Happy Birthday, Dear Juney

June is one year old. It’s been a year since that late night ride to the hospital after my water broke six weeks early, a year since my surprise and unplanned vbac*, a year since I was released from the hospital without her, sent home to pump milk for her while she waited under the lights for her bilirubin levels to drop, a year since she came home with a light-emitting blanket, allowed out of it only to nurse. Was it just yesterday or in a different life that all this happened? Now her spiky black hair is a silky reddish-gold, long enough for her bangs to fall into her eyes. She crawls, cruises along the furniture, waves, claps and says a few words. She’s still a baby, but her baby days are numbered, and by extension, so are mine. A year and three days ago I was the pregnant mother of a preschooler. Sometime over the next few months, I will become the mother of a rising first-grader and a toddler.

A very small toddler, as it turns out. On Thursday, at June’s one-year appointment, we received the unwelcome news that at 16 pounds, 3 ounces, she has fallen off the charts for weight. She is growing, but very slowly. (Her head grew another half centimeter, which is the really good news.) I am not that worried about it, because she looks healthy, not at all scrawny or undernourished, and Noah went through a similar (though less dramatic) growth slow-down at the exact same age. Nonetheless, we are supposed to try to fatten her up, and bring her back for a weigh-in at thirteen months. After the appointment, we went out for crepes and gelato. I’d hoped it would feel like a celebratory lunch but I was brooding a little over June’s weight and Noah had acted up on the way over, getting in trouble with Beth, so everyone was a bit subdued. After lunch, we went home to clean the house in preparation for the descent of the grandmothers the following day.

Friday was June’s birthday. When Noah came to our bed around 6:30 for our daily family snuggle, we all sang “Happy Birthday” to her. She looked surprised but happy and when we were finished, she said “Day!” to us approvingly. Beth’s mother Andrea arrived that afternoon and when Beth got home from work, we all headed out to dinner at Baja Fresh, which was holding a fundraiser for Noah’s school. I brought along a dark chocolate bar for everyone to share after dinner. We gave Noah his first taste of chocolate on his first birthday and I thought it would be a nice tradition to carry on. June frowned a little at the bitter taste, but after careful consideration, she grabbed for another piece, and soon she was smiling a tiny smile and drooling a thin brown line down her chin.

My mother arrived the following afternoon while Beth and I were at the supermarket getting ladybug balloons. (Since we sometimes call June “June Bug” the party had a ladybug theme.) By then we were in full celebration-mode. Mom and Andrea began a daylong conversation, largely about June– her beauty (“Isn’t her hair a pretty color?” “Don’t you hope her eyes stay blue?”), intelligence (evidence: she clucks her tongue when you do and she holds up her Baa Baa Black Sheep book and says “baa baa”) and overall good nature. They were in full agreement about her good qualities as they have always been about Noah’s. Having grandchildren in common is a great bonding experience. Mom hadn’t seen June since my stepfather’s 65th birthday party and Andrea hadn’t since Beth’s gallbladder operation, both in January, so they marveled over her new skills, especially her crawling and her standing. As if she felt the need to impress her mothers in addition to her grandmothers, June added a new trick to her repertoire over the weekend. She finally learned to clap. (During her early attempts over the past few weeks, her hands kept missing each other.)

Soon there was plenty to clap over. Noah, Mom and I wrapped presents on the dining room table and once they were wrapped, we set them down on the living room floor for June to unwrap. There were toys, there were books, there were clothes, but best of all there were cards. June delighted in the cards, opening and closing them, examining them from all angles, waving them in the air while squealing with joy. Then there was the big present: the wagon. Beth and Noah had rehabbed his old push-wagon, one of his first birthday presents that had been languishing in the back yard since he outgrew it. They sanded off the rust and peeling paint, gave it a fresh coat of glossy red paint and painted her name on it in gold letters. After all the presents were opened, Noah went to the computer and played the “Big World Birthday” song from the PBS show It’s A Big, Big World:

Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday!
How old are you?
How old are you?
Count the candles on your cake.
Smear your name for good luck’s sake.
We want cake!
We want cake!

(To hear the entire song, go to http://pbskids.org/bigbigworld/music/song07_ra.html).

After we sang this song together, we headed to the table to sing the more traditional version (in English and Spanish) over the cake and ice cream. We blew out the numeral 1 candle on the cake (saved from Noah’s first birthday cake) and dug in. The cold of the ice cream was too much of a shock for June and she spat it out, but the cake met with her decided approval and in a short time, she had demolished her slice. By the time she finished eating her eyes were dazed and heavy-lidded. It looked like she might drop off in the chair if we didn’t get her cleaned up and off to her nap in short order.

Gradually, the party wound down. That night we ate pizza off the ladybug paper plates we had forgotten to use for the cake, watched The Electric Company and went to bed. My mother left Sunday morning. The rest of us went to the farmers’ market and came home laden with pansies for our front porch planters, apples and baked goods. (Noah complained, perversely, that the chocolate croissants were “too chocolaty”.) That afternoon while Beth was at the grocery store, Andrea and Noah watched while I helped June get started pushing the wagon across the porch floor. Her steps were hesitating and stiff-legged, but she beamed and laughed as she got her balance and the wagon lurched into motion ahead of her. Noah, who had been cranky and contrary much of the weekend, jealous no doubt of all the attention lavished on his baby sister, started to cheer her on.

Ella puede. Ella hace. ¡Ella gana!” he cried.

She can. She does. She succeeds! Indeed, she can and she does. Happy Birthday, dear Juney. Happy Birthday to you. And many more.

*vaginal birth after Caesarean