Harrison's first birthday was not just a day, but a process.
It started with him weaning himself about two weeks before. Yes, my boy stopped nursing of his own accord, much to the envy of my still-nursing friends. He switched to cow's milk with a minimum of fuss, happy to get the instant gratification that he never could from the boob, which required way too much work and patience. Finally, my body is mine again, to use and abuse as I see fit. There were things I loved abut nursing: the convenience, the lack of cost, the closeness with my baby, but I never did get what all the fuss was about. There are women out there who feel exalted by breastfeeding, who love every second of it and who harshly criticize any woman who chooses (or is not able) to do it. Me, I felt more like a mother cow being milked by a rude and impatient calf. Nothing romantic about that.
His actual birthday fell on Wednesday, June 2nd. All day long I was extra sweet to him and, though he had no idea why, he ate it up. He also ate up his very first cupcake, smearing chocolate frosting all over himself in exactly the way I had hoped he would. I reminisced about being pregnant, about what things were like on the day of his birth, about the profound changes in myself that were heralded by his arrival. I despaired over hospital bills still to be paid and pounds still to be shed. I congratulated myself for not just getting him through his first year, but for ensuring that his first year of life was full of happiness, laughter, and robust good health.
We had his party that Saturday. I kept it very low-key, and not just for financial reasons. I've been to a lot of kids' parties where Mom is the center of attention, overdressed, fluttering around trying to ensure that every last thing is perfect even though their baby really doesn't give a shit. I admit that I have a tendency to expect too much from parties and to be disappointed when people I like fail to show up or nobody is paying any attention to me. I get anxious and weird and eventually just want everyone to go home so I can cut my losses and go to bed. But this was not my party, and it was about Harrison, not me. All I cared about was whether he and his pint-sized guests had a good time. To that end, I set up a tiny kiddie pool on the patio and a sprinkler on the lawn. I had beer for the grownups and simple snacks like veggies, chips, and dip. I made my own cake, which was decidedly less than perfect - I ended up using the frosting (homemade cream cheese) as a sort of plaster to hold the damn thing together and decorated it myself, spelling out his name in shaky letters, making a border to disguise the misshapen edges, and then dumping multi-colored sprinkles over the whole thing. If you didn't look too close, it was actually sort of cute.
I knew he wouldn't remember it later, but on some level I felt that this get-together would establish a baseline for every party from then on. A few friends, some food and drink, warm sunshine and cool water - what more could anyone ask for? He and two other babies splashed around a bit, playing with ducks, boats, and plastic stacking cups while our friends' five-year-old ran around under the sprinkler which was whirling out on the lawn. When that grew tiresome, we all came in to have the cake (which may have looked merely okay, but tasted awesome) and to open the presents. He got some really cool new toys and tons of attention. Not long after, people started packing up their kids and heading out, leaving all three of us exhausted but satisfied. If that party indeed sets up Harrison's expectations of gatherings to come, I will be thrilled. And yet I was hesitant to remove his party decorations. Maybe it was laziness, but I just couldn't bring myself to take his party banner and balloons off the wall. It didn't quite seem like his birthday was over, somehow.
The following Monday we took him in for his one-year well-baby checkup which, unfortunately, consisted of four individual shots and a blood draw. Now, anyone who has read this blog knows how I feel about vaccines – they help prevent childhood diseases that were devastating a generation ago, which makes them worth the small risk of adverse effects. But after going through that experience, I have more sympathy for the parents who have a knee-jerk reaction against them. Watching my boy being held down by his daddy and two nurses as he was poked and re-poked was incredibly traumatizing, more so for me than for him. His screams cut to the center of me, provoking a physical reaction somewhere between sobbing and hysterical laughter. I had to actively suppress the part of my brain, honed through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, which demanded that I knock everyone aside and rescue my poor distressed child. I could see how people with a poor understanding of correlation and causation would link such a distressing event with later developmental problems. As necessary as it was for his long term well-being, at the time it seemed harsh and cruel. Fortunately, it was over quickly, and after being rewarded for his bravery with a cup of ice cold apple juice, he was back to his normal self, albeit a very tired and grouchy version. And I’m pleased to say that he does not appear to have “contracted” autism. Suck it, Jenny McCarthy.
When we got home I finally took the party decorations down, feeling a sense of closure. All in all, it was a wonderful first year, and I look forward to many more to come.