last time he’ll wake up next to Brooke after Mom brought her into our bed to nurse? The last diaper, the last nap, the last…hey, I’m in no hurry for those things.
It seems developing skills happens so slowly at the time…until you look back at a year and wonder how quickly it disappeared. Turning another page on the calendar reminds me one of the biggest last firsts is upon us: her first birthday. Am I ready to kiss my baby good-bye and begin a new era with a toddler? Even if I’m not, what difference does it make? Her growing up is not something I can stop or even slow down. No matter how many photos or hours of video I take, I can’t freeze time.
Rather than get choked up about this reality, I focus on the fact that life always changing is one of God’s greatest gifts. Imagine if we were stuck in time, like an eternal Groundhog Day or 50 First Dates. It might be cool for a while but then it would become maddening. The song that plays in my head while I write this is Turn! Turn! Turn!: To Everything There is a Season by The Byrds. That song makes me smile remembering good times, infuses me with the strength and confidence that I can endure just about anything for a short time, and gives me hope that what is yet to come is even brighter than I can imagine.